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Why My Friends Were Surprised When I Stopped Hiding My Borderline Personality Disorder

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I’m talking to a group of girlfriends over coffee. It’s a beautiful day, sunny and warm. We’ve been friends since high school, and have always enjoyed our time together. We spent weekends at the beach, laughed and played. Life for me was so much fun with my friends. However, my severe mental illnesses were always there, lurking like some creepy monster in my head. Many times, when my friends had arranged a night out, I’d make excuses like “I’m not well today guys, I’ve got a migraine” when depression had taken hold, rendering me helpless and deeply, deeply alone and sad. Having no idea as to how long my depression was going to last, I’d extend my excuse to “catching flu, and being very unwell.” That alone made me feel more alone, different and lost.

Not one of my girlfriends are aware of the fact I live with borderline personality disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder and severe depression. I have been very good at hiding my mental illnesses. My reason for never letting on, especially when we were all still in school, was the shame and anxiety I felt about being diagnosed with mental illness, together with the terror of being mocked or laughed at. Worse, the thought of my friends leaving me, perhaps seeing me as an “insane lunatic,” was truly horrific, and desperately scary.

I’d no idea why I was so mentally ill when I was young, having no Google to look these disorders up, but I’d been diagnosed and medicated. So whatever “borderline” and “bipolar” plus debilitating depression actually were, I was never clear. As in, why? What do these illnesses mean?

Oh, they played out, alright! I was the “crazy fun one” — the girl who was so brave. I’d be the one they’d dare to steal something from the shop, and I’d do it! I was the friend who made them laugh due to my sense of grandiosity when bipolar woke up. My friends loved me. However, it’s not “me” they loved. Truth be told, it was my bipolar thinking that was me that they loved. That part of my brain that could and did take on the world without fear, creating barrels of laughs, and giving others courage due to mine.

But to me, they were quiet, nasty and painful diseases, manifesting in empty, “crazy,” lonely, horribly dark days which sucked the life out of me, ensuring that for the time it took for depression to lift, I’d not see my friends, I’d not go to school, I’d be alone and I’d ache for comfort, knowing I wouldn’t get any.

Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I made it through whilst hiding my misfiring brain.

Today, I decided I’d tell them.

Knowing what I know today, and being a mental health advocate, I felt I could tell them, wanting to be honest and not have this dark secret I’d kept from my wonderful friends all these years. Besides, I have all the knowledge needed to explain these disorders to them.

So, in a nonchalant way, I said “girls, I’ve something to tell you all.” Of course, their eyes opened wide, all ears, waiting for my secret to be revealed. I’m sure they thought I was going to announce a pregnancy, or something else as exciting, and so they sat in silence waiting for me to spill the beans.

I didn’t give myself time to break it to them in some sort of gentle way (as if that even matters — actually, it does). Rather, I behaved as if this was just some fact of everyday life, no biggie. As though I’d bought another pair of red shoes, or painted my toenails green — as it should be. Without emotion, I loudly stated: “I suffer with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and depression.” As soon as I uttered those words, I found myself watching my words flowing toward them, almost in slow motion. I was aghast, hearing my truth be told, falling from my lips. I felt myself splitting, telling the people who’d always been closest to me that I was mentally unwell.

Instead of feeling a sense of relief, my heart was breaking and I felt like a fraud.

To say their surprise was truly a “surprise,” and not a fun one, is an understatement. One loudly said “Whaaaat? Don’t be silly, there’s nothing wrong with you!” in a “bah” way. Then another laughingly said, “If you’re mentally ill, then I’m a spider,” to which they all cracked up laughing. Many more “jokes” continued until they realized I wasn’t laughing. I was perplexed and suddenly very confused.

I wanted, needed to share what bipolar, borderline and depression meant. To share my pain that I’d hidden for years, so as not to lose them. I needed to share my fear, my years of shame, but instead, they did not take me seriously, obviously having zero understanding of mental illness.

It was suddenly very clear to me, that unless I’d be willing, if they were willing, to teach them what mental illness was, the ignorance surrounding mental illness is far worse than I’d thought.

My friends were surprised because I’d been so good at hiding my unique sense of “crazy.” I was absolutely “fine” to their minds — again, that invalidating “fine” makes my disorders feel worse.

It wasn’t me who amused them all of those years; it was my bipolar. It was my mental illness that made them love me.

It was never me. The “me” that I lived with, when alone, is still a sad, lonely, hurting misfit, and no one would want to befriend that, right?

Wrong. I found my pack, friends who love me and my bipolar, my borderline — the people who are like me. The people I don’t have to pretend for. The wonderful, kind people, who don’t care about another pair of red shoes; rather, they care about my state of mind.

Photo by Wiktor Karkocha on Unsplash

Originally published: September 19, 2020
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