Too many of us have stories about struggling to access the care we need. Often, health care obstacles are directly tied to medicine’s gender bias, as well as stigmas relating to our race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, age, income, and condition. In our series Pain Today, we are highlighting these stories through personal and reported essays, hoping to empower each other to advocate for our health in a way that much of the medical community does not. Trigger warning: This essay discusses attempted suicide.
Last year, while in the throes of my latest fling, I realized that I needed to take a break from casual dating. Crying into hotel bedding that smelled like a man I barely knew, I recognized that I needed to get my mental health issues under control before I could date again. I’d flown to another country to hook up with a man I’d only known for a month, then became an emotional wreck when he left. It wasn’t the first time I’d traveled hundreds of miles for a relative stranger, but I hoped it would be the last.
In 2015, after years of hospitalizations related to mental health issues, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD)—characterized by impulsive behavior and intense but unstable relationships with others. I am obsessive in love—falling quickly and deeply. I always put my partner’s needs before my own. So much of my identity becomes tied up in who I’m dating that I don’t know who I am anymore.
My last serious relationship ended in divorce a decade ago. At age 22, I married a man I had known for exactly five months. A few weeks later, I attempted suicide on a night when he went out without me. Convinced he didn’t love me, I decided that I would rather die in that moment than have the relationship end. I was hospitalized, diagnosed with severe depression, and sent home to a man who couldn’t understand why the woman he married had seemingly changed overnight.
“Every time I fall in love, I unravel. It’s the trigger for all the worst aspects of my personality.”
The early days of our relationship were passionate and impulsive, but the deeper I fell in love, the harder it became to control my feelings. I was consumed by love, needing to be around him constantly. If I couldn’t physically be with him, then I needed to speak to him 10 times a day. If I didn’t get an immediate response to a text message, then I would catastrophize, imagining that he’d left me for another woman. I suffered intense mood swings that made me want to fuck one minute and fight the next.
Paranoia crippled me and kept me awake most nights. I’d find myself scrolling through emails and phone messages, looking for clues he was going to leave me. I was convinced he was sleeping with every woman he knew and accused him of cheating daily. I had an overwhelming feeling of emptiness, and now that my relationship seemed to be imploding, I did anything I could to give me a buzz. I drank too much, flirted with younger men, and spent a lot of money. On one particularly bad day, I booked a holiday that I couldn’t afford to New York City with a man I was barely speaking to.
Our fighting escalated until, one night, he told me that I was a crazy bitch and that he didn’t love me anymore, but he was too scared to end the marriage for fear I’d kill myself. I became vicious, attacking everything he held dear, being nasty in a way that only someone who really knows you can. I threw things, destroyed sentimental objects, and ripped up some of his clothes in a fit of rage. Within a week, I’d moved out of our home. The following year, we divorced.
“A BPD diagnosis can stigmatize the patient, bringing judgement from society and from within the psychiatric community. We can be viewed as manipulative and difficult to work with.”
Every time I fall in love, I unravel. It’s the trigger for all the worst aspects of my personality. When I am in love, my friendships suffer because my mood swings are out of control. I struggle to function at work, and can barely hold a conversation about something other than the person with whom I am smitten. I’ve ended every brief relationship I’ve had since the divorce because, as much as I crave the acceptance that love brings, I fear abandonment so much that I am willing to break my own heart rather than let someone else do it.
I received my diagnosis four years ago, but I am still awaiting psychiatric treatment from a specialist. I’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to find a therapist who is willing to work with me. Dialectical behavior therapy, a type of talk therapy that teaches methods for coping with extreme emotional behavior swings, is not readily available where I live. Moreover, a BPD diagnosis can can stigmatize the patient, bringing judgement from society and from within the psychiatric community. We can be viewed as manipulative and difficult to work with
While I await therapy, I know that I need to stay single. There’s no easy cure for BPD. There is no magic pill I can take to fix myself. I only hope that I can break free from my narrow views of the world, my relationships, and my life. My end goal is to learn how to not hit the self-destruct button every time life gets hard. Easier said than done.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Counselors are available 24/7.