I was diagnosed not very long ago, after a lifetime of battling crippling depression & anxiety, as well as Bipolar I disorder. A series of breakdowns and episodes of suicidal psychosis lead to me being carted off to the hospital either in the back of a cruiser or strapped down to an ambulance gurney on a few occasions. I received a full psychological evaluation, and my blood ran cold when they told me it was clear that I was suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder.
BPD is an emotional disregulation disorder that, for me, is characterized by capriciousness, a compulsion to self-harm, a turbulent sense of self, persistent suicidal thoughts, feelings of emptiness, an irritating degree of empathy, and a constant sense that I don’t belong; that I am foreign or alien; that my existence is a flaw in the universe.
The first thing I thought to myself was, well, fuck. Why me? Why this? I’d always had an inkling that it could be BPD, but told myself it wasn’t that bad. Sure, things were awful, but at least they weren’t BPD awful. Even as I slipped deeper into psychosis; as I sat in the office of my workplace and cried into my hands, absolutely sure that I was being followed by some malevolent presence; as I broke down day after day until I couldn’t even function anymore, I told myself that it wasn’t as bad as I thought and that it was all in my head. That I should shrug it off in my famous way. Unfortunately, BPD is a problem that only gets worse the more you ignore it.
That all being said, things make a lot more sense now that I’m armed with this knowledge. I now understand why I’ve been so transient all my life; shifting between friend groups and relationships every few years or so, what’s up with my rabid, quickly-cycling moods, and why I’ve always been hypersensitive to the emotions of people around me. I’m kind of a chameleon in my own strange way in that I’ll pick up on a person’s tone or vibe and reflect it back at them. I’m a 2-way mirror that, if you only just cup your hands against the glass, you can peer right through me.
A lot of people ask me what it’s like, and I struggle to describe the experience accurately. I often ask people to imagine that they are a sane and rational person. Now imagine, as someone who thinks they are sane and rational, suddenly experiencing something against your will, such as an audio or visual hallucination. Imagine hearing the voices of your dead friends reciting snatches of decades-old conversations from some indeterminate point in space and time. Imagine your dawning horror as you realize that this doesn’t happen to people who are doing fine. Imagine being so happy in one moment that you suddenly can’t breathe, that the world is crashing down on you like an icy wave and oh my god, am I dying? Suddenly there are tears running down your cheeks as you hyperventilate in front of a group of your friends, and you try to apologize but all that comes out are choked half-words. Your brain is screaming for you to get yourself together like a fucking adult but your vision is blacking out around the edges, your face is tingling and you can’t feel your fingers anymore. You sit down and one friend wraps an arm around you and tries to be soothing but by now you’re obsessing over how you must be so taxing to be around; everyone must really just spend time with you out of pity and kindness. You’re not even remotely good enough to deserve such treatment. You should’ve stayed at home but instead you fucked up the day and put all of your friends on edge. A series of scenarios in which you kill yourself in various ways flash through your mind as you resolve (again) to remove yourself from this world because you never belonged here in the first place. A surge of anger at how pathetic you’re being burns in the back of your throat and manifests as a tic that makes your eye twitch uncontrollably. You consider all of this and realize you are a Real Life Crazy Person.
It’s not always that bad or just like that; sometimes I’m more angry or sad. Sometimes I can function perfectly fine, and I forget what spinning out feels like. I live in a state of perpetual solipsism, unable to imagine anything other than what I’m currently feeling, constantly wondering when the other shoe is going to drop, when my next freak-out will be, or if I’m really just making it all up and I’m actually fine. I experience a staggering amount of uncertainty in my daily life that is usually best combatted through setting a schedule or routine and adhering to it. Minimizing chaos is an important coping tactic, personally. I try to practice mindfulness when I can and I’m on a couple of wait lists (6+ and 8+ months wait time) for criminally underfunded yet invaluable Dialectical Behavioural Therapy; a branch of cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy specifically tailored for people with BPD. Sometimes I feel like my pursuit of treatment is like chasing a rainbow. I can see it in the distance, but the closer I get, the more it actually looks like an ouroboros of bullshit, phone tag, waiting, mixed metaphors, repeating myself, and xeroxed pamphlets telling me “It Gets Better”. If there were ever a more appropriate use of the word “Kafkaesque”, I’d pay to see it.
I’m still on the road to recovery. I had to take a break from working so I could focus on getting my sanity back together, but things are a lot less bleak these days. There’s a nice, comfy veneer of restfulness about me now, like damask wallpaper pasted over drywall that was caked in black mold. All it takes is for you to poke a little hole in me and the evil comes out, but I’m a lot nicer to behold from a safe distance. Hopefully I can get myself to a less delicate balance in the near future.
If there were any major tips I’d offer anyone who has a loved one with BPD it’d be that chances are, we are absolutely terrified that you are going to abandon us, so please, be extra conscious about when you make plans with us. Don’t set a date if you know you’re just going to bail, it sends us into a death-spiral of feelings of inadequacy. Remind us that you love us, because we need the assurance. Look into BPD; it means a lot to us that you’re educating yourself. If you’re close with us, always be honest about how we’re affecting you, because we know we can be difficult to be around sometimes. Be patient if we don’t get back to you in a timely manner; it’s hard to keep track of our thoughts sometimes, nevermind our inboxes. For the love of god, don’t give us the silent treatment, and be prepared to be a bit more specific when talking to us. Try to understand that sometimes, we are taken hostage by our emotions, and we don’t always mean what we say, especially in anger. Don’t worry, we’ll never stop apologizing and beating ourselves up for it. Finally, try to be empathetic. Some of us feel our emotions with an uncomfortable intensity, and something that you might think is inconsequential might actually be a huge deal for us. The world can be very abrasive in our minds, and we’re a lot more likely to feel affected by world events and disasters. We’re just sensitive like that.
It hasn’t been easy, and it never will be, but with the right knowledge and support, things are going to work out. Or maybe they won’t, who knows. But for now, let’s say they will. This World Mental Health Day, be the ally the world deserves and do your part to get informed, smash the stigma of mental illness, and remind your mentally ill friends (or self!) that you love, respect, and care about them. Maybe one day we’ll leave the fear and misinformation behind us. I like to hope that day is coming soon.