Note: This arises from lived/autofictional experiences. I have quoted credible sources wherever necessary, but it shouldn’t be taken as scientific advice. The article is structured to reflect the circular and often convoluted train of thought caused by BPD. Feel free to read it out of order, in order, or link hop. This is an ongoing, growing digital forest.
How are you?
How do I answer this question? I wonder for the third time in an hour as I reply to unread messages.
“Not so good.” “I have been better.” “Good-ish” “Surviving”
Is it possible to be everything–floating, drowning–and in effect nothing all at once?
Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that severely impacts a person’s ability to regulate their emotions. This loss of emotional control can increase impulsivity, affect how a person feels about themselves, and negatively impact their relationships with others. 1
A friend, let us call her A, was irritable and worried due to something unrelated to me. I usually didn’t probe around too much with A because she was quite open in expressing herself to me, which I didn’t mind. But I had trouble opening up to A, not because I didn’t like her, but because I constantly felt like the more I revealed myself, the easier it would be for her to despise me. However, my ability to discern between anxiety and fact was improving, or so I believed. I told myself, “If A doesn’t find the real you nice, it is okay. Not everyone has to like you. You can part on good terms”. This sounded very mature and healthy, and I felt proud of myself.
I texted A something personal and funny and awaited her response. She was irritated at me. She felt I should have been sensitive to her mental space and texted her later. Ideally, at this point, I should have apologised and explained that I assumed she didn’t want to talk to me about it. And that telling her personal things was a big deal for me, so I’d have appreciated a friendlier response. Ideally, I should have calmly engaged in a conversation with her.
What actually happened: All my rational self-talk went out of the window. I started bawling. I was angry at A, confused, and scared of her leaving me. I was terrified that this would be the end of our friendship.
Efforts to avoid real or perceived abandonment, such as plunging headfirst into relationships—or ending them just as quickly. 1
But the emotions didn’t precisely occur in that order. My first response was a snarky reply. Why? I was in two minds about whether she was at fault.
- My history of shrinking and fawning to not be an inconvenience terrified me of repeated patterns.
- But it was also an instinctive response to blame myself.
Their feelings for others can change quickly and swing from extreme closeness to extreme dislike. 1
And so I kept shifting back and forth between the two minds; sobbing, a moment of clarity, shame, laughter, suspicion, self-doubt, self-hatred, repeat.
It seems cyclical, but I wouldn’t call it a cycle of emotions. Rather a pile-on fight: Me versus my brain.
The brain doesn’t employ emotions as weapons. Instead, it unleashes an army of perceptions of myself that hound me like Agent Smith clones all at once. Unfortunately, most times, I am not Neo. I can’t tell if I am a manipulative bitch, or a whiner. I wonder if this is all in my head. The emotions merely respond to the fractured self.
A distorted and unstable self-image. 1
Sometimes, people with BPD view themselves as fundamentally bad or unworthy.2
Until 2019, I used to despise myself. It was almost impossible to look at my photos, hear the sound of my voice, make mistakes and be kind to myself. With a few deep friendships and the aid of therapy, I finally felt ready to embrace who I was.
Or so I thought.
The hate emerged when I least expected it. What I thought was healing (and I have improved for the most part) was a suppression or denial of my symptoms. I felt that I had been cured of the condition and only needed to ensure I didn’t let the monster out. Eventually, the monster would disappear completely.
I hid it from everyone: my parents, best friends, and colleagues. Yet, the mask would slip, and in a desperate cry for help, I’d let a few friends in. I used to tell them, “It isn’t your responsibility to handle me at my worst.” But they told me that they chose to be with me through it all. I was so afraid of being abandoned that I had separated everything that was “wrong” with me and learned to hide it from everyone. Hoping it would eventually disappear.
But there was no monster to be defeated. It was all me. It wouldn’t be cured. I would have to learn to live with myself. It would get better eventually, but borderline personality disorder was here to stay.
Everyone hates me
An intense fear of abandonment, even going to extreme measures to avoid real or imagined separation or rejection A pattern of unstable intense relationships, such as idealizing someone one moment and then suddenly believing the person doesn’t care enough or is cruel 3
I was in a hobby group once. Minor conflicts would lead me to believe everyone loathed me, and on three occasions, I almost quit the group. Similarly, a trigger would make me think that none of my social media mutuals wanted to see me around. They didn’t like my presence. I have deleted almost 4 accounts within 2 years. I changed my username on various platforms multiple times to become invisible or go AWOL by deactivating the account.
Much of the urges to engage in self-harm would emerge from the need to be loved but the conclusion that I didn’t deserve that love because I believed I was a danger to society. I still do sometimes.
Even today, I ask my friends countless times, “Are you sure you want to be my friend?” I find it hard to believe that they want to. That they want to love me. I don’t understand how or why sometimes. All I see is a mess when I look in the mirror.
So when people tell me, they love me, or during moments when I am supposed to experience joy, I feel empty. I react appropriately, but I feel nothing.
People who experience depersonalization often say it feels like they are observing their own body from the outside, or as if they’re in a dream. Similar to depersonalization, derealization is a feeling of being detached from the external world, which can include other people or objects. Familiar things can look strange, unreal, or unfamiliar.4
The term “splitting” refers to the defense mechanism in which the patient cannot form a realistic view of another person. At any given time, the other person is viewed as entirely good or entirely bad. This inability to view others as having both positive and negative attributes impairs personal relationships.5
It has become easier these days to accept that no one, including myself, is completely good or bad. But I still excessively pressure myself to excel. I don’t like slipping up. I don’t like being wrong because it can easily send me back to feeling worthless.
But what perfectionism does is cause anxiety. To avoid spiralling, with the uptightness of a regressive patriarch, I push myself, never take a break, put my work before myself, and use it to measure my self-worth. However, I also tend to be impulsive when feeling good or high. I over-commit. I try to do everything and help everyone, unknowingly setting myself up to fail.
As of November 2022, I don’t feel very supported by institutions and people in authority around me. They see my struggle as a bunch of symptoms that need to be controlled. They see me as someone who needs to be fixed: my thinking patterns need to be fixed, my perception needs to be fixed, and my habits need to be fixed. And once I am cured, only I will be responsible for ensuring I don’t relapse.
They don’t realise that my illness and, by extension, I don’t exist in isolation from the world. I may have some fundamental issues in healthily interacting with the world but not always. It also depends on how the world interacts with me. I can be wonderful one minute and completely dysfunctional the other. And if I am given enough space to collect myself during my lows, it will be easier for me to heal. Otherwise, I feel like I am doing something wrong and have failed at healing. This is not just my responsibility. It is a collective commitment to ensure that mentally ill and disabled people don’t feel like a burden to society.
I still haven’t found the words to explain how I understand myself in this messy, chaotic way.
National Institute of Mental Health. 2022. ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/sites/default/files/documents/health/publications/borderline-personality-disorder/borderline-personality-disorder.pdf. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎
‘Borderline Personality Disorder’. 2013. National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder. 2013. https://web.archive.org/web/20130210110927/http://www.borderlinepersonalitydisorder.com/understading-bpd/. ↩︎
‘Borderline Personality Disorder - Symptoms and Causes’. n.d. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 2 November 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/borderline-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20370237. ↩︎
Salters-Pedneault, Kristalyn. 2022. ‘What Is Dissociation in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?’ Verywell Mind, 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/dissociation-in-borderline-personality-disorder-425482. ↩︎
Chapman, Jennifer, Radia T. Jamil, and Carl Fleisher. 2022. ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’. In StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430883/. ↩︎