Black Sheep Stories | Emma

I indeed have the classic background conditions for the development of Borderline Disorder—an alcoholic, verbally-abusive father and an emotionally-distant mother who should have left my father. It was a horrible childhood. Not as bad as some, I suppose, but it had the right ingredients for future mental health issues. Additionally, I have always been over-sensitive, and was bullied for a good part of my school years, up until a year or two before I graduated, when I finally “fit in” to a better degree. I was always the top student in the class, and graduated high school with the highest grade. I went on to complete a doctorate and was hired right out of graduate school to a Lecturer position, where I was twice promoted. 

However, throughout my entire life, I hated myself. No matter how much I could accomplish, no matter how successful I was, I always felt “empty.” I also struggled severely with abandonment issues, which most notably showed up when I had made a very good friend or had begun to date someone. I invariably ruined almost every single relationship I ever had, aside from that with my sister and my husband, who is truly a saint. I do have friends, and while I am always way too open and honest with them, I really do not feel very close to any of them, because I think they all hate me.

I have always been overly emotional, quick to anger, and prone to “all-or-none” thinking. I thought this was because I was tough, sensitive, forceful, and intelligent (and that might be true ;) ), but I only realized I had a problem after I did something really stupid (you will see).

Only two weeks ago, I read that people with BD get overly-attached to so-called “favorite people" (FP). I have been doing that my whole life. However, for reasons I do actually understand, but do not want to go into detail with, five years ago, I latched on to a student (over 25) as my FP (again, I did not know the term “FP” or that I even had a disorder). I harassed this person constantly, although I did not recognize it as such at the time. I did not even know I had a mental disorder. Well, fast-forward a few years, and I have been fired from my beloved work, shunned by my colleagues, felt like the most horrible person in the world, and made two suicide attempts.  I am now barely scraping by, and have found no substantial work.

The only thing slightly positive out of all of this was that I was diagnosed with (or said to have “many characteristics of”) Borderline Disorder. I laugh because I remember taking online “are you crazy?” tests throughout my life, and the answer always popped up “borderline”. Now, you would think that as an educated type, I would have looked into this finding a little more, but not only did I shrug and not understand, I also actually thought “borderline” meant I was “just on the edge of crazy – not there yet!”. I had no clue. 

I am strangely both independent and needy all at the same time. I very much like to be alone, because that way, no one can leave me! Yet, when I talk to, say, my husband, I range between angry outbursts/ frustration and giddiness. I just have no emotional regulation. I really thought everyone felt this way. I am way too impulsive—this impulsivity in part was what cost me my job. I kept sending “one more email” in the hopes to fix everything and prevent abandonment, but it backfired horrendously. I do not self-harm physically, but I absolutely beat myself up every minute of the day, and am always “borderline” suicidal. I think about killing myself every day. 

Quite frankly, learning that I have a disorder was the best thing that has happened to me. I can now look more critically upon my behavior, and try to resolve the impulses. I also keep myself very busy; I try to keep my mind highly occupied. I think this was why I was able to cope for so long without even knowing I was ill, for I was always engaged in academic pursuits. Once things slowed down for me in my job, I got distracted, but not in a good way. I essentially had a mid-life crisis. Moreover, I began to abuse alcohol a lot—drinking enough whiskey to pass out. I did that for over a year, almost every day.

Embarrassingly, I need constant validation, but I know I need to find that validation from within, not externally. 

People did not understand where I was in my head (and neither did I) at the time of the student incident. When I tried to reach out to people who used to be my friends, they ignored me and vilified me. One even charged me with harassment. I was cut off from my entire work unit and absolutely shunned. It was the absolute worst thing that could be done to me, and that is when I made my first suicide attempt. Sadder than that, some people were saying I am being “dramatic,” "manipulative," and “making suicidal threats” for attention. That I am sure will come out in other stories by folks with BD. It is, I now realize, a hallmark of the condition and misperception. Someone even “liked” a post I made when I said I was suicidal, happy that I was suffering (a friend of the student). Then the worst was when someone took me out for lunch (I thought to comfort me), but they proceeded to yell at me, call me “a monster”, tell me I was not mentally ill but “incapable of feeling emotion” (huh?), and on and on…. (And the kicker was that he made me buy lunch, because he thought he was doing me a favor). That was about six months ago, and I still get shaky when I think about it. 

I fight every day to control my impulses. I am not a monster. I am not manipulative. I am not evil. I never intend to set out to harass or latch on to anyone – I just become too dependent upon them. I did not know other people did not see the world or feel things like I do. I am not histrionic. I am in pain.

The hardest thing for me is all the current dialogue about mental health being “so important”, but when it stares people in the face, they just call you crazy, and want you gone. My work made a big show about Supporting Mental Health a few days’ after I was fired. It was so wrong. 

I have been on a few selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tried lithium, but I am not quite sure if they do anything. I tried group therapy. At first, I thought the “mindfulness” stuff was bogus, but then I realized it is actually very good for someone with BD like me. It gets my mind away from the “cycling.”

Everything that defines me, and has been with me forever turned out to be largely driven by BD—the quick temper, the outbursts, the black-and-white thinking, the fear of abandonment, the emptiness, the suicidal ideation, and the latching on to “FP's." And more recently, the suicide attempts and the alcoholism. 

I went through depression as a course of the firing, but I am generally not depressed (unless I am perpetually depressed and cannot tell). I am definitely suffering from post-traumatic stress.

I never saw psychiatrists until this past year. I did not know everyone was not like this. I did not know I had a disorder. I just coped and coped and chased people away and raged, but was high-performing. Even when my former employer made me go to a psychiatrist, I played “fine.” I can definitely do that when I have to.  Well, I used to be able to.  I do not think I can “pretend” anymore.

I am hopeful. As I said, the diagnosis and label to me were critical (I know other sufferers do not agree). It helped me focus and I think even re-wire a little.

I, of course, do not think I will ever recover, but everything makes sense now. It has been hugely relieving to read what others have written and that I am not alone! 

I feel like this condition is more related to the environment than genetics, as I believe my childhood definitely traumatized me for life. I do not think some part of my brain developed correctly. Stigma is interesting. It seems to be the opposite of homophobic stigma. Some people say, “I do not like the idea of gay people, but I know so-and-so who is gay and I really like him.” (note: I fully support the LGTBQIA + community!). For Borderlines, people say “Oh I really care about mental health and feel sorry for people with disorders, but I know (my name), and she is crazy.”

I am definitely highly-attuned to other peoples’ needs, although usually in the “third person”. I can see when something someone has said or done has hurt someone else, but I have trouble doing that for myself. I generally find my healthcare has been quite good, although I kick myself for not recognizing this condition years ago.

Pets are very helpful. As are distractions. In one day, I went to a movie, a Shakespeare play, and a football game. I do this as much as possible now to avoid getting mired in my own thoughts.  Some people feel that I am just avoiding my problems, but I do not think I can deal with the thoughts when they begin ramping out of control.

It is all still so very new to me. I am scared and sad, but still hopeful.


Note: The author's name has been changed to protect her identity.