A Beautiful Mind: Love and Mental Illness
“Being deeply loved gives you strength. Loving deeply gives you courage.” – Lau Tzu
When I think about my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder the aspect that I hate the most is the intensity of my emotions. The black and white perspective I so often desperately cling to. Stemming from this hatred is a fear that I will never find anyone to love me; someone that accepts this aspect of my personality and the many other exhausting parts of my mental illness.
I have had a history of extreme “unstable and intense interpersonal relationships” (as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V), the majority of them primarily romantic. I have cursed out former lovers, proclaimed my unfailing hatred of them, and incessantly blamed them for my hurt feelings.
“I never want to see you again!” I have spat that phrase in the face of several individuals I claimed to ‘love’, only to come crawling back a few days later when the guilt set in. I can’t tell you how many voice mails I left that were, in hindsight, ridiculously manipulative.
“I’m sorry I said those things. I didn’t mean it.”
Who would ever put up with such an exhausting roller coaster of emotions? Who would willingly sit there and take such hatred thrown at them? My illness knows exactly how to punch someone in the gut; it preys on their insecurities, my own insecurities, mashes it all together into a ball of anguish and contempt. And if they manage to weather whatever storm I conjure, you can bet that the next time my emotions spiral downward that annoying rainfall may just turn into a hurricane. My illness tests those close to me, because in the end I cannot fathom exactly why they stick around.
I have had so many fleeting, incredibly intimate and emotionally draining relationships over the past few years that I have often been left with nothing but guilt and a severe sense of self-loathing. In retrospect, I recognize how I had allowed myself to fall into damaging relationships with equally as emotionally unstable individuals. Before I was diagnosed, before I began treatment, before I began to adequately regulate my emotions, I just continued on the never ending pattern of falling in love, falling out of love, hating, pleading.
Treatment helped in one major regard. It helped me understand, that despite my significant lack in emotional regulation, yes defined under my mental illness, I am responsible for the choices I make. I may have no self-control once those voices in my head take over; but I do have the choice in asking for help in the times they are silent (or at least their weakest).
And even then, asking for help creates an entirely new struggle. The medication and the journaling and the support groups and the therapy; they all lead to a confrontation of sorts. You vs. your mental illness. Once the clouds start parting, the destruction caused is so glaringly clear, and the desire to crawl back under that comforting dark nest is often all too overpowering.
The more aware I became of my own thought processes and how my behavior manifests, the more convinced I was that I would be alone the entirety of my existence.
“No one is ever going to love me because they will never, ever love my mental illness.” This thought plagued me daily, etching more and more permanent the idea that I was going to become an old, lonely woman with nothing to occupy her time in place of cats and soap operas and a cold empty bed.
It sounds like an absurd requirement; to have someone ‘love’ my mental illness. I once looked at it like this: it is a part of me, much as my imperfect eyesight and love of pop-culture trivia. Any future lover would have to love my BPD, as loving a person demands that you accept, or at least learn to tolerate, every little aspect of that person’s being. But, as my BPD is a loud, raging, bullish presence, there is something so inherently unlovable about it.
This fear of isolation bred a deep determination. As life continued on and I wasted many a day drowning my sorrows with a box of cookies and ‘The Postal Service’ on repeat, I slowly learned to open myself up. Understand the interworking’s of my torrid mind. I confided more honestly in those close to me. I spent time focusing on the little pleasures in life. Never underestimate the power of a good manicure and a meditation playlist
And suddenly, as my world slowly started to fill with color, the sun shone on an individual who would grow to challenge my assumptions about love and mental illness. Someone I have cared about for several years, a friend above all else. Someone who has shown me what I have been searching for. Someone who encourages me and inspires me to look at myself and my illness in a different light.
When I asked why he was attracted to me, he stated: “Your thought process. I give you more credit that I feel you give yourself, for handling all that you do. I’m envious.”
And at first, I was furious. Envious? Of what? My mental instability? My suicidal thoughts? My constant flux in emotions, my unrelenting devotion/hatred of every person I encounter?
But in spending more time with this individual, in falling in love with this individual, I understood that his perspective, his love, is what I have been searching for.
He sits and listens when I ramble on and on about my insecurities. He points out the ironic humor of the absurd thoughts I voice. He expresses his pride when I react to a situation in a more subdued, appropriate way. He is open to learning all he can about mental illness, my perspective and experience, and the plight of others. He lets me hate him. And in response he loves me.
More importantly, he loves my mind. My, often times, insanely warped mind. He loves how I view the world. My spontaneity. My intelligence. My capability for deep compassion and empathy.
Initially, when I exploded at him with hatred and anger, he sat there, let me unleash it. He did not respond. He did not engage.
Yet, with each storm he weathered, I upped the ante.
I soon found myself at a crossroads, yet again. Because, sometimes, despite the self-help books and the increase in dosage and decrease in dosage, that voice in my head, the one that wants to see me unhappy…that voice wins.
I sought help for my illness three years ago, and understand now how greatly I expected to be miraculously cured. I try and I try each and every day, fall into bed each night covered in battle scars invisible to the naked eye. Eventually that pattern gets tiring. Sometimes I just want it all to end.
In working so hard, trying the suggested regiments of treatment, challenging my putrid thoughts despite the very real emotional and physical toll, imagine my contempt when I awake some mornings feeling no different, no better, still unbearably sad.
I grew to fear that love may not be enough. My loved ones, even a lover who has shown a capacity to trek through the mud, vile spit at him, each time a little worse, incessant phone calls lasting hours before I calm down, ramblings filled with childish insecurities, just to love me, can take only so much.
I began to see the hurt written in his face, and slowly realized that this pain existed within each and every other person that loved me.
The person I had been searching for, I found him. He would hold me close and say “It’s ok to let people love you.”
That’s the key. Let people love ME. Not my mental illness; but rather me, all of me.
Because I am so much more than my mental illness.
I am creative and witty. Sometimes I am downright, goddamn hilarious. That compassion and intelligence I hold, it is real. My strength is real too, and may be the best part of me. I am the strongest person I know.
I realize now that the man who loves me, he isn’t envious of my mental illness; he is witness to the struggles I have. Rather, he is envious of my strength. And he never does anything but help in reminding me exactly how strong I am. In return, I envy his strength. The strength he has to understand and face his own personal struggles and the obstacles he must face. I am envious of how strong he is to stand beside me as I fight my battle with mental illness.
My loved ones, family and friends, the closer they get, the more they will inevitably struggle at the mercy of my illness.
However, I can say ‘enough is enough’.
It’s ok to let people love me. And in recognizing that love, in seeing the pain reflected in my loved ones eyes on days when I am so buried in darkness, I can chose to crumble, or I can chose to rise.
The love I receive from others is a reality, despite what my brain often screams. It is unfortunate that it takes breaks back to the real world to understand this. But I can no longer feel guilty for rejecting the love of others. Sometimes, my illness just doesn’t let me.
This is why it is so important to give love when I have the chance. Those fleeting moments when I wake up with a smile on my face, I cannot waste them. I must express my gratitude to those who care and support me. I must do what I can to illustrate the love I hold for them.
Most importantly, I must love myself. Love my mental illness, love my compassion and creativity. Love my strength.
Each bad day is just that. A bad day; but I know I will survive. I always do. But each good day, that can be so much more powerful. It is an opportunity to find yet another reason to love myself.
Read a good book. Take a hot bath. Walk through the beauty of this world with my eyes and heart wide open. Allow myself to be…loved.
To all those out there who feel heartbreakingly alone? It may sound cliché, but you are not. Stop searching for someone to love you, because that person already exists. It is you. In the brief times the world lets in a little color, try your very best to let in the love that surrounds you. And if you truly can’t find it from others, know that the most important place to look is within!
What experiences have helped you understand a capacity for self-love? And what ways do you show self-care?
Photo by Scarleth Marie