My girlfriend and I exchanged notes period after period every single day of freshman year. They were folded into little sailor hats and every inch had cramped ramblings and drawings. There were also emails, but these notes have an entire person’s worth emotional energy poured into them. Despite years of purposefully not rereading them and how empty my memory is, one thing she wrote me has stuck with me:
This was around the time my borderline personality disorder was stabilizing. Not stabilizing in a way that made it easier to control my impulses and destructive nature. But those feelings and behaviors had been building in bursts for years, driving me out of my skin (and driving away the people I loved) with obsessive stalking, unreasonable anger and despair with little or imagined stimuli, and a profound and unending paranoia that:
So when I say stabilizing, I mean there were no longer bursts of irrational or uncontrollable emotions. They had become me.
I wrote an acrostic poem about myself as a first assignment for a Virtual High School class around this time. One part reads:
Frequently she is a contradiction, a mixture of
risque overdosing emotions balanced in grey.
The grey was depression, which had become so comfortable and normal compared to the rage and devastation that could be brought on by a someone looking at me the wrong way or a slightly less-than-enthusiastic tone of voice. That grey, that near-catatonia down, was my zero. Happiness and contentment were the anomalistic bursts, so infrequent, fleeting, and delicate that they seemed like an unattainable abstraction.
“Do you ever have a good day?” was when my girlfriend started to verbalize out loud that I was too much to handle.
While borderline has wreaked havoc on every part of my life, it never touched academia—something I’ve thought about for years but still can’t riddle out. It was born in me from the very beginning that getting good grades was a way to get attention and, subsequently, that mediocre grades were all but ignored entirely. I established an addiction to validation so long ago that there isn’t room for much else inside of me; it lives in my sweetbreads and built the foundation of my bones.
That doesn’t make getting straight As easy—it just makes it non-negotiable. Despite the afternoons spent sobbing over math homework or the Sisyphean effort of understanding Chemistry in junior year, not getting good grades was not an option. It was one part of my life where I was guaranteed at least a second of positive validation routinely, and I proved time immemorial that I would die without it.
The grey of depression is oddly comforting to me because it evens out my moods, allowing me to be my most productive—i.e. knocking out the design on East Coast Ink or meticulously working through freelance assignments. I recognize that sounds completely backwards, since depression is often categorized by a lack of interest in doing things or apathy. It’s all about contrast: The symptoms of BPD are so severe, intense, and unmanageable that “lack of interest” and “apathy” translate into “I don’t care anymore and it’s such a fucking relief.”
How I relate to my depression is beyond unconventional, but for me the dance I do with this collection of disorders—and honestly how hard the borderline makes it to function in society—is how I got here. Depression is the comfort blanket that settles over every other moment of my conscious life. Back to zero.
When I’m near catatonia is when I do my best work, the most even-handed work. Once the excessive emotional hemorrhaging has devolved into normal despair, it’s like I’ve been allowed something. In comparison to talking myself down from purposefully crashing my car, showing up at someone’s house in a fit of loathing or desperation, or panicking hard enough to faint, depression allows me to sit still, look at a task, and just get it done.
It’s a characteristic of being high-functioning, something that people attribute to me not being as sick as I say I am. In reality, it’s a perfect display of how my desperation manifests, what shape my survival instinct takes. For some, survival looks like steps to recovery. For me, it’s my innate forward drive that says, “Get it done,” even when it’s also saying, “You don’t matter and can’t get better.”
I’ve been on the edge of life a few times now, and my work has never suffered for it. It’s the one constant despite the destructive emotional landscape I exist in: I am a good, consistent student. I am a dependable worker, desperate to succeed. I am, to simplify, desperate. With years of learning to control the borderline enough to exist with it and despite it, I can get myself back to grey and finish what’s been started.