Living with Borderline Personality Disorder
Living with Mental Illness Africa (LIMI Africa), Campus Edition, aims to celebrate and share positive stories of students with direct or indirect experiences of mental illness and their challenges.
Sometime in January, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by a psychiatrist at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan. I had tried to take my life some weeks before in my bedroom, overdosing on a couple of sleeping pills and hoping to wake up from reality. I had done so with my speakers blasting music on full throttle. I wanted to drown out the voices in my head, voices that kept on shouting, egging me to kill myself. I was hoping to score a temporary — no, actually a permanent — timeout from life.
But I just woke up drowsy the next day.
I remember my confusion as my doctor broke the news of my diagnosis to me. We sat at an arm’s distance from each other in his clinic. Seated in my chair, I had so many unanswered questions: How could I have a mental illness? Nobody in my family has been diagnosed with a mental illness before, so how? Could it be a misdiagnosis, I thought. Maybe a side effect of the stress from my new internship? I sank further into my chair, visibly confused.
The truth was I was sick, and I was having a hard time accepting that — I still am. Life had been very difficult for me, even before my internship two months prior to this visit.
I had always found it hard to make friends, but the internship turned what had been a blunt tool into a knife pressed on my neck. During my internship, I had no work friends, and I found focusing on my work almost impossible. I also stopped functioning at some point because I was so sleep-deprived that my productivity eventually tanked. I was working a 9 to 5, spending most of my day, every day, with my head in the clouds, unable to figure out how to go about my job. The internship was difficult, and loneliness may have taught me one thing too many about mental illness.
My doctor and I stayed glued to our seats as his words dug inwards. I reflected on the months that led up to my going to see the psychiatrist — on failing at my internship, on my inability to sleep or eat properly, on needing to cut myself just to get up from bed. I lived as though I was existing on God’s last thread; I was at my breaking point.
Misdiagnosis? Maybe. But despite my apprehensions, I decided it was best for everyone that I started my journey to recovery through medications and therapy.
So I did.
The journey to recovery for a person living with mental illness is far from uneventful. For one, having to get medications after every visit to the doctor can get tiring, and I am tired. Nobody talks about the side effects of some of these medications: tiredness, oversleeping, a ridiculous increase in my appetite, jeez.
Secondly, combining therapy and my internship was another struggle. I am surprised I lasted my entire internship because I was absent on a lot of days. Thankfully, my boss understood, given my mum had explained everything to him, and I am grateful to him.
Dealing with a mental illness as a young person can make you feel very lonely and isolated from people, but you will realise how loneliness can be a teacher with several lessons. On some days, it teaches you to disrespect yourself, to tell yourself lies to help you make sense of your pain. One look at yourself and everything comes apart, broken; then, you remember that even hope dies and that one should not disrespect the dead. However, loneliness, like many teachers, has two sides to every lesson.
On some nights, all you need to do is to take another look. One important lesson is to always look outward for new perspectives, to search beyond what you perceive to be true and embrace possibilities.
Before it taught me this lesson, I had never considered just how much of oneself a person could find with time. I am understanding the gulf between who I am and how I am perceived and pinpointing certain patterns of behaviour that make people react to me the way they do. I am also exploring my interests and trying to discover my voice.
Honestly, today, I feel numb and restless about life. Nevertheless, I choose to be optimistic about my future even though I look forward to nothing in particular. I choose to keep on going, partly because I love my family and cannot bear suffering them with my loss, but mostly because I am aware that whatever I may feel is not always real.
This was written by Olaoluwaposi Ogunlana, student of Medicine & Surgery, University of Ibadan, although they are not his personal experiences. When he is not writing about mental health, you can find him daydreaming about drinking iced tea in the Bahamas.
We often tend to confuse Bipolar Affective Disorder with Borderline Personality Disorder when they are actually different. People living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) experience emptiness, emotional pain, hopelessness, anger, loneliness and feelings of desperation. It is worthy of note that this mental disorder is associated with unstable behaviours, moods and relationships; and the cause is not well understood.