My face is hot and there are boiling-hot tears bursting from my eyes.
My throat is raw from screaming.
My chest is heaving and my limbs are tingling.
I am in a crumple on the floor.
And it’s the 4th time this month. And in a few days, I won’t even remember why the cause of that pain seemed so urgent or why I was so shattered.
For people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the above scenario is an unfortunate fact of life that can only be managed with hard work in therapy and, in some cases, medication.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines BPD as such: “a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships.” Some common symptoms are excessively extreme reactions to real or perceived abandonment and a highly fluid sense of self, as well as a tendency to self-harm.
Up to 10% of all people diagnosed with BPD successfully commit suicide–double the rate of all other personality disorders. To be correctly diagnosed with BPD, one must display five of the nine symptoms listed in the DSM IV (the Bible of Mental Health, as it were); I display six.
Emotionally, I didn’t mature beyond adolescence, so frustrating situations which other adults would find merely irritating are sometimes unbearable for me. What would take a normal person perhaps hours to get over, takes me days, and even then I am exhausted from the stress the emotional havoc physically caused me.
I have no sense of solid identity beyond being female and confident there is a God. I have to have some sort of outside reference to maintain an identity, be it a man, a foreign culture or a religion, and I have adopted and committed/adhered to many of each of these. I latch myself onto this outside source and, as Elizabeth Gilbert said in Eat Pray Love, I become the ‘permeable membrane’.
I have small children, four of them, and yet on a day-to-day basis, I have this underlying subconscious thought that someday, sometime soon their real mother is going to finally come to get them because I am not the mother they deserve. I love them very much and, to a basic degree, I take good care of them. They eat, bathe, are clothed, and they know I love them. But I am often impatient and I need a great deal of personal space and time for myself.
However, when I am in the midst of an ‘episode’, I can’t care for them at all– just as I can’t care for myself– and some other family member or friend has to fill-in.
I have also always had very tumultuous relationships, both romantic and otherwise, and they almost always model a child-parent relationship, and I am almost always the ‘child.’
I have been in exactly zero healthy romantic relationships.
My husband, like so many men married to BPD-suffering women, is a narcissist and fuels my emotional turmoil. My family and friends are often terrified for my well-being as they are thousands of miles away from me and observing my hell on social media.
But when they don’t see me there, they worry even more.
I cannot be relied upon to stick to most things I intend to do. I get wonderful, visionary ideas and within weeks, even days, I give up on them. I can count on one hand how many jobs and projects I have actually seen to fruition in my entire life. My friends and family watch my life like a soap opera, with all the comedic breaks and tragic moments any Hollywood movie-goer could hope for.
“Your life could be a movie,” is a phrase I hear on a regular basis, and I don’t take it as a compliment.
Simply put, I am a child in a woman’s body, trying to navigate a world I do not understand and in which I will never belong.
When you hear about someone embracing Islam, they almost always talk about the peace they felt. I embraced Islam in 2009 and I can tell you there have been probably three months of peace in these six years. My relationship with God is as riddled with suspicion and fear and terror of abandonment as any other relationship I have.
Add to this is the fact that within the Muslim community, mental illness is seen as a lack of faith— or worse– and treated as an exaggeration, at best. “Don’t be sad!” “Trust in your Qadr.” “Just cry to Allah.” “Have faith!!”…these cliche phrases do nothing to help a person with a real mental illness.
Thankfully, however, the stigma in the Muslim community is not all-pervasive and there are actually great programs out there aimed at helping Muslims with mental illness. The stigma is not as prevalent outside of the Muslim community these days, either. This week, Wil Wheaton made a video for Project UROK (pronounced ‘you are o.k.’) about his struggle with depression, adding to the countless before him, including Mara Wilson and Perez Hilton.
I – like Wil Wheaton and the others out there willing to take a stand – am more than my illness.
Yes, I have BPD, but that is not my core identity.
I am an intelligent, brave, bold woman with a passion for social justice and a love of learning about all the many different cultures out there in the world. I never, ever stop trying to improve myself.
I am compassionate and empathetic, almost to a fault. I add joy, depth, and hope to the relationships I have been able to maintain, and my friends and family can attest to the fact that I am a loyal companion.
Living with mental illness – with a personality disorder, especially – is very, very difficult and it takes a village to remedy the problems it causes in families and in communities when those of us with mental illness are relegated to the back of the room and told to sit nicely and pray more.
When we are surrounded by a family and community that supports us in our desire to improve ourselves and work on managing our symptoms better, we are so full of life and vigor and our ideas are transformative to all involved.
It is my genuine hope that our community can embrace us, the silent minority.