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June 26, 2018

The Unpredictability Of Dealing With Personality Disorders

Text by Sandhya Menon. Illustrations By Sonaksha Iyengar

A hard battle triggered by factors beyond her control, Sandhya Menon writes about the destructive downward spirals and the innate sense of doom that have become an intrinsic part of her life

I love Mondays. You read that right. The promise of a new week is always exciting to me even though I don’t quite know what I will be doing that might be particularly interesting. I am usually up by 5 a.m.; I send my kids off to school and turn up at work by 7 a.m. I love my morning routine. On a good day, I get a lot of work knocked off by noon. After which, I tend to float around on the internet, finding ways to amuse myself, before I come back to work for a bit, following which I wind up my workday.

But this is a good day we are talking about. And all of us know that not all days are good. Some of us with mental illnesses know that those bad days are made infinitely worse by the disorders we live with. About six years ago, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and bipolar affective disorder. One is a personality disorder that takes years of therapy and hard work to either overcome or effectively manage (as of now, experts say no ‘recovery’ is possible), the other is a mood disorder managed more or less with medication, therapy and exercise.

When I was worse off, I would feel immense pity for myself. How much I had to deal with — being a single mum, the sole breadwinner of my family of three, being lonely, never having the kind of social life my friends seemed to have, worrying about money, worrying about bringing up my kids well and, finally, having to juggle all of this with the diagnosis of mental illness. After nearly three years in therapy, I am not so badly off now, I like to think, and therefore, my moments of self-pity are fewer and not so intense. And yet on bad days, very little of the work that I have done over the last three years makes a difference.

A few months ago, I hit a particularly vicious low. I can’t remember what the trigger was or if it was just that I had, as is my wont, gotten off my medication because it made me feel pathetic — my brain was slower, my joy at life was reduced to pastel, my ideas were mostly pedestrian and my body moved at a sluggish pace. All I wanted to do was sleep or rest or become part of the furniture. Anyhow, I must have gotten off my medication because I remember I couldn’t sleep one night, and the next and by the third night that I wasn’t sleeping, nobody in my life was getting a good word out of me, least of all my children. Even before they could finish their sentence, I would lash out at them. If there was one piece of paper out of place, I would come down hard on them; if they didn’t do what was asked of them the minute I said it, I would shout and scream and repeat myself in a manner that I can only describe as deranged.

My kids bear the brunt of my illness. Before them were my parents: the time that I first tried to commit suicide was the time my parents decided they didn’t know how to deal with me. If they got angry, they’d rather ignore me than say anything, even if the anger was justified. If they were disappointed, the expression of it would be so hesitant and careful that any message that came from them was unclear. Imagine walking on eggshells around an adult whose triggers you have no clue of. But I digress.

With the third night of sleeplessness and rage, I couldn’t wake up the next morning in time to send my kids to school. I texted work and said I would not be making it. I refused to even bother with the tasks that were solely mine and needed to be completed that day. At home, I couldn’t even muster up any energy or sense of responsibility to feed my kids breakfast till, around 10 a.m., one of them came to me and asked tentatively when breakfast would be served. I got up, groggy, heavy, unable to feel anything but the most tremendous weight of something indescribable. I made them a quick, thoughtless breakfast and left them to their own devices, instructing them that they weren’t to disturb me because I was ill. Their ages? Nine and eight years old.

And while they were busy with whatever kids can get busy with when you leave them to themselves, what did I do? I tried to sleep. Under the covers where I buried myself head to toe, all I wanted was to go to sleep and never wake up again. Here, I’d like you to focus on the thought — not death itself, but the comfort in the thought that it could be a possibility that upon going to sleep now, I may never wake up, and everything would be taken care of. It’s capricious and tempting, like the movement of mercury, seemingly within your grasp but no, not really.

After a while, under the cover, the warmth of my trapped breath and the moist discomfort in my neck that it caused sickened me; the stickiness of my thoughts — all of it sickened me. I decided to step out of my room and see what the children were up to; I decided I was going to be friendly and kind. I managed it for about half an hour after I suggested to them that we should paint together. They messed up the paint — someone dipped a blue-laden brush into the yellow. My favourite cake of all the cakes of paint, the colour I guard with ferocity. One of the children had ruined it, and as the yellow miraculously turned green, I looked up at the completely unaware smile on the culprit’s face and lashed out. Loud, harsh, unkind. A part of me collapsed but that collapse wasn’t as big as the collapse on the faces of my children. It wasn’t as sudden and violent as the confusion that replaced the smile on their faces from moments ago. My children did not know what had hit them.

You would think this would be enough for me to pull back and get myself under control. But no! Now a new demon had taken hold of me. Two new demons. Guilt and criticism. Both have vice-like grips. My only weapon against them is retreat. So before I left the room, I brusquely told my kids to clean up and that we were done painting. They didn’t know what they had done to deserve this disproportionately harsh reaction from me. But they are kids, and are resilient. Or so I tell myself much later when this has passed and sanity returns.

If there had been even a smidgen of clarity when I was painting, it has now disappeared. I am under the covers again: I hear the dogs barking outside, doors scraping floors in the house below. Otherwise it is silent. Like my chastised children. But that’s on the outside. Inside, like a disco light made of words, there is a noise beyond anything I have the capacity to quieten at this moment. In this space, everyone who loves me is a liar, everyone who has ever said anything to me in the hope that I might see where I am wrong hates me and wants me to be who they want me to be. In this space, in this moment, I am not enough. And I will not be enough till this passes.

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