Emotional Instability

I never knew how to describe how I felt inside or how I experienced emotions. I’m sensitive, but it is so much more than that. I could never just “take a joke” or “brush it off” because words left me in physical pain.

I’m writing to spread awareness of what living with a mental illness actually looks like. It’s not beautiful, dramatic, made up, or a trend. It’s an illness. However, because we are each unique, everyone diagnosed with a mental illness will experience it differently from the next person. My experience is not intended to be generalized to all those struggling, but instead to shine some light on an important and often neglected conversation.

I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Unfortunately, like many mental illnesses, there is a stigma or a set of assumptions about the disorder. I hope to decrease these assumptions by sharing my symptoms, and what BPD looks like for me. The symptoms will be described in four groups and four separate posts: the first group: excessive, unstable, and poorly regulated emotional responses.

I experience emotions to a high intensity. Anger becomes rage. Embarrassment is humiliation. Sadness becomes overwhelming despair. Shame, guilt, and fear are always present and can send me down a negative spiral. My emotions shift quickly. I automatically react to what is said to me. I view comments as personal attacks. Basically, I think everyone intends to show me my unimportance. I often struggle with keeping emotions in, but it can’t be seen. I’m not always visibly emotional because I’ve learned how to hide them. When I’m tired, hungry, or having an off day, my emotions spill out, and I’m left feeling raw and hurt.

I get angry over the most unimportant things. Honestly, the anger takes over, and I’m often unaware of where it is coming from. Sometimes there’s no source except for the symptom. I used to feel guilty for getting angry, but after being diagnosed, I’ve learned to accept my symptoms and understand why they’re there. I no longer have to blame myself.

“Chronic feeling of emptiness” is something that once consumed my life. I have huge gaps in my memory due to this and periods of my life I floated through. Dissociation, emptiness, it’s like I didn’t exist. I experience this feeling of emptiness today, but it’s very different. It used to last weeks or months even. Now it may be hours, a full day, or a period of days, but never how it was. Today I feel empty, but I know the feeling will pass, eventually.

BPD is extremely stigmatized, I’ve experienced it first hand, and because of that, I want to explain my experience as well as I can. Normalizing the conversation will lessen the stigma. This group of symptoms I covered is part 1/4.

Letting go

I’m learning to let go of previous expectations, plans, or rules I had for my life. I thought to have these plans meant I was prepared, but honestly, it allowed me no room for change and growth. Deciding to no longer become a therapist felt like I was losing myself. For the first time in many years, I have no career plans. I thought I would continue to feel lost, but I’m learning to let go of that idea, and now I feel free.

I wasn’t just letting go of a job, but an identity. I struggle with my sense of identity, a common symptom of BPD. I’m only now understanding my true self. For most of my life, I molded myself to match others. It was never me, just a reflection of people I viewed as more worthy, important, or valuable than myself. The more I learn, the stronger my sense of identity becomes. I’m no longer molding; I’m growing.

It’s simple for me to say I’m learning more about myself, but how do you do it? How does one get in touch with oneself? It’s different for everyone, but I will share what has helped me. I’m reflecting on my life through therapy, journaling, writing, talking with friends and family, and sitting with my thoughts. I’m learning through reading books, blogs, and articles. I learn every day because I allow myself to sit and observe the world around me. I meditate and try to stop for a moment throughout my day. I am in tune with my body and mind. I practice yoga as a way to communicate with my body. I am allowing space in the areas where I feel pain. I’m practicing mindfulness and self-care every day.

Before I make new plans for my future, I need to let go of the old ones. Letting go of the expectations I had for myself and the rules I followed. Letting go of a career that I traded for an identity.

I thought I could do it all

I’ve planned on being a therapist for the past 12 years, which is more than half of my life. I’ve always planned on being someone’s wife and mother. I planned on being among the small percentage of those with a Personality Disorder who can hold a steady job, be in a relationship, have children, and be mentally whole. I planned on doing it all.

I’ve spent the past year in a Clinical Counseling program. I was exceeding my expectations. My professors told me how much of a natural I was, how I would be useful and help so many people like me. That’s the thing; I was doing well in school. From the outside, it looked like I was doing it all. But I thought I wanted “bigger and better things,” transferring to a top program in Colorado was my next step, or so I planned.

One of my favorite aspects of the world is how unpredictable it can be. I honestly can’t believe I feel this way now. I once viewed the world’s unpredictability as frightening and painful. I’ll tell you what changed. I took the summer off of school in preparation for a potential move. It only took two weeks of no school and no job to realize I was the happiest and healthiest I’ve felt since I can remember. I’m also mentally unstable due to medication changes, but even so, I am so happy, mindful, alive. I understand what a lot of you are thinking – everyone would be satisfied if they had no obligations. Maybe so, but I’ll tell you why that’s not the case for me.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life, Depression since age 18, and I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder at 21. Although my personality disorder feels constant in my life, I view my diagnosis as an explanation of why I am the way I am. I don’t remember the last time I was genuinely happy about myself and my life. I experienced happiness on occasion, but it was never constant. I was always in crippling fear, overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, despair, and internal rage. I looked like a successful young adult with a Bachelor’s Degree in Graduate School, dog mom, a loving girlfriend, and daughter, devoted friend, athletic, successful, (happy?). I looked like I could do it all, I wanted people to believe that, and I just about fooled myself in the process.

Look ahead 5, 10, 15 years, and what do you want in your life? I want to be a mom, friend, wife, artist, writer, and advocate. I thought I wanted to be a therapist too, but was it my dream or something I did because people told me I was “good?” I would be a competent therapist, and I could help so many people, but would I neglect myself in the process? I throw myself into whatever I’m doing, and it becomes my identity. I don’t want my identity to be a therapist, so drained from work that she struggles with her mental health, neglects her marriage, takes it out on her children, self-sabotages until she ends it all. I don’t want to be that person. I want to be Ashley.

My life felt like it was crumbling underneath my feet. Who am I? What am I going to do with my life? Taking time off of school, sharing my story via Instagram, and meditating, I’ve discovered who I am. I still don’t know what I am going to do with my life, but I do know what I need to feel mentally whole. I need to write. I need to paint. I need to read. I need professional support, family and friends, a family with children of my own, and some part-time work on the side. I need so much control in my life because of my mental illness. I can’t live life like everyone else. I thought this made me broken or a failure, but I would never view a client in this way. That made me think. Is it okay if I can’t hold a full-time job, have a career, or equally accomplish what those around me can? That’s doesn’t mean I’m a failure, and it doesn’t mean I’m broken. It means I’m healthy. I know my limits, how to care for myself (which feels like a full-time job), and how to feel whole. I thought I could do it all, and I can. However, my doing it all is going to look a lot different than yours, and that’s okay.

For now, I’ll love, write, read, paint, run, meditate, and live. I no longer have my life planned, but because of that, I feel free.