Who is my Heisenberg?

May 20, 2017 @ 6:29 a.m.

Who is my Heisenberg?

I have a mental illness. This is not something I chose. This is not something of which I am proud. This is not something I want any more than Walter White wanted to have cancer. But our earnest desires couldn’t save either of us from the painful truth.

I am sick. A doctor with an expensive medical degree told me so. He told me that in people with my particular illness, 1 in 10 of us would die from it by taking our own lives. He told me that I would never have a normal healthy relationship – not with a romantic partner, not my best friend, not my parents or siblings, and most certainly not my children if they were ever unfortunate enough to be born to such a whack job of an adult as me.

Now the doctor didn’t use these words per say – he was much more formal about like doctors tend to be. He used clinical terms that I cannot recall. He gave me pamphlets about the condition and strongly encouraged me to make the decision to start taking medication before the choice was taken away from me. He said it was Borderline Personality Disorder.

Sounds kind of glamourous – didn’t Madonna do a song called “Borderline?” That was my first thought. Reading the lyrics helped me figure out how Borderline Personality Disorder differs from my previous diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. Not so oddly, both are abbreviated as “BPD” and both involve shifting in moods. But like Madonna sings, a Borderline Personality is all about relationships.

If you take someone with a Borderline Personality and are somehow able to extricate complex relationships – a Borderline Personality can be happy and stable as a clam in its bed. In other words, as long as every single person (from the bag boy to the boyfriend) in a Borderline’s life behaves in a way that is both anticipated and desired, everything comes up Milhouse! However, introduce a Borderline Personality to a complex human relationship (and really, aren’t all human relationships classifiable as complex?) and that’s when they lose their shit.

And the process of losing one’s shit is not so very glamorous! Well, I suppose the process can appear glamorous – like a swan gracefully gliding across the water surface, underneath the waterline/borderline our feet/psyches are churning furiously to keep us moving forward.

This Borderline stuff sounded way more complex than my previous diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder and I wanted the old diagnosis back. I knew other people with Bipolar – and those people seemed normal enough. With medication, or even simply talk therapy they were able to have homes, families, careers, the good stuff of life. And so, if I still had Bipolar Disorder that meant I could still have those things too. But this doctor was telling me that I did not have Bipolar Disorder. He told me I was a Borderline Personality. And the more I read about it, the more it seemed to fit – and that scared me.

I read that while patients with both disorders suffer from mood irregularities, I learned that people with Bipolar Disorder tend to have “breaks” between their mood swings. Whereas someone with a Borderline Personality is always “up” or “down” – “manic” vs “depressed” to put it in clinical terms. I’m either “on” or “off.” I either clean all the things, work three jobs, and shoot (off my mouth) first and ask questions later. Or I am lying in bed shifting between sleep and sobbing for hours or even days on end. And in reflecting on my past patterns of behavior, I hate to admit the diagnosis of Borderline seemed a more appropriate fit.

A trusted adult used to tell me she hated my “sense of entitlement.” In my youth, I found it difficult to understand what she was saying. I mistakenly used to think it meant she hated a part of me. As an adult, I can acknowledge what she despised was the idea that I felt that things should simply be handed to me without effort on my part; that I carry around this unspoken expectation that everyone should behave in exactly the way I think they should behave. Considering that I recall these conversations from my teenage years is only further proof that Borderline Personality Disorder is something I have struggled with my entire adult life.

With this new diagnosis, I found myself wishing for something simpler. As if there were anything simple about having a mental illness. But I certainly would prefer something like Depression (mild, with a dash of tabasco and slice of lime). I would take Seasonal Affective Disorder. I would take any sort of chemical addiction – at least with that sort of addiction there is a substance you know you have to steer clear of. And other people can see the signs of substance abuse. Loved ones and care providers can hold Interventions, show support, and if necessary deprive the patient from their drug of choice.

But my “addiction” is about creating drama in interpersonal relationships. My addiction would feed off the energy of an Intervention like an emotional White Court Vampire. A person cannot simply avoid having interpersonal relationships. Believe me, I have tried! However, my “addiction” is similar to other mental illnesses in one tragic way – it causes people I care about a great deal of pain.

A “normal” person can handle being told by a friend that they are just too tired or too busy to follow through on plans we may have made. But my Borderline Personality interprets an honest expression from someone I trust as rejection. A “normal” person would be able to simply go home, feel sad for a few minutes, drink a cup of tea, and go to sleep. My Borderline Personality keeps me up all night re-reading text messages, replaying conversations, looking for any hint as to why my friend, my lover, or a family member now wants nothing to do with me. My malfunctioning brain tells me that I am a “distraction.” I am “exhausting” and “too intense” – that I only cause needless “drama.” I am not worth caring about. I am not worth protecting. I am not worth loving. And worst of all, it tells me I am a “burden.”

So not so unlike they mythical Walter White, I embarked on creating a new persona for myself. It started innocently enough – much like Walt’s altruistic desire to leave some sort of legacy for his family to survive on once he was out of this world. I too would not remain helpless in the face of my illness. I too would find empowerment somewhere. My cancer of the mind would not take me down like a helpless gazelle. I would spring into action. I would initiate change. And so, I created myself my very own version of Heisenberg – her name is Jocelyn.

Jocelyn has lived my exact life. She has shared all the experiences I have had at the same time and in the same order. She has the same parents, upbringing, education, and relationships as I do. But there is one critical difference. Jocelyn doesn’t have a Borderline Personality.

Jocelyn can hear her friend say “I would love to see you – just not tonight.” And she will be fine. Jocelyn can watch her sister move to another state to enhance her career and not take it personally for even a second. Jocelyn can get dumped by a boyfriend, have a good cry, reach out to her friends, and recover within a month or two. Jocelyn can watch her lover fall asleep beside her and not feel as though she is being abandoned.

Jocelyn can cope with what I find crippling. Jocelyn is like a super-hero to me. Jocelyn is my Jean Grey – my Phoenix. She is the luminous creature of myth that rises up from the ashes of my burning fevered mind. She is everything I wish I was strong enough to be. My hope in creating her was that I could get a taste of that good life (loving relationships, solid career, a stable family) by watching her from behind my own eyes.

But she is not me. Masks were not made to be worn forever. Sooner or later, the winged phoenix burns out and she must return to the terra and crumble to ash once more to be born anew.

There is an episode in Season 4 of Breaking Bad where Walt and his son are sitting at the kitchen table together talking about his “gambling problem.” Junior is upset with Skylar because how he sees it – she is upset with Walt for something beyond his control, an “addiction.” Walt attempts to explain to his teenage son that what’s really causing the row between him and his wife isn’t about any “addiction” – Walt says that’s it’s about choices Walt has made for himself and how those choices have impacted the family.

I didn’t question that scene so much the first time I saw it. But since getting this new diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, I view that scene with a different perspective. Was it really true that Walter White’s creation of the infamous Heisenberg and all the things he did in character really a choice? Or did Walt simply have a deeply imbedded desire, perhaps even an emotional/psychosocial need for himself to believe that he was making a choice? As Heisenberg, he still had choices to make – where Walter White the Cancer Patient only had the choice over whether or not to seek treatment (and even that choice was debatably stripped away from him by his well-intended family).

Now I catch myself asking that same question of my own “choices.” Am I “the one who knocks” – or do I send someone else, some other persona, to pull the proverbial trigger? Perhaps, much like Walt, I too loathe to admit that I am neither the strongest, nor the most important person in this operation.

Walter White’s “operation” was the business of producing methamphetamines. My “operation” is producing some semblance of a life – not even a “good” life or a “normal” life. Even if I could figure out what those things are by watching other people, I think I’m doing alright if I simply survive until my natural death. After all, ten percent of my fellow Borderline Personalities don’t make it that far. And for me to hope for a normal healthy relationship with anyone is a fool’s errand according to one doctor.

But I am seeking a second opinion.


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