I haven’t spent much time wondering what my life would be like without my mental illness. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder after seven years of struggling in near-silence. I didn’t have the luxury of imagining what life could be because the task of life itself was so difficult and consumed all of my energy. Plus, stopping to consider what could’ve been was too painful an idea, as I found it hard enough to keep going as it was.
But today, I’ve been out of therapy for a year. There are bad days, there are good days, and the majority lies in the middle of that. You don’t even have exclusively bad and good days with BPD, as it pinballs between the two hour by hour. But I’m at a place where I can see the light in the dark, where thoughts can remain just thoughts, and where I choose to put myself first.
So today, I feel the strength to stop and consider this question, as I’m almost surprised that I never have before. It’s a wistful question disguised as a game of daydreaming, but one I think I need to answer.
My mental illness is characterised by unstable relationships, something I’m well aware of. I didn’t have my first serious relationship until the age of twenty, as before then, I refused to let myself be happy with someone. Instead, I purposefully chose people who cared the least for me and gave them all of my devotion and hope, then seemed surprised when it came back to hurt me. It allowed me to confirm my worst fears about myself: I was unloveable and destined to be abandoned.
At twenty, I met someone good, someone who showed me that I could be loved exactly as I was but that I also deserved to be happy. And I was happy with him. But I was also awful to him; my moods were unstable and ever-changing. I was so jealous, consistently convinced that he would leave me just like everyone else seemed to. But, in return, I also accepted less than I should’ve, so convinced that I was just lucky to be loved. That relationship just came to a close, and it hurts, and it makes me wonder how different it could’ve gone if I wasn’t so mentally ill.
Would I have been loved earlier and then maybe been less drawn to him as this unique opportunity? Would we have found each other but had a more peaceful and nurturing relationship? Would I have left the relationship rather than waited for him to do the difficult deed?
I’m a person of few friendships. I never used to be this way, as I adopted an extroverted mask and mimicked others to get them to like me. But it’s challenging to be friends with someone who keeps self-sabotaging, and I don’t blame the people who needed to put themselves first and get distance. I also changed a lot during therapy, when I finally started searching for my own identity and putting myself in healthier situations. I don’t blame the people that realised this version wasn’t who they had become friends with. They miss the old version of me but don’t realise that version is a mirage; she never really existed.
Maybe if I were better, I would feel more confident and enjoy nightlife more. Maybe I’d excel better in crowds rather than hiding away. I could be one of those people that makes friends with absolutely anyone. But if that were the case, I might also lose my strong loyalty, the one that has nurtured these friendships into something solid and unbreaking. Without sharing the pain of my soul, these friendships might never have grown so deep and dedicated.
I like my job, and I’m happy to work in marketing, but it’s certainly not what I ever planned. I loved psychology from a young age and went to study it further in university. But university was a difficult time for me, and somewhere along the way, I lost the drive to train as a clinical psychologist. I don’t know if I was drawn to psychology because of my mental illness or if that’s what pushed me away from it. So without my mental illness, I could’ve managed to study further and train as a psychologist, or perhaps I’ll even do that one day still. Alternatively, I might have gone into a completely different field, become a lawyer or teacher, things that once intrigued me.
I’ve loved writing since I was a little girl, scribbling stories about fairies and pretty little girls in my notebooks. This would lead me to believe that writing doesn’t stem from my issues with mental health, but then again, BPD stems a lot from childhood experiences. Writing has been one of the primary ways that I express myself and work through my tumbled mind. It gives me both relief and clarity and is how I can share my experience with others. One of the main topics I write about is mental health because I’m trying to write the articles I needed when I was struggling. If I had good mental health, what would I be writing about? I could be writing book reviews, as I’m an avid reader, or lifestyle focused topics. Maybe I wouldn’t be writing articles as I wouldn’t feel the same need to share my work and thoughts. Instead, I could be more focused on my manuscripts and perhaps further in publishing.
When I consider how different my life could appear without my mental illness, the possibilities are endless, the alternate universes stretching far away. Maybe I would have left the Netherlands after my studies, as I wouldn’t be so dependent on a familiar place, perhaps I’d be travelling carefree. I don’t know what I’d be doing or who would even be in my life, but I do know that I’m okay with how it turned out. Don’t get me wrong, if I could choose how my life would go, I won’t say that I’d choose the depression, anxiety and eating disorder that have stolen years of my life. But I do know that in the grand scheme of things, my road may have taken a different direction, but it’s still moving forward. Maybe the pace is slower, maybe the hurdles are higher, but I’m going somewhere. Everything that has happened has given me something and shown me that I can take a lot more than I would have every guessed. It’s not a path that I would have ever chosen, but it’s the path that I’m on and that I’ll continue to travel.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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