The first time I read about myself in the DSM V I learned nothing new about myself. Items one through nine all described me to a T. You only need five of the nine to qualify as Borderline. I’d been more or less aware of all nine for many years by that point.
No, the thing that really surprised me was discovering that these traits of mine were not the norm. That was the first time that it occurred to me that I would have to actually do something about the way I was living my life, actually invest some effort into becoming healthy. Perhaps these traits are becoming increasing commonplace what with the rising incidence of mental disorders, but they are still not average.
To that end, it was number nine that really jolted me: “severe dissociative symptoms.”
I’d never heard the term previously. I’d spent 90% of my life in a dream-like, almost comatose state, watching my limbs go through the motions of my life as though I were watching myself through some mysterious portal, like the protagonist of Being John Malkovich. I felt powerless, helpless, and entirely alone. And somehow I assumed that everyone else experienced the same thing. So yes, it bewildered me that more people didn’t commit suicide.
It was both a relief and a wake up call to learn that this is not the case. If other people actually experience something and feel it, really live it, that meant that hope existed for me. It’s something I can practice.
Pain itself never bothered me all that much; it’s the empty numbness that sets in afterwards that made me turn up the music louder and louder until it was pounding so hard in my ears that I could just almost feel something, that made me rip at my skin with razor blades, that made me watch TV until I thought my eyes might bleed and I just waited, hoping that somehow I might decompose into the couch.
Well, it didn’t make me do anything. In the end, I made all the choices– albeit, foggily and in my mind, unwillingly.
But now I know that this is just a thing I have to deal with. Perhaps there are better choices.
Was it Descartes that said we can know for certain that the world is not a figment of our imagination because of the actions of other people? Was it he who said that if anything surprises us we can be confident that it did not originate in our minds, and consequently that other people do, indeed, exist? Fragments of a useless and partial college education clink in my mind like ice cubes in a whisky glass, thoughtless, undeliberate.
One of my problems was that virtually nothing anyone said or did ever surprised me, so for all I knew I could very well have concocted the entire world in my head. In all of those philosophy courses the most I learned was that while the great philosophers were adept at asking questions, none of them were ever able to answer any. What makes them so great anyway?
The upper half of the World Trade Center, like my mind, is obfuscated in a damp fog tonight. So many people flee to New York City for it’s distractions, to inundate themselves with every sensory experience in hopes of finding the thing we’re all looking for, but for me it has the opposite effect: I feel more deadened. While my symptoms may be particularly severe, I’m under no illusions about the fact that this feeling creeps into everyone’s life now and again. My blood is pumping away whatever energy was left in me and I blankly watch city lights and headlights, blankly avoiding eye contact like a good New Yorker.
The names help me. I think they help everyone else, too.
If we feel the most alive when we feel a deep connection to other people, then there seems to be a fairly straight-forward solution here: get close.
There is something very intimate and personal in a name. People love hearing their names spoken and people so rarely address each other by name. This is a really beautiful and tender thing, if sincere, and it certainly draws us closer together. Try it. Even if it’s to a doorman or barista, it makes a difference. We’re an interwoven and interdependent family of brothers and sisters. It’s worth experiencing.