Although the average person can name at least a few symptoms of various mental illnesses, I’ve found that the subtle ins and outs of actually living with those symptoms remains a mystery for most people. When you hear in hushed voices that someone suffers from severe mental health problems, you probably understand that they live with pain, but how exactly does that pain manifest? The answer is different for everyone, but I can shed light on some of the difficulties of getting through an average day with borderline personality disorder.
I forgot to take my morning medications yesterday.
I woke up, had my usual breakfast, and sat down to write as I do every morning. I got two paragraphs into an essay before I realized that setting down each word was becoming progressively more difficult. The phrases weren’t coming out of me smoothly and I couldn’t remember simple words. A little frustrated, or maybe just disappointed with myself, I downed the rest of my coffee, figuring I just wasn’t fully awake yet.
But my writing didn’t improve with the addition of caffeine. Whole paragraphs came out disjointed and out of order. And, oddly, I was starting to feel more tired, not less. Far from a pleasant sleepiness, what I was experiencing felt like an electric lethargy, active and alive. My brain wasn’t simply shutting down. Something was shutting it down.
After struggling to generate two pages of a messy and incomplete essay rough draft, I decided to take a break from my keyboard. I typically clean or read a book when I can’t write, but yesterday both of those things seemed totally emotionally inaccessible. I glared at the dishes in the sink and tried to compel my body to get up and do them, but that electric nothingness in my chest pinned me down where I slumped in my desk chair.
The dishes taunted me. We’re dirty and we’re going to stay dirty, because you’re a piece of shit, Zoe.
Instead of pushing that self-mocking voice out of my head, my mental defenses failed to protect me from my own insecurities, and the voice grew louder. It set off a cascading spiral of negative thoughts: Why can’t I even do my dishes? It’s so much easier than writing an essay, which is what I do every morning. I guess I can’t write now, either. What if I’ve lost my creative spark? What am I going to do if I can’t update my blog? It’s my only contribution to this world, because I can’t show up to a class or a job consistently enough to hold down either one. I guess the dishes are right. I’m a piece of shit.
This conclusion took approximately one second to draw.
Unable to do anything productive, I suddenly realized as I do every day that my little apartment is awfully lonely. I live in a one-bedroom in the middle of a retirement town where I don’t know anyone, which often becomes boring. And when I feel boredom, I don’t feel it slightly. I feel it utterly.
The feeling became overwhelming and I started to panic, so I decided as I do nearly every day to take the short drive to the house my parents and grandparents share. There wasn’t much to do at their place with my writing abilities shot, but at least I’d have some company during my emotional crisis. But my parents weren’t home, and the rest of my family was watching TV downstairs. Although I wanted some attention to remind me that I actually exist, I didn’t want to interrupt their show just to ask them to watch me curl up on the floor and sleep, so I watched an old movie on my laptop and tried to console myself.
Despite how much I loved the film – Evil Dead 2 – something uncomfortable prowled my veins as I fidgeted with my potato chips, and I wasn’t totally able to immerse myself in what I was watching. Each time I thought I’d escaped into the movie’s universe, a deep-seated sense of unease tethered me back to my unstable life. The voice that had come from my dishes that morning returned to remind me that I wasn’t accomplishing anything as I watched my little movie – nor did I ever really accomplish anything at all.
Come one, come all, it snarled with derision, and witness the able-bodied twenty-two year old woman who does nothing but waste her time while the rest of her generation works and marries and finds satisfaction in life.
This was not my voice. These were not my thoughts, nor did I encourage them. I fought back against the lies they told with the usual strain, but my tenacity withered. I tried to route my mind around the cancerous negativity that it used as ammunition against itself, but each attempt drained my resolve, and whatever usually repleted my efforts was painfully absent.
My parents returned with house guests, whose company I had forgotten we were sharing that night. Though I liked these friends, I knew myself well enough to realize that extraneous social contact was a bad idea at that moment. It was only dinnertime and I was already fed up with humanity. Every word my family exchanged around me grated against my mind. I was irritated, worn down by my internal voices, and most of all, lethargic. Despite two cups of coffee and the movie I’d watched, I still hadn’t woken up. My blood seemed to grow progressively more leaden, and the sensation of bricks piling up on my chest finally spurred me to remove myself to the couch that my grandparents had vacated when they finished watching their show.
Paradoxically, despite my remarkable lack of energy, I was also restless. I tossed and turned under my blanket, anxious to leave though there was nowhere to go.
None of my options looked appealing. I could have dinner with my parents and their friends, but that sounded like it would involve too many “how are you”s and “how have you been doing”s. I could stay on my grandparents’ couch until it got late enough that I could justify going to bed, but I would almost certainly fail to avoid conversing with anyone that way, either. With spending time alone at my apartment out of the question, my final option was to drive an hour to a poetry slam my friends were attending.
I resolved to dress myself up and go to the slam in an attempt to feel like I had accomplished something since waking up that morning. However, that meant sneaking out the back door to avoid my parents’ guests. In an altogether too familiar move, I texted my mom and asked her to bring me my things so I could leave quietly. She complied without question – there was no need to ask.
Heart pounding but lethargy still dominating my body, I creeped around the side of the house and started up my car.
I was home and fixing my makeup ten minutes later. When I tried to change what I was wearing, however, I found that none of my clothes reflected the way I felt at that moment. No matter what I put on, it seemed to advertise a fake version of me. My reflection was a facade. By the time I’d chosen something nice to wear, it was almost too late to make it to the poetry event.
I walked out to my car, but felt self-conscious in my goth getup. None of my neighbors could see me, but I still felt every pair of eyes in the neighborhood on my outfit. After sitting in the car for a minute, I went back inside to change again.
Changed and back in the car, I contemplated showing up at the slam and meeting my friends. Everything from sitting quietly in a public space for two hours, to the long drive, to just putting my key in the ignition felt impossible. In my mind, I couldn’t access a reality where all of those things happened.
Still, I was all dressed up and determined to save what remained of the evening. I texted a friend and sat in the car for ten minutes, paralyzed by that electric exhaustion, but got no reply. I made the hunched-over walk back to my apartment and tried to practice my music, but my fingers were like clubs against the piano keys, and my voice wouldn’t come out at all.
My friend texted me back with an invitation to meet him at his apartment in the next town over, but it was too late. My fatigue had dragged me kicking and screaming past the point of no return, and I no longer had the energy to leave the apartment again.
It was 8:30. I changed into my pajamas and took a sleeping pill, hoping as I do every night that tomorrow would be better.