When I was in college, a friend told me that she thought I had Borderline Personality Disorder.
I didn’t know what that meant so I looked it up.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships.
Here’s some of the signs:
- Extreme reactions—including panic, depression, rage, or frantic actions—to abandonment, whether real or perceived
- A pattern of intense and stormy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often veering from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
- Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self, which can result in sudden changes in feelings, opinions, values, or plans and goals for the future (such as school or career choices)
- Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few day
- Chronic feelings of emptiness and/or boredom
Needless to say, she was wrong. She didn’t mean borderline like that. She meant borderline like something on the edge. Open to interpretation.
She was trying to say that I have a malleable personality.
Ranging in extremes? Yes.
Subject to flights of fancy? Hell yes.
I saw my oldest sister the other day and during our conversation she told me a story about one of our Ya-Ya weekends together. Our Ya-Ya weekends were when my two sisters and I would get together for one weekend a year and hang out. We all live far away, my family had been through some hard shit at the time, so my sisters and I decided that we would make a point of seeing each other, just the three of us, once a year. I have fond memories of these weekends.
But the story she told me was one I didn’t remember, which isn’t a shock – I have a terrible memory. It’s the reason I have kept journals since I was a teenager.
So at one of these weekends I apparently burst into tears when my sister was faux-complaining about the “press 1 for English” thing on the phones. Again, I don’t remember this. I can only assume it happened because it SOUNDS like me.
I think it’s empathy to a fault.
Faulty empathy. Squishy-mushy personalities. I can quite easily put myself in someone else’s shoes. The problem is, I never seem to give them their shoes back. I just sort of keep them, carry them around with me emotionally.
I’m like an emotional junk lady.
I just keep collecting other people’s stories and twisting them together with my own.
When I was younger I had a problem with lying. I like to think it was an unhealthy expression of my innate desire to tell stories but the fact is I hurt people so I don’t deserve to get off the hook that easily.
But it’s like I would pick up pain or happiness or fear or anger and stick it on my back and it would become a part of me. Even if I didn’t own the cause of those feelings to begin with.
I was thinking about this because the number one question I have gotten from people who have read my book This Is Sarah is that they want to know if this is based on a true story.
And I tell them again and again, it’s not. I am not Sarah, or Colin, or Claire.
No one I knew had been kidnapped.
So, they wanted to know, how did I know so much about what it’s like to go through something like that?
Because everyone I knew had lost someone.
Had grieved. Including me. And grief, regardless of how it arrives, is universal.
I thought that was a pretty good answer. And yet more often than not they were disappointed.
As if my “making it up” was somehow untruthful.
I had deceived them.
They wanted the story itself to be real. It didn’t matter that the emotions were. It didn’t matter that the pain and the anger and the fear were. It didn’t matter that some people, like Colin, shut down in the face of death. That other people, like Claire, refused to. None of that mattered as much as wanting it to be true.
Strange how people are, isn’t it?
John Green wrote a book called The Fault In Our Stars. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s pretty famous. He dedicated the book to Esther Earl. Esther was a young girl that died of cancer, and the author of “This Star Won’t Go Out.”
Mr. Green met Ms. Earl at a Harry Potter convention. He was moved by her story and he credits her with being part of the inspiration for his character Hazel. The book was published in 2012, after her death.
In a goodreads interview John said the following:
I could never have written this if I hadn’t known Esther. She introduced me to a lot of the ideas in the book, especially hope in a world that is indifferent to individuals, and empathy. She redefined the process of dying young for me.
Walking out of the hospital in 2000, I knew I wanted to write a story about sick kids, but I was so angry, so furious with the world that these terrible things could happen, and they weren’t even rare or uncommon, and I think in the end for the first ten years or so I never could write it because I was just too angry, and I wasn’t able to capture the complexity of the world. I wanted the book to be funny. I wanted the book to be unsentimental. After meeting Esther, I felt very differently about whether a short life could be a rich life.
But a lot of people have interpreted that to mean that John’s main character IS Esther.
As if a story about death – the most universal thing of all – the only thing that equalizes every living creature – wasn’t as powerful if there wasn’t one specific life behind it.
Again, people are strange.
Gayle Forman, also pretty famous, wrote a book called If I Stay. It is the story of Mia, a girl who narrates her story from a hospital bed after losing her entire family in a car crash. Except Mia is in a coma.
Gayle wrote a piece for the New York Times about how that car full of people were her friends. Except for Gayle, no one lived.
Mia, the cellist, was fiction, but the accident, and Mia’s family — her punk-rocker turned 1950s throwback of a father, her strong-willed mother and her adorable little brother — were resurrected from the ashes of my loss. A loss that no longer had the power to sucker punch but instead had become part of me, like a scar, or maybe a smile line.
I fell off a waterfall one year in high school. I also fell in love with a boy who fell in love with another boy. That’s a story I’m working on telling but in the end, it will just be that: A story.
The power in stories lie in the fact that they are universal. That the people that populate them are us.
You. Me. Them. Us.
That they are talking about something that we all know.
Love. Sadness. Hearbreak. Fear. Joy. Misery. Loneliness.
Stories are woven. They’re partially the writer, partially the people they know, part strangers, part imagination, part reader.
They’re a lie and a truth all rolled up into one.
And if they’re good, then they make us remember what it means to be us.