By Sheila Terra
Trigger warning: Ending one’s own life
Year 33 was the toughest one yet, but also the year in which I was handed the biggest silver lining.
I separated from my now-ex-husband when I was 32 and the real healing did not occur until recently. The past two years were a twisted, windy path full of second guessing and then, eventually, genuine grief. I now understand and accept that my former husband is not the love of my life, despite the fact that I still care greatly about him.
In the past year, there were two admissions to the crisis stabilization unit due to suicidal ideation. Changes have been swift and at times catastrophized by my attempt to live without antidepressants. After my first admission, I took a six week leave of absence from work and after my second admission, I returned at reduced hours. I am so happy to be back full time now. I have a wonderful work family and know this is where I belong.
The biggest shift has been in my relationships. While I grieved the loss of one of my closest relationships, I also see all the love I have to gain. In the past year, I have made new friends, organized an art show, learned how to change a tire and gone skydiving. I tried stained glass art, expanded my hobby business, took dance classes and ran a five kilometre race. My family has grown. Both my parents are in my life again and I am so very grateful. Having my dad back is really exciting. And I am an aunt for the third time! It’s amazing the love that appears when a child is born. It’s like there’s this icloud of love floating above us all and a baby is the portal through which we channel it into the world.
It’s not just about loving others; it’s about loving me. I don’t love myself. But I like myself a bit more. The greatest blessing of year 33 was learning the name for my history: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The diagnosis was my silver lining that gave me hope and literally the permission to stay alive. BPD has given me a new lens though which I can view my mistakes and struggles with more compassion and forgiveness. I am still very hard on myself, but when the punishment of death is taken out of the equation, life shifts. Potential grows.
In my 33 years, I have done many things that were not aligned to my values. I always knew when I was acting against my true self. I felt it. But alongside my knowing right from wrong has been a black hole. It swells and morphs, grows, shrinks, transforms into gentle waves and tidal storms.
The recent insight into BPD has shown me that I am not a naturally born monster who has to die. I was 12 years old when I first felt the black hole and when I tired to take my life. Almost 22 years later, I am still aware of the tempting escape death offers. One of the side effects of trying to take my own life was that it showed me the absolute permanence and seriousness of death. People die all the time, but for me to take on death by myself would require an enormous amount of pain, courage and determination. And since I was 12, I never quite had it in me to try again. Nine months ago, I was close and it scared the shit out of me because I know if I would have attempted, I would have completed suicide. At age 12, I did not die but I learned what it would take to really end life.
I have read and researched so much about BPD. It has allowed me to feel like I have the right to live like everyone else. Life can be okay, but it’s gonna suck at times. Loneliness and rejection are the hardest experiences for me to deal with without resorting to destructive behaviours. But I will live through it. I will join the sea of humanity trying to learn from our mistakes. Over my 33 years, I have held myself to divine expectations and other times created a living hell. Welcome to the human condition of seeking some sort of solid ground between the ethereal and the torment. Welcome to broken hearts and the elusive reconnection with joy. Welcome to the black hole and may those silver linings grow ferociously. Welcome to your 34th birthday, Sheila.
I am learning the landscape of new relationships. Where does one go to make new friends in their 30s? I invest more in those who already love me. The family I was born into and previously fought against are now my greatest allies. I enjoy carving out new chances for connection and love.
I am carving out new creative spaces and a healthier, stronger body. My patio is full of flowers and every morning I wake up to an adorable cat who hates everyone except me. I struggle with the black hole, especially in the evenings. When I drink sometimes the black hole disappears and sometimes I become reckless and impulsive. If I get even a whiff of rejection from another person, I want to binge eat. However, I am reducing the frequency of the binge episodes. Life doesn’t change overnight, but perspectives can.
I have no idea what life will look like a year from now. It’s safe to assume it’s going to be pretty similar. I will be at the same job, still crafting and creating. I hope my relationships will be deeper and stronger. I will have added at least one more country to my passport. If I keep connected to that icloud of love, I should be safe. And if I lose my way or lose my marbles, I know there is a path back to myself. There is extensive and qualified research about treating BPD. If I need intensive treatment, it will be available. And as long as I never go off my meds and maintain boundaries with intimate relationships, I can probably float my own boat. My goal—perhaps my life long endeavour—is to live with more love and integrity. I can practice that anytime, anywhere. I can start fresh as many times as I need. Welcome to my 34th year.
Sheila Terra has a day job in social services and leaves her evenings and weekends for figuring out the next art project, surviving crushes, hanging with Greek Gods and making lots of mistakes. Check out Sheila’s projects at shiversoap.com.