But It Could be Worse
I’ve been struggling with mental illness for five years. Well, I say five years, but it’s likely that I’ve been dealing with anxiety for far longer than that. Stress and nerves have become so deeply rooted in my personality that I have trouble pinpointing when exactly they became a problem. So, for simplicity’s sake, let’s say that it’s been five years.
I’ve always seen myself as too high functioning to necessitate needing help. I’ve taken five classes in both my semesters at McGill, I hand in my assignments on time, and I’ve maintained a high GPA. Of course, in my mind, these accomplishments are nothing to be proud of; they’re the bare minimum of what I expect myself to achieve. My attitude towards school is telling of the toxic relationship I have with myself. When it comes to academics or, as twisted as it may sound, my mental illnesses, nothing short of perfection is acceptable. For me, not having a 4.0 GPA is akin to not living up to the stereotypical cookie-cutter definition of a mental disorder. If it’s not a perfect grade, I have no right to be proud. If it’s not the prototypical manifestation of a mental illness, I have no right to seek help.
In specific regard to my mental illness, I’ve never been hospitalized, never been prescribed medication. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without a bad episode. During that time, I find myself questioning whether or not it was all in my head. I mean, obviously it was all in my head. But I invalidate my own emotions, convincing myself that I was overreacting. I feel like a fraud, like I’m doing it for attention, which in itself makes no sense, since I’ve spent most of my time suffering in silence. I can’t help but compare my journey to others’. I scroll through Instagram accounts, I’m privy to people’s stories, I watch YouTube videos and listen to podcasts. I see other people suffering so deeply, and I feel like my problems are so trivial compared to theirs. If others have struggles so much more arduous than my own, my seeking help would be nothing more than a sign of weakness. My existence is wrought with insecurity. To have anxiety is to live in a constant state of self-doubt. My eating disorder thrives off of low self-esteem. Poor self-image is a criterion for BPD. In an almost meta-fashion, I have grown insecure in the very things that are at the root of my insecurity itself.
The last quarter of my life has been spent in a downward spiral of self-loathing and fear. Fear of food, fear of weight gain. Fear of not being enough. Not pretty enough. Not good enough. Not worthy enough. At the lowest point of my eating disorder, I experienced 365 days, give or take, of infertility.
“That sounds like anorexia,” my therapist says now.
“But I was neverthat skinny,” I protest.
That statement is meaningless if you know that “skinny enough” was not a concept that existed in my mind.
I never sought help for my eating disorder. Why? In part, because it was mine to control. In part, because it was giving me the results I wanted. In part, because there were no visible signs that it was slowly killing me. I never got bad enough for me to be hospitalized. I got skinny, don’t get me wrong, but skinny in the way the media tells you to be. Not skinny enough for anyone to think I was unhealthy, only for them to compliment me. I rarely binged. My only purging was exercise. I lied, to myself and to others. Eating something as small as a Tic-Tac would trigger anxiety so all-consuming I couldn’t breathe.
Yet I was never sick enough.
Then my mood started to change. It was subtle at first, but finally culminated to me lying on my bedroom floor in a sea of tears, angry red lines adorning my arm. Borderline Personality Disorder. Three words uttered by my therapist, three words that I clung to. I felt seen, I felt validated. I saw the things I’d been feeling put into words and had an explanation to go with them. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like an imposter. Not only do I fall on the milder end of the borderline spectrum, but I’m what they call a “quiet borderline.” Instead of externalizing my emotions, as is the traditional depiction of BPD, I internalize them. Because of this, it’s easy for even the people closest to me to overlook the fact that I’m so very far from being okay. BPD is having your emotions cranked up high and constantly volatile. Sometimes, I feel smothered by them, like a mess of indiscernible feelings have suddenly become tangible and are dragging me down. Paradoxically, other times I feel nothing. If white noise were a feeling, that would be it. Usually, I dread the episodes of depersonalization and derealization, but I would be lying if I said there weren’t times when I crave the feeling of nothingness. I stand in front of the bathroom mirror, eyes swollen from tears shed over abandonment that I’ve imagined, fighting the urge to hurt myself again in order to make the feelings stop.
Yet I was never sick enough.
The media’s depiction of mental illness has been improving, and the stigma is slowly starting to dissipate, however the image of mental illness, especially certain disorders, is still being presented in a very stereotyped, one-size-fits-all fashion. As a result, while I am relatively comfortable discussing my anxiety, I very rarely bring up my eating disorder or BPD. Despite wanting to speak up and help dispel the stigma, the media has presented such a limited depiction of these disorders that I can’t help but fear that these preconceived notions will lead people to look at me differently, and in a possibly negative way.Additionally, the generalizations that have been made can be quite damaging, as psychiatric disorders not only fall along a spectrum of severity, but manifest differently in each individual. BPD exemplifies this perfectly, as there are nine criteria for the disorder, but only five need to be met to warrant diagnosis, meaning that any two people with BPD may have very little overlap in symptomology. Whenever I do not exhibit a certain behaviour or thought-pattern present in someone with whom I share a disorder, I automatically discount my own experience. I know that I am not alone in feeling this way, which is why a more comprehensive discourse about mental illness is so necessary.
I never feel like I’m enough. Not enough for myself, not enough for other people. Not enough for this world, not enough for my disorders. But while I can’t believe it yet, not quite yet, I know that I am. I’m more than enough. Maybe I don’t have it as bad as others do. Maybe I don’t quite fit the cookie-cutter description of someone with BPD or an ED or even anxiety. Mental illness will use any reason it can to make you hate yourself, and for me, this is one that was readily available.Reading my story, it might be plain as day to you that I am not doing well. Even for me, rereading my own words makes it obvious. Yet when your mind turns against you, all rational thought is pushed aside. The fact of the matter is, you can’t compare yourself to other people. Someone will always be better off, someone will always be worse off. That doesn’t determine your worth.