Two nights ago, I woke up bawling my eyes out. I had felt invalidated by my psychiatrist at our last appointment, like he was eager to put me into a box, displaying no curiosity to get to know me, or hear what was bothering me. I wrote, “Like recovering and digesting my nervous breakdown and what has cut me in half all my life is simple to fix. I need to understand where I’ve been to know where I am and who I am. Does he understand how hard it is to feel safe and have faith enough to trust the moment? I didn’t feel he did. Im not ready to be totally in the present yet.”
I had then read in ‘I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me’ that “The borderline frequently experiences a kind of existential angst. This can be a major obstacle in treatment for it saps the motivational energy to get well.”
Viewing the confusion I feel over how to see my past and past relationships (“what really happened?”) as this ‘existential angst’ caused something to flip in me, about 12 hours after I’d read it.
I saw the possibility that my psychiatrist was disregarding this angst because it is such a common hold-up in recovery for borderlines – the viewpoint that trying to resolve this angst can be a never-ending battle, and can impede recovery, if not debilitate it completely.
With this realization, I suddenly felt like a piece of cattle. Like I was no longer unique in the world, no longer a human being. I am a Borderline. I am a number. I am predictable. I am being herded.
The paradox: Isn’t this what I have always wanted? That I fit in. That someone understands me, and so it is possible for me to be helped. That I am not isolated in my deepest despair; that i am not crazy for thinking i am crazy. that my suffering is indeed real and more than a matter of positive thinking to overcome, and it is common enough to be understood and aided.
But I am a number, just another Borderline patient. I am mentally ill! The stigma steps in to say, “Are you sure? Are you sure you want to identify with this? There is no going back from here. This is the critical departure point you have been skirting around for most of your life – the line between ‘normal and pathological’ (as the book states).” There was always the (incredibly agonizing as it may have been) perception that I had a choice. But now I have been seen, now I have exhibited this pathology without even trying; I am being treated as a person with a mental illness. The stigma – the common perception of mental illness, of psych wards and over-medication and the loss of truth and integrity and reality—kills me; but the validation is my only hope. I can hear a lot of people in my mind rebelling, criticizing me, that I have given up by “admitting” mental illness when in reality I am perfectly fine. After all, if I am “not fine” then neither are they.
What is my reality. Loss. Loss of old approach to life, old securities, old hopes. Let go, let it die. Make the choice for really it is not yours to make; the choice is to surrender to what is innate in me or continue resisting, insisting that I can learn to hide it well enough to overcome it on my own.
The misperceived and ridiculously exaggerated gap between normal and pathological experience seems to be the staple fuel for the stigma fire. The fact that the gap is not actually that big at all is so terrifying because of the terrible reputation that the most extreme cases of mental illness have given mental illness. It is like watching a news broadcast of several abductions and concluding that it is unsafe to leave your house because the world is filled with evil and horror.
If I am mentally ill, then mental illness is just not as scary and horrible as most of us have been lead to believe. The gap is not so wide. It is not such a dramatic leap I am making. I am still me. No one is crazy, or we all are; it depends on whether the glass is half empty or half full.