I’ve been going back and forth for months on whether I should write this entry. With the passing of Carrie Fisher, I felt it is time someone say something, and thus my decision to put my thoughts into words. What do I have in common with Princess Leia, you may ask. Well, I hope a lot. But it is how people remember her that gave me the encouragement I needed. Besides praising her role in the Star Wars universe, most eulogy also praises her role in bringing Bipolar Disorder, and mental illness in general, to mainstream media in the 1980s.
Personally, after years of questioning my own sanity, God finally responded with an answer. In 2016, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I don’t need to go into details about the symptoms and causes as they are easily found online. But I would like to share my own experience. Only God knows the exuberance I felt when the psychiatrist spit the words out. Instead of denial, I was relieved. Finally someone was able to put a label to what I’ve been living with for half of my life. I’m not exaggerating. If someone scours through just this website, the symptoms are written all over. But I did not have anyone piecing them all together.
I started going to treatment in 2015. Unfortunately I was not properly diagnosed. I self-diagnosed as Anxiety. When I was told I have BPD, everything, and I literally mean everything, starts to make sense. My life starts to make sense.
Just like how Carrie Fisher refused to let her Bipolarity defines her, I shall not let BPD defines me. Just as any physical illness, it is just something I have to live with, but it is not my entirety. To the contrary, similar to how we applaud someone with a physical illness being able to get up and go on with life, it is time not only for our society to accept the reality of mental illness, but also to provide support and understanding. As someone suffering from mental illness, I can tell you first-hand that it is not easy to go through the simplest of daily routine. I never know if today is going to be a good or a bad day. I don’t know if I am going to be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. I just have to wing it as I go. It is difficult.
I am not writing this entry to ask for pity. I am also not asking for people I know to walk on eggshells around me. I am writing to tell you that being diagnosed with a mental illness is not a death sentence. Yes it is a very difficult life. But look where I am now. I am only nearing 28 and I already have my PhD in the pipeline. I have two beautiful daughters. I can achieve whatever my heart desires. I just have to put extra effort than the normal person. If I wanted to, I can use BPD as an excuse to not get anything done in life; instead I am able to lead as normal a life possible in spite of my illness. If anything, my BPD makes me stronger.
Given my penchant for Hollywood, I have been thinking a lot about some of my favourite movies: Thirteen, Silver Lining Playbook, (500) Days of Summer, My Week with Marilyn, Blue Jasmine, Black Swan and Gia. All of these movies have a character with BPD. I used to watch some of these movies over and over. Somehow I felt that I can relate without knowing exactly why. Now I know. They are stories about my life. Take for example My Week with Marilyn. I remember after watching the movie I blurted out that Marilyn Monroe is now my hero. My mum gave me a weird look. I explained that I can understand how difficult it must be for her to overcome her anxiety and be who the world expects her to be. Or take Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Silver Lining Playbook. She said that maybe people like us know something that normal people don’t. I like that line because I have always been a believer that in order to be a genius, you need to be mad. Before anyone starts rolling their eyes, take it with a grain of salt as something a crazy person tells herself in order to make sense of her presence on earth.
Again, the purpose I am writing this entry is to de-stigmatize mental illness. It is real. It is not the devil. It is caused by some traumatic childhood experience, just as how a physical illness is brought about by excessiveness. It can never be cured, but psychiatrists are working on how best to limit the symptoms. Let’s applaud them. People like the psychiatrist who finally diagnosed me is the reason I am able to look my illness in the eyes and say, “Hi, nice to meet you. But you have met your match.”