“But doesn’t it help you to understand yourself now?” The words came from a young man who was trying his best to be comforting and helpful. I was on the verge of tears and lashed out at him, “No, B, it doesn’t! I don’t care what that guy says! He was wrong! I think he has BPD, not me! He’s the crazy one, not me! I am NOT crazy!”
I had just been released from the hospital after spending 24 hours in the ER, while all the docs desperately tried to figure out what was wrong with me, why I had multiple episodes of completely blanking out and having no memory of time past. They ended up sending me in for an emergency consultation with a psychiatrist, who I instantly disliked. We talked about my history of being sexually abused, and he asked me all kinds of questions about the chaos in my head. Finally, at the end of our session together, he told me that I had BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder).
For those of you unfamiliar with this diagnosis, let me offer you a short explanation from the website for the National Institute of Mental Health. “Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behavior. These symptoms often result in impulsive actions and problems in relationships. People with borderline personality disorder may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that can last from a few hours to days.”
Here is a more comprehensive list of what I experienced on a frequent basis. This comes from the Very Well Mind website.
- Depersonalization: This is a feeling of separation between yourself and your body. People who experience depersonalization may say that they feel like they’re observing their own body from the outside, or as if they’re in a dream.
- Derealization: Similar to depersonalization, derealization is a feeling of being detached from the external world, such as from other people or objects. It may cause familiar things to look strange, unreal, or unfamiliar. Derealization and depersonalization often occur at the same time.
- Amnesia: Some people who experience dissociation have periods of amnesia or “losing time.” They may have minutes to hours or days when they were awake but can’t remember where they were or what they were doing.
- Identity confusion: This occurs when you experience an inner struggle about who you really are.
- Identity alteration: When you sense that you act like a different person some of the time, this is identity alteration. For instance, you may see things in your home that you don’t recognize, perform a skill that you don’t remember learning or others will say you’re acting like a different person. Mild identity alteration is common in the general population; for instance, changing your name. The key is that it doesn’t cause problems with everyday functioning or relationships. In other words, you’re aware of your identity or role change. Moderate identity alteration is common in BPD and involves changes in mood or behavior that are not under your control.
It was after this diagnosis that I received the news that I would no longer be welcome at the school I was teaching in. I would have to leave the place I thought I would stay for years. In fact, they had already gone ahead and found a new teacher to take over my classroom. She would be arriving in a few weeks. I was heartbroken. I ran to the school, told my co-teacher where I was going, and then headed to a secluded cabin, hid under the bunk beds with the lights out, and bawled out all my heartbrokenness. Eventually, my co-teacher came and found me and told me that there were multiple people out looking for me and that I should probably go show myself so they wouldn’t get worried. I dried my tears, wiped my face, and was thankful for the subzero weather outside that hid the final traces of my tears. I went up to the main dining room and made my appearance so they could call off the search party. The administrator’s wife scolded me, “You should not have run off! We couldn’t find you! You need to always let someone know where you are!” I just nodded and agreed to not run off anymore. I didn’t feel like they would understand the depth of pain I was feeling at that moment. I retreated upstairs to my room.
Too soon, my time came to leave, and I left the place of my dreams to head into the unknown. I had spent years dreaming about living in this place, and I had planned on staying for years, probably never leaving, and now that was all ripped out from under me.
I moved to Pennsylvania where I knew there were options for Christian counseling and potentially finding answers. The first family I stayed with helped me get hooked up with a trained counselor at a ministry. She was a nice lady, but I didn’t really connect with her and I found her techniques not helpful enough. Then she said we could only meet for one hour every two weeks. I tried it for a few weeks, before deciding that I needed something more intense than that. I found that I couldn’t just turn my emotions and things I was dealing with off and on that quickly. I started looking for somewhere else.
A friend of mine told me about a place in Michigan, so I began making plans to head there next. But in the meantime, God intervened and had me watch a video testimony of a lady who seemed to be telling my story. I contacted them and was able to receive about 8 hours of counseling from them. In those 8 hours, I felt that I had finally found something that would work. I found hope again. I also was able to attend a week-long conference that gave me more tools and helped me answer more questions that I had. I received more healing. Then I headed out to Michigan.
Michigan turned out to not be the place for me, so I headed back to Pennsylvania. I was desperate to find answers that worked and lasted. I was determined that they must be out there somewhere, and I wasn’t going to stop until I found them.
I had only been in Pennsylvania for a few weeks when I ended up in the mental health ward at the local hospital due to being suicidal. I spent four days in that horrible dark place. My only highlight was when three of my friends came to pray for me. Their prayers encouraged me and lifted my spirit. They spoke much-needed life into me at that low point. The doctor also put me on Sertraline, but I hated how it made me feel. I made sure to let the nurses know that I did not approve of this medication, but they told me that I should just keep taking it because it would take time for my system to get used to it. I didn’t want to just “get used to it”. I wanted to be off of it and get better.
I remember sitting in the consultation room with multiple medical professionals as they assessed me to see if I could be released. They asked me what I did for exercise, and when I told them that I biked or walked everywhere, they seemed surprised. In their opinion, there was no logical, medical, physical explanation as to why I had been feeling suicidal. Everything medically was coming back clear and normal, and yet I still had these horrible bouts of depression. They were puzzled.
When I was released from the hospital, my aunt took me to get my prescription filled, which I did. I took it for three days after being released, before deciding that it was better to be off of it than to feel so ill while taking it. People around me did not agree with my decision and were worried about me, so I learned to hide my symptoms better. I went back to work and looked desperately for more answers. I had a couple friends that I could talk to during that time. They would listen to me and lift my spirits when I felt the darkness creeping over me. J, P, and S were my lifelines during that time. They were the only ones that I felt I could be real with.
I started EMT classes, moved in with another family, changed jobs, and really thought that I was getting my life together. I knew I wasn’t completely better, but I felt better enough. I was able to function and had some answers. Most people had no idea what was churning just below the surface. Then came the day that I was told the people who were working with me could no longer do so. They felt that they had helped me as far as they could and were not interested in continuing to do so. They strongly suggested that I move back to my family in Oregon, as they did not believe that there was any place for me in Pennsylvania anymore. (I found out that they had talked to multiple people about me and what I was facing.)
So I sold my car, packed up my things, and moved back to Oregon without having finished EMT class or doing many other things that I had intended on doing. I was doing better. I knew that. I started a new job in Oregon and started attending college. I made connections with new friends, began attending a new church, and thought that life was as good as it was going to get. It was around this time that I resigned myself to the diagnosis of BPD. I just figured I would just have to cope with it forever. I finally started embracing it and just learned more and coping skills. I had a support system. I was a fully functioning member of society and my community.
I began working as an EMT and had some really tough calls that I bottled up and didn’t process properly, until the day that there was a minor who committed suicide. That day I broke down at work and had a panic attack. I talked to a couple of people at work, and then my supervisor sent me home for the day.
It was a rough week after that, but then I found out that there was going to be a three-day conference a couple of hours from my house. I thought I would be able to get some more answers there, so I went. I did find some more answers, some more tools for my bag. I basically thought that I had acquired everything that there was too have. I knew the darkness was always there, ready to overwhelm me at any moment that I let down my guard, but I was also resilient enough, independent enough, that I thought I could actually make it like that through the rest of my life.
A few months later a friend told me about a training course that would be taking place in Colorado. H thought that I would benefit from taking the course, and after much thought, I figured it at least couldn’t hurt anything. So another friend and I packed up in my little Dodge Neon and headed the 18 hours to Colorado.
I was shocked when I attended that course. I found people who I tried to scare off by sharing with them what I considered to be the darkest, scariest parts of myself, my story. The parts that I never admitted to anyone else ever. These people took it all in stride and weren’t phased by anything. They loved me, supported me, and helped me deal with deep root issues, unlike anything I had experienced ever before. And even though they came from a very conservative background, they were emphatic about empowering me as a woman to be everything that I could be, even if it didn’t fit the traditions I was used too.
I headed home from that course absolutely changed. Every aspect of my life had been altered in some way. I now knew that there was actually a way to heal from BPD, not just cope with it.
My journey with BPD has been one with desperate lows and mountain top highs. So much of it has been a crazy roller coaster ride. However, I can honestly say that I have found great healing. I have moved forward. Best of all, I know that I am breaking the mental illness cycle in my generations. I know that I will not be passing it on to my unborn daughter and that gives me great joy.