30th Story of Transgression: I Lived with Mental Illness

Soon after I left my narcissist mother’s home I started suffering from panic attacks and inexplicable rages. Then I showed symptoms of what I thought might be Bipolar and my sister (a therapist) diagnosed as Borderline (BPD). I took Zoloft for a bit under the care of a medical doctor who was amazing. I tried therapy, but the therapists that accepted Medicaid were not helpful. I didn’t need someone to simply listen, I needed someone to help me understand my behavior and to help me transform my funky ways of thinking about myself in relationship. As the daughter of a narcissist I hadn’t fully developed my own identity or boundaries as a human, which was intensified by my big capacity for empathy.

I went through deep depressions, staying in bed for 18 hours a day, and allowing all the dishes to sit dirty for days at a time. I also went through high energy periods of creativity, sleeping only 3 hours a night. I struggled with binge eating, consuming a liter of pepsi and 4-6 candy bars at a time. I obsessed over my relationships while I simultaneously believed that I didn’t exist in people’s minds when I wasn’t in the room. I had no awareness that I had an impact on others. This is where the Invisible Girl shifted from a necessary defense mechanism to a form of self sabotage. I wanted intimacy and connection so badly, yet I kept a wall between me and the world.

When my sister offered BPD as a diagnosis it seemed to fit. I had difficulties with establishing my own identity and boundaries. I was ridiculously emotional (though now I know it’s more particular and I didn’t actually have the fast and hard mood changes women with BPD are known for, I simply have big feelings). I had self destructive behaviors like stealing and unprotected one night stands. I was a hot mess and Borderline gave me a framework to start building an understanding of myself and working on my brain. I had hope because BPD could be “cured” with the right self work.

Twenty years later I visited a therapist to talk about the adoption and she told me that I am likely not Borderline, but rather suffer from Complex PTSD. At first I was resistant, but then information about adverse childhood experiences and the way we hold trauma in the body became readily available and my whole life suddenly made sense, including my chronic physical illness. I now understand how growing up with emotional abuse and neglect, in addition to many traumatic experiences, compromised both my mental and physical health. My behaviors in relationship were sourced in recreating traumas from childhood I hadn’t resolved.

The adoption, my birth mother grief, and the work we did to heal our fracture forced me to face the rest of the trauma and grief I’d been carrying for up to 40 years. I believe I can now say I no longer suffer from mental illness or behaviors I can’t control. (Instead I’m at the mercy of hormones and chronic pain!)

Artist: Chris Valencia


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