Author’s note: Welcome back everyone! Thanks to a poll in honor of reaching 1,000 Twitter followers, I will be posting a weekly blog for this series all through September. After this month, the series will be caught up to present-day (October 2018). Originally, this next post was meant to be Jas coming to America, but her and I decided that there is an important part of our story to share and to skip over it would be untruthful. Buckle up, kids. It’s gonna get real. TRIGGER WARNINGS: mental health, mentions of self-harm, eating disorders, prescribed medication, poor mental health care, mentions of attempted suicide.
Disclaimer: Writing about Jas’ mental health is a difficult task that I’ve been mostly avoiding. Yes, this is the story of our relationship, but this is my experience of it. So it felt a little uncomfortable to write about her health. However, her mental illnesses are part of our story and part of my experience. And while I discuss hardships that we—particularly myself—have encountered with her mental illnesses, I do not believe nor attempt to express that this is harder for me than it is for her. She most certainly struggles far more than I do. However, this is again my experience of our story. And if you love someone with a mental health condition, this chapter might show you that your hardships are not overlooked. That being said, Jas has read/help edit/approved this blog before posting.
Way, way back before Jas even knew me, I knew she had problems with mental health. She’d been pretty open about her struggles with depression, anxiety, and self-harm. She often used her own experiences with these things to help others feel understood. It was one of the things I loved about Jas—I still do.
After we started dating, it became quite clear to me that her relationship with food and self-image suffered too. Unlike anxiety and depression though, she had never (and still has not) been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
A few months into our relationship, she was discharged from a UK mental health help group called CAMHS. What did this group do for her? A man came to visit her weekly, then every two weeks, then monthly, and asked her how she was. Once he told her that her suicide attempt didn’t count because she wasn’t hospitalized for it, and she should’ve instead taken X, Y, and Z for it to work. After that, she distributed words sparingly, sipping coffee across the table from him. He didn’t press enough; he believed coded lies. The same ones I still fall for sometimes. After about a year, he deemed her not depressed enough to need help anymore. She spent the next three years self-harming on and off, restricting her meals on and off, and smoking on and off.
Smoking cigarettes became more and more frequent. I’d never smoked one in my life. My dad has, since I was a baby. I have asthma now, and inhaling lots of second-hand smoke makes me physically sick. Jas told me once that she used to chain smoke during the roughest times she faced before landing in at A&E (or the ER). I was scared she was starting to get addicted again. It was the source of a few ugly arguments.
Before she came to visit, I told my family—all of which have already spoken to Jas plenty of times on Skype—that she has scars on her arms. Jas was terrified of wearing short sleeves around people, especially if they didn’t already know. But the summers here are hotter than there. So I assured her that at least in my home, she would be completely safe from judgment.
I hadn’t told my dad about her mental health issues before this conversation. I walked into his room while he was watching TV and laid on the bed next to him. I said to him that she has depression, and he asked if a doctor diagnosed it.
She was hospitalized when she was in high school.
What, does she have scars?
We both pretended to be invested in the car commercial playing. I spoke without turning my head.
Obviously, don’t, like. Say anything. Not that I thought he would.
Yeah, of course not.
Another car commercial.
She smokes sometimes, too. A lot. In the past. To cope, I think.
He looked at me. I know it’s not good for people. But she’s young. She’ll come back from that. He looked back to the TV, waiting for the commercial break to end. But if she’s cutting herself—pick your poison, I guess. I know what I’d want her to choose.” Golf came back on.
I stopped nagging her about the cigarettes. She stopped smoking them. But the new scars became almost a habit again. Dad was right, and I hated him for it.
Things were worse, but for me, it happened so slowly it was hardly noticeable. It was a few more bad nights here and there, a couple of relapses, a new smoking habit, more arguments. Until suddenly, it was a noticeable problem. The moment it finally clicked was later than it should’ve been. With this, I’m always three steps behind.
We spent weeks—maybe months—arguing about a doctor’s appointment. Uselessness reaches a whole new level when you’re an ocean away and you can’t get her to make a doctor’s appointment. What was worse, all her reasons for not wanting a doctor were valid. They didn’t help her last time. She’d probably slip through the cracks again. She was scared of the medication they could prescribe. She wouldn’t be able to get therapy.
But I’d reached my limits. Everything I felt I could do for her—I’d been doing. The things we talked about were cyclical. Nothing was happening. She was stuck. And there’s only so much that I could do, and only so far that online guidance could provide me with. This was beyond me now—she needed a professional.
I kicked myself every day for months after returning to the States. I should’ve made her see a doctor then, while I was there. That way, she could’ve felt more secure with me beside her, and I could’ve demanded more if they weren’t doing enough. But bad days were so infrequent then. I let the thought slip by without considering how much I’d have to fight her to see a doctor while I was gone. I should’ve expected things to get bad again.
In May, Jas made an appointment. A childhood friend of hers accompanied her, and I was very grateful for that. After she got a follow-up call from her assessment, Jas and I found out her new diagnosis: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
I hadn’t really heard much about it before, so I spent a lot of time reading. If you have heard about it, you might remember a list of some pretty negative traits that go along with it:
- Mood swings
- Controlling or manipulative behavior
- Unstable relationships
- Inappropriate, intense anger
Yes, Jas exhibits all these symptoms. Her diagnosis didn’t change much for me. I already knew about these behaviors. Do I think that Jas is a controlling and manipulative person? Of course not. But particularly intense episodes of her lowest moods are not a pretty sight. And they aren’t without cause.
The ugly symptoms all boil down to pretty much one core thought. People with BPD know that everyone in their life will abandon them, sooner or later.
This, of course, is not true. But when I spend an entire day trying to reassure her, I have to try frame it this way for myself, to remember why she is so stubborn. Sometimes, the slightest thing flips a good moment to a bad one. Her anger can crash out of (seemingly) nowhere, and suddenly we’re dealing with all four symptoms at once, not even knowing what went wrong.
I spent a lot of time walking on eggshells without even realizing it. If I felt like something would trigger her, I might not bring it up. But it was something that happened subconsciously. Back then, I can’t even remember what the triggers were. I just remember that they were unpredictable. And the trouble was, she didn’t like the eggshells. Until I crushed them all, and suddenly, they did matter. To both of us. With time, we’ve gotten better at turning our eggshells into spoken boundaries. But one can occasionally spill into the other and make a mess of the balance we’re building.
Talking about my needs in the relationship can be a razor-thin line at times. The problem here is that, if something is bothering me, it’s hard to explain it without wording it in a way that doesn’t trigger Jas’s she’s-leaving-me-because-I’m-not-good-enough default. It’s a lot of reassurance packed into a discussion. So much reassurance. I now know to give what I think she needs, and triple it. It’s a balance we’ve gotten better at finding.
I learned, even from the years before, to separate Jas from her illnesses. To blame situations, instead of her and instead of me. And for the most part, we both stick to that philosophy. But sometimes, finger-pointing gets to us first.
I am not an angel. I instigate too. I react with what she gives me. I retaliate. I match her anger. I cry about it later. I get tired of saying that I will always be by her side. And I get tired of her not believing me. And I hate myself for getting tired. I push too far. I find exhaustion in the worst of times. I cry again. I don’t ask, so we don’t have to repeat the cycle. We do it anyway. I don’t push enough. Sometimes, and most regretfully, I buy into the lie that says, there is nothing I can do.
The doctor prescribed her an antipsychotic to help with the mood swings, and a beta blocker to help with anxiety-induced spikes in her heart rate. But she was right, they didn’t think she was sick enough for therapy. The self-harming paused for the two months she spent in the States and resumed when she went back.
BPD is a new diagnosis for Jas, but our relationship isn’t new, and BDP has always been a part of it. It’s something we work through to be together, but it’s not the hardest obstacle we have to overcome. I’m not going to talk about the silver lining, because mental illnesses aren’t romantic. They are illnesses. They are hard. They make good people ugly. And Jas and I are not immune; we’ve turned ugly too, at times. But we aren’t ugly people.
We love each other. And we have never let something stop us from loving each other. This won’t either.