A key aspect of my early childhood was my love of reading. I remember how at home I felt in fictional worlds, and starting at a very young age I would save up my allowance to go on trips to the bookstore with my parents, perusing the shelves for hours before taking a new selection home to add to my budding collection. There were, of course, the connections I felt with the characters. And there was the comfort of disappearing into the pages to momentarily vacate the present world. But something else I remember feeling from those years was a yearning. I was reading about all these characters, their obstacles and their endings, and I was genuinely wondering what my story would be.
Maybe part of being a child is not realizing that your life has barely just begun. But there I was, only having lived a decade or so, experiencing this subtle sort of envy toward the Boxcar Children and Jack and Annie from the Magic Tree House books, starting to ponder these what-if questions, such as: What if I ran away? orWhat if I get lost somewhere and have to find my way back home?
I was waiting for the literal story of my life to begin. And although those are absurd, childish thoughts, they were introspective as well. I was eight, and I had this idea of what a story was. Now I am much older, and I’ve wrestled with many different perspectives through many different phases of life.
A popular phrase in mental health advocacy is, “Your story isn’t over.” As I’ve continued to read fictional stories and write them as well, I’ve been thinking more about the meaning of this phrase. Most novels, plays, or movies follow a relaxed formula. They are separated into three acts: the beginning, middle, and end. At the start of the third act, there is typically a climax, which is the largest challenge the main character will have to face. It could be a huge obstacle they’ve been working towards from the beginning or an unexpected twist that seemingly comes out of nowhere. This climax is the part where the suspenseful music begins to hasten the cinematography, or where the reader has to flip the pages rapidly to keep up with a heart-pounding pace. Then, once the main character has overcome their ultimate challenge, we can breathe out a sigh of relief. Their story has been resolved.
I’m not suggesting that all books and movies end with a happily-ever-after. Stories are meant to be metaphors for life, an art form that captures the wide array of human experiences, which includes both comedies and tragedies. But let me return to that concept and rephrase it:
Stories are meant to be metaphors for life, not the other way around.
When I was younger, I felt as though my life had too little substance to make up a story. More recently, I thought there could not possibly be enough words to capture everything I had been through. Because there was so much messiness. I tried to look at my life from a bird’s eye view, an outsider’s perspective. I saw my early diagnoses, my mistakes, my confusion, my failures, the ways I’d hurt people, the ways I’d hurt myself, and it all just looked so ugly. What kind of story is this? I’d think. Who would ever want to read it?
There was some level of truth to the thought, but not nearly enough. The full truth, I have come to believe, is that life is not contained within one story. Stories are contained within life.
My life once seemed to be at its climax when I was hospitalized at 12 years old. However, it became clear that this was not the case when I was hospitalized again, at 13. Once again, I tricked myself into thinking that that had been my climax when I began to exhibit symptoms of a more complex illness. What the hell is happening to me? I would wonder again and again. Was there just no off-switch? Was my life never going to give me a peaceful chapter?
Life is not a story, and mental illness will never be its climax. However, change happens. Circumstances get worse, and circumstances get better, and circumstances get worse again, but circumstances never stay the same.
There is no magical equation or easy route to getting better. It took time, but I was able to clear pathways through my rock struggles, not by constantly pursuing happiness—because happiness can be slippery and fickle—but by finding a foundation of peace. Writing this now, thinking of how many things I could list here that bring me peace, makes me realize that just the act of living life itself is a victory.
I’m still new to the term “Borderline Personality Disorder.” I’m still learning to recognize moments of dissociation, depression, and euphoria. It’s scary to think that some of what I feel may be a product of chemical imbalances in my brain, as it may be for anyone living with mental illness. The scariest thought of all is that my confusing diagnosis may make me a difficult person to love and understand.
And yet this note itself is a love letter. To myself and to all those struggling to fit their lives into the mold of one story. Remember, we are more than the pages of a book or scenes rushing past on a movie screen. Chapters of mental illness will begin and end, but life transcends that. I no longer want to live in the margins of my past or dwell on the confusion of my present. I want to keep living—and to keep living, I choose to keep moving forward.
You are not weak for wanting or needing support. If you’re seeking professional help, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].