James writes about his battle with Borderline personality disorder, the power of talking, and how this doesn't just apply to him.
When I was 8 years old, I sat in my room crying. Just balling my eyes out. I wasn’t in trouble, I wasn’t physically hurt, I was just… crying. My mother came into the room and asked what’s going on, and I replied – “I don’t think you love me”. As any parent would be, she was taken aback; said: “that’s ridiculous, stop being so silly” and we moved on. The thoughts of abandonment and the fear of rejection never left me, however.
I can think of many moments growing up, where I felt like I was left alone, or that those that I loved were going to disappear. My best friend in year 3 left my school to go to another, it devastated me; more than you might usually be about something like this; I cried periodically for days… I’ve never told anyone that, so you should be feeling pretty special right about now.
By year 12, I had 4 different girlfriends since year 7 (not bad, considering I’m gay) and each one I had broken up with, got back together with, and repeated that process multiple times. I rejected others before they had the chance to reject me.
In year 10 I started driving, and once on my P-plate, I would be your typical idiot teen and drive a little too fast, turn a corner quickly, and just generally terrify my passengers. A trait that didn’t seem in-line with my otherwise relatively calm and serious demeanour. I never could work out why I acted out like this; however, I distinctly remember my teens years being riddled with anxiety about anything and everything. Another thing I didn’t talk about growing up.
At 18 I moved out, came out as gay, and started my adult life at university. This is where I learned a lot about me. I was highly strung, I liked to experiment with drugs, I was super passionate one moment, then I was in utter despair the next. My first gay relationship was a rollercoaster of fights, cheating, break ups and getting back together. On the outside, I seemed great: I was earning money, living out of home, studying, and keeping my life in relative order; to those not remarkably close to me, I was someone to aspire to be. On the inside, I was a dumpster fire. I started to get dark, and suicidal. I started to cut myself and think about how I would never be happy. I feared being alone with such passion that I would do anything to be with my friends – I would drive for hours around the city to pick them up from work, or their parents, just to avoid being alone.
What was wrong with me? Who had I become?
The first few years out of home tested my limits of depression, anxiety, and motivation. One day it boiled over and I had a melt-down. I started yelling at my partner, blaming them for never getting enough work, or how I had no money left, I started hitting myself, and scream-crying (an ugly sight if there ever was one). I was insane. Everything I felt, the abandonment, the fear, the existential dread, the pressure of supporting my partner, who was out of work. Everything got too much, and I nearly took my own life. A friend of mine looked on in horror, unsure if getting involved would result in them being hurt. My partner was scared, my friend was scared, and I was terrified. What was wrong with me? Who had I become?
Fast forward to the next day, and my friends, who had always tried to be honest and there for me, said I should go see a psychologist. Having the breakdown fresh in my mind, I was convinced this may be worth the effort. So, I went.
Try to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Talk about it.
Going to psychology was an admission of failure, it was the lowest of lows, it was waving a white flag on my life. Parallel, It was the best thing I’ve ever done. I learned pretty quickly that seeing a psychologist was a necessary move for me, and it wasn’t what I had feared: an admission of failure. I don’t advocate that everyone goes and sees a psychologist – the title of this article isn’t “go have someone look into every crevice of your life, and spend a lot of money doing it”; but I did build two critical skills that anyone, young or old, male or female, wealthy or not, could apply: Look at yourself more, try to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Talk about it.
Now, there are about 7.5million self-help books on reflection and improving your life; the gist of it for me was to spend about 10 minutes from time to time (ideally every day) thinking about the good and bad times, and working out why you did what you did. This is a quiet reflection – do it over a beer at the end of a long day.
The second part, talking, is something I want to explore. Why does talking help? Most of the time, I do not want to cloud my day by blathering on about my feelings, and all the shitty things I feel in a given day; this is not what hanging with my mates is supposed to be about. However, I do try to take some time in my week, to chat with my partner (the new and improved model, not my ex-deadbeat), to chat with my closest mate, and to invite some people around to talk about stuff. Work, relationships, how we’re all going to die one day… you know, the light stuff.
I do genuinely make time to catch up with friends and to talk, here are a few things I learned in doing this:
Everyone is insecure about something
That the pressure your feeling? It’s not silly, it’s real, and you need to get it off your chest.
Others have probably had similar thoughts or feelings – they may know a good way to cope.
You normalise checking in on your mates, they check in on you.
It’s a productive way to spend time with your mates.
I do not propose a trip to the pub every Friday after work to only talk about the shitty aspects of your life, but I do propose making a time – maybe once a month, where you invite your mates over, and you ask your friends how they are, ask about the things that might be on their mind, and maybe tell them something that’s been weighing on yours. You can also just have a good time with them as well – if you have this image in your mind of you sitting around with your mates like an alcoholics anonymous meeting, maybe reframe it as a night of a few drinks, and a chat; hanging out – not sitting in a circle awkwardly waiting for someone to talk first.
It can be awkward, it can feel silly; but like a cold shower, once you get used to it – you feel alive afterwards.
Why not self-medicate with a chat with a mate this weekend?
Oh, and for the result of my psychology? Well, turns out I struggle more than many due to a mental illness called Borderline personality disorder. Do you know what the treatment is for that? Talking. Literally, I am not making this up.
Now, whilst I have a disorder, the extreme reactions came from years of bottled up anxieties, no conversations about the problem, and letting it get away from me. This happens to everyone, maybe its easier for me to get to that point – but everyone who bears all their stresses and worries on the inside will eventually turn to a darker place.
So, if a conversation is good enough for the medical industry, why not self-medicate with a chat with a mate this weekend?