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When Depression Makes You Feel Like a Prisoner in Your Own Mind

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

The tormenting thoughts and inner demons of borderline personality disorder (BPD) feel like a prison from which there is no escape. No matter how far you go, no matter how fast you run, no matter where you try to hide — your mind is right there with you, reminding you in real-time just how horrible you are and how much better off the world would be without you in it.

Like many illnesses, mental or physical, BPD falls on a spectrum from mild to moderate to severe. I fall somewhere between the “quiet” borderline and what my psychiatrist once called the “Bad News Borderline.” When I am having “good days” you would almost never know I had a mental illness. But my very worst of days have resulted in kicking a hole in the wall, contemplating self-harm or suicide, and even an involuntary stay at a (terrible) mental health hospital that left me even more traumatized than I already was.

Depression is a huge part of BPD and unless you have experienced major depression, it can be really hard to understand. And for those of us who live with mental illness, we long to be genuinely understood. So, let’s talk about depression for a moment and break it down into an easy-to-understand analogy that you can use when someone wants to know what your depression feels like.

Mild Depression

This is like sitting inside a clear glass cubicle. You can see the world and the world can see you. You appear “normal.” You go to work, go to school, take care of your family, and laugh at your spouse’s corny jokes. Yet you feel sad and empty inside. Something feels “off” but you may not know what that is. However, you can see through the darker moments to the light coming through that clear glass. Hope remains intact. You remain generally optimistic. Life goes on.


This is more like being on the inside of a jail cell, looking out at the world through the black steel bars — cold and unforgiving. Unlike the clear glass, an obvious barrier stands before you. You can still see the light shining through, but you can’t just open the door and walk out into the world. You’re imprisoned to your thoughts. Maybe you start talking to a therapist. Maybe you try medication. Maybe it helps. Maybe it doesn’t. But hope remains. You are still functioning well most days; however, life is looking a bit bleaker. Your optimism is waning.


Have you ever watched a TV show or movie where the character is in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison? The walls are concrete. There are no windows, and even the single door — your only saving grace — is stone solid. And you thought the jail bars were cold and unforgiving! Now you are truly in your own personal hell from which there is no escape. Therapy? Doesn’t work — or doesn’t work fast enough. Medication? It takes the edge off, but the side effects may not be worth the minimal relief you experience. There is no light shining in. You feel hopeless. Life no longer feels worth living. Optimism is non-existent. You long for the pain to end. You pray every night to just die quietly in your sleep.

A Lesson in Patience

I am early in my therapy journey and feel fortunate to have found both a wonderful therapist and psychiatrist who, together, are helping me on the path to recovery and maybe — eventually — even normalcy, whatever that is. My biggest challenge right now is patience. I have been told by many that therapy “takes time” and that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” After living with depression and anxiety for 35 years, I’m just plain out of patience. Can you relate?

I would love to hear your tips for getting through therapy. Post them in the comments below and let’s get the conversation started!

A version of this article was originally published on the author’s blog.

Photo by Sinitta Leunen on Unsplash

Originally published: December 18, 2020
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