How did I get here?
To this place, where I have no place?
I look to the right of me and I see a ghost. A ghost of a person who has walked beside me my whole life – a child really. A ghost of a little girl who has been waiting for me, but with whom I never been able to connect. She walks beside me every day, waiting. Yet, I have nothing to offer her, for I can’t see her. I simply cannot see her.
I have a knowing. I know she is there. But I cannot see her. I cannot see the self – me – that she carries.
I wander through life, people all around me, connected somehow by a thread that I cannot seem to see. I feel like an errant thread that was somehow not sewn into the fabric of life, unravelling bit by bit with each wash, each wear, threatening to be washed away completely as time wears on. A thread that could have done so much, yet did nothing but just hang there, blowing this way and that, without purpose or meaning.
I am a hole. A large gaping hole.
How did I not recognise my own lack of sense of self for so long?
It feels empty, and cold.
I feel empty. I guess I always have, without really realising it.
Purpose. Meaning. Fulfillment. These are what makes us human. All of us driven by our inherent, unequivocal sense of self. Each driven to want to do something that is deep within us. Not always able to, of course, but mostly knowing what it is what we would like to do and inherently knowing who we are.
What are you if you are missing this? Are you even human if you don’t know who you are, if you have no sense of self, without any idea what would bring your life meaning or purpose?
Such is the pain of this, I cannot bare to look at or watch people who have lived their best lives, who have answered the call of their souls. Yet, like witnessing an accident, in some macabre way, I cannot look away. I have to damage myself further. I don’t care about “success” or money. I never have. I care about people who have such a clear, acute sense of self, that the line to their North Star is crystal clear. I care so much about it, that the shame of not having found my line is too painful to bear. Yet, still I seek them out.
A direct way to punish myself for things that are beyond my control, but for which I blame myself every day.
There is no sense to this. It just is.
I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (or BPD). Additionally, ADHD (Inattentive Type) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) were also added to my already known diagnoses of Autism and C-PTSD. It has been a lot to digest, but it is the lack of sense of self that has captured me the most.
It explains so much. The pain of the memories, the behaviours, the confusion, the inability to know in a moment of flash-in-the-pan internal rage why people couldn’t see what I could, and, now, the clear reason why being offered to me, is very painful to look back upon. The internal storm, simultaneously filled with rage and shame, rushing from one internal neurone to the next looking frantically for some sign of who I am, is the most difficult to describe and quantify, the most confusing and painful.
Who are we without our sense of self?
I have always been on a journey to “find” myself. Reading self help books from about the age of 14, attending seminars, fascinated by peoples’ biographies of how they found their “thing”. It really wasn’t the “thing” I was interested in though, it was how they truly knew what it was who they were. I scoured for information that would give me some clue, some map, some line, to finding that sense of self, though of course, I realise now that I didn’t consciously know that the sense of self was what I was looking for.
Except I was missing the point entirely. The sense of self comes from within, not from without. There is no magic formula, despite what the self help books and gurus would have us believe. It is something that is inherent. We are born, and a sense of self develops through a combination of our DNA, the way our brains develop and the environment in which we grow. But somehow, for some of us, this goes terribly wrong. Sometimes, it’s our DNA, other times the way our brains develop and sadly, often times, it is childhood/youth trauma. And so a sense of self never develops and we muddle along as best we can. Until we can’t.
Somehow, because of the difficulty of living in a human existence without this sense of self, BPD and C-PTSD are diagnosed. Additionally, being autistic robs you of it even more as you’re not quite sure how societal rules work, so you become a chameleon trying to fit in.
But here is the thing; that ghost of that little girl next to me, she never goes away. She just walks beside me, patiently waiting for me to step into my sense of self, prodding me every now and again to get on with it. But the longer I go without that sense of self, the more hopeless I become, and she does too.
Without a sense of self, are we even human? And if I am not human, then what is the point?
And so, with each day becoming more hopeless, we both became very very ill. Deathly ill.
To have no hope, is to reach a point of acceptance. An acceptance that is deadly.
Imagine being a chameleon, but not knowing you are a chameleon. You stand next to a leaf, so you think you should be a leaf and turn green. You stand next to a pebble, so you think you should be a pebble and turn brown. You stand next to a pair of boots and think you should be a pair of boots and turn black. Yet, all the while you are a chameleon, but you don’t know you are a chameleon, and you have no way of finding out.
However, people around you can see you are a chameleon, and they think you are an amazing chameleon, so full of potential and amazement, but you just cannot see it, because you do not know it. Instead, you exhaust yourself flitting from one thing to the next, constantly changing colours, trying to be something you aren’t yet not knowing what it is you actually are.
Ironically, unless you tell someone you don’t know who or what you are, they don’t know they need to show you the reflection of yourself. But you aren’t aware that you don’t know who you are, so how do you tell someone that you don’t know who you are? Are you still with me?
Add to this the growing isolation. You know you don’t fit in, and your brain tells your chameleon brain that you have tried every colour in the rainbow and clearly you aren’t enough, so best to just stay holed up at home where you at least have things to distract you and you don’t feel so exhausted rushing each day through a prism of colours. You push everyone away in your confusion of not knowing who you are. You isolate. Changing colours in a never ending loop, exhausted, dying quietly inside with each metamorphosis. Best to stay at home.
Add to this further the exhausting cycle of inability to emotionally regulate. I am a gatling gun, just waiting to go off at any hint of abandonment, or lack of love, or any perceived attack on me as a person. The person I didn’t know myself. How could anyone else know either? The self loathing and shame becomes unbearable.
I found myself at the abyss, holding my little ghost girl with me, both of us ready to jump.
I knew if I was to survive, I finally had to admit to someone I was deathly ill. I didn’t know why I was ill, for I had tried everything, but I knew that if I didn’t ask, even though I believed that I was beyond help, I would not survive.
It was only by reaching out that I could access the answer that let me know that I had been searching all along, not for purpose in life, but something that has been inherently missing from me from a very young age – a sense of self. Something so inherent to us all, and so taken for granted we aren’t even aware of it. Something that is so vital, it informs our very existence and indeed our mental wellbeing.
The power of medication has given me some breathing space. This breathing space has enabled me to step away from the deathly thoughts, and to consider treatments – Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), both of which have strong solid science behind them as viable treatments for MDD, BPD and C-PTSD. These treatments hold hope of living a life with meaning as an autistic and ADHD person.
It is going to take work, a lot of work. I am worried I won’t have the spoons, and I am still wondering if a sense of self will ever develop, or if it’s just a case of doing the best we can without one. I do wonder if it is just too late, and if all I can look forward to is to get through life feeling as little unravelled as possible, but never truly feeling woven into the fabric of life. In short, I am full of fear. But I am going to do my very best. And I guess that is all I can ask of myself.
My journey begins soon. We – my little ghost girl and I – will take these steps together.
I’ll keep you posted.