(According to the National Institute of Mental Health, and also Me)
1) Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, and binge eating.
When I was five, I’d sneak sandwich meat, pudding, cereal—anything quick and easy to snack on—into my room and hide it so my parents wouldn’t find out how much I was eating. I did this until I was nine when my mom cleaned my room and found moldy bologna under the bed. Since then, I mindlessly eat almost every time I eat. I can’t control myself. I’ve been doing it for eighteen years.
2) Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self
I was always the fat kid growing up. When I was twenty, I joined a gym and went six times a week, stopped eating like crap, and drank only water. I lost fifty pounds in three months. Everyone around me said I looked great—even skinny. It was the best compliment I had ever received. The only compliment that mattered. So, I kept losing weight. People told me I should stop working out so much because I was going to wither away. I still thought I was fat.
3) Self-harming behavior, such as cutting
I cut myself the day my brother attempted suicide in 2010. It was my first time. I was in ninth grade Earth Science, standing in the back of the room, running scissors across my left wrist. I wasn’t breaking the skin. I wasn’t bleeding. I couldn’t control all the pain Andrew’s attempt caused me; I wanted to control my own pain for once. When I got home from school and my parents were halfway to Charlotte to see Andrew, I tore apart my razor. I sliced my left forearm once, twice, three times. It worked much better than the scissors.
4) Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days
One Thursday, I had a lot to do—homework, class, sending/reading e-mails, searching for post-grad jobs—and I planned to get everything completed during my four-hour shift at work. I wasn’t too worried. When I got to work, I looked at my color-coded planner and my inbox. I cried. I was so behind on everything. I did what work I could, but I was so depressed by the end of the shift. I thought about what it’d be like to dig through my secret hiding spot where I keep my razor blades and use them for the first time since August. I skipped my classes and meetings that day. I needed to cry in bed and sleep the emotions away. By the end of the night, I didn’t feel depressed anymore, just stressed.
5) Recurring thoughts of suicidal behaviors or threats
I missed the last three months of my junior year of high school because of a back injury. When I went returned for senior year, rumors said I had just been released from a mental hospital. My friends abandoned me. After not cutting for almost a year, I relapsed. Both my forearms looked like ladders. I thought it’d be better if I weren’t here. I planned how I would kill myself. I was too afraid to actually swallow a bottle of Ambien, but it was always in the back of my mind in case I decided to.
6) Feelings of dissociation, such as feeling cut off from oneself, seeing oneself from outside one’s body, or feelings of unreality
Last spring, an hour after a boy I was (practically) dating and I solidified our plans to watch Mean Girls, our favorite movie, I sat on the edge of my bed and stared at my closet door handle. I felt off. I couldn’t stop crying. It was a drastic change from ten minutes earlier when I was excited and bubbly. I texted the boy, described the feeling to him: the front part of my brain knew what was going on, but the back part just wasn’t me, and the back part was taking over. I didn’t feel like I was part of my own body. I canceled the plans with him, despite the fact I’d been obsessing over going on another date with him just an hour earlier. I asked a friend to drive with me to Myrtle Beach for the day—I needed to get out of my apartment. I didn’t trust myself. I hoped my friend would be able to bring me back to me. After half an hour of driving and talking, I finally felt like I was myself again: laughing, making sarcastic jokes, and having fun with my friend like always. All day, I thought about how I felt like I was watching my life happen from another point of view. I thought about how I never wanted to go back to it.
7) Chronic feelings of emptiness
8) Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger
Three of our neighbors were with my parents outside as I yelled at my father the second I parked my car in the driveway.
How could you get rid of Andrew’s clothes? They were clearly marked. You knew we were going to have a quilt made out of his T-shirts. Mom told you, I told you. What’s wrong with you? Is it ‘cause your brain is fried from all the coke? The twelve beers you drink a day? The pain pills? What the fuck is wrong with you? I hate you. I fucking hate you. I can’t believe you fucking threw the bins of his clothes away. Jesus fucking Christ. I can’t believe you. Fuck you. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.
9) A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often swinging from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
The marching band from freshman year
The 2018 Orientation Leader team
10) Difficulty trusting, which is sometimes accompanied by irrational fear of other people’s intentions
I was drunk and crying when I told my best friend that I didn’t trust her even though she hadn’t done anything wrong. It slipped out as she sat with me on the ground outside my twenty-second birthday party. I saw the hurt in her eyes. She told me again how much she loved me and that she wished I could trust her. I told her I was trying but didn’t know how. I didn’t want to scare her away like I had all my past friends.
11) Efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, such as rapidly initiating intimate (physical or emotional) relationships or cutting off communication with someone in anticipation of being abandoned
Three days before our four-month anniversary, I almost broke up with my boyfriend Alex. I wanted to break up with him before he could break up with me. I felt my random, deep depressions were too much for him. It didn’t matter that he’d just spent the past three hours holding me as I cried, or that he’d told me dozens of times he loves me no matter what—everything in me screamed that he was going to end things with me, so I should do it first.