"I suffer from BPD."
"Borderline Personality Disorder."
"Oh my god, what is that?"
I love this conversation. I've had it so many times I've lost count now, and it always brings me the same bittersweet satisfaction. On the surface, even those who have known me for a while sometimes cannot tell that I struggle with serious mental health issues. To them, I seem quirky, hyper, and frequently dramatic. I have been told I am entertaining.
I'm glad they think so.
When this conversation arises, whether by my own prompting or by someone's curiosity, I always get some strange little kick out of the reaction when I drop the news. This is because it's always the same. More and more people are hearing about BPD, but they typically don't know anyone who has it personally, and they don't know exactly what it is, and therefore the three words strung together—borderline / personality / disorder—seem to have a shock factor I'll never tire of watching. I try sometimes to put myself in their shoes, and imagine what they are thinking when I say this. The word borderline, in my head, makes me imagine someone on the verge of something, although I am not sure what. Perhaps this is what scares others. Like at any given moment if I am pressured, I will snap and become the Hulk, or a murderer, or go insane right in front of their eyes. Because the next two words, personality disorder, is the part that I believe confuses people. To me, it is simple. I struggle with aspects of my personality, whether they are too extreme, nonexistent, or hard to control. When the words are spoken to someone, I like to believe they think I have difficulty with my personality, and therefore, difficulty being a person.
So when I tell them I have BPD, they hear that I am "almost bad at being a person."
Which is the truth. Yet the truth scares and confuses them. Me too.
I have the same emotions as anyone else. However, mine are a 100 on a scale of 1-10. I have a personality, but some of those characteristics are just as extreme. I am occasionally very impulsive. Some people like to take risks; I like to spontaneously jump out of planes (figuratively, of course. You couldn't pay me enough to sky dive). I quit jobs randomly, I fall in love quickly, I will spend all the money I have on arbitrary things, I make instinctive decisions. Small things that most people can feel or observe and then let go of sit with me for much longer than the average person. For example, if someone makes a comment to me that is rude or teasing, even unintentionally, I will dwell on it and feel the anger or shame for weeks at a time. "You look like you could use a nap!" could turn into a grudge that I hold against a coworker for eternity. Thus, I am not good with criticism. While others I know can hear suggestions and agree with/accept them, I become immediately offended. I assume my good work/good qualities are being ignored and feel almost like I am under attack. I will get defensive, aggressive, and sometimes try to rebel against the suggestions by doing the opposite. Of course, a part of my brain knows that this is very dramatic, but the anger emotion is too high and hard to manage. This is the same in my personal relationships. With friends, I can be very clingy. I need to know that they won't leave when my emotions don't look like their own. When a responding text doesn't come, or it doesn't have a "friendly enough" tone, I can quickly assume that the friendship is over. This will lead to devastating sadness, guilt, and shame, and send me into a tailspin of emotions and actions that the situation simply doesn't call for. "I was napping, sorry." "I was driving, couldn't text back." "Sorry! I'm having a tough day and didn't mean to snap at you." These texts could come too late. I may have already blocked you on all social media and changed your name in my phone to the skull and bones emoji. You are dead to me.
In loving relationships I am even worse. I get paranoid and create situations in my head that I can assume is reality. I am very jealous, protective, and sometimes needy. This is because I am heavily nostalgic. I want to keep things they way that they are when my lover and I are happy, and anything that jeopardizes that is a threat. I go to great lengths to avoid being abandoned or alone, sometimes sabotaging myself along the way. I second guess love frequently, because every day I feel like my irrational emotions and actions will ruin it for me. I don't have many relationships, because I try to avoid this disaster, even though I crave love and support.
When I'm happy, I look like I've drank 13 shots of espresso. I have been called a "sparkplug" although I don't actually know what that is. I have also been told I make people anxious. I can be shaky, loud, hyper, and it can look scary to people who don't know that I am just happy. It's hard because when this happens, I am told to "dial it down." This only makes me hyper-aware of how others are perceiving me, so in turn my happiness dials down and is replaced with shame. In this way, my happiness is typically short lived.
While all these things seem scary, and are scary for me, I must do a damn good job at hiding them. When I have "the conversation" with people, it is always their surprise that makes me smile. These are the same people that have told me to "dial it down," or have called me "extra," or have questioned my instantly aggressive reactions to minor things. The same people who have jokingly called me "crazy" or "insane," and have asked if there is something wrong with me. Yet when I admit that there sort of is, they act blindsided. It never fails to amaze me. In addition, I love that right after they realized I am different than most people, they get to try and work out the diagnosis Borderline Personality Disorder. I don't expect them to fully understand it. Sometimes, I don't even think I do.
People with BPD tend to have a bad reputation. The symptoms of the disorder (there are 9, you need to suffer from at least 5 for a diagnosis) can be seen as manipulative, aggressive, shameless, toxic to others, and high maintenance. I'm sure in some cases they are. I won't deny that I have been all of these at some point or another. But the stigma on BPD, in addition the stigma of all mental health issues, creates for a WARNING sign on my forehead to those who have heard of it. This hurts me, because people with BPD are usually the exact opposite.
I will notice when when you're having a bad day, even if I don't know you well. I can recognize signs of discomfort, or sadness, because I am all too familiar with them. I will notice when you got a haircut, even if it is a small difference, because I like when others notice mine and tell me. I will get you the most thoughtful birthday gift, because I remember the little things you like and I want you to see how well I know you and how much I appreciate you. I am the best at giving advice (although I can't take it), and I am the best listener, because I can so easily put myself in your shoes and feel how you feel because I have felt so much and thought of every possible outcome already. I know how it feels to be angry, sad, lonely, anxious, and I will always understand (sometimes to a fault) when you need some space, attention, laughter, or a shoulder to cry on. I am entertaining, I enjoy being liked. I will make you laugh because I don't always have a filter to stop myself from saying the things inside my head. I am tired most of the time from trying so hard to maintain consistency and stability, and also from all the emotions and thoughts I experience on a daily basis.
I am trying very hard every day to be the me that I love, and not the me that is out of control. I have learned to love all the parts of me, even the BPD, and I am in therapy to help me do that and manage my life. DBT therapy, or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, is specifically geared towards those who suffer from BPD, yet anyone can benefit from it. It's essentially a therapy that helps teach me and others skills on how to be a person and deal with life. It teaches skills about Emotion Regulation and Distress Tolerance, along with Interpersonal Skills, and how to make and maintain friendships or relationships. It helps me stay in the present with Mindfulness techniques and also teaches Self Validation. I work on these skills (there are a LOT) with a therapist and a group once a week each and they have been life changing. I am much better at controlling my thoughts and emotions and dealing with them appropriately. I'm not perfect, but I'm better than I ever have been.
Maybe this is why people are surprised to learn that I am struggling.
I don't talk about it too much with my friends or family, because I try to keep moving forward and I have made so much progress. But it will never cease to amaze me how surprised others are when I tell them the truth. That there is something that sets me apart from others, and while I AM an entertaining sparkplug who probably needs to dial it down, I have an extra something that makes me who I am, love it or hate it.
I guess there's something about the effect of the words themselves on others, or my incredible empathy, or the fact that I am working so hard on myself that makes me feel something strange, something I never thought I'd feel (and I feel A LOT) with BPD: proud.