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I didn’t imagine I would make it past 18, then 21, then 22, and every year until recently. I always thought I wouldn’t stick around. Yet, here I am, 26 years old, and still here.
Since I was a child, I’ve thought that “I’m broken.” I remember when I started to self-harm because I needed to release the pain burning inside me. I needed to feel something, anything.
They say people suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) can feel emotional pain like third-degree burns, as our “emotional skin” is exposed. Self-harm was like a compulsion or any addictive behavior. I preferred physical pain over emotional pain because I could regulate the physical, and I could see it. I’d hide my scars at school and at home, mostly. I distinctly remember not hiding them once while doing the dishes at home, just hoping my mom would see the wounds on my arm along with the old scars. Even though it isn’t something I wanted to stop, it was a desperate cry for help. But she didn’t see it.
When I First Received Treatment
In seventh grade, I went to a school counselor who told me I had depression and possibly an anxiety disorder, too. I was so afraid of telling an adult, afraid that they would ridicule me or tell the principal. I was afraid that everyone would think I was “crazy,” or worse, that I might get locked away in a psych ward. But he wasn’t judgmental. I saw him frequently and eventually, he helped me tell my mom.
She took me to a therapist. I saw her a few times, but it wasn’t frequent enough. I was lucky enough to have heard of mental illness before. I knew my mom dealt with anxiety and depression, but didn’t know it could be hereditary. My grandma had bipolar disorder, but I don’t think I knew that at the time. When I first saw a doctor, I heard all about how I don’t have enough serotonin, that the chemicals in my brain were imbalanced. This is what started the “I’m broken,” and “I’m worthless,” and “why am I even here?” thoughts. I’ve always had this internal argument with myself. I’ve always felt like an outcast.
Even as a young child, I had trouble letting people in and being social. I had so much anxiety about school that sometimes I would go to the bathroom to hide. I didn’t want to be around people because I felt so different. I was so ashamed of not being like the other kids that I would hurt myself and pause my crying when people came in.
When My Suicidal Episodes Started
I didn’t have suicidal thoughts until high school. I remember being dumped over text message. My heart was crushed. It felt like my life was falling apart. I couldn’t take the pain. I immediately got sick, quickly followed by a panic attack. When the overwhelming pain died down, I went to bed and passed out thinking that would be it. I woke up the next day overcome with shame and feeling like a failure.
My senior year, I decided to try medication and my world got clearer. I felt better. I stopped self-harming and took my meds religiously. Things were looking up, that is, until the meds stopped working. I had two suicidal episodes in the span of two years. And there have been two more since.
It’s hard to look at your family after that, even if they understand or are trying to. How do you tell anyone you love that you want to die? It has taken me years to realize that I don’t actually want to die, and I never really did.
After the third attempt, I was put into an intensive outpatient program (IOP). That’s when I got my BPD diagnosis. I finally found out there was an actual reason for all my extreme behaviors. It explained why “abandonment” diminished my self-worth, why I want to hurt myself, why I’m impulsive and why my relationship patterns are so tumultuous. It explained everything. It explained how trauma had shaped my life.
When I Decided I Wanted to Live
Last year, I decided to go back into an IOP program because I could feel myself spiraling again. I started a mood stabilizer that seemed to regulate my mood swings. A month later, I made an impulsive decision to move down to Southern California to live with my best friend after a hard break up. I thought it would fix everything. For a while it did help, but then I was starting to spiral again. Looking back, it was a very out of character decision for me: moving after only a week of consideration? I never did anything that impulsive unless it was a snap decision to change my hair or get a new tattoo or piercing, things I can consciously control.
I like to think of myself as a very self-aware person when it comes to my mental health. I try to be diligent and informed, and yet I didn’t see what was happening. I had never done anything like that before. This was the first time I experienced this new symptom: hypomania.
Five months ago, I had a suicidal episode. Before I could attempt, I had my best friend take me to the ER where I was committed to a psychiatric ward for the first time in my life. I was released from the inpatient facility on the condition that I commit to therapy, and I agreed. For the first time, I legitimately wanted to get better. I quit my job under advisement of the doctors that were treating me. I decided moving back up north was the best idea for my mental health.
When I Got on the Road to Recovery
Now I am actively in treatment. I’m see a psychiatrist who recently diagnosed me with bipolar II disorder. On top of BPD, depression and complex PTSD. I see my psychologist and psychiatrist once a month, I take coping skills classes twice a week, and I started my first semester of college in January.
Even though I’m still struggling and sometimes seeing my future can be hard, I am determined to live the life I’ve been given. I actually want to plan my life for once—to feel as if I have a purpose. I am hoping one day I can have the chance to help children and young adults like myself. I think it’s very important to encourage healthy coping skills at an early age.
I will never be cured, but I deserve to get better and to be my best self. Every year I live, from this year forward, is one to celebrate. I never thought I would make it, but here I am.
Cassandra Hall is a 26-year-old psychology major and animal lover. She’s passionate about mental health advocacy and awareness. She hopes one day to be able to help children and young adults struggling with mental health.
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