This therapist doesn’t believe in labels, and she’s made sure to clarify that, just because she has seen bipolar and bordeline personality tendencies in me, it doesn’t mean she’s been ready to slap me with those doagnoses officially. As she put it, “I’m sure we could go through this entire DSM and find out that we all have symptoms of everything in it. It’s like the WebMD of psychology.” She’s mentioned that she’s especially not keen on formally diagnosing me with anything when we’ve been seeing each other for such a short amount of time.
So that’s pretty novel.
Thing is, I only have manic or depressive episodes immediately after something terribly traumatic happens or after I’ve been using some outside substance for a while. The first manic episode I had (the one that lead to me tagging an abandoned rural bridge at 1 a.m. and getting attacked by drunken rednecks) was immediately following a 3-week stint building a storefront for a guy who turned out to be a con-artist, during which time I was working for him 60-ish hours a week, usually around the clock with the help of Adderall (which, by the way, had been prescribed to me by a psychiatrist as a “jump start to help [me] get out of bed”. WHAT?!) That was the only time I’ve experienced audio hallucinations, which I then associated with sleep deprivation. When the bottom dropped out of that situation and the aforementioned con artist was threatening to press charges for slander (which he never did), I went into a tailspin and lost my damned mind. The same can be said for the last manic episode in which a series of events had lead to a massive explosion of emotion here in my home that left Greg and I in despair.
Also, as I’ve been talking to New Therapist, it has become evident that my impulses have slowly grown in intensity in the last 17 years because of my subconscious need to be heard. Thorough, expressive letters I would write to family members asking for help in my teenaged years would be ignored, which turned to me acting out in larger and larger ways that I seemingly couldn’t control.
Six months ago when Greg was begging me to try to go back to therapy, I was adamant that I was done with it. “I’m sick of digging into the past. I’ve turned over every single stone I possibly can looking for answers. I’m exhausted. I can’t do this anymore. It’s been a fucking decade. I need to just accept that this is the way things are going to be.”
About a year ago, I began considering applying for disability with the harrowing thought that I would never be able to hold down a real job; I would never be stable enough to be a reliable, functioning member of society; I would always need to be taken care of. (This is something that many articles about people with BPD assert.) With exhaustion, Greg said maybe the pressure of feeling like I needed to be something I wasn’t was too great for me to be stable; he reluctantly began considering it, too.
We were feeling hopeless, demoralized, and defeated. I called my go-to CrazyTrain co-passenger and told her this “realization” I was having, to which she became the maternal voice of reason I didn’t know I needed.
“No fucking way,” she said with tempered but gentle authority. “You are NOT that person. You are not some leech on society who is terminally crazy and beyond help. You are smarter than that. You are not a lost cause. You are capable of living with whatever bullshit your brain tries to pull on you and you are capable of flourishing. You are not opting out of this because you are not that person.”
I didn’t know if she was right with those sorts of bold declarations, but I did know that surrendering to being taken care of by the government was as good as me throwing in the towel and deciding that “unstable, perpetual mental patient” was a label I was happy to slap on myself forever. Hearing that someone who loved me wouldn’t tolerate that was all I needed to stop looking at the paperwork.
This new therapist was different from Day 1. In my 10 YEARS of going to therapists (6. I’ve had 6 at this point.), not a single one has ever said to me, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to never have to take these antidepressants again?” This therapist said that on the first day. I had never once considered that an option. Not once.
As we have spoken, it has become apparent that my main problem has been that NOBODY HAS BEEN LISTENING. Wait. That isn’t true. There are a handful of people who have listened (my beloved AA sponsor, spiritual mentor, and dear friend Daisy has from Day 1), but my parents were too busy with three other children and too unaware of mental illness to realize that I wasn’t just being “a normal teenager” when my grades plummeted and I started losing my shit slowly during early adolescence. My therapists were too busy pre-diagnosing me to listen to what I needed to talk about and how, specifically, I needed to deal with the things I kept saying were hurting me. And none of my psychiatrists seemed to give a shit. My first psychiatrist lost his job within 3 months after I stopped seeing him at UNCG and was called “The Candyman” by the other staff on board. The others required 15-minute appointments, during which time I had to spit out the few thoughts I was having about my moods and have them scribble scripts for me without knowing anything about my backstory. I saw one psychiatrist for a little over a year, but she seemed adamant that my depression should be combated with Vyvanse (which ripped my digestive system apart so much I had to be hospitalized and endure an endoscopy) and then Adderall instead of, you know, a better diet. One psychiatrist I saw was an old guy who wanted to compare my phases of mental illness to the life of Elizabeth Taylor and would ramble to me about how she felt during her weight gain; this was too recently after my first hospitalization for me to think to question his technique. Another psychiatrist propped his feet up on his gigantic desk and read a bunch of files while I talked before saying things like, “Well, let’s try you out on ______ and see how you do.” This, actually, was the method of another of my psychiatrists, who was warned that spring is always my “bad season” and decided to abruptly change my medications right in the middle of it just “to see what happens”. (HINT: Cut to me writhing in agony and drooling on myself for a few days in withdrawal while my mom came and made sure my kid was bathed/clothed/fed, etc.)
And suddenly, I have someone who isn’t just listening, but was paying attention even when she was just seeing my husband. She was the one who saw the red flags I was throwing up just by hearing them through Greg, even when my own therapist wasn’t acknowledging them. (My last therapist heard the story of me getting attacked in the middle of the night and said, “My goodness! What a fascinating life you have! I do enjoy your stories.” instead of “HOLY SHIT, YOU COULD’VE BEEN KILLED!” I stopped seeing her shortly afterward.) And now that she’s hearing me, validating what I’m saying, and giving me the respect I deserve for having been doing the recovery thing for so long, my impulses for self-destruction have disappeared.
Don’t get me wrong; the material we’re dealing with and looking dead in the eye is really, really painful and is requiring me to make some changes to my lifestyle and let go of some things that are really scary. A lot of times after our sessions, I have this aching heartbreak and have to take a little time to myself. There are a lot of emotions that are finally working themselves out of my subconscious, but I’m so happy to finally have them be acknowledged, respected, validated, and invited. I feel like, by finally letting them out, I’m going to be able to finally get the fuck over them for a change.
Even though it hurts to talk about, I’m steadily enthusiastic about staying on board this 24/7 recovery lifestyle. For the last few weeks, I’ve been journaling my moods and eating habits and the small changes I’m able to make in my daily life. I’m not throwing myself in the deep end like I always do and I’m cutting myself some slack when I don’t reach a daily goal, but I can see it happening. I’m doing my homework. I’m going into therapy every week with a clear assessment of the week before. I’m introducing myself back into a “normal” lifestyle really, really slowly. It’s been a long time since I was capable of maintaining for a whole day, every day for any amount of time, so I’m not hoping to do that right out of the gate. But every day I sleep a little less during the day, I have a little more energy, I get a little more done around the house.
It’s exactly what I’ve been hoping for since I started therapy in 2002.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’m thoroughly documenting every part of this process as I always have been via blog entries. However, I’ve turned it up a notch recently and am taking photos of my physical state to keep track of my progress and remind myself that things are changing when I inevitably get exhausted in the next few months. Also, I’m writing all of this down at the end of every day in addition to what I’m sharing publicly here on the blog. I plan to keep this up for awhile, but I’m not pressuring myself to do it daily – just when the inspiration strikes… which it has a lot recently…you may’ve noticed.
It’s exactly the personal story about all this mental fuckwithery I’ve been wanting to tell. Writing it down all this time is how I’ve allowed myself to get it out when nobody was listening. (It’s why the only thing I asked for from the staff when I was hospitalized was a dull pencil and blank paper.)
As for writing a book about it, I just had to wait it out until I found the end of the narrative to have something complete I want to share on a larger scale. I can see it clearly now, and I’m sprinting toward it. All hopes for a possible publication aside, I want something I can be proud of. I think I can be that