A Way to See the World
I have an astigmatism... This means that the lens of my eye is not perfectly round. So, unlike the cinematic depictions of visual deficits, I do not have blurry vision. I have slightly skewed vision. The condition is corrected with glasses, which I have worn off and on since I was ten years old. More often off than on. It was more than a superficial preference. On the contrary, I rather like glasses as a fashion accessory. The problem is that I am accustomed to the way that I see the world through my own eyes... It feels foreign to me to see things as everyone else does.
Similarly, I have struggled with a number of psychological distresses for most of my life... I get lost in my own head. Since I was a child, I was afraid of being left behind on outings, excluded from social gatherings, and growing into an eccentric old maid, like Emily Dickinson. I developed an unhealthy fascination for tragic artists who ended their own lives; Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf. Many long days alone, growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I imagined and role played strange stories in which I was such a character.
I remember my mother taking me to nursery school for the first time. The other boys and girls had already started before me and knew one another. They spent all their free time playing "boys chase girls" and "girls chase boys" games, while I was excited to play with an array of wonderful toys that I had never seen before; dress-up clothes, a kitchen set, story records. I did not understand the way that the other children clumped into these gender specific clubs. I wondered what I was supposed to do with a boy, if I caught one. Chasing not catching seemed to be the objective of the game, but that didn't make sense to me... I had only one friend, Rachel, who would occasionally take time away from the others to talk and play with me, one on one. She was good at making friends. As we started elementary school, I would try to follow her example, but she was frequently assigned to a different classroom than me.
Throughout my grade school education I would struggle with social formalities. I would bounce around from one circle to the next, making little lasting connection. I would become truant, frequently feigning illness to stay home alone. My studies would suffer, but I was smart. Passing classes was not effortful.
I told my parents and guidance counselor that I wanted to drop out and get a GED, apply to design schools. My parents were horrified by the prospect of my not finishing with my diploma. There are high school drop-outs in my father's family. Most of them are stay at home mothers or work in food and service industries. They naturally assumed that a GED would limit my potential future aspirations... Unable to find the courage to demand they comply with my wishes, I languished for another year and a half in my small town high school.
I didn't make any effort to plan for college. I was petrified by the prospect of taking the SATs. So, I became a nail technician. I worked at my mother's hair supply store. I took odd jobs as a promotional model... Eventually I realized that I could attend community college without SAT scores. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I assumed it would require a four year degree. The sooner I started, the sooner the four years would pass.
During college I didn't waste any time on electives. However, I chose many social science courses to help me gain insight into my internal struggles. Psychology was scary. I knew I frequently met the criteria for depression, but I was terrified of something more serious, like bipolar disorder.
I had always had a bad temper. I slammed doors and stomped around the house when I was frustrated. My family assumed, as the youngest and only daughter, that I had simply been spoiled. I was simply labeled a "brat".
Identifying myself as someone who was apparently quite selfish, I made a great effort to make my career about helping others. I decided to become a speech-language pathologist, a career that would allow me financial independence, a schedule that would accommodate having children, as well as altruistic gratification. As I studied, I began to build a resume of work with people with related disabilities; cognitive impairments, autistic spectrum disorders, and chronic pervasive illnesses. I realized that a large part of my job would be to assist them in "fitting in" with "normal people"... and I did this work for many years, as I was taught by professors, supervisors, and from books. It was not until I had my master's degree and a year of experience that I began to question my own social ineptitude again.
By then I was in a serious relationship with a great guy. We were a handsome couple from an exterior perspective... But something was missing. I couldn't understand why I couldn't be happy with him. He glazed over my anxieties with a steady flow of alcohol and marijuana. Thus I started self-medicating.
I met another man who seemed to see something in me that my boyfriend couldn't... and he told me, "I don't think you're happy, or why would you be here, talking to me?" It was a slow process. One that involved many bad, impulsive decisions along the way, but I eventually found the courage to be honest.
In pursuit of honest happiness, I stumbled quite a bit. I became shameless. I found music as my outlet to share my heartache with others. I began the journey to find my voice... a journey I am continuing every day.
Along the way I began to question whether I would ever find a partner who could make me happy. I always wanted more... Then a man found me who gave me anything and everything I asked for- and more... and it turned out all wrong. What I thought I wanted and needed was so unfair to him, and it made him unhappy- I could see how unhappy he was. I heard my inner voice reminding me to treat him better- the way I had when we had started dating, the way I had before I became so invested, before I had pushed him to start sacrificing parts of himself for my piece of mind. I liked him better that way- the way he really is. But he was so devoted to my happiness- and intelligent and talented... a rare combination of attributes that I finally felt were equivalent to my own... But also much more patient than myself, more lenient... better- maybe too good for me.
I was insecure. I was afraid he would leave me... and drove him away... at least for this moment- This is what I have to tell myself to remind myself there is a future. Because when I imagined a future without him I became suicidal again for the first time in years. I couldn't shake the thoughts. I horrified him with the details... He told me I had to get help.
It took nearly a week, but my emotions escalated to the point at which I checked myself into an inpatient program. Inpatient is a lot like acute care. They stabilized me... But the real work started when I came home; rehabilitation, recovery. I came home and cleaned my house, which had been falling apart, along with my life, for months. I am going to therapy several times a week. I am taking medication.
Prior to checking myself in, I had absolutely refused the idea of taking medication... Then after the first pill, I realized that it gave me what I had been drinking and smoking to find- relief from the downward-spiral of worries and fears. It doesn't make them go away altogether, but it does make them manageable.
I also made a decision that everyone questioned- to make my story public to anyone who cared to read... and the feedback was astounding. I expected some Facebook "likes", some comments about "We care about you" ..."You are a good person", but I didn't expect the private messages; the invitations to lunch and coffee, the others who have been confiding in me about what pills they take, the struggles their relationships have survived. I continue to accept apologies from friends who say they didn't know how to respond, and really- it is okay. I am slowly learning to have a scattered network of support, rather than putting all of the pressure on one individual who had the bad fortune of being the sole bearer of my burdensome affections.
Now I know something I didn't know before... the reason that I see the world differently, not just with my eyes but also with my intangible emotions- I have borderline personality disorder (BPD). This means that- rather than having difficulty feeling any emotion, like those with autism- I feel everything with inordinate intensity, good or bad. When I have an emotion, it is as if I will always feel that way. If I am afraid others may not like me, I become overwhelmed with paranoia that they are excluding me. If I love someone, I make him the center of my world- to the point where I may develop resentment towards him for taking my attention away from my own endeavors... an error completely of my own making. It is why I have kept my relationships distant since stopped being part of that handsome couple. I know that I will cling. I know if I loose the person I love, I will want my whole world to end.
The first websites I found upon learning my diagnosis were addressed to partners of individuals with BPD, explaining how to escape from their relationships. Long explanations of why those of us with BPD are so difficult to treat as patients... and frightening fictional depictions of BPD characters in films like "Fatal Attraction" and "Single White Female".
For the record, I have no thoughts of hurting anyone other than myself. I do not cut, abuse, or mutilate myself. I do not find comfort in damaging my body. I did cut my hair recently out of guilt and shame. I did it to mourn what I had lost. I did it to remind myself how slowly -and quickly- time really passes. Part of BPD is dissociation, or zoning out, difficulty concentrating. It contributes to my poor studying habits, my poor guitar practicing habits. When I can not see progress quickly enough, I feel like a failure and loose my motivation. Now each day I look in the mirror and tell myself, "If you try a little bit every day, by the time it grows back, you will be closer to being who you want to be..."
As scary as BPD sounded at first, it is a great relief to read books about others who have faced and overcome the same challenges that I am facing. To know there is a reason I feel a nearly unbearable urge to call in the middle of the night... Now that I know, I remind myself that this is not some pivotal movie moment of resolution or disaster. It may take years to have a partner who is willing and able to be there for me in my moments of distress... as well as moments of bliss. Now I am finally learning the patience to make it all possible. I am finally willing to wear my glasses, take my pills, and learn to see the world the way everyone else does.