For 14 years, I thought I had major depressive disorder. That’s 14 years of being treated with antidepressants and dealing with medications that made me feel worse along with constant suicidal thoughts, self-harm and extreme mood swings.
Then last year, I started seeing a new psychiatrist after nine years away. He diagnosed me with bipolar II disorder. Even though the diagnosis explained so much about what I was going through, I felt my world turn upside down. I actually wrote about that experience in a blog for The Mighty titled, “The 4 Emotions I Felt After Being Diagnosed With Bipolar II Disorder.”
I started taking mood stabilizers for bipolar II disorder, and within a couple of weeks, I felt like myself again. I could get out of bed, go to work, workout, cook dinner and actually function like a normal human being.
But after a few weeks, I found myself struggling again. Not to mention I was gaining weight pretty quickly. Around the same time, I was in the process of separating from my husband and moving to Chicago. When I finally got settled in, I looked up new doctors but never found one that accepted my insurance. Things were still bad, but I managed. I told myself I could do it on my own.
In February, my divorce was finalized. In March, I lost a job I loved. In April, I had to leave Chicago and move in with family in Ohio. By May, I was in so much emotional pain that I couldn’t take it. I kept feeling like the whole world would be better without me in it. With the support of my friends and family, I got the strength to make an appointment with a psychiatrist in Ohio.
Like my last psychiatrist, she diagnosed me with bipolar II disorder, generalized anxiety disorder with panic disorder. She put me on a mood stabilizer. It worked for about a month then stopped working. So, she increased the dose, but the same thing happened. She added lithium to help with the mania and suicidal thoughts. It worked for a couple of weeks, and then it stopped working.
And that’s how things went for five months with new medications and dosage increases – until at a recent appointment she suggested I look up borderline personality disorder.
So, I did. And I felt like I was reading a description of my life – it so accurately described the intense emotions I feel every single day and the reactions I have to situations life throws my way. There were some things that still didn’t make sense or describe me, but for the most part, I connected with what I read. However, it was also terrifying to think that I had borderline personality disorder because it changed everything I thought I knew about myself.
At my next appointment, she confirmed the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. And once again – like when I got my diagnosis last year – a flood of emotions overcame me.
I felt relieved
I expected my first reaction to be shock or fear, but to be honest, I was relieved. My doctor spent a good amount of time explaining borderline personality disorder, how it’s often the result of childhood trauma and that dialectical behavior therapy can be incredibly beneficial in treating BPD. She told me that therapy would help me work through that trauma while also helping me develop skills that would make me feel life is worth living.
My doctor didn’t need to spend the time explaining borderline personality disorder. She could’ve simply said, “go home and do some research.” But she didn’t. She talked to me like a friend, gave me a ton of information I didn’t already know and helped educate me while breaking down the stigma surrounding BPD.
When I walked out of my appointment, I had a better understanding of BPD along with a clear treatment plan. I had a list of several non-profit behavioral health centers I could call to schedule an appointment for therapy since my biggest barrier to therapy was cost ($120-$150 per session – what?!).
And for the first time in months, I felt like there was hope for me – like maybe I wasn’t a treatment-resistant, lost cause after all.
But then I started struggling and feeling hopeless
As I was driving home, I started to feel my heart sink. I felt that hopelessness returning. I pulled over to the nearest parking lot and started crying. I was struggling, and I wasn’t even sure what I was struggling with.
I texted one of my friends, and I realized it came down to two things: the stigma surrounding BPD and feeling like I didn’t even know who I was anymore.
But just like when I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, my friend reminded me that this diagnosis doesn’t define me. Nothing about me changes. I’m the same person today as I was yesterday. The things that make me “me” are still there. The only thing that changes is the label the doctors use to determine the right course of treatment. I have a mental illness, but I am not my mental illness.
She was right, but there was still the stigma.
I’ll be the first to admit I still don’t know a lot about borderline personality disorder. As I write this, it’s only been a day since I got my diagnosis. But I do know there are a lot of misconceptions about people with borderline personality disorder. For example, they’re manipulative, can’t be trusted, are unlovable, are attention seeking, they don’t deserve to be in relationships because they don’t make good partners…the list goes on.
I was mad at myself for falling into that line of thinking because I know that the misconceptions surrounding BPD are just that: misconceptions. But I kept thinking, “When people find out I have BPD, what are they going to think of me? Will they still want to be my friend? Will everyone leave? Everyone is just going to leave.”
That kicked my fear of abandonment into high gear, and I started feeling hopeless for the future. That first night, I couldn’t stop crying because I was so scared. Scared that no one would love me, scared that everyone was going to leave and scared that I wouldn’t get through this.
Then I thought, “maybe I can make a difference”
Many years ago, I read Simon Sinek’s book, “Start With Why.” At the time, I had no idea what my “why” was. But about two years ago, it came to me.
My “why” is to help others by sharing my story. I feel like I was put on this earth to share my experiences and help people realize that no matter what they’re going through – and no matter how awful it may be – they’re not alone.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always open about my experiences. I spent most of my summer struggling in silence. No one knew how bad the depression was. No one knew I had panic attacks every time I left the house. No one knew how badly I wanted the pain to stop and that I tried to take my own life…more than once. Part of me felt bad for keeping all that in, but honestly, I wasn’t ready.
However, I’ve been much more outspoken lately, and I’ve been sharing things I’ve kept tucked away for years – like the emotional abuse I experienced throughout my marriage and being sexually assaulted in college. Although sharing those experiences has been tough, it’s also given me purpose. It’s helped me heal. And it’s been a powerful reminder that I am not alone even though I feel alone.
Once that initial shock, shame, and hopelessness went away, I started to think back to my “why.” I realized I needed to take all this pain and use it as an opportunity to educate people about borderline personality disorder. I wanted to take these sour lemons life keeps throwing my way and turn them into something that slightly resembles lemonade.
I’m ready to share my story with the world because I know the difference it makes. It’s scary to be so open and vulnerable – especially when you’re sharing the deepest, darkest parts of yourself with complete strangers. But if it helps just one person going through the same thing, it’s all worth it.
Coming to terms with my new diagnosis is going to be a process. I’m sure I’ll go back and forth between struggling with it and accepting it. I’ll have days when I feel like my BPD is winning and days when I feel like, “I’m good. I got this.”
When I’m struggling, I’m going to lean on the people who love me. The people who will be by my side regardless of my diagnosis. And on the days I feel good, I will embrace the happiness and sunshine – because after all this darkness, I deserve it.