Dear Borderline Personality Disorder,
Wow it’s been a year and you still do a great job of ruining - and making me feel terrible - almost every day of my life. Why can’t you just leave my brain and leave me alone? I guess that is too much to ask considering you are used to consuming my life no matter what.
Life with you has changed me for the better and to others for the worse. I’ve been told that you are common in lots of people, but honestly - I don’t think so. I have yet to meet another person on this planet that has to put up with you like I do. That day would be amazing! Being able to relate to someone who experiences the same things I do because of you…
I don’t exactly blame you for anything, though, because what’s the point because its not worth the energy. I do hold you responsible for most of my bad days, my incredibly painful thoughts, and my reactions during those moments that I seem to lose control. Can’t you just hide somewhere deep inside where nobody else knows and it is not obvious that you’ve got such control?? I guess you can’t…
Let’s go back about a year and a half - the first time I heard your name. I was relieved and confused to know you. Finally, figuring out it wasn’t just depression or anxiety; your diagnosis made me feel like I had more control by giving me a chance to learn and research more about you and try to find things out for myself that might help. Unfortunately, though, all of the research I’ve done to understand you hasn’t felt helpful. Most sites say things like “you’re incurable” or “BPD is a chronic illness”. Leading me to believe that I will have to suffer you forever… I don’t know who to believe (researchers or therapists) or what outcomes to expect!
All I know is that I have you in my brain 24/7 without any relief, except when I can figure out how to use my own energy to create distraction. I wish all the questions people asked me, you could answer for yourself. Why are you so tired? Why don’t you just get up and do something? Why don’t you focus on the positives instead of the negatives? Can you answer all the questions, BPD?? I didn’t think so, because you’re an illness and don’t have a voice, which is extremely sad...
To be honest, this world would be much more understanding if each mental illness had a voice to share. I often think why it had to be me out of everyone in my entire family and all the people I know. Why couldn’t it have been something else or something not at all? The fact is that I have just gotten used to feeling down, wanting to self-harm and hurt others; ball up and cry, operate with less motivation and energy, and under more and more stress/anxiety over trivial things. In daily life I might appear like I’m making it but not without great strength…
I thought you were supposed to give me some hope through this journey by at least telling me there was a cure and/or you were more common than I thought. I guess that was a naive assumption...In ways you have caused me to hate most people. You have convinced me to only trust certain people - not everyone, for the most part. I guess that’s a good thing? But, considering the pain you’d have me endure, there should be some prize I win for just putting up with you. Tell me BPD, what is the ultimate prize I have been waiting for? Is there really relief from you out there, or is that just what people believe will happen if I don’t give up??
My life has forever changed because of you. Some parts I regret and others I don’t. When do you think you can give me a break? I am beginning to think never or, at least, not anytime soon…
All I wish is that someday you will make me realize I am not the only one; because I know that for sure, but I often feel like I am… One thing you could also do for me is to reveal yourself to the world. Advocate for those that have you living in their brains. Let others realize that you do exist and we are not just making things up. Help others understand that it’s you who messes with our brains - it’s not just us. If I had one wish that would be it! Just to be able to help others understand that you exist and those who struggle and fight against you are being real - not fake…
I am not mad at you, BPD, I don’t even hate you because you’re an illness of the brain, but daily life with you is often a struggle just like with people I have daily contact with. BPD, I thank you for at least giving me some purpose in my life - allowing me to educate others on the subject and sharing my personal experiences with them. It’s not all bad I promise. I just want you to know that even though each day is technically a new day, it isn’t with you, despite the fact that I wish it were… I thank you for shaping me into the person I am today despite what others think. That’s one thing I can say with full honesty.
Female, Age 18
Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD, ADHD, General/Social Anxiety, Major Depression
I hate you. I hate you for what you’ve done & continue to do. I hate you for who you’ve hurt & continue to hurt. I hate you because you are you – an invisible weighted cloak; an off-radar, black storm cloud; a high-frequency cry for help that most humans cannot hear; a mythical diagnosis… Your elusive essence is what upsets me the most! Why me? Why them?? Why only a select few???
You first appeared in early adolescence – I was only in middle school and in the throws of puberty. My developmental state & the particular life events that forced me to face my own mortality at too early an age caused the lot of us to believe that you were ‘circumstantial’.
If only I… improved my physical state of health; changed schools; made the ‘right’ friends; built a stellar college resume; had a boyfriend; got rid of my acne; got reconstructive surgery; was happier with my appearance; got into the ‘right’ sorority; partied harder; took more risks; did more traveling; went to a ‘better’ college; had ‘better’ friends; put my attention elsewhere; was more selfless; was able to help more people; was able to save more money; had a ‘better’ job; moved someplace else; was closer to the one I loved; was dating someone else all together; invested in counseling; found the ‘right’ counselor; invested in self-help; worked harder at self-help; invested in supplemental healthcare; admitted my mistakes; figured out how to be a ‘better’ person… If only I changed , my life would feel better; & you would be gone! Or, so I thought… and, at times, still like to believe.
The sad truth is that most folks that know me don’t really know me, because they don’t know you. If they did, they might run the other way! You’re wrought with stigma. You’re often seen as the result of a weak will or character deficit. Those of us that claim you are made to defend your very existence, so as not to be branded by our inability to independently manage you – to simply ‘get over it’; ‘look on the bright side’; ‘stop the melodrama’; ‘suck it up!’
Good thing I know how to keep you hidden or (at least) how to disguise you. You live behind the masks that I wear & the anger I have come to wield. I’ve worked hard to prevent you from ruining my reputation, yet, your very nature oftentimes prevents me from being seen & heard. You encourage isolation & withdrawal, self-doubt & self-harm. You feed a vicious cycle that, in turn, feeds you:
(FEELING) You cause me to feel sad & (ultimately) hopeless. (THOUGHT) You fill my mind with doubtful thoughts - ‘What’s wrong with me? My life is horrible. I can’t stand feeling this way!’ (ACTION) You encourage me to stay in bed, distract, numb, & avoid all that requires effort. Under the spell of this cognitive-behavioral catch 22, my brain chemistry worsens; I’ve got even fewer endorphins in my court. So, this downward spiral perpetuates: (FEELING) I am genuinely fatigued - feeling run down & lacking the energy necessary to invest in self-care. I’m irritable, confused & ashamed. (THOUGHT) I reason, ‘Will I ever feel any better?? This is hopeless…’ (ACTION) I keep to myself. I skip meals or binge on unhealthy foods. I’m largely sedentary. I discontinue efforts toward a wholehearted life & aim to stay numb… Work performance suffers; relationships suffer; self-image suffers; biochemistry suffers yet, you thrive!
The worst part about life with you is that despite all of this insight – all of the logical solutions to minimizing your effects, not to mention the degree in psychology I went in search of – you have literally infiltrated my mind & my body. You have reinforced unhelpful schemas & harmful behaviors for years on end. You’ve been a part of my life for so long, in fact, I fear that you truly have influenced my character & my will. You’ve certainly seized my idealism & rose-colored glasses…
Depression, hear me when I profess that I will never give-up the only life I’m certain to have as a result of the garbage you put in my mind’s eye, nor will I allow your physical weight to keep me down & out. I would never give you an excuse to take host inside of those that my suicide might harm, because I hate you. I hate you for all that you’ve done & all that you do; and I refuse to let evil prevail.
Female, Age 35
Clinical Depression, among other things...
I wrote this letter to bring awareness to not just PTSD but to all mental health disorders. These aren’t games that we play - this is a life or death situation for those of us who suffer. I’m also writing because we need to stick together to break the stigma around psychiatric medications. I tried getting through my depression the first time without them, and I only dug myself into a deeper hole. Another thing I wish to convey is that PTSD should not be seen as a label. I know many people who cringe when they find out someone has it - they think that we’re out of control but we're not… To those that suffer, please don’t do it in silence because you don’t have to. It's okay to not be okay. If you ask for help, I like to think that there will be people to catch you when you fall. We just need to trust the process and take our medications like we're supposed to - so that we can be the best that we can be. Thank you for taking the time to read this in an effort to really understand the battles we go through daily.
Dear Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),
Yes - I have you; but no – you’re not a result of time spent in the armed services, as there are many experiences that birth you. You can result from any trauma throughout your life – trapping your victims into dark boxes... Little did I know you were the main reason I had so many problems. When I was diagnosed with ‘Bipolar, Manic 1 with Anxiety’; I hadn’t a clue that it was really a small part, playing a big role as the devil's advocate in my mind.
For almost 20 years I searched for an answer to my angry outbursts and sensitivity - becoming overly emotional over the smallest of things. I couldn't understand why I let myself get so attached to certain people, knowing that they might not be in my life forever. This detachment issue I had - led me to lots of pain and lots of heartache. Before treatment, I was at a complete loss as to why I couldn't remember much of my childhood… But then, you were named and thanks to the help of therapists, all of the puzzle pieces have fallen into place.
My car accident had only added fuel to the fire that raged out of control. I had no idea how to stop it! I spiraled downward so fast we almost didn’t catch you before it was too late. I’ve almost lost my life on several different occasions because the path that brought me to you was never clear.
It was a dark path of self-destruction. From self-harm, to alcohol, to drugs - the light at the end of the tunnel became dim with time. If it weren’t for my family, the friends that have become family as they were on this journey with me since day one, and the wonderful staff at my treatment facility - I wouldn't have made it through the fog.
I used to regret my past – having been a part of all of these things - but since coming out of treatment and being six months clean, I am no longer ashamed! Someone once told me to ‘stop beating myself up about my addictive behaviors because I did what I had to in order to survive’. I understand that now and see the strength many people said I had. Life really is greener on the other side, now that I understand that you were there all along. With all of it fresh in my mind, I am thankful everyday I get to wake-up with a chance to become a better person than I was the day before. I am now grateful for my past because it's shaped my character and who I am today. Now that I have knowledge of what the root problem is, I know who I truly am; and the peace of mind that comes with that is priceless.
Female, Age 25
PTSD; Bipolar I Disorder with Clinical Depression & Generalized Anxiety; Alcohol Use Disorder, Substance Use Disorder
NOTE: According to the DSM-5, Dissociative Identity Disorder is when two or more distinct identities or personality states are present, each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self. The disorder develops after severe developmental trauma that interrupts the child’s ability to integrate all parts of self.
Dear Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID),
You are hard to describe. It’s hard to put into words just how life saving - yet destructive - you really are. Allow me to describe a day with you:
I wake up in the morning to start the day. I get dressed, start the coffee and jump in the shower. I step in, but you do too causing something else entirely to take place. Someone else takes over - someone inside decides to step forward and pilot the body for a few hours. One of my ‘parts’ comes to life, yet I, the host, am completely out of the loop - completely blacked out, like a person whose drank too much and can’t remember anything they did the next day. Accept, not the same at all, because this isn’t chemically induced - it is all me and extremely scary.
During these episodes I act completely unlike my adult self. I switch into one of 3 alters: ZoZo, a timid 5 year old girl; Zoey, an outgoing and vibrant 8 year old; and, lastly, Emma - an angsty 13 year old who thinks she is a full grown adult.
I remember when my therapist first told me about you – ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’, formerly known as ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’. My entire body initially cringed, because I didn’t want to be the “crazy one”; but then I calmed down and thought about what this diagnosis really meant. It meant that I wasn’t crazy! It meant that I wasn’t blacking out for hours at a time for no reason. It meant that years of lost time and actions that were allegedly performed by me (but felt so foreign to me) came from someplace real!
I am getting to know you, now, and my respective parts, but we’re not exactly friends – frankly we want to kill each other at times (NOT an overstatement). But, I’m learning to respect you and each of the parts that you enact within me - because each part has a story and each story comes from someplace very real in my life. Places that will forever affect me because they took place in early childhood. I wish I were stronger - strong enough to hold onto each piece separately, so as not to slip in and out of your dark holes. I’m grateful, however – grateful that you saved me during times in my life that I needed those parts of myself to survive my past.
ZoZo (age 5) is small. I see her in the sad eyes of other little girls who clutch onto the arm of their favorite teddy bears. She has short brown curly ringlets that bounce when she walks. She talks, but is hardly heard because she whispers. She is scared, scared she will be seen by men who have hurt her; scared she will talk too loud and be punished; scared she will blink her eyes too long and the people she thought loved her will disappear forever. She has deep brown eyes and big bold pupils that look around at everything. She doesn’t just see the world as it appears, though; she sees what she can sense - fear, happiness, joy, and excitement. ZoZo is quiet, but she loves to be noticed. She loves when someone safe wraps their arms around her and holds her tight. She loves when you look at her artwork and adore it. Unfortunately, when I picture her in my mind I see her as exceptionally tiny - a minuscule little girl in the corner of a big dark room. She is curled up with her head bent down. She is wailing, cries echoing through her chest.
Zoey is my protector. She is who kept me calm and happy in times of extreme panic and sadness during my upbringing. She is one big ball of energy, a classic bouncing 8-year-old girl. She loves music and dancing and can play the piano better than anyone in our system. Zoey is a pudgy little thing, with a gap in her two front teeth and cheeks big enough to fit in an entire handful. She is adorable, nonetheless. She has a zest for life and loves everyone she meets. She will play with anyone, introduce herself to anyone and put herself out there in, sometimes, not so safe of ways… She has wavy brown hair, not as curly as ZoZo’s, and brown eyes. She loves to talk and to be talked to. Zoey doesn’t hold as many bad memories as ZoZo (nor as Emma). Unlike both of them, that isn’t her primary purpose. Her purpose is to help me function in everyday life, like in school, work, and social situations – you, DID, have made it clear to me that her primary position is to help me survive in the present...
Emma is the oldest of the bunch and she knows it. She is 13 going on 30 (pardon the pun). She has been an integral part of the system for the longest amount of time. She was present for the majority of the trauma that occurred – she is the manufacturer of resentments, anger, and the hard shell that wards off any forms of love, affection, and care from foreign sources. Emma’s primary job is to keep everyone safe – every part of me looks to her for safety… But, in doing so, she has learned to push everyone in the real world away. She isolates, self-harms, over drinks, and acts out sexually in order to fill internal voids that she wont let anyone else help her heal because she is too scared to be vulnerable…
Each of my parts - ZoZo, Zoey and Emma - have played vital roles in my survival up until this point. Without them, I don’t know that I would have been able to handle the trauma, pain, and heartache that my past has created for me. Of course there are plenty of things to complain about as a result of your existence, DID; you haven’t been all good. Switching in to a terrified 5-year-old personality in the middle of a job interview (for example) is not ideal. The ways you show up, in fact, have caused me to lose any hope at being hired; any hope in holding down a job when I really needed it most. But, I’m learning every day how to appreciate each of the parts that you keep me in touch with – each of which has helped me get to where I am today. I am learning how to create boundaries with each part of me that remains intact. For example, I now understand the importance of making time for myself - the adult; as well as how to facilitate appropriate playtime for the others – ‘the littles’.
So, DID, thank you for your service. Thank you for being there when I was just a little girl, just a vulnerable tiny little child who had no one to help her. Thank you for giving me my soldiers - ZoZo, Zoey and Emma - to fight my battles for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. Thank you for quite literally giving me the superpower to survive the unthinkable. But please hear me when I say, I am stronger now. I am safe. I can do this on my own.
Female, Age 23
Dissociative Identity Disorder, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Clinical Depression
I don’t care what type of specific diagnosis you want to manifest as: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Selective Mutism, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and others. You are so creative in the ways you cripple our lives.
Of all the horrible things I have to say to you… I want to tell you I hate you most because you hurt my children. I want to go to sporting events, volunteer with groups at school, plan big birthday parties, and do all those things moms get to do. The joy on their faces warm my heart on the days I make those things happen. It takes everything I have to do it.
The tragedy is that you, Anxiety, hold me hostage and keep me from being who I want to be. You have killed the mom I wanted to be… still want to be. You must relish in the moments I hear my youngest say, “Why isn’t Mommy coming to church again?” And do you contort your beastly face into a demonic smile when you hear, “I wish you could come with us today. It’s not as much fun at the game when you’re not there.” You break their hearts. But they are still too young to understand… so you make it look like I am the one breaking their hearts. They don’t understand it’s not me. I take the blame for you and your evil ways! I HATE YOU!!! You break my baby’s hearts…
Anxiety, you will not win. Just as you have been relentless in my life, I, too, will persist beyond your ability to hold your grasp on my life. It’s MY LIFE. It is not yours. I will continue finding the right balance of medications, holistic approaches, and therapy to finally beat you some day. Then I’ll plan a big party for myself and invite everyone I know! Well… almost everyone. You, Anxiety, will not be invited. You will be burning in Hell where you belong.
Female, Age 37
Clinical Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD
You’ve made me an invisible celebrity! How is this possible you ask? Well, people begin to whisper when they see me enter a room. They look at me but are careful to give just the right amount of eye contact to communicate a friendly hello. Then, they watch me with brief looks through quick glances; so as to avoid being caught staring. I’m the most talked about person at family reunions. Thanks to you, people want to know so much about me and gossip. I could probably have my own magazine that they’d just love to read!
Like a celebrity, the average person knows little about me. They know my job, how many kids I have, and, perhaps, where I vacationed recently. But they don’t know the real me. They don’t want to dare cross that social stigma to associate with someone who is "mentally ill" and battling an invisible diagnosis… battling YOU! If I had cancer, they’d send casseroles and understand why I can’t make it to an event. Depression, however, you are riddled with symptoms people don’t understand.
I want to rip my hair out when people give me their well-intended antidotes and cures. I’ve really heard it all at this point. “Just trust Jesus more and you’ll be happy.” “I have an essential oil for that!” “Everyone goes through a tough time at some point and this will pass.” “Lose some weight, eat healthier, and do yoga. A healthy body equals a healthy mind.”
While there is some truth to all of these for people struggling with a tough time in their life, you, Depression, are a different beast. I have tried all of the above, along with: counseling facilitated by a trauma therapist, EMDR, CBT, psychotropic medications, psychiatrist, a 5-week intensive treatment facility, and more! Nothing has “cured” me at this point. It’s still a struggle every single day of my life, thanks to you...
One of my favorite lines from a movie about a woman struggling to manage you comes from a scene where her husband asks her why she chooses to live where she is with a friend (who also has suffered from the agony of your control) and not at her home. Her response was so powerful to me. She simply said, “She doesn’t ask me how I am. She knows.”
My family does not understand and is not supportive. It’s possible I’ll lose my job because I’ve missed so much work for side effects from medications, days when you and anxiety trap me from escaping the security of my bed, or other lovely aspects of your nasty diagnosis. And just like people stop when they hear a celebrity’s name… people stop when they hear the words “mental illness” or “Clinical Depression”. They get afraid and worried by the real you. You are like the plague! When people ask how I am doing it’s just easier to say, “I’m tired.” If I really told them… they couldn’t handle it. And even worse, if I told them, “I’m clinically depressed,” I’d often get a response like, “I’ve been so depressed lately, too! There’s just so much to do and blah, blah, blah.” They’ve never really met you. They don’t know how you ruin lives. How you’ve ruined mine. I hate you Depression!
Female, Age 37
Clinical Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, Epilepsy
Brianna Schiavoni, LCSW
“Ms. Schiavoni has given a voice to many people who battle various diagnoses. Through this therapeutic and empowering writing project, participants can finally share their story and reclaim their power over that diagnosis!”