By Kiley (Guest Blogger) –
It’s important to mention that I’m writing this at a hockey game. You’ll understand why later, but while I tell you this story I want you to know what I’m currently doing.
I was probably in second grade when I started exhibiting textbook signs of depression. I retreated into myself, rarely spoke about my day, and kept important things (like the fact that I was being bullied) to myself. This trend, instead of breaking once I moved schools, would intensify until it culminated after my first boyfriend broke up with me a year and a half after starting the relationship in 7th grade. The summer that stretched the bridge between middle and high school was a long one for me.
Staying up until 3 am was the norm writing Harry Potter fan-fiction, using it as an excuse to not interact with my family and friends when in reality I was too depressed to function properly. I survived on orange juice and goldfish and 4 hours of sleep, a habit I would keep well into high school. Everyone is always impressed when I tell them that summer and every summer until senior year I wrote four books, all of them 160 pages long each. I laugh and agree and we gloss over the fact that a growing kid should not be only getting 4 hours of sleep while the brain grows and how escaping from reality so severely hinted at something deeply wrong with me. I wasn’t escaping with this writing, I would also escape into my head when forced to come out of my room, creating intricate stories and scenarios.
I found my home in theater and I started to come out of this hole I’d been in. I loved every part of it: the rehearsals, the long nights, the people. Then I reconnected with someone I should not have connected with in the first place. One thing lead to another, and about six months later I walked away from the relationship severely scarred mentally and emotionally. Repression is a powerful drug: it took years to fully comprehend what became of my mental health because of that person. I won’t go into details since it’s deeply personal, but I will say that I wouldn’t wish the things that happened to me on my worst enemy.
Now some of the things that happened weren’t entirely out of the ordinary, being someone with no emotional boundaries I got walked on a lot during my years. A thought I had very often was that I deserved the pain I received because I only existed to be a stepping stone. It was the mantra of my high school years; how messed up is that?
The first time I cut myself was my freshman year of college. I started as a music education major, which by the way is one of the hardest unconventional majors you can take. I had all of these emotions swirling in my head: fear of failure, fear of abandonment, fear of choking in front of fellow peers, I was depressed and anxious and had a panic attack every other day. I thought maybe, just maybe, if I could cut my skin I could release the pressure inside of me, release the fears that settled deep into my bones. At any rate, it would be a pain that was okay to feel. So a quick swipe with my pocket knife and I’d started an addiction that would haunt me for a long time.
I told my parents I was suicidal. I was sent to an outpatient program. One that focused on hugs and unicorns and warm feelings instead of helping me truly deal with the shit storm that was my emotions and my brain. I graduated with honors because it’s easy to fake being okay when you’ve grown up acting.
A year later I read a book that forced what this boyfriend had done to me to the forefront of my brain, making me relive it with new eyes and a more developed understanding of abuse. I drove myself to the hospital because I was once again suicidal, gouging my thigh with the alligator clip of my name badge of the store I worked at. Instead of being put on watch, the hospital told me I was okay. I went on a vacation.
Another year later I hadn’t come to terms with anything. I was constantly dissociating, reliving things, having panic attacks at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t be in large crowds: my fiancé and I tried going to a hockey game because he loves hockey and I scratched my arm raw, blood spilling onto my jeans and his expensive hockey jersey.
One day it all came to a head. I couldn’t control my emotions, and I did something so so stupid. In a fit of absolute desperation, I drove myself down to Ohio where my husband lived at the time and went to his workplace, crying hysterically, scaring the poor security guard. My fiancé came running out, took one look at me, and took me home. We decided that night I needed to check myself into an actual inpatient center this time.
The hospital I chose saved my life. We arrived at 5:00 am, and miraculously they had a bed open. It was obvious I needed it: I hadn’t stopped crying since the day before, and I looked like an absolute wreck.
The doctor came in once I had settled in and after getting second thoughts and having a panic attack over that. We went through what I was feeling and how I handled my emotions. I showed him the scars on my arms and legs, and he asked me if I would take a personality test. I answered a few questions, and when he came back, he told me I tested very very high for something called Borderline Personality Disorder.
I’d been diagnosed with Major Depression and General Anxiety since my stint in the outpatient program, but Borderline was something I’d never considered before. I thought maybe Bipolar Disorder, but Borderline’s were evil and the villain in Girl, Interrupted. The doctor assured me this wasn’t the case, and he gave me a metric ton of literature to read on the subject.
I stayed for three days, though I wish now that I would have stayed longer. The reason why I say this hospital saved my life is because not only did they give me a diagnosis that I needed, they connected me with my current therapist. Wendy* is 5 foot nothing of pure compassion and not a single ounce of bullshit tolerance. She doesn’t tell you want you want to hear, she tells you what you need to hear but in a way that has you understanding why you need to hear it.
One of the things I’ve learned doing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is the concept of Radical Acceptance. Basically, you have to accept what’s currently happening. You don’t have to like it or even want it to be happening, but it is what it is, and you can’t deny it or live in a fantasy world to ignore it. This was the concept that hit the most home to me. I’d spent so long denying my own reality, that when I had to confront it and accept it and actually live in it, it was hard.
My favorite way to describe recovery is it’s like a road. It winds and curves, and there’s bumps and potholes, sometimes you have to double back because you took a wrong turn or the car stalls and you gotta kick start it with some help. Never be afraid to ask for that help. I’ve accepted that things have happened to me that should not happen to another human being, and I’ve accepted it’s not a blight on who I am as a person. I’ve accepted the fact that I have Borderline, even though I sure as hell don’t want it. Who actually wants to have mental illness anyway?
The most significant difference between what happened in the past and what happens right now is that you can change what’s happening right now. You can choose a new path, a new life, a new way of dealing with mental illness. The past doesn’t matter anymore. We need to remember it, so we don’t repeat it, but it doesn’t have a hold on us anymore. Leave the power they had over you in the past where it belongs.
I’m currently writing a book where the main character, Colt, has Borderline. It’s been so cathartic to do, and I feel like it’s helped me fully accept who I am. I wrote a section that involves one of the other main characters, Mia, trying to get through to Colt that she’s worth love and needs to move on, accept reality and keep going.
“You got handed a bad deck. Rewrite the cards and when the Sharpie wears off write it over again. One day the sharpie will start staying on longer, but there will be a time where it wears or chips. Keep rewriting, keep trying. Make this your new normal. The status quo has already changed so much, what’s one more change?”
If you’re struggling with a diagnosis or with living mental illness, I implore you to try Radical Acceptance. It won’t be easy, and it’ll take time. But I swear to you, as living proof, as someone thoroughly enjoying a hockey game with an attendance of roughly six thousand people when two years ago I couldn’t be in a room of six people without leaving with at least a small trickle of blood, it’s so so worth it.