Last week it was World Mental Health day, otherwise known as Christmas for crazy people. I observe the holiday because my brain has been muddled since I was a kid: I had my first panic attack at 7, my first depressive episode at 18, and at 26 I had a full-blown nervy b. That said, this year feels different. It’s because October also marks a year since I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD).
BPD affects nearly every part of my life. It means I feel lonely all the time but struggle to maintain relationships, and it heightens my emotional response to everything. Instead of happy, I’m euphoric; instead of sad, I’m suicidal; and instead of nervous, I’m hyperventilating in my bathroom. I manage to stay functioning because I have a sub-type called “quiet borderline”. This means I internalise things and withdraw completely instead of lashing out.
In the UK, BPD is now called emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD). I prefer “borderline”, though, because if I’m going to be mentally ill I’d rather be named after a Madonna song. Why the name change? In short: stigma. A quick google will tell you that we are abusive movie villains who should be avoided at all costs. In fact, this stigma is so pervasive that some therapists will refuse to work with people like me.
Therapy is the only treatment for BPD. Now imagine being rejected by the very people who are supposed to help you. Crazy, right? (See what I did there?). My doctor even said that many therapists don’t tell their patients about their diagnosis, because knowing you have BPD can do you more harm than good. I’m glad my own shrink didn’t make a big deal of it. He dropped it in casually one day, like he’d forgotten to mention there was spinach in my teeth.
I still struggle a lot with stigma. It’s why I’ve told hundreds of strangers at comedy shows about my illness, but I haven’t told most of my friends. I worry that people will second-guess every interaction we’ve had. I worry that they will use this against me, which I’ve seen happen before. I’m worried that they’ll be scared of me, because according to Reddit I’ll be fine one day and then suddenly, without warning, I’ll turn into Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body (which you should totally watch, btw. Justice for Jennifer’s Body!).
What frustrates me is that most people seem to equate mental illness with anxiety and depression. So when we’re all “breaking the stigma” around it, we only really mean those two things. Sure, Kendall Jenner gets anxious and even Prince Harry’s like “I get a bit sad”, but how would you react if your friend had Schizophrenia? Or if someone you love had OCD? Days like last week’s are great for getting people talking, but not if we’re avoiding the topics that might sometimes be “scary”.
So, if you’re blessed with a stable brain, maybe take a moment to think about this. And if COVID has tipped you over the edge: welcome!! Crazy town is busy but there’s room for everyone. The pandemic has been hard for all of us, and I know quarantining alone has made my symptoms worse. Being isolated has made me withdraw even more. Sometimes I’ve feared for my own safety.
I’m still alive because my therapist and my doctor are good at their jobs. I’d also like to thank Real Housewives of Potomac for making me laugh, and SSRIs for taking the edge off. Things aren’t great, but I’m hopeful they’ll get better.