I don’t have a personality disorder, I have a personality that doesn’t fit, or rather, that didn’t fit. I’ve spent the last hour sitting with my thoughts, as suggested by Therapist 3.0. I’ve had the phone switched off, I haven’t been writing, I’ve literally just been sitting. It’s quite amazing where my mind has taken me.
I have spent my whole, entire life trying to fit, whatever that may mean. Intentionally or otherwise, I have been behaving according to other peoples’ expectations or my perception of those expectations, since I was tiny. I grew up in 1980’s Ireland. I remember feck all about that time, but from what I’ve heard, things weren’t great for the country as a whole then, never mind what was going on within individual homes and families. There was a recession. Money was scarce. Jobs were scarce. The church had a powerful hold on the country. It has shaped all of us. How could it not?
I was shy, quiet and introverted. I managed ok till I went to school, but once I hit school that quietness became chronic anxiety. Apparently my teacher had to peel me, screaming, off my poor mother every day. I didn’t settle in school, in fact I was so unsettled that when I came home every day I wanted a bottle and a dody and went to bed. But it was 1984. Was anxiety a word that was even in our national vocabulary back then? What were my parents supposed to do? I can’t imagine that the concepts of child psychology, play therapy, art therapy, or any form of therapy for that matter, were even on the radar. So we all did the best we could, with the knowledge that was available to us at that time.
I developed thoughts about myself that became beliefs that eventually became who I was. And who I was, was someone who didn’t fit. I had very definite beliefs about what was ok, what was socially acceptable, and what wasn’t. Having lots of friends and being popular was acceptable. Being sporty or arty or ‘talented’ in some way, was acceptable. But I was none of the above. I had friends, for sure. Apparently I went to birthday parties, I had friends over, all the normal stuff that kids do. But I wonder – how anxious was I at all of these times? Something else has literally just occurred to me as I write this. My best friend, the girl I grew up with, moved away when I was 7. I wonder what impact that had on me? I know with absolute certainty, looking at my own daughter, that if her little bestie were to move away she would be devastated, and utterly lost. It would have a huge impact on her. What if it was the same for me?
I carried all these beliefs with me into secondary school. There were about 200 kids in my year alone, so there must have been the guts of 1000 pupils in the whole school. At this stage, we’re early 90’s. I still have my beliefs about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. I’m still really shy. I suspect I got lost in secondary school, and I know by the time I hit 5th year I was really struggling with feeling isolated.
But I followed the ‘right’ path. At the time, the focus was all on getting into university. As I recall it, it was people who didn’t do well academically that were directed towards more practical options – plc’s, IT’s – but if you got good marks……well then. You were going to university. So I did. I went to UCD, and based on a belief that I picked up around the age of 7, decided I wanted to be an archaeologist. I never once considered anything else. I’ve written about my college years before, so I’m not going to go into it again now. The potted version is I struggled for most of those 3 years. I wanted to drop out, but a friend talked me out of it, twice. Because that’s the other thing about me you see. I have a very, very firmly held belief that every opinion I have is wrong, every decision I make will turn out badly. This means that for most of my life, if someone who’s opinion I value – be that a friend, a boss, my parents, Hubby – if any of them have disagreed with any idea I’ve come up with, or been less than enthusiastic about my potential ability to see something through, then I drop it. Without a second thought, no matter how excited I was by the idea, I just drop it. Because my opinions, my ideas…….well, they can’t possibly be right, can they? I wonder how many opportunities I’ve let pass me by because someone else didn’t like the idea, or because I perceived that they didn’t like it? And what has been the impact of this belief on me over the years? How has that affected me?
Honestly, I think years of ignoring and denying my own beliefs, my own needs and desires, has ultimately led me to where I am now – fairly heavily medicated, with a couple of stonking psychiatric labels stuck to me. What if those labels are nothing more than my brain trying desperately to get through to me? Trying to tell me that I’ve taken the wrong path? I’ve been called flighty, I’ve been told I take notions, and all of this fits really neatly into the label that is borderline personality disorder. What if it wasn’t me being flighty though? What if it was actually me seeing an alternative path for myself, one I’d really like to take, but then abandoning it because someone I love or respect didn’t agree?
We get one shot at life. Just one. Statistically, mine is quite likely half over, and I’ve spent most of that half fighting with myself. I don’t want to do that any more. I’m tired of not taking chances. I’m tired of second guessing every thought and idea I have in case someone won’t like it, more, I’m tired of letting those ideas go because I’m scared that people will be disappointed in me, or angry with me.
This time last year I would willingly have checked into the psychiatric unit in Galway and asked them to throw away the key. I would have taken any and every drug they suggested to try and stop the intensity of what I was feeling, to make that deeply entrenched belief that every single aspect of me was wrong just go away. But as I’ve found out, no amount of medication is going to do that. It can dull the feelings, for sure. But it can’t fix them. I’m pretty sure there’s not a drug in the world can actively change how we feel about ourselves, not at a deep and lasting level. That’s work that we have got to do for ourselves.
I’m not wrong, or broken, or cracked, or borderline. I’m me. I’ve tried living by everyone else’s expectations and it really, really hasn’t worked out. None of this is anyone’s fault. No one is to blame. We are all a product of our time, our circumstances, our up-bringing, our society. Every single generation has faced challenges, and will continue to do so. Every one of us will pass aspects of the beliefs those challenges have created on to our kids. We can let those challenges define us, or we can acknowledge them, and allow ourselves to become the people we are, then help our kids to do the same.
At 36, almost 37 years of age, I feel like I’m finally getting to know myself. I’m not anywhere near as bad as I thought I was. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s really nice to meet me.