Trigger Warning: frequent mentions of self harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal behaviour. If this is something that you will find triggering or upsetting, please don’t read ahead. Please always put your mental health first.
Given that it’s Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Awareness Month, I felt I should write at least one post about BPD, although one is all I have time for at the moment, what with my uni workload. This is one of the videos I watched pretty early on after my BPD diagnosis and it really, really helped me. It’s such a good, informative video, completely free of the stigma that is often attached to this diagnosis.
I really recommend watching the whole thing but I want to talk about some of the points Claudia makes, as well as adding some of my own thoughts.
Borderline Personality Disorder (also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder) is a type of personality disorder, a type of mental health problem where your attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours cause you longstanding problems in your life, that impact your life daily. Struggling with how you think and feel about yourself and others – and that causing problems in your life – can lead to an investigation into whether you might have BPD. Having said this, many clinicians are reluctant to diagnose it as there is such stigma attached to it, with many in the health sector seeing those diagnosed with BPD as ‘difficult’ and ‘attention seeking’ (x). Personally, I have been told on numerous occasions that I should consider abandoning the diagnosis to avoid negative assumptions from doctors, a suggestion I find deeply offensive and have ignored. It explains things about me that I can’t otherwise explain and I’m not going to give that up because of other people’s ignorance.
Considering how many misunderstandings and how much stigma there is around BPD, Claudia uses the framework of the diagnostic criteria, as detailed by the Mind website (as of 2016, although the diagnostic criteria listed has not changed), to describe the symptoms of BPD and how she experiences them.
Fear of Abandonment
I definitely relate to this. I’ve had several people abandon me, intentionally or not, and so I have serious anxiety about people leaving me.
I also relate to this, although my fear usually stems from feeling like a burden and that one day, the people in my life will feel like I’m just too much of a burden and walk away.
On Feeling Emotions Strongly
I most definitely have very strong emotions, sometimes overwhelmingly so.
This is very true for me too. My emotions tend to be at the extreme ends of the scale with very little middle ground.
It can be scary and as Claudia says, exhausting, to have such big emotions that ricochet around inside you, changing every time they collide with something. If that makes sense. When they’re so big and they change so quickly and dramatically that it’s like the ground is constantly rocking until your feet; nothing feels stable or reliable.
On Having Unstable Sense of Self
I really relate to this, to feeling empty, to feeling like I don’t truly know who I am. I know little things, that my favourite chocolate is milk chocolate and that thunderstorms make me feel alive. But the answers to the big questions about myself continue to elude me: Am I a good person or a selfish person? What do I really think about this issue or that issue? Am I actually good at the things I think I’m good at? What are my strengths? My weaknesses? It’s very confusing.
I can definitely understand taking the best of our favourite people or fictional characters and building an identity and personality using those traits. I’ve absolutely done it. When I was younger, I would accidentally take on the whole person with both the traits helpful and unhelpful to me; I’d end up making decisions that weren’t what I wanted at all but were what the person I was emulating would do, which got me into some complicated situations. But now that I’m older and I understand that this is something I do, sometimes unintentionally, I’m better able to use it to strengthen me, rather than completely change me.
On Finding It Hard to Make and Keep Stable Relationships
This definitely resonates with me. Romantic relationships scare the crap out of me. The only relationship I’d consider significant was late in my teens, before I had my diagnoses of BPD (as well as ASD, depression, anxiety, etc) and it ended very traumatically. While that will always be on the other person, I did really struggle throughout the time we knew each other, especially with the big emotions and fear of abandonment curtesy of the BPD, as well as the social difficulties of ASD. And with no explanation for why I operated that way, it was probably doomed from the start. Still, the other person didn’t need to be such a cruel, manipulative human being…
I really relate to what she says about relationships being complicated because of how much you care. I’ve been devastated by the ending of friendships, relationships, etc and that does make maintaining relationships of any type very stressful at times: the idea of saying or doing the wrong thing and that damaging the relationship irreparably (even relationships that, in theory, aren’t so fragile that one mistake would ruin them) is terrifying and that in itself can lead to making bad decisions, saying or doing things, etc that aren’t true to who you are, that could damage the relationship. If that makes any sense.
I also relate to what she says about not being great at continuous contact. For me at least, I think it’s about exhaustion: communication is so loaded and requires so much energy, social energy, emotional energy, etc. Sometimes it all just becomes too much and I have to retreat for a while to recover.
This is definitely a trait of mine. If you’re a friend once, you’re a friend forever (barring a serious falling out). It’s one of the things that I find very confusing in other people: when they don’t feel the same way about friendships. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
On Acting Impulsively
I don’t consider myself a particularly impulsive person. In fact, I’ve always been terrified of not being in control of myself or making thoughtless decision. That’s probably partly why I’m such an overthinker.
On Suicidal Thoughts and Self Harming Behaviour
I’ve been meaning to write a post about being passively suicidal for ages; I just haven’t had the time that I would want to dedicate to it, given how important it is. But I’ve definitely experienced this and continue to have phases of feeling this way, some that last for days and some that last for months.
The ‘no emotional skin’ leapt out at me immediately. I really relate to that. Sometimes everything is just so overwhelming and painful; it can all feel like just too much to cope with, to survive, to live a life that isn’t unbearably painful.
I’ve self harmed on and off since I was about thirteen. To be honest, I never really thought about it as self harm – not for a long time at least: I didn’t think of it as harm myself because that wasn’t the primary motivation for doing it. I did it (and sometimes still do it) when I got so overwhelmed, so full of feeling that I had to get it out of me. I didn’t know how I would survive if I didn’t do it; it was a coping mechanism, like a pressure valve that helped me regulate the intensity of my emotions. I’m obviously aware now that it is self harm but after much discussion with my therapist, we’re not worried about it on it’s own. If it’s a coping mechanism (and one that I use relatively rarely), then the best use of our time is working on helping me to regulate my emotions so I don’t need to do it rather than stop me from using the only coping mechanism I currently have.
Feeling Empty and Lonely A Lot of the Time
I can absolutely understand the feeling of emptiness; I relate to it a lot. Sometimes I wonder if the emotions in me and around me are just so big and so overwhelming that that part of my brain just shuts down to keep me from being constantly overwhelmed, to keep all the fuses in my brain from blowing. Maybe empty is safe. I don’t know. But ‘feeling empty’ is definitely something that resonates with me.
‘Everything is too much for me and yet it’s simultaneously never enough for me’ is a phrase that could sum up my relationship with my emotions. My emotions are so big that they’re overwhelming but they also don’t feel quite enough. I can’t really explain it; I don’t know if there are words for it. It’s so deeply emotional that I’m not sure it would translate. I guess it’s kind of like sucking in so much air you feel sick but none of it is actually getting to your lungs. Maybe? I think that’s the best analogy I’ve got. Right now, at least.
Getting Angry and Struggling to Control Anger
I don’t often get angry. I don’t think I ever even felt angry until I was twenty. I always just jumped straight to sad. So anger is a strange and confusing emotion for me. I only ever really let it out when in the midst of an autistic meltdown. As I’ve already talked about, I have a lot of fear around saying or doing the wrong thing and the chances of that happening, in the heat of an angry moment, make that a lot more likely to happen. Plus I really hate confrontation. I can do it but I hate it.
Paranoia, Psychotic Experiences, or Feeling Numb When Anxious
Fortunately, I’ve never experienced a psychotic episode and hopefully my mental health never reaches that point. They sound incredibly scary and I feel for anyone who has them.
I’ve definitely experienced periods of feeling like I’m not really here or like I’m really far away from everything and everyone, separated by something intangible but powerful. I’ve struggled to believe that I’m real and that the world is real. It’s confusing and difficult and lonely. I usually only experience it when I’m deeply depressed but it does appear on other occasions.
She talks about the stigma similarly to the way I described it at the top of this post but says that she wanted to share her experience with it in the hopes that it will help people and lessen that stigma. She also talks about the impact that her mental illness has had on her life: she’s studying for a degree at home because that’s the path most conducive to her mental health and that’s something she’s proud of because she’s still working to achieve the things she wants to achieve, even if she has to go about it in a less than traditional way.
“I really am working on structuring my life now; like how some people structure healthy eating in their lives and they think about what they’re gonna eat in their diet, I think about myself emotionally and giving myself time and all these kind of weird emotional things that I have to think about, like that. But yeah, having my diagnosis was a huge weight off my shoulders because it feels real and you feel very validated… And like I said, some people don’t like a diagnosis and that’s fine. That’s up to them but for me, it felt validating and I’m not ashamed of it. At all.”
Many of the things I’ve talked about personally are very much inline with Quiet BPD, a less well known presentation of the disorder – sometimes people don’t initially believe me when I say I have BPD because I don’t fit neatly into the classic presentation. I read about it before my diagnosis and after investigating it with my psychiatrist, it’s always been accepted that this is the form that my BPD takes. I really want to write a longer, more personal piece on BPD and on my experience of Quiet BPD but I just haven’t got the time at the moment, being in the home stretch of my Masters. It’s also something that I feel is so important to get right and I just haven’t felt like I’ve been in the right space to do it justice. But these days I do feel more confident in my experience and, maybe when the stress of the Masters is over, I’ll feel able to write that post.