A few months ago, I found myself overreacting yet again to an argument between me and my wife, saying things that hurt her tremendously, things I know better than to say. I’ve always had a temper, which I’ve always chalked up to me just being me. In the aftermath, I was indignant at first, then depressed, then suicidal. However, for the first time in my life, I realized something else was going on.
I have been depressed all my life. I contemplated suicide when I was 16, again when I was in college, and then when I was 36 — suicidal thoughts forced me to see a psychiatrist and try an antidepressant, which put me in the hospital. The depression usually stemmed from intense loneliness. At the hospital, we found the right medicine and I thought I had things in check.
In the early months of 2018, I experienced several moments of intense suicidal thoughts, triggered when I was panicking over upsetting people I cared about. I had already been diagnosed with anxiety, but the medication I was on was only treating my depression. I started new meds, and again I thought I had everything taken care of… then, this argument happened.
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At the risk of sounding like Shrek, I realized my mental illness was like an onion. I would peel back a layer, and there was my depression. Pulling back another layer, there was my anxiety. But what else could there be? I started researching, and I came across borderline personality disorder (BPD). The symptoms read like my life story. I have deep-seated abandonment issues, unclear and shifting self-image, intense mood swings, chronic feelings of emptiness, explosive anger, dissociation and suicidal thoughts. Prior to meeting my wife, all of my relationships were intense, volatile and brief; however, I feel I have put my wife through hell. I feel like the only reason she is still with me is because she is the most resilient person I know. I have my impulsive moments, but I have always been good at bottling them up or distracting myself. When they escape, though, I have done some incredibly foolish things. I’m lucky to still have the career I love.
BPD explained everything — my anger issues throughout my life, my relationship problems, my depression and anxiety. I had finally dug through all the sinew and found the wound that refused to close. I immediately went to my psychiatrist, and I found a great counselor who does dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), the proven effective treatment for BPD. I have just started, but so far it’s helping. I still have my moments and a long way to go, but I’m becoming more mindful of things.
This whole journey showed me just how well BPD hides because it camouflages itself so well as other things. According to Dr. Alan E. Fruzzetti of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): “It’s so misdiagnosed, in fact, that there isn’t even an accurate prevalence rate for the condition. What we do have is an estimate of 2–6% of the population, which actually makes BPD very prevalent.”
The reasons for this, besides its chameleon-like symptoms, include stigma, myths about age and gender and myths about it not being treatable. Other mental illnesses are difficult to pin down as well, of course. Science, in general, understands the brain and these issues so poorly; I worry we’re only in the Dark Ages of brain science and psychiatry. I try to hope, however, that we may be on the verge of a Renaissance.