What Gave Me a Flicker of Hope When Living With Chronic Suicidality
Before I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), my life was already hell. I was raised in an unstable and violent home. A white collar broken Victorian. I too, was a wide-eyed and lively child in the beginning, but after our family home suspiciously burned down things really went off the rails. Nothing was for certain and everything was on fire. I started glitching. My position as the family scapegoat hardened which would set into motion my eventual early estrangement. I fell behind in school and in every way imaginable. Sometimes I was depressed, with dark bags under my eyes. Other times, I became maniacally hyperactive with the temper of a UFC fighter. Rules and authority were difficult for me. Teamwork was a challenge. The word “no” aroused a dogmatic defiance. I was masterfully reckless and hair-trigger impulsive. I once dove headfirst off a bridge into a shallow river (I didn’t even think about it) to show off. I hit a pipe and cracked my head.
I was off the wall, even I knew it. My best friend wasn’t allowed over for the weekend unless she packed a fire detector. Which is understandable, she did injure herself pretty badly that weekend. M was supervised by her parents. They had conversations about life and My Little Pony. They had Guinea pigs. Visiting her for the first time tipped me off that something at home was very wrong. I hid my shoes at her house so I’d never have to leave.
Somewhere in the terror of dinner time or the chaos of moving, the dregs of joy permanently gave way to fear. The glitching intensified. Everything and nothing was my fault. I was frequently miserable, quick to anger, unable to self-soothe, manage my impulses, or understand and honor my emotions or wants or needs. It felt like witchcraft and I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I felt like I was being screamed at for being alive.
Years of systematic abuse physically damaged me to this day. It deformed my developing brain and broke my nervous system—I’m perpetually stuck in fight or flight mode. (I have to physically put an ice pack on my forehead when I’m suicidal to counteract my body’s overactive alarm system.) Instead of wired for connection, I’m now wired for protection. My maladaptive, or seemingly erratic, exaggerated and irrational childhood (and sometimes adult) behavior is the destiny of so many abused children. A biological given. I had adapted to survive in the only way I could. My toxic family provided durable maps of reality. My finely tuned inner working models told me that people were dangerous and that the world was conspiring against me. That everybody hated me. That I was stupid. It convinced me I was worthless while also telling me that the rules did not apply to me. That everybody who loves you leaves you, that emotions are inappropriate and that I shouldn’t feel that way anyway.
When stressed to my limit, I could, and still can, experience all the emotions at once. Sometimes, I zone out, I stare somewhere into middle distance and dissociate. One can only live like this for so long. Chronic chaos, suffering and being on guard all the time is exhausting at best, curl up in a ball and die at worst. When so much anger and fear, finally, if only temporarily, exhaust themselves, relief comes in the form of clinical depression. But this Trojan horse is diabolical.
Borderline personality disorder depression is a different beast from major depressive disorder. It is much more difficult to treat. It is also poorly understood. Anti-depressants are rarely effective and other forms of treatment often fair worse. BPD depression is like being locked in a white hot room and the only exit is suicide. In fact, you don’t even have to be clinically depressed with BPD to feel like that. Sometimes you’re just buying groceries. For about 10% of people with borderline personality disorder that room is their bedroom. That room is their life. Death becomes the only solution. And for some of us it is. A threshold has been reached. A person can only endure so much.
I have struggled with near chronic suicidality since I was a young adult. For years, I coped with alcohol. Its effect on trauma feels like a solution. And that’s why we can’t stop. A few moments of peace for the price of everything. Alcohol’s ham fisted relief of otherwise unavoidable suffering is a public health crisis. One that, thankfully, I have somehow managed to not become a statistic. I would still be an addict today had I not discovered The Sinclair Method. But that’s a story for another day.
In the few years since I have not had alcohol to fall back on, my suicide voice has become louder and definitely more frequent. Often, she is impulsive, I never know when it’s going to strike. Other times, my wish for death is like a prisoner on death row. It is patient, cold and calculated. So sure of itself that the juice of life is simply not worth the squeeze.
I’ve been an atheist all my life, but I have prayed for death. When you live with borderline personality disorder life can certainly become unbearable. Depression not only makes you feel one hundred times worse, but it hands you the key to that white hot room. And dares you to die. Suicide feels like the solution to an impossible problem. For many, BPD lasts a lifetime.
But there is hope, if only a flicker, in the form of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Since beginning treatment about a year ago, my Faustian double-bind has retreated slightly and I finally feel like I have some options. Through DBT, I have learned the tools of change and acceptance. To skillfully manage as best I can, while also accepting that suffering is my reality. That sometimes I will just want to die. These days, I can tell my stalker grim reaper to screw off. And sometimes she listens. Sometimes. I’ve also learned to embrace the despair instead of fighting it. I’ve learned sills to mitigate some of my symptoms and build a life worth living, or at least locate the bricks. Sartre and Frankl help too.
I’d like to be able to tell you that I’ve chosen life. I have. I will make this flicker in eternity work. I may never feel OK, but even my BPD is in awe of the universe.
I will seek out beauty, schedule pleasant events and build meaningful and rewarding connections. I will do the best I can. And I will write to tell about it. But there will come a day when suffering convinces me again that I’ve always felt that way and will feel that way forever. That this moment is eternity. Reason and evidence overpowered again by an insidious disorder of child abuse survivors that is definitely not witchcraft.
It’s difficult to convey how strong people with borderline personality disorder are. In fact, I’m not sure it’s possible. Imagine your worst day, every day for the rest of your life with (often) no support system. No offense, but many wouldn’t last a week in my shoes.
Getty image by Viktor_Gladkov