Posted on May 29, 2021
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
- She talks briefly about her parents separating when she was a child and how, while it wasn’t an actual abandonment, it could be perceived that way, especially in the mind of a young child.
- “I think I do struggle with that feeling that people are gonna leave, that people are gonna leave me.”
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’ve struggled with] that feeling of being not good enough and that when people know the real you, they’re not gonna want to stick around and stay with you. I really have struggled with that.”
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 do have very, very strong, very, very intense emotions and I have done since I was younger.”
I most definitely have very strong emotions, sometimes overwhelmingly so.
- “I don’t seem to have a middle point, for emotions at all. I don’t have a happy setting. I know that sounds odd but I don’t have a happy setting. My happy setting is feeling calm and I rarely manage to feel calm. I either feel very excited, very happy or very agitated or I feel anxious, and depressed, and low, and suicidal. I don’t have that relaxed place.”
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’s exhausting because everyday I’m going through these hundreds of emotions and I’m feeling the full force of them as if big things are happening when really hardly anything is and it exhausts me. It’s really tiring and it’s really hard to deal with day to day when your emotions can be so easily triggered like that. It says, ‘you can go from feeling very happy and confident in the morning to low and sad in the afternoon,’ and that is so me because I’ll wake up in the morning some days and feel great and… I don’t know… It happens so quickly and suddenly I’m suicidal… Most people assume that something big must’ve happened to make you get that low but with BPD it doesn’t need to be a big thing… I get really big ups and downs and there’s no middle ground for me.”
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.
- “I do get really big ups and downs and there’s no middle ground for me emotionally. There is no centre.”
On Having Unstable Sense of Self
- “I’ve had to develop a sense of who I am because, I think with BPD – just from my experience – I feel very empty and very blank canvas-y and I do struggle with understanding who I am: ‘Am I a good person or a bad person? What do I think about things?’ Sometimes I feel like I’m not even here, everything’s too much, and I just think… ‘What am I? What is this? What’s going on?'”
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.
- “You might notice I use the name ‘Claudia Boleyn’… It’s not my birth name anyway and I think what I’ve tried to do because of the issues I’ve had with feeling so empty and confused about this kind of thing is I’ve tried to form an identity based on people I admire… Some people think it’s like copying. It’s not necessarily copying; it’s trying to deal with that empty, confused thing. There are things I like and things I don’t like and I can tell you the things I enjoy and the things I don’t enjoy but I couldn’t tell you about me as a person because it changes so much. I couldn’t tell you if I was an introvert or an extrovert… it’s just a million things. I couldn’t describe myself. Or if I were to describe myself, you could ask me the next day or an hour later and it would entirely change… I do change a lot. Fictional characters are important to me and historical characters are important to me because they help me ground myself a little bit. It’s hard because, with BPD, people who don’t have it find it very difficult to understand that. So with the Anne Boleyn thing for me, she represents a lot of what I find admirable and I want to replicate some of those qualities but at the same time I want to be myself. It’s a really hard balance to strike. It’s not that people with BPD don’t have that personality, it’s that they feel so much so much of the time and they can change so often that it gets confusing, you know? What is my stable identity? What is that? It’s really hard to figure out when it’s changing all the time.”
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
- “I haven’t had a super serious romantic relationship… I actually am petrified – I tell you, PETRIFIED – of being in a serious, serious, like, forever relationship because, when you have something like BPD and you have that mindset, everything is very all-or-nothing so I do worry about the state of my emotions when being in love, and being in that sort of intense relationship because just the normal things for people with BPD can be overwhelming so with something like love, which ‘normal people’ find absolutely out there, for someone with BPD, that’s a lot. That’s a lot to deal with. I think I want to be in a really stable place for that.”
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…
- “It’s a lot to deal with if you have BPD. Maintaining those relationships is hard because it means so much to you. It means a lot. That being said, it’s not that I find it hard to keep stable relationships, or maybe I’ve just got lucky with the ones I’ve got… I do a thing where… (*see point below)… because of the BPD, where I do not talk to someone for a very long time and I don’t know why this is but I find it really hard to keep contact with people. So my closest friends are those people who are very understanding and very patient.”
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.
- *”Can I just say… if you’re a friend of mine and you’ve been a friend of mine once, I consider you a friend for my whole life. I just wanna put that out there.”
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
- She explains that, with BPD, acting impulsively often involves doing harmful, dangerous, and risky behaviours, anything from shoplifting to taking drugs.
- She, understandably, doesn’t want to discuss her personal risky behaviours on the internet but does elaborate on the feelings involved.
- “The impulse control is bad with me. With BPD, because of the high emotions and feeling everything so intensely, obviously you feel so out of control and it can be really hard to control your impulses sometimes.”
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 am constantly suicidal and I have been as long as I can remember. Now that sounds odd. I don’t mean in the sense that I’m going to actively go out and do it constantly 24/7. I just mean that there is a constant undercurrent with me… I think it’s called suicidal ideation, it’s sort of being passively suicidal. It’s that feeling of, even when you’re at your best, thinking, ‘well, I’m not going to do it but if a car hit me right now, I wouldn’t complain.’ It’s hard to exist like that. I think it’s hard for people who don’t understand that [to get it].”
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.
- “I think it’s to do with the huge emotions and the exhaustion and being so confused and things can feel like so much and there is a lot of pain that comes with BPD because being so emotional, reacting to stuff so strongly can make you feel like you’ve got no skin. It’s like you’ve got no emotional skin, nothing to protect you, and it’s painful and it’s hard and it’s tiring and it’s exhausting and it leaves you with this, for me, this undercurrent of suicidal ideation.”
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.
- She briefly mentions two suicide attempts but again, completely understandably, doesn’t want to share the details with the internet.
- “I’ve been a self harmer since I was about twelve years old. I began self harming before I knew what self harming was… It just came as a sort of reaction to me. I used to scratch my thumb with a safety pin because I felt so upset and angry and when I felt a big emotion, I would just scratch until my thumb bled. I didn’t know self harm was a thing. It was a response to the emotions and feeling too much and feeling completely trapped in my body and not knowing what to do.”
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 do feel very empty and this sounds incredibly emo and angsty but it’s just a default setting for me, as it can be for other people with BPD. I just feel very empty and alone and just scared really. I think, living with BPD, you’re in a constant state of low fear, you know… terror sometimes and you get so used to it that it’s just there and it’s only when you come to think about it, you think, ‘wow, I’m living with this in me all the time.’ It’s quite hard to think about actually but it also makes me feel proud of myself for still being here and fighting through and getting the help that I needed and sorting myself out.”
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.
- “I do have a constant sense of emptiness and just feeling like nothing is ever enough. Everything is too much for me and yet it’s simultaneously never enough for me, it’s never enough to fill that empty feeling.”
‘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
- “Yeah, I’ve had some issues with anger… [but] I’m not a violent person at all. Whenever I get the extreme upset and anger, I’ve always taken it out on myself. I’m a self harmer. I can be truly cruel to myself sometimes and when I feel that intense anger, I’ve always acted more inwardly.”
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
- She talks about having had psychotic experiences and that they’re triggered either by feeling really low or by very intense emotion.
- “I’ve had some very scary things happen before because of psychosis.”
- She talks about a period of time where she genuinely believed that there would be a school shooting.
- She goes on to talk about how, after talking about it with her psychologist, she learned that it was her brain’s response to extreme stress and “thankfully, [her] life is different now” so she hasn’t been experiencing that level of stress and the resulting psychotic episodes.
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 get depersonalisation and derealisation, where I don’t feel like I’m a real person and I feel like the world is not real. Sometimes I get that when I’m getting towards psychosis because I feel like nothing is real and I’m not convinced… sometimes it feels like this is all some virtual reality or something and I’m not sure what’s real and what’s not and ‘Am I alive? Am I imagining this?’ and it can get really scary and it spirals out of control quite fast. But yeah, I do get very numb and checked out and when I get ‘bad,’ sometimes I will sit down for a while and lose a huge chunk of time…”
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.
Posted on May 28, 2021
Last night, my younger sibling, Charlie, performed their headline show (and I believe it was their first headline show ever!) at the Above The Stag cabaret lounge. The show was called Charlie Wood Tries Really Hard to Improve the World and the description read…
“From environmental collapse to JK Rowling, everything is clearly going terribly and it’s time someone did something about it. Using song and story, whimsey and costume changes, Charlie Wood attempts to redirect Britain away from abject ruin and towards a more hopeful, positive and less gendered future, in this impassioned, comic evening of light ranting, special guests and songs about vampire Margaret Thatcher.
Charlie Wood is an award-losing writer, musician and performer who has starred in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern’s iconic panto, created memorable work for Crayola’s Mx Madhouse, worked with Lea Anderson and John Cameron Mitchell and was once in the background of a Mastercard advert.
It was truly awesome and I’m still alternating between beaming with pride and tearing up with pride. Charlie is so creative and works so hard at every project they commit to and it was such a joy and an honour to witness the show, as you can probably tell from my very effusive Instagram post…
Apart from the various social media posts from last night, the only material from the show available to view are a couple of the songs which are on YouTube, including The Ballad of Heather and Bob…
If you enjoyed the song, you can buy it here!
As I said, I am so, so proud of Charlie and all the hard work they put into the show. I’m only sad that it was on for just the one night so I can’t see it again.
Posted on May 22, 2021
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hard work recently, putting in the hours, motivation, effort, and all of those sorts of things. I’ve always been someone who’s constantly working on something and that’s gotten worse during the pandemic, to the point where I feel guilty if I’m not working (I’m aware of how unhealthy that is and I’m working on it in therapy). I think that’s the new toxic positivity (not that that’s gone), the new idea that’s posed as good but when taken too far is actually really damaging: toxic productivity. I mean, I can see where it came from: telling people that working hard will get them further in life than hoping they’ll get lucky or whatever isn’t inherently bad but when you have famous or notable people saying that they never took a day off or are advising people to never let up… it’s well intentioned but it can sink into the brain and become something dangerous and unhealthy. It can create a mindset that sees valuable fun and relaxation and decompression time as a waste when it’s not only necessary for our health but can have beneficial and important results, like helping us to better regulate our emotions or inspire bright and shiny new ideas.
So I’ve tried to put together a collection of quotes that are about working hard but don’t encourage that work-yourself-to-the-edge-of-mental-stability mentality. At least that’s what I hope I’ve done. Hopefully they’re as helpful and inspiring to you as they have been for me.
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” – Barack Obama
“It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.” –
“Luck is great, but most of life is hard work.” –
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie
“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Saint Francis
“The level path is easy, but it will not bring you to the mountaintop.” – Dr. Idel Dreimer
“Dreams don’t work unless you do.” – John C. Maxwell
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” –
“Let us remember then that we were made to do hard things, not easy, for if we do nothing but what is easy we will not go forward; then, as there is no standing still in the universe, we will degenerate, so that by doing something a little harder each time we prepare ourselves against something really hard.” – The Agricultural Journal
“Never slow down for the world, one day it will catch up with you.” – Nike
“If you can’t outplay them, outwork them.” – Ben Hogan
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Stay positive and happy. Work hard and don’t give up hope. Be open to criticism and keep learning. Surround yourself with happy, warm, and genuine people.” –
“Sometimes in life you have an appointment with destiny, and sometimes you just have to get destiny to squeeze you in.” – Robert Brault
“Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.” – Oprah Winfrey
“Don’t work for recognition but do work worthy of recognition.” –
“Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” –
“Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.” – Charles F. Kettering
“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” – Paulo Coelho
“Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.” –
“Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.” – Henry David Thoreau
“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” – Napoleon Hill
“It’s not about money or connections – it’s the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone.” –
“Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus. Muses are too unreliable to keep on the payroll.” –
“To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing.” – Eva Young
“If you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world.” – Taylor Swift
I’m not gonna lie, I love being productive: I love working through a list, ticking things off, feeling like I’ve accomplished things at the end of every day, but I’m also aware that while this urge to be productive can be helpful, it can border on pretty unhealthy. As I said, I’m working on it. Productivity can be (and should be) beneficial in our lives, not a tightrope we walk where we’re trying not to fall into unhealthy habits. Hopefully these quotes reflect that perspective rather than a toxic one.
What about you guys? What quotes do you use to motivate yourself? Please throw them in the comments!