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The Carletonian

How I’ve been able to live 19 years without breathing

The warehouse section of IKEA was my favorite destination as a kid.

I was enraptured by its vastness—the comfort of knowing that its furthest nooks and crannies were both unexplorable yet waiting to be discovered; that there was a breathtaking space bigger than any building I’d previously known; that I was nothing compared to its size, interconnectedness, and the professionalism of it being something “beyond me.”

Though I never set foot there again, I came back to visit every day for the rest of my childhood and adolescence. I’d always dream of that and similar locations: my dream house with impossibly high ceilings, walls far apart enough to make it practically an arena, spacious enough for me to lay flat on the ground with my limbs outstretched. I loved the feeling of immobility without initiative.

Those dreams eventually drifted away from the tangible or desirable and devolved into waking up in a sweat and feeling saved, almost, by returning to present consciousness.

That ceiling and those walls gradually began to inch inward until they crushed me to a pulp—I was blatantly and undeniably just an object made up of smaller organic compounds.

“Stigma” is overdone. Not that it’s unimportant, but it can hardly be on one’s mind when Concern Number One is to maintain stability enough to survive to the next day—to avoid decapitation long enough to realize what’s going on.

It becomes less of a concern when you live as a miniscule near-unnoticeable mass with the density of an entire brick wall.

Your conscience grates on you almost arbitrarily—it’s always an insatiable, unfamiliar and terrifying beast. It’s almost impossible to acknowledge and accept yourself—even before others get to it; nobody, not even yourself, can comprehend your dedication to self-destruction.

But in a social sense, “stigma” is less of what’s at fault—it’s the broad misunderstanding. Bipolar is often diluted to “she’ll just randomly go from sad to happy” and borderline personality disorder is hardly even discussed at all.

And so the symptoms just warrant either a “problematic” or “crazy”-esque quick, easy (emphasis on the “quick, easy”) label.

These are absolutely not conscious or controllable behaviors and they’re often just assumed to be personality traits.

Relationships take off too suddenly and all too quickly become screaming matches because the combination of anxiety and self-hatred causes you to snap, and one moment, confess your undying love for your partner, and then an hour later try to kill yourself.

Your reactions are amplified by a factor of one hundred and you have no honest idea of how you’ll feel in an hour.

You wish so badly to live in the inanimate flaking skin of your previous moments.

You change your camouflage so frequently the world becomes colorless—and you want out. But you can’t breathe—and the lack of oxygen makes you delusional.

It’s not natural—but neither is it directly controllable (at least, without treatment). But still it gains you the reputation of unbridled insanity.

But, despite this, persists a full heart—a conscious heart—teeming with love and compassion.

On Tuesday I shaved my head, ridding myself of the matted, almost oppressive mop of hair that’s clutched me for two years—before coming out as a trans woman, before even applying to college, before the chemicals in my brain decided, on a whim, to escalate my depression and mania, turning me into an unkempt, non-thinking reflection of a past self I’d soon grow to loathe and fear.

It was almost as if a timeline had been removed from my body.

But, in its raw emotion and near-grieving, it was like turning the last page of the first book in a series:

It’s only when the dust settles that one realizes the ubiquitous, almost omniscient beauty of the complexity of the wiring of your brain—the imperfections and chronic instability that makes (in this case) me, myself.

But you know that despite its previous control over so many previous aspects of your life, it absolutely won’t define it.

It’s only then when one can fully thoughtfully observe the power that turned your life into an unmanageable stream of consciousness and numbed your better self with sedatives until you could barely function in any situation, except social ones, that you can understand its power.  

It’s in these moments of grim yet almost euphoric reflection that the world has stopped spinning and the noise has died down, and all that’s left in this present moment is you and the reason you’ve lived nineteen years without breathing.

It weighs nothing; it’s breathtakingly beautiful and melancholy yet grimly austere—and it bewilders you.

As of November 6, 2023, the author of this article has requested that their name and all identifying characteristics be removed from online publication.

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    AnonMay 14, 2019 at 2:56 am

    THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS! I couldn’t have put my experience with bpd better. Honestly really powerful.