Happy World Mental Health Day 2019!
Today, October 10, 2019, is world mental health day. As a person advocating for better understanding on mental health issues, I am trying to do my tiny part today of at least sharing my personal experiences. Also, knowing what I know, I would like to plead with my students who are reading this, if you have a problem, I am here to listen. I may understand how you feel.
I am diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). I have written about this before, but I stopped short of describing what it is like to be me. I am not proud to have a personality disorder per se, but I consider myself among the lucky few who at least knows of my diagnosis, and thus can learn the tools to manage my daily life. I pity those who go around feeling horrible about themselves and not knowing the cause. I was that person once.
So, let’s take a step back and have a short introductory class on BPD. In a nutshell, I have a personality disorder, which is a subset of mental disorders. According to the BBC (September 9, 2019), having a personality disorder means that “certain aspects of someone’s personality make life difficult for them and for other people.” What is this personality of mine that also affects 1.6 percent of the American population? Basically, I have a dangerously lop-sided view of myself and my capability. In other words, while others see me as a ‘success’, I see myself as inadequate. A lot of people do deal with varying levels of insecurities in their daily lives; but I am diagnosed with a personality disorder because my insecurity can be, and has been, dangerous to myself and others.
I know it sounds…weird. Married by 20, Hajjah by 28, PhD by 29, three kids by 30. If we go by the numbers, my life is relatively better than average. This is also not recent. A-student all my life. Scholarship all through my tertiary education. A steady job that pays well and gives me joy and purpose every single day. What could be wrong? Well, that is what a normal person would think. But I’m not normal. I have a personality disorder.
“Like other mental disorders, upbringing, brain problems and genes play a part in their development.” How did I get here? Well, I’m paying my counselor in the hundreds of ringgit every month to deal with what led me here. So, I don’t think I want to recount it all over again. But the message that I want to make is, it is real. It didn’t happen overnight. Pockets of experiences over many years chipped at my confidence until I reached a point where I do not feel worthy.
Now this post is starting to sound depressing; allow me to backtrack.
When my BPD is at a low, I can see my life from other people’s lenses: I am blessed. But when my BPD strikes, I would feel more worthless than the worm outside. When these attacks occur, I try to think of happy thoughts to reassure myself than I am not a scam. One of my favorite memories is of Prof Rashid Moten sitting opposite of me in my office and discussing the difficulties of attaining a PhD. Due to my BPD, I told him that perhaps a PhD is not that difficult because everyone around me has a PhD anyway. He stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Nope! If PhD is easy, we would have many Syazas, but there is only one Syaza.” As you can see, by default, I chose the less positive idea that a PhD is “easy”. But of course, rationally, I know that it is not.
What does my BPD look like daily? The doctor who diagnosed me at the hospital best explained it to me when I told her I thought I am bipolar. She said that a person with bipolar would have long manic episodes, but a person with BPD like me would experience drastically high and drastically low emotions in one day.
But do not feel bad for me! I am what is considered a high-functioning BPD. See, when you are severely insecure, you could either give up all hope or you can take it as a challenge to be better. I am obviously the latter. In order to prove–to myself more than anyone–that I am worthy, I push myself to reach the unattainable perfection. Don’t worry, I am working on that with my counselor too. Trying to reach for perfection is like trying to capture a unicorn–impossible. However, it is undeniable that it is because of this drive that I can achieve all that I have achieved. Like my counselor keeps reminding me, my BPD is really a blessing in disguise.
Will I be cured? No. This is a lifelong disorder. All I am currently doing, and I have been doing since 2015, is learn the tools to manage my emotions when my BPD strikes. Honestly, I have relapsed so many times in the last four years. What do I mean by relapsing? There were times when my counselor would think I was ready to face the world on my own and she would end our months-long sessions. Yet, a few months later I found myself back in her couch again. I am currently still seeking her help.
Mental illness affects one-third of adult Malaysians. Please get yourself educated. Please be more compassionate. A lot of people who know of my disorder are genuinely surprised to find out. I am telling you that mental disorder is a silent killer. You never know who is afflicted.
Again, please do not pity me. I have so much to be thankful for. If BPD is my only struggle in life, I would still consider myself lucky. I believe many would agree with me. I am also seeing progress with my counselor. The physical manifestation of my BPD has decreased. I am taking it one day at a time. If I can get through today, there is a higher likelihood for me to get through tomorrow.