I’m going to have to start this post with a disclaimer. I was referred to a psychiatrist for an assessment as to whether I had BPD in 2017, and their conclusion was that I had borderline personality traits but didn’t meet the criteria for an actual diagnosis. My theory is that this decision was reached in part because my existing diagnosis of autism accounted for some of my symptoms and my trauma-related stuff means that I suppress or downplay some others. Regardless, I don’t want to position myself as an expert on BPD, and I’m using it as a piece of vocabulary which explains my experiences whilst trying not to attribute everything and anything to a diagnosis I don’t actually have.
With that out of the way, here’s the post proper:
I sometimes refer to my BPD as “Big Emotions Disorder”.
If you’ve seen Disney’s Peter Pan, you might recall that Tinkerbell, like other fairies, is so small that she can only experience one emotion at a time, and she experiences it so intensely that it clouds her judgement and she seems to forget anything that she has felt or experienced in the past, as well as forgetting the possibility that she might feel or experience anything different in the future. That’s how I feel emotions.
It fucking sucks.
It doesn’t always suck, of course: when I’m happy, I’m Big Happy, and that can be really pleasant, as can other Big Emotions such as Big NRE, Big Stoned and Big Inspired and Determined. But even those have their pitfalls. Big NRE can cause me to lose all sense of perspective, ignore or misread red flags and rush into relationships that are, at best, not well-suited to me and my circumstances (and are, at worst and alarmingly often, abusive). Even plain ol’ Big Happy can be detrimental in that it causes me to forget that I am, in fact, mentally ill, meaning that I over-commit to things, insist to medical practitioners that I’m doing fantastically and am horrified when I plummet back into depression and/or anxiety. This doesn’t just occur if I’ve been Big Happy for a number of days or weeks; a few hours of Big Happy is all it takes for me to become convinced that I was faking the depression, anxiety and PTSD all along.
And then, of course, there are the “bad” Big Emotions. Big Sad feels like an all-consuming tidal wave of despair and can be brought about from something as simple as Tesco running out of my favourite cookies. Big Scared triggers my fight-or-flight response in mundane situations such as visiting a new restaurant. Imagine every unpleasant emotion a human can feel multiplied by ten and made much, much easier to trigger – that’s my constant, day-to-day, exhausting experience of emotion. The one that seems to have the biggest impact on my relationships, though, is Big Insecure (and its cousin, Big Self-Hatred).
When I’m Big Insecure, I cannot see anything good in myself. Even the things I’m usually proud of, like knitting tiny hats for premature babies, are warped beyond recognition in my mind until I convince myself I’m only doing those things to earn praise or to hide my true (disgusting) nature. I grow to firmly believe that my partners only stay with me out of fear of the consequences our break-up might have, even though I’ve tried hard to make clear that they’re not responsible for my mental health or safety, or that they stay with me because I’ve manipulated them, taking advantage of trauma-bonding and their individual insecurities and sometimes-low self-esteem to ensnare them, so they can’t even see how despicable I truly am.
On average, I attempt to break up with at least one partner at least once a month. I explain that it’s for their own good, that I love them so much I could burst but that’s why I have to turn them loose from my machinations, that I never meant to manipulate them but I know that I have done so and that soon, once freed from me, they’ll realise exactly how awful I was and be unspeakably glad to have escaped. And my partners, every single time, have to spend hours reminding me that they are autonomous adults, that they love me, that I am not all that my brain says I am and that I do this all the time. They promise me that if I ever want to break up with them for my own reasons I’m welcome to do so, but firmly remind me that I can’t just break up with myself on their behalf: that’s their call. If I continue to spiral, sometimes they get me to take the PRN medication I keep on my person for acute episodes of anxiety, and sometimes they prompt me to phone my mum or get another partner’s opinion on the situation.
They do all this knowing that in three hours’ time I’ll be right as rain, planning my next sixty blog posts or an entirely new project that will most likely never see the light of day.
My BPD can put a strain on my relationships because I experience my lows so intensely and require so much reassurance to dig myself out of them, but I work hard to make sure my partners aren’t walking on eggshells around me. I remind them that even if they’ve done something that sparked a Big Emotion, it’s not their fault that the emotion is so Big. I tell them often that I want to be told when I’ve upset them, done something inconsiderate or otherwise could change my behaviour, but I also provide them with templates for how to convey that information to me in a way that minimises my unhelpful Big Emotional response. I go to therapy and I do my best to implement CBT techniques in my self-talk as well as teach my partners how they can help me to use them: they often ask me what evidence I have that I’m a terrible person, remind me of evidence that suggests I’m not, and gently suggest I may be misinterpreting evidence so it better fits my schematic beliefs. I also find healthy outlets for my Big Emotions, like baking bread (which is a constructive way to beat the shit out of something for ten-plus minutes), singing loudly, ugly-crying at documentaries or films, long walks, bad sketches and, when all else fails, screaming into cushions until my throat hurts.
It’s a lot of work and it’s never-ending, for both me and my partners, but I like to look on the bright side. My engagement with therapy coupled with my determination not to become the self-centred delicate monster I fear I might be means that I have a huge amount of insight into my emotions and my thought patterns, as well as some sophisticated ways to communicate about them. My Big Emotions make me fiercely loyal, unreservedly affectionate and as emotionally available as it is possible to be. My disordered personality isn’t a bad personality, or even an especially difficult one: having BPD as part of my vocabulary means that I know what challenges I face in relationships and can come prepared with reading material and my own bread flour, which puts me at an advantage over neurotypicals who haven’t done such intense introspection and research. It doesn’t make me a better partner, but it does help me be a more prepared one.
I wanted to write this because so much media regarding BPD and relationships is about how to be a good partner to people with BPD, except for the truly unkind stuff which argues that people with BPD cannot be good partners at all. I wanted to put into the world something from the perspective of a borderline person who is doing their fucking best and who does, whatever Big Insecure says, have a number of fantastic qualities that make them an excellent friend, partner, family member, employee and whatever else they want to be. I wanted to be a voice that says, “I’m borderline and it’s hard as hell but it’s worth it, it’s so worth it to pursue relationships and love people in the unabashed, unreserved and totally unconquerable way that us borderlines do.”
I’m Big Hopeful that I’ve achieved that.