How often do those of you with Borderline Personality Disorder (or any other disorder!) use the actual phrase in conversation with real people in your lives?
As often as I tackle the topic of BPD on my blog, I am generally not very open about it with those I interact with face-to-face. I’ve used the actual diagnosis in conversation with my parents and a few friends, but I discuss it seldom. As it passes my lips, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the bitterness of words that are so stigmatized in our society. I often cringe immediately once I’ve said it, because I know what other people believe about BPD and I fear judgment.
On the rare occasion I have discussed it, it was often because I was trying to explain its meaning in my life. I was trying to take that demonized diagnosis and paint a picture of how it has colored my thoughts, my feelings, my actions. I was trying to put it in perspective for another person who was bewildered by my extreme mood, trying to educate a friend, or trying to quell someone’s anger after a regretful action on my part.
The problem is, I struggle to articulate further what it means beyond reading the DSM criteria verbatim. When I first started blogging, I published a number of posts that reflected upon how each of the nine borderline personality disorder criteria applied to me. I did this during a time where I was still learning about which parts of my identity were mine alone and which parts perhaps that of my disorder. It was useful, but those posts were expansive, and I haven’t looked at them in many months.
I’m very much in a phase of making everything “comprehensive” right now. Organizing the information in a way that communicates it most effectively. This is what I want to do with my disorder. I want to to highlight where the BPD exists within me, so that the next time I try to explain it someone maybe I can do it in a way that really gives justice to my experience.
The BPD in me comes out through intense emotions that cycle up and down at the drop of a hat, from the highest of high to the lowest of low. I feel my feelings at the extreme, even the positive ones. When I feel well, I am excitable, motivated, and have hope for my future. I feel productive and proud of myself for the work that I am doing. I can look back at the past and feel empathy for myself and the mistakes I’ve made, and even begin towards acceptance.
Unfortunately, I am triggered easily, by very trivial matters that wouldn’t upset other people: a small mistake at work, a perceived slight from a friend, or anything that might disrupt my routine. When that happens, my world plummets. I’ve seen the feelings described this way “grief instead of sadness, humiliation instead of embarrassment, rage instead of annoyance and panic instead of nervousness.” That is the truth. I don’t get just a dose of the feeling, I get it all, turned up to full volume.
The BPD in me takes those emotions and projects them into my perceptions of myself and others. The same way my feelings are extreme, so are my thoughts. If I’m not careful, I will paint my whole world into black and white, a series of all or nothing.
Usually, I’m at the negative end of the extreme, because the voice in my head is so harsh and so cruel. It calls me names and refuses to give me any credit for my success. I’m unlovable. I’m a loser. I’m “less than” everyone else. I’m a failure. I deserve to be punished. The good things are external, specific, and unstable; I see them, but I assume they are a short-lived manifestation of luck. The negative is internal, global, and stable. That is, it’s my fault, it will be my fault for every situation, and this will never change. I treat myself worse than anyone could ever treat me.
Because of of the BPD in me, sometimes I’m not sure what is the truth and what is not. So I tend to stick to the negative assumptions, so that if they end up being true, I’m not disappointed.
I know this is a fallacy, but it feels safer.
My BPD causes me to have trouble trusting anyone. In truth, the only people I trust not to leave are my parents. Everyone else? I assume you are going to leave and I assume it’s because of me. My flaws. My wrongdoings. My insecurities. You need to remember that I’ve had many friendships end before you, and I played a large role in it. So when you’re trying to tell me things are fine, I’m remembering the pain of those losses instead of listening to you. I’m not hearing your reassurance, especially not at first. You may need to reassure me, over and over, that you aren’t going anywhere. Eventually, maybe it will stick.
Of course, I hate to ask you directly for your reassurance. If I have to ask, then how do I know you really wanted to give it and didn’t just do so out of obligation? No, the BPD in me can’t accept your validation of our relationship unless you offer it freely, so that I can be sure it’s genuine. The BPD in me expects you to be attuned to that need at all times, to magically know when I need your reassurance. The voice is there, telling me that if you cared, you’d know and you’d ask.
Even when you do reassure me, even when you do so wonderfully, I’ll think I’m a burden for needing your support. In general, the BPD in me makes me hate myself for having needs at all. I don’t know how to prioritize myself and set appropriate boundaries because I’m so busy worrying about everyone else liking me.
The thought of someone not liking me feels personal. It feels like a strike against me as a person. Nevermind the fact that no one in the world is universally liked, I’ll still push to break that barrier. I’ll eviscerate the emotional and physical boundaries I’ve set for myself to please as many as I can. No one has asked me to do this. It’s a choice I’ve made for myself to try to maintain my own sanity.
When people do overstep a boundary, I let them right on in. Even though I should kindly lock the door, tell them to come back later, I’m too worried about appearing selfish and instigating feelings of anger.
The BPD in me shines through my recurrent thoughts that I am a burden to others and doomed to ruin every relationship, platonic or romantic, that I enter. Because of this, I struggle to maintain a connection with others when we are not together. We could have a fabulous time one day, laughing and forming a tight connection, but the second you are out of my sight I will begin to doubt the relationship. I may fear you are upset or angry with me based on the way you respond to a text message.
This is more about me than it is about you. It’s not about negative opinions I have of you; it’s about the negative tirade that’s happening in my head. I’m trying to hold onto the sense of trust and connection between us, but sometimes it slips right through my fingers and gets lost in the chaos.
You might notice that I shy away from disagreement, and will say things like “it’s fine” or “it doesn’t matter” the second I start to feel opposition from you or any sort of tension and anger on your part. I will invalidate my own needs and values, stomp them into dust myself, if I think that’s what you want to hear.
Or, more likely, I’ll just stay quiet and say nothing at all. Because if I speak in opposition of what you believe, I’m worried you will think I’m criticizing your opinions. I’m worried you will be upset with me. I assume if we disagree, it will lead to conflict, and that conflict will be the end of our relationship.
The world is full of disagreements and that’s scary to me. Remember that thing I said about not knowing what’s the truth? Well, how can I fight for something if I’m not sure my truth is the real truth? Or worse, if there’s no right opinion? Navigating all of that is fiercely confusing. Being around groups of people exacerbates these fears, because there’s a greater chance of differing opinions. The BPD in me makes me want to hide away from it all. When you see me withdrawing, it’s usually because nothing feels like the right thing to say, everything too risky.
You might notice that I apologize, repeatedly, for very small infractions. It might be something small that barely even bothered you, and here I am holding onto it with numerous apologies even once you’ve told me it’s fine. I know it’s probably annoying but I literally cannot help myself. Even the smallest of mistakes feels fatal to me, so I do everything I can to compensate for it. Everything I can to keep you with me.
The BPD in me makes me a perfectionist. I want to do everything right, to say everything right, be everything right for everyone. If I do all that, then I am in control, and I need to feel in control of my life. The expectations I’ve set for myself are beyond what anyone could ever reach, and yet I tell myself I need to aim for it anyway. I tell myself if I just try hard enough, be good enough, I can do it.
I know that it makes me look a little frazzled sometimes, when I’m obsessing about getting it all right. I’m aware that it’s frustrating for others when I’m going on and on about everything on my plate. This is why. That voice in my head, telling me I have to handle it all perfectly. That voice in my head, telling me I’m a failure each time I don’t. I get stuck in that space, trying desperately to find ways to feel like I’ve fulfilled my expectations for myself .
The BPD in me makes me impulsive. My intense emotions can feel overwhelming and I’m not always so good at sitting with them, Usually, it’s because I feel wronged and am putting pressure on myself to communicate my pain with others. I may make assumptions about what others are thinking. I may say or do something in a flurry of feelings based purely off of my misguided belief. In those moments, I’ve forgotten to lay situations out and look at the evidence against the emotions and assumptions. I’ve forgotten to consider the consequences of my actions.
BPD has told me to act now and get it all out before it’s too late, so I do. Unfortunately, that usually hurts someone. Afterwards, I see all that much more clearly, and I regret it immensely. It’s a pattern I’m still digging my way out of. When I’m impulsive, it may hurt you. I’m sorry for that.
My impulsivity takes other forms. I’m notorious for eating more calories than one person needs and asking you not to judge me for it. Mozzarella sticks, pizza, macaroni and cheese, ice cream, candy. These are my weaknesses, because they are a comfort, at least in the moment, and I’m often looking to soothe sad feelings.
Then there’s the financial impulsively. I will buy something frivolous: new clothes, a figurine from Amazon, Packer’s tickets. I’ll tell myself I deserve it. I’ll tell myself I need it. These are rationales used to cover the unhealthiness of my decision. The truth is, I’m trying to fill a void, because the BPD in me makes me feel empty too.
I’m grieving over absences, things I wish I’d had that were never there and never will be. Accepting that loss feels dismissive. I yearn to find ways to compensate for the things I was missing, but how can I ever make up for what was lost? Living with that knowledge just spurs resentment at others.
I resent my parents for not teaching me the skills I needed to identify, verbalize, and regulate my emotions or to build and maintain appropriate relationships that include disagreement; for instead teaching me how to get angry, to yell, and to bury everything else. I resent my friends for having the skills that I don’t, for knowing how to cultivate friendships and not missing out on those positive experiences in high school and college. I resent people with confidence, people know who know who they are. I resent people who have the life experiences I want to have: travel, weddings, families.
I feel ashamed of my resentment, a difficulty tolerating that my parents could have tried their best but still didn’t give me enough of what I needed. I feel ashamed at the way I compare myself to others. Still, the feelings continue.
At the core of me, I feel like my life has no meaning, like I’m not connected intricately enough to anyone to make a difference. In a way, I lift right out. I wish that my relationship with my parents was more solid. I wish I had siblings. I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish I had a friendship group where I was the first pick to go out on holidays, birthdays, and other occasions, instead of being the afterthought or backup. I don’t have these things.
I know that it is on me to overcome the emptiness. It’s on me to take the steps to overcoming all of this. I’m trying to fight the BPD in me, I really am. I’m no longer sure if it’s part of me or another entity, but I know that is causes distress. So I’m trying. I have to repeat that as an attempt to convince myself because I don’t believe that I’m trying hard enough.
Again, I need the reassurance.
Taking care of myself requires herculean effort sometimes. The depression makes me dread waking up in the morning. It breeds hopelessness. The anxiety has me fretting over every interaction in my path. Sometimes, the most I can manage is to light a candle, take a shower, or read a book. Usually, I just sleep.
I feel all the negative feelings and it culminates in self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Sometimes even suicidal plans. I can’t remember that last time I went longer than a day or two without at least considering suicide. I truly believe this will be how I meet my end one day, even if it’s not today.
Then perfectionism swoops in and blasts me for not being better, working harder. The BPD in me reminds me I’ve learned the skills and should be able to use them more effectively by now. I should have some of the things I so desperately want, and I’m not making progress quickly enough. Then I’m back in the space of feeling fundamentally flawed again.
This is how I’ve been for a long time. I ask myself again and again why I’m like this, and this is what the research has told me: The emotions may be out of my control, but I cling to the negative judgements and the poor coping responses because it’s what I know. It seemingly serves me to protect me from being hurt, even though it really doesn’t. It’s seemingly comfortable because it’s familiar, even though it’s also miserable.
As soon as things start to get better, the BPD in me has a tendency to jump in and self-sabotage. The truth is, I never feel at ease. I am always on guard, ready for things to implode. I am expecting that they will, because they always have.
I wrote this elsewhere before: My mind refuses to accept that the other shoe won’t drop, refuses to acknowledge that things might just maybe be verging on okay. It’s like driving around with my check engine light on constantly. I keep checking the engine only to discover that nothing is wrong. The car is running fine. But the light stays on just in case. Just in case something really is wrong with the engine and it’s about to blow.
This is the BPD in me. It’s something I work hard against daily. It’s something that sometimes gets the best of me. It’s something I hate and wish would go away, because it makes everything more difficult.
I wish that people could understand better the totality of my experience, but I can recognize why putting yourself in my shoes wouldn’t be easy or desirable. Maybe this piece at least did a fair job of explaining the unique combination of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are common to the borderline world.
I hope I can break free of the BPD in me, but for now, I’m just working on getting through.