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HERstory (Women & MHA): Karishma Magan

Karishma Magan tells it all about surviving borderline personality disorder and depression every day.

Trigger Warning: Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Self-harm, Abuse.

Hell on Earth. The three-letter sentence is what a twenty-six-year-old senior auditor describes as living with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

“Let’s say there is a triggering event, like a breakup. Your emotions come rushing out of your body because you have no mechanisms to stop your emotions from turning into actions. You will either land up in the ‘stupid, shit zone’ or ‘the dungeon’ as we call it. For example, you will react insanely, like swear or break things or go into a state of depression and possibly self-harm),” she says.

According to the 26-year-old London resident, for a BPD patient, there are little to no healthy coping mechanisms to deal with a breakup.

Available options are limited to erratic, self-destructive behaviour, including self-harm, binge drinking and drug abuse. Like putting your playlist on shuffle and waiting for one of those familiar, pop hit singles that have recycled melodies from old tunes. The outcome is always the same – an earworm to satisfy your sadness and distress.

“You have these abandonment issues, so you can’t accept this breakup as your reality and you compromise your integrity to get this person to get the person back even though it’s the 10th time in an hour you’re hearing, ‘You have reached the mailbox of…” she told To EmpowHER.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), however, feels like “you just found out your loved one died over and over again.”

The pit in your stomach. Waking up and wanting to fall back asleep to not have to feel. Days passing by with your only thought: “Will the sadness ever go away?

Karishma Magan was clinically diagnosed at the age of 23. At the time of diagnosis, her family was in disbelief and sent her for a second opinion.

She was diagnosed again with BPD and MDD.

“For many years I thought something was wrong. I kept emailing Akeso (Netcare Group mental health facility) and answering their questionnaires on depression and anxiety. When they emailed back, I always chickened out for reasons I can’t remember,” she says.

Already Karishma was struggling with the realisation of what was happening to her, and yet the worry of what people may think added to the weight of it all.

“I didn’t tell many people. At work, these girls were discussing this ‘crazy’ girl whose partner left her and threw a headless doll over the wall [of his house]. ‘She’s crazy. She has borderline personality disorder’.
“I just sat there eating my couscous realising that the world would view me as that ‘crazy girl’,” she says.

Karishma suffered frequent breakdowns, especially under the influence of alcohol that would result in her lashing out when triggered.

One such incident led to her admission at Akeso.

“I got drunk and bumped my car in the parking lot. We fought in front of my friend who was down from Cape Town and her friends, which was obviously embarrassing.
“I remember running away into the streets of Melville without care and nearly stepping out into the road, almost being bumped by a car. One of my friends pulled me back and spoke to me. After that, I decided it was time to find out what’s actually wrong,” she told To EmpowHER.

Karishma has not had a stable relationship since she entered the dating scene. Abusive relationships became a norm; she accepted behaviours such as cheating, financial, verbal and physical abuse.

“I became attached and had a fear of being abandoned by my partners. This put a huge dent in my self-confidence, self-esteem and sense of worthiness. I eventually lost the ability to write, because I felt worthless for accepting such treatment.”

When she goes out for the night, one glass turns to four and then…

“I usually end up binge drinking more than I can handle. Something bad always happen in this case, especially because I have these lingering feelings and trauma that I haven’t dealt with properly,” she says.

The next morning, she is nursing feelings of anxiety, guilt, suicidal ideations, and like “something inside of me is dying”.

This, she explains, is a symptom of MDD.

“I started cutting my wrists when I was 13. That became my coping mechanism. I can’t even remember why I started or where I learnt it from. This has had a lot of consequences because it was a temporary release. It prevented me from working through my feelings which caused a build-up of and subsequent unhealthy coping mechanisms that have followed me into adulthood. It was all I knew.
“Unlearning these coping mechanisms and regulating my emotions are two of the hardest things to learn. I eventually went to dialectical behaviour therapy to learn how to cope like a ‘normal’ person.”

Karishma says she used to be high-functioning despite the traumas and mental health problems.

She was a multi-tasker of sorts, separating her feelings from her responsibilities like organising her mother’s spices – gharam masala, jeera, anise, ajwain, elachi, zafran and dhana jeera here and garlic and onion powder, barbeque rub spice, lemon pepper and Aromat there.

“I could cry and study all night long. Now I can’t even get out of bed or pay my bills on time or put 100% effort into my work. It’s supposed to get better with age apparently, but my condition feels like its regressing."
“Sometimes I’ll be having a good day and then my mind will be like, ‘Remember when XYZ hurt you…’ and just like that the day is ruined," she says.

Medication, like anti-depressants and anti-anxiety, is prescribed to manage such hardships.

She also attended DBT classes to learn how to regulate her moods, seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist every couple weeks.

She is able to use the exercises she learned in DBT to help herself through a bad episode.

Breathing is good. Inhale. Exhale. Breathing slows her reaction time and enables reflection.

Another positive is a building a good support system that she says she can call or talk to whenever she needs to.

“Every time I thought I was progressing, I found myself at the starting point all over again,” she told To EmpowHER.

She admitted herself to Akeso in December after a series of traumatic events throughout the previous year.

“Recently during the lockdown, I have been feeling depressed, so I contacted the mental health line here in London and they doubled my dosage. In the beginning, the meds really do work, but some days I feel like they aren’t helping, and I’ll be stuck like this forever.
“I’m very bad at taking my tablets, so I put a reminder on my phone. Someone on Twitter created a ‘Take Your Meds’ chat and we remind each other daily. When I don’t take the tablets, I feel worse which is scary because then I’m left thinking, ‘Will I be dependent on pills forever for serotonin and controlling my nervous system?’”

Mental illness comes with its own challenges, including obsessive behaviours – a symptom of BPD.

“I attached my identity to activism. With BPD we become obsessive over some things and fighting for the rights of Palestinians was that for me. It gave me purpose!
“In the past two to three years I lost energy, drive and my self-identity. When I look back at how active and involved I used to be, it drives me into a space of purposelessness. I really let my mental illness kidnap my purpose. I look forward to re-learning who I am and getting back into activism,” she told To EmpowHER.

Karishma chooses to also see the benefits the healing process had on her.

She has always been the person her cousins confide in and trust with their deepest secrets. She says this has helped her as she can offer advice without them worrying about when, who – and even if – they can seek help.

“My diagnoses brought my mum and me closer. I think it brought a level of understanding into our relationship. Since then, my family has been very supportive. My mum attends webinars to understand BPD, which is very touching.
“In the beginning, everyone thought it was just a ‘phase’ and that I must get over it. The understanding came with the diagnoses,” she says.


What are your thoughts on mental healthcare, education (or advocacy) and policy in South Africa or abroad? How has living with a mental illness affected your views on the topic?

Private facilities in South Africa are amazing but unaffordable for the majority of South Africans. If you’re admitted you pay for your stay, the medicine, each session you have with the psychiatrist or psychologist which is R1000, the coaching sessions, etc.

I think the government needs to invest in facilities like Akeso with quality help and so that it’s affordable to the general public. The quality of government based mental healthcare is poor, underbudgeted for, and not prioritized.

I don’t think mental illness is addressed properly in schools. My little cousin in grade 4 was explaining how she feels sad and like a guilty feeling inside of her when she’s in public. That’s social anxiety!

It is so important for kids to be able to identify what they’re feeling and pinpoint the symptoms. It would lead to quicker help. I didn’t know about BPD until I met someone with it a few years ago and I have been living with it for years. What if Karishma in grade 6 learnt about depression, BPD and anxiety, and most importantly, healthy coping mechanisms? Would I be sitting here as a 26-year-old Karishma trying to human again?

What advice do you have for young girls and women who are suffering (diagnosed or undiagnosed) with BPD and MDD?

Don’t let them tell you that you’re crazy. Seek help. Reach out at the hands reaching out to you. Your feelings are valid, your experiences are your truths. Don’t see yourself as the disorder. You are more than that. You have the ability to define who you are.

© 2020 by TO EMPOWHER.