Crossing The Borderline

I’m not one for marking sentiment.

Birthdays often pass me by, anniversaries rarely register, and I’ve never marked any calendar with personal milestones.

Until now. For the last few weeks a date has been looming over me, a mirror gently turning till it will force upon me a reflection of the last twelve months. Where I was this time last year. Where I was when I was eventually prompted to write this. Where I was when a doctor diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder.

As 2016 took a bow that no one asked for, as we swept up programs full of obituaries before we’re threatened with an encore, there was one seat that remain filled. One still in awe of how the last 12 months have played out, one that might even want to give a standing ovation to events gone by, but stayed seated out of respect.

Of course there’s been tragedy and there’s a lot of gloom on the horizon — May, Trump, Putin, and the as-yet-unknown fourth horseman of the Apocalypse — but sometimes the fight starts on a much smaller level. Inward, even. And one quote stuck firmly in my mind: “It’s only when you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.”

A year ago, I looked ahead and laughed. With every fibre of my being I didn’t think I’d make it to my 30th birthday, let alone be here writing this with so much retrospect clarity. While I wrote about that breakdown in great detail, it taught me to confront Borderline Personality Disorder (and my own constructed self) in a way so public that I might have even found it embarrassing in any other year, if the situation weren’t so desperate.

The road back to a functioning life was not, as I fervently and impatiently hoped, an act of overnight miracle. Instead it started with those small battles: getting up, going outside, building the courage to share another part of my story, getting through the day with some sense of worth that wasn’t defined by my abusive relationships with both partners and substances.

In those moments, those excruciating and sad moments, the world stood still. In a city and an industry that doesn’t allow for respite, it was a balm that started the recovery. The knowledge that taking a break from the rat race wouldn’t mean life ending, that pause and self-care were just as valuable as any savings or reputation.

And with that inward turn, the world slowly shifted to accentuate those minuscule changes. Like more of the terrain was written to my name as more of those battles were won. Like the seemingly immovable tectonic plates on the flat earth of my psyche slowly stretched out over a new, unconquered globe.

I surveyed this new map — and myself — from a fresh vantage point. Crisp, clear, shorn of judgement. A life lived entirely beholden to others: religion, family, ‘community’, friends, work, social media. People dictating how to behave and what to believe. Be thin. Be wealthy. Have an arranged marriage. Act masculine. Don’t be gay… or if you can, just be a little less obviously gay. A war of acceptance never won, an army of people never satisfied, and nothing but one’s own psychological casualties in return.

With everything wiped to zero, the things that mattered began to stand out more than anything, and some benign force in the universe allowed me to push reset on my brain, to recalibrate it to something of my own design. For the first time in 30 years, my decisions truly felt like my own. For the first time in 30 years, my life felt like it had only just begun.

It has also meant a renewed resilience to the injustices in the world, as well as even greater empathy to that same populace. Internal battles are being fought that often none of us know; compassion feels like a luxury that strangely costs nothing. The life and liberties so many of us take for granted — freedom of speech, religious choice, sexuality — have been hard-earned for others, at a very steep cost.

Why am I writing this now? Partly for posterity. Partly to look back with 20/20, to take stock of a year that I couldn’t have scripted even if I’d tried. Partly to acknowledge the fact that I am exceptionally lucky every single day to be drawing breath, let alone living the life that I do, and the fact that one phone call at the right time prevented these words perhaps becoming the basis for my obituary instead.

But it’s also a reminder to anyone reading this who has even remotely suffered from issues of mental health. No one should have to endure what I went through. Yet I would also hope that things don’t have to become so dire in order to for someone to fight back, to reclaim their person from an illness that has ravaged so many without even a blink.

Writing this is a reminder to any sufferer that there can be a positive outcome. That you can get through this. That the dark days are very much just days, and those days do not define your life. It’s a reminder to reach out for counselling, to talk to even just one person, even if it feels like the most embarrassing thing in the world.

And when it happens, as I’ve written before, it’s like nothing you’ve known. “Your first instinct is to enjoy any murmur of sunshine. Feel it on your skin, a shard of light that pierces not for its warmth but for a missed familiarity. You’ve been gone so long. You forgot this could exist.

“And then in a way comes a harder part. You step back and survey the wreckage, this new sun bathing it with more and more light, making even devastation look oddly poetic. This is what happened. This is what was supposed to happen.

“Building takes its own time. Memories escape from an overturned plank, sounds and scents scurry out like rodents, triggering the germs of feelings that perhaps brought you here to begin with. But the sunshine makes it ok. You’re here. You didn’t get buried.”

I didn’t get buried.

I will never be ashamed of being so open about my BPD, my past, my struggles, or indeed anything similar that may happen in future. Because not only should my example be held up for how not to deal with things, I am living proof that there is light on the other side. A big, dumb, glorious old light that makes you laugh at the silliest things and want to bathe in the springtime warmth for days. Breaths that no longer feel like a chore. Smiles that actually mean what they’re supposed to. A life that, regardless of any professional achievement, feels like a success.

“Success”. For as a long as I can remember, I’ve been dogged by the notion of success and racking up accolades, to the point that it sucked out the enjoyment from anything even nearing those labels. But if tomorrow my chapter closed, if tomorrow it all ended, then my ledger would name success as something entirely different to what I’ve spent 30 years believing.

Success, to me, has been getting out of bed every morning. Success, to me, has been a whole year without so much as a whisper of the dark cloud I’ve known for an eternity. Success is sitting here, right now, being able to write this with fullness in my heart and gladness in my soul.

And if I can give even just a fraction of that back to the world now, to everyone who lit my path with support along the way, then that success can only get sweeter. I owe that much to the life I’ve been given, and I owe double that to my second chance at it.