Awhile back a medical professional told me that they believed I suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. To say that I was not pleased with that diagnosis would be a lie – “Borderline what?” I wondered. “Borderline crazy? I know I have problems but I’m not crazy!”
I thought that BPD sounded too close to being psychotic… but the truth is, I didn’t know anything about Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s a scary name but 1.6% of the population has some form of BPD, with women being diagnosed three times more often than men. Nobody knows if that’s because women are more susceptible or if it’s because women are far more likely to seek help.
So what is BPD? I’m going to quote from the Mayo Clinic website: “Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships.”
Okay. That seems pretty broad. Let’s look at the symptoms instead. Again, this comes from the Mayo Clinic:
- An intense fear of abandonment, even going to extreme measures to avoid real or imagined separation or rejection
- A pattern of unstable intense relationships, such as idealizing someone one moment and then suddenly believing the person doesn’t care enough or is cruel
- Rapid changes in self-identity and self-image that include shifting goals and values, and seeing yourself as bad or as if you don’t exist at all
- Periods of stress-related paranoia and loss of contact with reality, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours
- Impulsive and risky behavior, such as gambling, reckless driving, unsafe sex, spending sprees, binge eating or drug abuse, or sabotaging success by suddenly quitting a good job or ending a positive relationship
- Suicidal threats or behavior or self-injury, often in response to fear of separation or rejection
- Wide mood swings lasting from a few hours to a few days, which can include intense happiness, irritability, shame or anxiety
- Ongoing feelings of emptiness
- Inappropriate, intense anger, such as frequently losing your temper, being sarcastic or bitter, or having physical fights
When I first saw this list, I was like, “Whoa. I’ve suffered from a lot of these over the years.” Self-destructive tendencies have always been an ongoing problem of mine with severe impulse-control issues that worsened after the death of my dad back in 2010 and those problems fell off a cliff when I left what I believed was my dream job to take a position that I really hated.
Back in high school I read a book called The Way of Zen by Alan Watts and I immediately felt a light bulb go off in my head. “Yes! This is what I’ve always believed!” Suddenly I saw my feelings about reality and about spirituality there on the page and I felt a sense of belonging.
I felt the same kind of thing when I read those symptoms above. Suddenly a lot of my actions over the years, that confused even me (let alone my poor friends and partner), made sense to me. My “insanity” had a name and as all horror fans know, once you know the names of your demons, you have power over them.
So where am I now? What difference does it make to have a phrase attached to my “illness”? Well, I’m taking medication and it has helped reduce some of the darker thoughts that used to plague me. I accept that I’ve made so many awful mistakes and that I can never repair some of the relationships that I’ve damaged. For that, and so much more, I am sorry. I know what my issues are now and I track them with a daily app… and I’ve tried to distance myself from those who enabled many of my worst tendencies. I’ve reconnected with friends that accept me for who I am, flaws and all. I’m focusing on being a good dad. I have a job now that I truly love and that I want to stay in for the rest of my working career. I will never have back all the things that I have lost but that’s okay – may those people move on without me and find the peace and happiness they deserve.
I am not, and never will be, ‘cured.’ I still spend money sometimes that I don’t have. I’ve gained thirty pounds since I got divorced, mostly because of binge eating. I sometimes sabotage my own success. I often view myself and those around me through the lens of self-loathing. But now I know the names of my demons… I see them. I own them.
And I will not let them have dominion over me.
I am Barry Reese. I have lied, cheated and stolen from those that cared about me… but I am more than the bad things that I have done. I have also lifted up others, supported those that needed help, and loved those that maybe didn’t ‘deserve’ it at the time.
I am not a ‘good’ man.
I am not a ‘bad’ man.
I am who I am.
And that’s okay.