How do you put a title on something like this? Sunday, August 5, 2007, 8:12 am — How do you put a title on something like this?
For the past year and a bit, I’ve actively avoided writing anything too personal on this Web site. Which is ironic, as it originally started out as a sort of public diary. It was an outlet of sorts, a place to write about stuff I couldn’t talk to anyone about.
But with time, things changed. I gained a microscopic speck of notoriety for some articles I published here back in the fall of 2004. The set of people who read this site and the set of people I actually know in real life began to overlap. This site began to have professional implications for me; I could conceivably get or lose jobs because of this site.
So I clammed up. I stopped writing about my life and started writing about things.
I can’t do that any more. This morning I’m going to write a post that I’ve been putting off writing for … god. For years and years. My whole life, it seems.
Some of my friends know this already. Like, two of them. I think. Others may have guessed. Most, particularly my casual acquaintances, probably have no idea.
I have a mental illness. It’s very serious.
It’s called “borderline personality disorder.” The reason they call it “borderline” is because it’s right there on the cusp between normal and psychotic. Yeah, I said psychotic. Due to a brain defect or malfunction, psychotic people perceive the world in a fundamentally different way from normal people. Psychotic people might hallucinate or they might not, but the defining characteristic is what the doctors call a profound disconnect from reality. What they think is going on isn’t actually what’s going on.
My problem — I don’t have a good word for it; call it a disease, handicap or disability and my eyes roll — my problem is a little different from that. I also have a profound disconnect from reality. But I’m aware that I have it. That’s what puts me on the borderline, rather that right in the middle of psychosis.
The defining characteristic of my whatever-you-want-to-call-it is an inability to form and maintain normal human relationships. Romantic, platonic, social, professional, whatever. I have a deep-seated fear of abandonment. I often feel betrayed for no reason. I believe that I am a worthless human being, and consequently doubt that anyone could actually desire my company/love me/enjoy talking to me at a party, et cetera. Out of fear of losing personal bonds, I push people away as a defensive reaction. See, I think they’re just going to abandon me anyway, so fuck ‘em.
I go through periods of uncontrollable rage. That is to say, the rage is uncontrollable. I get angry for no good reason, or at best for a very, very insignificant reason, and it doesn’t go away readily. I’m not dangerous in any meaningful sense, at least not to others. But I can be very difficult to be around.
My mood swings have been clocked as being faster than the speed of sound. Believe me, if we could find a way to harness my mood swings, we’d never have to burn a drop of oil again.
During times of extreme stress, I experience what the doctors call dissociation. I sort of lose control of my thoughts and actions. I see myself from the outside, with no conscious control over what I’m saying. I find that I’ve said things I never meant to say, never should have meant to say. It’s an extremely difficult sensation to describe, and an extremely unpleasant one to experience.
I was talking to a friend — one of the two people — recently. She asked me, “If you realize this is going on, why can’t you just not do it?” I think I laughed, though I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s the most obvious question in the world. It’s just that the answer is also obvious, if difficult to understand. The part of my brain I would ordinarily use to make judgments and draw conclusions is the very part that’s affected by this problem. I can’t just don’t-be-like-that because my brain literally doesn’t work that way.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of sorts for the study of the mind, compiling the sum total of human understanding — such as it is — of psychiatry, includes a nine-point checklist of characteristics that mark a person who may have a borderline personality. I score eight out of nine. That’s the best score I’ve gotten on a test since high school.
Here’s the bad news. My problem is essentially incurable. There’s no pill for it. There’s no universally, or even widely, effective combination of drugs and psychotherapy. I am extremely resistant to therapy or counseling because I have such serious problems developing trust. I am the best liar you’ve ever seen. On the worst day of my life I can tell you I’m fine, even great, and make you believe it. Because I’m so afraid you’ll abandon me — where “you” is a friend, lover or somebody trying to help — because you see me as different, less normal, less whole, less … lovable.
Being the way I am has cost me nearly every job I’ve ever had. It’s cost me nearly every relationship, of any type, I’ve ever had. It’s gotten me into so much financial trouble that I can’t even imagine, much less see, a way out. It has, in a very real sense, ruined my life. Sorry for the melodrama, but I’m just trying to explain this as best I can.
I’d like to take a sidebar here and say that this is an extremely difficult post to write. My curse, if I can be allowed a moment of self-pity here, is that I’ve got this extremely serious and, yes, life-threatening disorder of the brain, but I’m left aware and rational enough to understand the stigma associated with it, and to fear being treated as a disabled person rather than just as a person. This, in a nutshell, fucking sucks.
So why am I doing this? Why am I “coming out” like this? The honest answer is that I don’t know what else to do any more. I’ve tried everything I’ve ever known how to try. I’ve gone to the emergency room seeking admission as a psychiatric inpatient. (I do not recommend this, by the way, unless you think spending twelve hours handcuffed to a chair next to a drooling meth addict is lots-o-laffs.) I’ve attempted to confide in friends. I’ve been on drugs — the prescription kind, I mean. I’ve seen therapists. I’ve even prayed, back before the Almighty — if He even exists — stopped taking my calls.
So now I’m screaming in the dark.
Maybe there’s somebody out there. Maybe there’s somebody out there who’s like me. Somebody who’s learned to live and function with this … ugh. This handicap, for lack of a better word. Maybe that person will send me an e-mail with a magic incantation for surviving with this.
Or maybe I’ll be that person for somebody else. Maybe some twenty-year-old girl is sitting out there right now, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, crying in her dorm room and wondering why she can’t be like everyone else. To that person, whomever and wherever you are, I don’t have any answers. I’m sorry. I don’t really believe, deep down, that anyone does. I probably can’t be your friend, just like you can’t be mine. People like us can’t really have friends, not in the long run. But understand that you are not alone. I’m in this too. Right there with you.
Maybe that’ll help somebody.
I honestly don’t know.
So what do I need? I honestly don’t know. I need to feel like I matter. Like the things I do have meaning. Like people are affected by me in a positive way. I need constant reassurance. It’s pretty pathetic, really. Emotionally, I’m a lot like I child. I need positive attention, and when I’m not getting it — even for just an hour — I feel like I don’t deserve it and will never have it again.
A defining characteristic of people like me is that we’re incapable of seeking positive attention in socially acceptable ways. “Hey, do you wanna go see a movie?” is impossible for me, because all my brain allows me to see are the obstacles in the way. Of course you don’t want to go see a movie with me. I’m a pain in the ass. I’m impossible to be around. I react strangely — intensely positively or intensely negatively — to anything that happens. Of course you don’t want to sit next to me in a dark movie theater for an hour and a half. Obviously. And if you say no? If you’re not interested in seeing a movie, or you have other plans? Well, that just confirms everything I suspected all along.
And dating? Please. Don’t even talk to me about dating. Not an option.
This isn’t my choice. It’s how my brain works. And the fact that I’m aware of it doesn’t mean I can just make it stop, because the part of my brain that I would otherwise use to make it stop is the part that’s malfunctioning. Being self-aware doesn’t cure it. At best, it mitigates it, and during the worst times it can’t even do that.
So what do I need today, right now? I don’t know that either. Today is going to suck. Send me an e-mail. Leave a comment here. Tell me you understand. Tell me you don’t understand and ask me questions. If you don’t hear back from me in an hour, send me another e-mail and say “Hey, asshole, write back to me.” And keep doing it until I believe that you actually give half a damn.
Or don’t. Just go hug your kids or something. Tell them they’re good, and that you love them. Tell them that you love them even when you’re not telling them that you love them. Maybe by doing so — I have no reason to believe this; I’m just making this up as I go — but maybe by doing so, you’ll prevent somebody else from growing up to be like me.
-My name is Jeff Harrell. I’m an unsuccessful writer from Washington, D.C. I do many things.
You can e-mail me at email@example.com.