I just recently read a post by Ozy Frantz about what it is like for them to have BPD. I also have a BPD diagnosis (although I have BPD traits rather than a full diagnosis of the personality disorder. For more info on the difference see here), but it got me thinking that I don’t very often talk about the overall experience of what my different diagnoses mean for me. I have a big ol’ mix (EDNOS, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and BPD), but there are definitely different strands that I can pull out that seem to correspond to each.I was also surprised to find how good it felt to simply read another person’s general description of their symptoms.
So in the next few days I’m going to be spending some time in my own head (big surprise I know), talking about what it’s like to experience these different mental illnesses. Disclaimer: I can’t speak for everyone. My experience of each will be determined by all sorts of things, not least the fact that I have quite a few comorbid disorders. But I do want to make a space to talk about the overall experiences rather than particular issues that have set me off on a day to day basis.
I’m going to start today with borderline personality disorder. One of the most common descriptions of being borderline is that it’s like living without emotional skin. People with borderline tend to be highly reactive. Let’s say everyone starts at a baseline of relatively neutral emotions. For me, any stimulus will result in my emotions spiking higher than most other people’s, and I also have a really hard time returning to base. This means strong emotions that last for an unnecessary amount of time. For many people this includes extreme anger, but I’ve developed the great coping strategy of just only ever getting angry at myself because the strength of my anger and a family history of anger problems means I’m terrified of being angry.
One of the things that’s most frustrating about BPD is that I can be entirely aware that I tend to overreact and still have extreme emotions, which leaves me struggling to figure out where reasonable is.
Another classic symptom of BPD is self harm, which I’ve been free from for almost four months (woohoo!). Typically I use it to regulate either extreme emotions or extreme dissociation. Speaking of dissociation, welcome to another fun part of having BPD. Dissociating is essentially letting your brain leave your body or feeling like you’re not inhabiting your body. Most people do it on a really low scale in the form of daydreaming, but in extreme forms people can forget what they’ve done for hours at a time. I tend to simply shut down when things get overwhelming. I fall asleep, I can’t move my body, I just turn it all off. It’s scary, since I’m never entirely in control of it, and it often feels like being trapped just outside of my head without any way to get back or influence the world around me.
People with borderline also tend to have two problems that are really tied together: difficulty holding together a self identity and an intense fear of abandonment (also found in the form of either deifying or demonizing people they’re in relationships with). I have always had trouble with knowing who I am, and I have this suspicion that I forget that I really exist when there’s not someone looking at me or talking to me or reminding me what I am. This might be why I write so much because it’s solid evidence of who I am and what I think. But I really define myself through my relationships and through the perceptions that others have of me. Again, this goes back to the idea that I can’t figure out what “average” or “normal” or “reasonable” is, so I don’t know if I’m particularly smart or particularly clumsy until someone else tells me what normal is and how I fit in. Similarly to cutting anger out (unless it’s directed at me), I also tend to take all of the negative feelings I have towards people and turn them towards myself instead, so I very rarely switch from deifying to demonizing and instead just make lots of excuses for bad behavior.
Like a lot of other borderline people, this means I can be somewhat manipulative. I’m highly, highly aware of it at this point and can see myself coming up with useless little tests (did that person text me first? If I don’t tell them I’m upset are they paying enough attention to tell? Do they care enough about me to demand that I take care of myself when I’m resisting?), so I’ve started to combat it by being as ridiculously open as possible with people I’m in close relationships with and calling myself out. Hopefully this is some evidence that a diagnosis of BPD does not condemn one to a life of being a manipulative asshole, as there are some evidence based skills to help out.
Last but not least, I also feel really empty a lot of the time. Possibly because I have a hard time knowing what appropriate goals are, or because I think everyone actually hates me and is going to leave me, or because I really just don’t know who I am (and for a lot of silly philosophical existential reasons about whether there’s a point to being alive), I feel very hopeless and I’m often overwhelmed with a kind of despair. This might also just be depression, but there is a certain flavor that I think is borderline and that tends to come with being bored. It’s a feeling of terror that nothing will ever change, that my mind won’t stop treating me like crap, that there’s just too many feelings and thoughts in me to just exist. I’m really, really bad at being bored, and I start to get very self-harmy and very twitchy and very desperate to do something worthwhile the moment I get bored.
I’d love to hear in comments from anyone else about their experiences with BPD. Do these things ring true for you? What’s different?