Every time my mom tries to seriously inquire about my mental illness, she always asks this question in some form or another. What happened? What caused this? Why aren’t you the same hard-working, successful person you were before?
I never really know how to answer this question because to me, nothing has ever changed. I may present differently than I did back then, I may not appear as successful as I was, and I may not appear to be putting in the same amount of effort that I did back then, but in reality, much of that was actually the facade.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve displayed BPD symptoms. I remember feeling depressed as early as 4th grade; I first realized it in early middle school. Anxiety wasn’t far behind, and really started in full effect starting in high school. Intense and unstable mood swings were always the norm – the number of emotional outbursts I had in just elementary school are more than enough to count on both hands. Impulsive behavior was pretty common, too. I can remember very distinctly being scolded by the principal in 1st grade for doing stupid shit just because in the moment it seemed like a good thing to do. Distorted self-image was definitely present back then, as well. And suicidal thoughts? Well, that definitely started in late elementary school, and they’ve only gotten more prevalent since then.
“But you always had good grades, had a good work ethic, and rarely got in trouble. What happened to that?” Well, honestly, that isn’t really true. The good grades and work ethic were more because I had nothing else. If I didn’t do well, I was punished. If I behaved poorly, I was punished. When you grow up being as scared to death of punishment as I was (thanks to paranoia and anxiety), you don’t really have much of a choice other than to toe that straight edge. Combined with the fact that there was basically nothing to do anyway as well as not having access to any meaningful social life outside of the school environment, it wasn’t like I had any other way to assuage the constant and persistent boredom. Reading, schoolwork, television, and the scant few video games were all I had, and oftentimes everything on TV was a rerun and I’d played every game I owned so many times I could play them in my sleep.
The stakes were way lower, too. If I didn’t do some of my work, it didn’t matter because my grades were so high that most of the time one or two assignments couldn’t affect it much. Failure just meant that whatever I was doing was over. Yeah, too much failure led to bigger consequences, but pretty much everything was too easy to fail anyway. Not to mention little risk meant little to worry about. My biggest problem has always been that I was risk-averse to the point of inaction. When almost nothing had a negative consequence, I was much more willing to go along with doing anything.
It didn’t hurt that I somehow managed to stumble into the best support groups I could ever get in both grade school and college. My friends were just as messed up and dysfunctional as myself, and because of it, we understood each other and really pushed each other forward. Yeah, suicide was always on my mind, but I could actually talk about my feelings to those around me and we were all feeling the same fucking way. And when everyone understands and accepts it, it’s a hell of a lot easier for the group to deal with it as a whole.
At this point, the fear of failure alone is enough to paralyze me. Each minor disappointment continues to chip at my will to move forward. Each rejection throws me into another whirlwind of negative emotions. And with the support groups I had when I was younger all but gone, everything only gets worse and worse.
And so you ask what’s changed? To me, absolutely nothing. I’m still the same directionless, unmotivated, exasperated, depressed, and terrified girl I always have been. It’s the world around me that’s made it so obvious.