For years, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Growing up, I came from a family that didn’t really talk about feelings or really encourage each other to be open with one another so I didn’t know where to get support or answers. My feelings were kept repressed until I couldn’t hold it in any longer — like a shaken-up bottle of soda, waiting to blow at any second.
Some days, the shaken-up soda bottle was okay and didn’t leak. I felt that I was on top of the world, ready to tackle anything that headed my way. I smiled at everyone that walked by me. I’d laugh and make jokes with my friends and co-workers. I’d feel motivated, hopeful, and driven. These days, the future looked bright and full of potential.
Other days, I was a mess. I’d have little self-worth. I’d eye people suspiciously that said hello to me, wondering if they were trying to take advantage of me in some form or fashion. I’d struggle to climb out of bed in the mornings or brush my teeth.
Morbidly, my mind was filled with thoughts of all the ways I could end my life. It was as if my mind was making its own version of the film, Final Destination.
Those that were intimately close with me eventually became aware of my mental illness. It was hard to hide it from them because eventually, it always leaked out.
I was prone to mood swings, impulsive behavior, and crippling bouts of depression. I had irrational fears of abandonment, questioning my partners constantly if they’d leave me. And when people did get close, I’d push them away. I had trouble separating reality from my manic thoughts.
Outwardly, I kept my demeanor as consistent as possible to hide my affliction from others. I became really good at faking my emotions, putting up a front to avoid pity and conflict.
Not even my closest friends knew what I struggled with. I was fearful of what they would think of me if they knew how crazy I was. With my irrational fears of abandonment, I didn’t want to risk losing my closest positive relationships.
At work, I maintained a clean-cut, disciplined, hard-working image. I was a manager and led teams of people myself. I didn’t want my performance at work to be judged or leadership skills questioned if they knew how conflicted my mind was.
One day, in a moment of rare transparency, I remember telling a co-worker that I suspected that I was bipolar and he replied, “There’s no way. You’re nothing like those crazy people. You’re normal.” Shamefully, I agreed and quickly repressed thoughts of being open with someone else at work ever again.
Another time, I confided with a friend about my internal struggle. She said, “But what do you have to be depressed about? You have an amazing career and a great partner. You got everything going for you! Chin up!”
I screamed inside, “No, something is wrong with me. I need help!”
Instead, I smiled and replied back, “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”
My Lowest Point
I hit my lowest point in my mid 20’s, about 7–8 years ago.
I was working in retail as a grocery store manager, a high-stress job with long hours. I also just exited a long-term relationship and was truly on my own for the first time, trying to form my own identity as me instead of we.
I didn’t have many close friends and the people I spent the most time with were the people at work. While many of them were around my age, I couldn’t be friends with them because I was their boss. Not only would it be inappropriate to form personal relationships with your direct reports, but it also diminishes your effectiveness as a manager.
I never had close relationships with my immediate family members so I couldn’t turn to them for help. My parents would have never understood what I was going through. In our culture, when something’s wrong with you, you just buckle up and deal with it.
In essence, I had no support network. I buried myself with work, food, and video games to distract my mind.
I yearned for connections, but I was afraid of sabotaging relationships, platonic or romantic. Sometimes, I felt like a black hole, sucking in all light around me so I actively or subtly encouraged people to stay away from me. For their sake. I didn’t want to burden anyone.
I swiped away on Tinder — serial dating with no intention of forming a meaningful relationship. I’d ghost potential partners as soon as the relationships grew more serious. I craved attention and words of affirmation but always ended up convincing myself that I wasn’t worth the time to anyone.
Some days, I was okay. Normal. Happy even. I’d wake up with a smile on my face and go out with some friends for a drink or two — being social and having fun. I thrived in my career and was doing well for myself. I had my own place and my own car. My own life.
But every so often, the darkness inevitably struck. And the intensity increased over time.
Co-workers and friends, who saw me as a gregarious, friendly, goofy, kind person sometimes were taken aback by small, infrequent public flare-ups of anger, dark thoughts, or moodiness.
Concerned, they would ask, “What’s wrong, Quy?”
“Nothing! Just couldn’t sleep last night. That’s all. I’m sorry,” would be my reply when I realized where I was.
I’d spiral out of control. I gained weight. In terms of finances, I bought a new car and racked up credit card debt. I spent frivolously, way above my means.
I cried myself to sleep many nights. Suicidal thoughts grew more rampant. Mentally exhausted, I felt like giving up. I told myself, “I can’t keep doing this.”
I finally admitted to myself that I needed help and Googled the nearest psychiatrist near me. I had heard that some depression could be fixed with pills — something about chemical imbalances in the brain?
But I was embarrassed my situation had come to this point. Ashamed, even. I felt weak for pursuing this path. I guess I wasn’t strong enough to handle it on my own.
I remember that first call to the psychiatrist's office.
I had no idea what I was doing nor did I have any idea what to say when the lady on the other line picked up the phone. I somehow managed to schedule a screening and drove myself to the doctor’s office a week later.
I looked around in the waiting room to see if anyone was casting judgmental looks. My name was called and I scurried as fast as I could out of the waiting room.
The door closed behind me and I sat down, across from the psychiatrist, an elderly man. He asked me, “Why are you here?”
I explained all of my life problems in 15 minutes, describing my behavioral issues, depression, suicidal thoughts, prone to flashes of anger, and whatever else that came to mind. I described to him when I started feeling this way, developing depression in my teen years.
After it was all said and done, he nodded his head and crossed off the last checkbox on his clipboard. “Ok. You have bipolar disorder.”
He indicated that evidence shows that bipolar disorder is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Cause and effect.
That made sense! Being more of a logic-driven person, I felt like a huge weight was lifted off me, knowing there was a cause for my mental troubles. Maybe my life will finally turn around, I thought to myself.
I was given medication, pills that were used to treat people who have my illness (and seizures apparently). The psychiatrist asked for follow-up visits every 3 months to measure my progress. I took the pills dutifully every night.
I waited. Weeks passed. But nothing changed — I was still me: Split and broken.
There were up days where I felt normal. But the down days were still there and common.
I told my psychiatrist that the medication wasn’t working. He tried several different options from changing my medication entirely to increasing the dosage.
But every follow-up visit was as unproductive as the last. Frustrated with the lack of progress, I quit visiting the psychiatrist. I stopped taking my medication.
I started to spiral again. Sometimes, I pulled myself up. Sometimes, I fell down the hole. I resigned to the fact I was perpetually broken.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
About 4 years ago, I decided to try and seek professional help again, but seek out therapy instead.
I had never done therapy before. I had no concept of what I was supposed to talk about in therapy. My imagination took me to a thought of a couch in a brown, plainly decorated, small room. I imagined a scene where cigarette smoke would fill the room as a man jots down notes furiously on his notepad as he listens to me ramble away.
The stigma of seeking therapy and exposing your vulnerabilities was also still apparent in my mind. I felt emasculated, weak, and powerless. I felt as if I was failing myself.
When I finally found the right therapist, she did an assessment of what I was going through. I looked around. The room was actually brightly decorated. There was no cigarette smoke either.
After the assessment, she told me I showed signs of borderline personality disorder.
I was perplexed, “What? Never heard of that. You sure I don’t have bipolar disorder? The last psychiatrist I saw said I had that.”
She asked, “Well, did the medication work to help stabilize your moods?”
“No,” I replied.
She laid out her reasoning on why she suspected I had BPD.
Borderline personality disorder “is an illness marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behavior.” People with BPD “may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that can last from a few hours to days,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
According to MayoClinic, some signs and symptoms of BPD include the following:
- Intense fear of abandonment
- Patterns of unstable intense relationships
- Suddenly believing the person you’re in a relationship with doesn’t care
- Ongoing feelings of emptiness
- Impulsive and risky behavior
- Wide mood swings that can span from hours to days.
- Inappropriate, intense anger
- Rapid changes in self-identity and self-image
- Seeing yourself as bad or not worthy
- Sabotaging success
- Suicidal threats or behavior of self-injury
“Wow, that does sound like me,” I thought.
I asked my therapist, “Okay. That makes sense. I was misdiagnosed, huh? Alright then. What medication do I need to be put on then to fix this?”
She replied, “Medication can’t fix BPD.” My heart sunk at the prospect of being stuck with BPD forever.
“So what can I do then?” I asked, defeated.
She smiled and said there were more effective ways of dealing with BPD. She offered to help me with DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
According to MedCircle, DBT “focuses on developing four essential skills to help people manage and cope with their symptoms on a daily basis, instead of feeling overwhelmed by them.”
Throughout the next set of appointments, my therapist helped guide me through the regulation of my emotions, practicing mindfulness, and being more self-aware.
As the months passed, my mental health improved and I felt more secure and stable. I grew more confident in myself. My mood swings, although still common, were more measured as I became more mindful of them. I actively worked on not repelling others away when I needed them the most.
It’d be naive to think therapy fully cured me. I will always have BPD. It will always lurk in the back of my mind, ready to pull me back into dark thoughts. I still experience the symptoms of BPD and fall into a crippling depression on occasion.
But what therapy and DBT did to help me was that it helped put me on a path towards healing, mindfulness, and self-love. It taught me I didn’t have to fight this battle alone. It taught me that I didn’t have to despair about my mental illness helplessly and let it consume me.
Having control, or some semblance of control, over your destiny helps gives you feelings of self-worth and be more confident in yourself. It empowers you and gives you the tools to better handle it.
I took the first step towards having control of my life when I started reaching out to a psychiatrist in my mid 20’s. Although that process didn’t shake out the way I wanted it to, despite being misdiagnosed at first, it put me one step closer to seeking help through the power of therapy and DBT.
Control of my life means putting one foot in front of the other.
I won’t succeed every time in fighting back my mental anguish every single time it manifests. But the important thing is I’ve been equipping myself to be more prepared for every battle.
I took a step towards seeking professional help years ago after much hesitation and stalling and I’ve been walking forward ever since. By sharing my personal journey, my hope is that I can help others realize their own paths for recovery.
For anyone else that struggling and reading this, I implore you to begin the process of reaching out for professional help. I wish I had a support network earlier to turn to and ask for help and guidance instead of torturing myself. I wrote this, not for pity or condolences, but to help others that find themselves in a situation like my story.
If you’re scared of putting yourself out there, I want you to know that I was and still am scared too. This has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. In fact, this is the first time I’ve come out publicly about my mental illness. But I refuse to let it consume me.
I assure you that you are not weak for admitting that you’re flawed. You’re strong for realizing you need help. You might fail in your journey to healing. And if it doesn’t work out the way you expect it to, keep trying different paths. Every person’s path will be different, but you will not be alone.