You sleep too much or too little and neglect your personal hygiene. You are a ticking time bomb that cannot be defused. You swing between extremes like a pendulum. Your own thoughts are at war with you and, in some circumstances, with the people around you.
Being mentally ill is a constant struggle, and that’s just the surface.
In my case, I have undiagnosed traits of borderline personality disorder (BPD), specifically a subset of the disorder called calm BPD, along with comorbid anxiety and depression.
To be clear, I am undiagnosed due to female birth assignment (AFAB) in a rural county with a disproportionately high rate of negative childhood experiences (ACE) and facilities for inaccessible or understaffed mental health.
Seeking and obtaining a diagnosis from a psychiatrist is also time-consuming and difficult, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It must also be said that being stigmatized as borderline in our society is not ideal, especially since someone who was borderline is perceived as a woman. There is a lot of stigma surrounding the four cluster B personality disorders: narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, and antisocial personality disorder.
I stigmatized narcissism in particular, before becoming self-aware and realizing that narcissism is just the reverse of codependency. Both stem from traumatic formative experiences with constancy and maladaptive object abandonment, but they manifest differently. For me, narcissism was a mirror of my own dark traits that I couldn’t or didn’t want to look at.
Most borderlines are stuck in an incredibly alienating and painful catch-22. People who understand us aren’t necessarily healthy for us, and people who don’t understand us usually stabilize for us. Add to that the chronic emptiness borderlines endure on a daily basis, and you quickly accumulate a series of short, toxic relationships that end in a violent staccato.
The Western culture of individualism makes things worse for the mentally ill. In our society, we tend to overlook our ability to influence the lives of others. We also tend to sell ourselves short. We’d rather shrink than dare to take up space. The latter depends on our vulnerability, which includes the risk of failure.
Because my judgment is clouded by my mental illness, I make a lot of mistakes. I take the worst from people who don’t deserve it. I misinterpret people’s intentions before giving them the benefit of the doubt, or idealize people who have not yet earned my trust or respect. These behaviors expose me to exploitation and abuse. I can also be abrasive, intense, and even callous, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have compassion or remorse.
If anything, I feel too much, more strongly and longer than the average person. I am constantly emotionally regulating myself, to combat my volatile moods and intense emotions. Most of these emotions flow inward rather than radiating outward.
Believe it or not, my mental illness makes me a better leader. Because I’m mentally ill, I put myself in situations where I needed to be held accountable for myself and for the people around me.
I couldn’t play the victim. I had to own up to my behavior, even if it stemmed from something beyond my control. Ultimately, I am fully responsible for my choices and the consequences.
Recognizing your dark side whenever it shows up and wreaks havoc allows you to build healthy and strong relationships. Relationships are hard work.
Good leaders have good relationships. Good relationships depend on responsibility, boundaries, trust and clear communication.
The first step to realizing your ability to lead others and to try is hard no matter what, but people with mental illness simply have more hurdles to overcome.
I had to learn to use the dark side of my mental illness to harness my light and use it to influence others around me. The skills I have developed to deal with my borderline traits, anxiety and depression provide me with an extremely useful understanding of myself.
Every day we have the choice to have a positive or negative influence in the lives of the people we know. Try to go against your darkest tendencies of your humanity and use your light as a guide.