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Lessons From 'the Border': How I Changed How I Perceive My Mental Illness

While many would say having borderline personality disorder is a curse, from my perspective neurodivergence is a blessing. It’s taken me a long time to look at it this way. It wasn’t always easy. My sense of self was in constant flux. I could begin the day on top of the world, thinking I could accomplish anything. I would often end the day in tears, gripping my pillow, hoping the world will end. I still do sometimes.

Marsha Linehan says, “People with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.”

There’s so much truth to this. I experienced a type of hypersensitivity that made me feel everything that happened in the world around me. A person could walk past me on the street and it would feel as if they would move toward and through me. Everything was blaring. Loud. The wind creeping through my coat, the ground under my feet, and the steady rhythm of runner’s boots as they glided through the park would all affect me, for better or for worse. Some days all I knew was turmoil and I felt hemmed in on all sides. I felt like I was drowning. One story gave me hope.

In Greek mythology, there’s a figure called Charon whose job is to ferry souls across the River Styx. According to the myth, you can only enter the Underworld by going across the River. The journey across the Styx is terribly dark and filled with the cries of those in their own personal hells. However, because Charon is used to the Underworld he knows exactly how to get the newly deceased on the other side. I like to think of people who have neurodivergence as uniquely gifted. Because we understand darkness intimately, we’re more than qualified to help people get through their darkest hour, much like Charon.

Our darkness allows us to see the preciousness of the human experience and it’s diversity. To be depressed is to experience a profound empathy that won’t let you sit idly by when you see suffering. To wrestle with anxiety necessitates that you protect the weak and fearful. To experience mania or psychosis, even at it’s scariest moments, is to appreciate the creative genius in the world around you. Mental illness can be life-threatening, but the way you choose to perceive it can be a game-changer. Will you help others across the River? I know it hurts. I also know you are a light in the dark. You are a wounded healer. Act like it. We need you.

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