Splitting in BPD (Or: A Guide To Loving Me When I Hate Your Guts)

Allow me to define “splitting”. It’s a behaviour often found in individuals with BPD, characterised by suddenly and intensely wanting or needing to detach from someone to whom you were previously attached. I can only compare it to those mad thoughts you have about going to live in some nearby woods when you’re 14 and arguing with your mum about your school uniform, but amplified to be inescapable, all of that adolescent rage attached to it alongside fear, hurt, revulsion, heartbreak and every other feeling you could attribute to a trauma response. It’s the brain’s way of protecting you from more unhealthy attachments, so it happens in response to a stimulus of some sort – but one of the cornerstones of BPD is hypersensitivity, so the stimulus that prompts us to split might not actually be as dangerous as it feels. Whether it’s a punch to the face or an ignored text message, it feels intensely dangerous, so much so that my brain then takes action, working to replace any fondness with anger or fear by creatively reinterpreting real-world evidence until it fits with the all-or-nothing, “this person is dead to me” narrative.

The first thing that you need to know about splitting is that it hurts me more than it hurts you. You will probably feel wounded, rejected, anxious, frustrated, and it will suck, but I am also having all of those emotions in BPD form, i.e. with the intensity of a thousand suns. I don’t just put you out of my mind entirely when I split on you; I agonise over it. My thumb hovers over block buttons until the muscles in my hand cramp whilst I try to weigh up how reasonable I’m being. I type and delete messages I will never send about what’s hurting me and what I need. Sometimes, I act like a dick, and I know as I’m doing it that I’m being dickish, but it feels like the only safe thing to do. My deep, reptile-brain impulse is to destroy the relationship beyond repair so that there’s never any danger of more hurt, and I spend hours with my stomach in knots, arguing with myself about how I can’t have normal human relationships and how selfish moving to the woods might actually be. I can identify when I’m splitting (though I couldn’t as a furious 14-year-old) but I don’t split for no reason. I can’t automatically reconnect with reality when my brain is twisting things, blowing them out of proportion and shoving them through traumatised lenses, but I can try and conduct myself in a way that Connected-to-Reality Morgan won’t deeply regret. This mostly involves distancing myself, not in any embarrassing noticeable ways like hitting that block button but just reaching out less, trying not to give my BPD any new ammo with which it can maintain the split. At this point, frustrating though it is, all you can do is leave me to my space and my thoughts. 

This brings me onto the second thing you need to know about splitting: unsplitting is hard work. Fighting my impulse to run is hard enough, but unsplitting requires you to walk directly towards the scary thing. There’s a principle in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) called “Opposite Action”, where you identify an irrational feeling or impulse and you act in the exact opposite way that your impulse wants you to. In splitting, for me, this looks like sending a message after a long period of quiet, trying to make plans or being openly affectionate towards you again. They are small acts that are too terrifying to commit whilst sober a lot of the time, so Stoned or Drunk Morgan picks up the slack while their fear and hurt are somewhat numbed. This opposite action can only happen, though, once I’ve identified why I’m splitting and whether this person is actually dangerous. The obvious piece of advice here, then, is to continually prove through your actions that you are not a danger to me. The other piece of advice I would like to give is that if you think I’m doing Opposite Action, or if I’ve been quiet for a while, or in general if you don’t know where you stand with me, just respond with enthusiasm. Make it clear that you’re glad to hear from me. Essentially, reward me for doing the hard scary thing, and leave the ball in my court when it comes to beginning a discussion about the splitting itself, because I’m probably too scared for that in this early stage of unsplitting.

Here is the third thing about splitting: it’s not about you. It’s really, really not. My brain, with its rigid little boxes, has tried to file you in the same cabinet as some other people who did some other things. If you get busy and don’t respond to my inane messages about memes and movies, my brain tries to put you into a cabinet with other people who stopped messaging me abruptly, which includes people who did that exact thing in order to manipulate me. If you said something on a rainy Monday morning which came off as irritable, my brain tries to put you into the same filing cabinet as the man who shoved me towards the top of the staircase when I was 15, because in that situation, irritability preceded abuse. Those filing cabinets are alarmed, and they were like that before your files showed up. I’m really stretching the filing metaphor here, but I want you to know that the majority of the time, a split is a function of my brain, not of our relationship – it’s usually only minimally connected to your behaviour, and has much more to do with the behaviour of cunts you’ve never even met. All I can say is try – and I know it’s fucking hard – not to take it personally when my brain links you to evil bastards and floods me with fear. If you do take it personally, mid-split or mid-unsplit is maybe not the most constructive time to ask me for reassurance, but if you understand splitting (due to blog posts like these), you have the opportunity and the vocabulary to talk to other loved ones about what’s going on with us, so you can at least process it a little before you and I start to discuss it.

The fourth thing, for everyone to know about splitting, is: it passes. It’s hard work, and sometimes it’s not worth it. I split on celebrities after one transphobic joke and I don’t care enough about them to work through all my DBT techniques in order to forgive them and move on. I split on people who, with distance, I end up seeing are legitimately dangerous. But I also split on people who are patient and loving towards me, who accept that sometimes I need space and sometimes I need attention and sometimes I need help figuring out which one I need. I split on people who are beloved by my support network and said support network helps me to unsplit, safe in the knowledge that this time, it’s definitely just my BPD and not a real threat to my wellbeing. I split on people regularly, in smaller ways and bigger ones, but I conquer it when I realise it’s worth conquering. My brain has this extremely strong mechanism by which to keep me safe, but I’m stronger even than that, because I have learned and am learning how to shut the filing cabinets and say hi. The fact that people with BPD have relationships like the ones I now have, characterised by love and mutual support and trust, is a testament to the ferocity with which we fight, every day, to be good people despite our pain. And again, let me reiterate, splitting is painful, but us people with BPD know that, and knowingly take on that risk when they form and keep relationships, every single day. Therefore, my final piece of advice is to remember that people with BPD are working hard to stay in your life, on purpose, every day, because we have decided that you’re worth it. Remember that we’re people, and we’re often great people, and for that reason alone we’re worth the hard work, too.

Loving A Paramedic During A Pandemic

Stock image of surgical face masks with a title overlaid on it which reads "Loving A Paramedic During A Pandemic"

Note: This post refers to the hypothetical death of a loved one, bulimia and suicidal ideation, as well as of course the Covid pandemic – I’ve got something a lot sexier coming soon, so if any of those topics are hard for you, please give this one a miss! You look after you 💙

I wrote this post mostly across Spring 2021 when I was very angry, and it shows. Enjoy!


March 2020

We’re on our way to Tesco for whatever bread and toilet paper they might have left. My fiancée doesn’t want to use her NHS ID to jump the queue; she feels it would be cheeky when she won’t be working in the coming 24 hours, and there’s nothing we’ll starve without.

The car is stopped at the crest of the hill before Tesco, waiting for the lights to change, and we’re talking about what happens if she dies.

At this point, we don’t know what Covid can and cannot do, nor what the NHS can and cannot do. The news is saturated with death and illness, and I fiddle with the shopping list as we discuss what happens if she becomes another tragedy. What happens with the house? The car? The PS4? She’s a registered organ donor. She doesn’t want a big, miserable funeral. I drag items from the shopping list around so that all the veg is together and so are all the soft drinks and snacks. 

What happens to me?

I try not to be selfish, but in the process I have to swallow my fear. It makes me think of my bulimia days, when everything I swallowed was fear, and I just had to hope I got somewhere private before I needed to puke it all back up. If not, I spent the day feeling tainted, terror casting unflattering shadows over my face.

I finally look her in the eye because I have to, because I have to tell her I love her. I have to tell her I’m proud of her, and that I bear no resentment towards her for running onto the front line, the house and the car and the me be damned. I would do the same thing, I tell her, and I knew she was a run-onto-the-front-line person when I proposed. Whatever happens over the next few months, with Covid or with anything else, we’re in it together.

The traffic moves and we inch towards Tesco with my now-immaculate shopping list.

 

Summer 2020

I couldn’t tell you what month it is. I’m being passed around the Midlands like a suicidal hot potato depending on who might be able to keep me alive this week. My fiancée is miles away, working long shifts and having wobbles in between them. It’s nearly the anniversary of the night I proposed, under the stars with a titanium ring (the most indestructible metal I could afford), promising her the rest of my life, or the rest of hers – whichever ends first.

I didn’t expect it to be a race, but Covid combined with the poverty of the NHS and the unremitting greed of the cunts in charge seem to have pushed us over the starting line. I do what little I can to slow her down – phone calls, gifts in Animal Crossing, every funny Internet picture I can find – but I’m busy tripping over my own feet, and the finish line keeps inching closer.

The graphs are curving upwards and I check them every 4p.m., then consult the news. My thumb hurts from switching between data and news and the social networks where my friends live and die. I click it back into place so I can send my fiancée another meme.

 

January 2021

To say I’m not a morning person is an understatement; it might be more accurate to say I’m barely a person in the mornings at all. Still, when my fiancée’s alarm goes off at 4 a.m., I stagger downstairs ahead of her. I get us both cans of Monster from the fridge and I pound mine like I’m a fresher again, only this time the fuzziness is exhaustion, not booze. I help her assemble her lunch, remind her to take her meds and tell her I love her at least a few times before she kisses me goodbye and heads off for another shift, all before the birds have started with their dawn chorus.

She tells me every time that I don’t have to get up with her, but truthfully I don’t know how many more of these bleary-eyed breakfasts we might have, and at least I get to nap during the day. Besides, I have to be the one to make her sandwiches, because I have to put love into them so they taste better.

 

When she brought Covid home, I wasn’t surprised. I knew it was only a matter of time, which is why I stopped visiting my mum (asthmatic, with a boyfriend in heart failure) when I started living with my fiancée. (I stopped visiting anyone, obviously, but I miss my mum the most, and she’s the person it would be the most dangerous for me to infect. Life is cruel like that.) I didn’t feel any fear that I hadn’t already faced and compartmentalised, even when it became evident I was Covid-positive too. I was irked by the facts of the situation, that this would mean two weeks of maddening self-isolation for us both and that I felt run down as all hell, but what I felt most was a hot, indignant anger – not at my fiancée, or even at whichever patient it might have been who gave her Covid, but at the people who didn’t care. 

I want to believe I’m a patient, compassionate person, but I was already infuriated by the people – on the news, on social media, that I see in town – who just didn’t care. I have some degree of sympathy for the people who believe that the coronavirus is a hoax or some kind of government/5G/Bill Gates plot, because I too am deeply untrusting, scared and confused. But the people who just didn’t give a shit, who are going to parties or baby showers or raves or their mate’s house just for a cheeky visit, were already pissing me off long before my fiancée tested positive. I’ve been spending long days alone with my thoughts while she worked, missing my mum and concerts and nights out with so much intensity that it sometimes physically hurt, and seeing story after story about people who flouted the rules simply because they wanted to, more than they wanted to keep other humans safe.

So I was already pissed off with people’s selfishness and recklessness, the government’s prioritisation of money over human lives and a thousand other things, when I found out that my missus now had an illness that we still know very little about (and what we do know isn’t reassuring), as a direct result of saving other people’s lives at work. Again, I want to believe that I’m patient and compassionate, but two weeks of monitoring our temperatures and oxygen sats in between aches and pains and a lot of coughing made me want to punch some people in the face. I want so badly to let go of this anger, which is white-hot enough to burn me, but I check the clock again, wondering if she’s been for her meal break yet (probably not), and I feel it sear my insides – but all I can do is wait, so I wait.

 

She arrives home safe and brings the cold in with her, the bite of January blowing through the hall and into the living room. I ask her about her shift and she tells what I already know: that it was exhausting, and miserable, and she missed me. We manage to scrape something or other together for dinner, we watch a YouTube video or five, and then she goes to bed. She apologises for being so tired, for not being talkative, for going so long without fucking me, and I wave all of it away. I don’t tell her how relieved I am, every time, that she got home in one piece. I don’t tell her that I can think of countless reasons she might not have – combative patients, cars that don’t stop for blue lights, a terror attack – but I do tell her that she doesn’t owe me an apology for anything.

The people who owe me a fucking apology are probably at a rave right now. 

cPTSD And Me: Looking For An Escape Route

An exit sign, lit up against a dark background

Content note: this post discusses cPTSD, what a bitch it is to live with, and acute suicidal ideation. If any of those are hard for you, leave this one out – but keep an eye on my Twitter for other, sometimes sexier posts!


So, I have PTSD.

Actually, technically, I have cPTSD, with the “c” standing for “complex”. All trauma is complex, obviously, but my little “c” denotes that the causes of my PTSD are many, chronic, rather than being one particular incident. I think the “c” fucks you up extra hard, because my understanding of the world is probably radically different to someone who hasn’t experienced years upon years of trauma.

I’ve been thinking about all of this (and a lot more) because of the recent heatwave in the UK. Something about it was making me frustrated, miserable and panicky, and it took me a little while to work out what it was: the feeling of inescapability brought down upon me with the 29 degrees of heat we experienced recently. The heat was uncomfortable, and I couldn’t get away. It put me close to fight-or-flight for days on end.

The inability to cope with situations that seem inescapable is a theme within my life. When I bleach my hair, the twenty minutes I have to cope with an itchy scalp feels like a lifetime. I panic when I’m lifted off my feet (which makes suspension scenes fun, at least). When I had a 24-hour stomach bug at my boyfriend’s place, he found me trouserless on his bathroom floor, crying about a level of pain that, if it had seemed transient, I would’ve coped with easily. But it didn’t seem transient, so I cried until I got stoned and calmed down.

Now, I’m planning on moving in with my Daddy, which is a definite upgrade from the tiny, grubby student flats I’m used to. I’m excited to live with them, obviously, but I’m also scared shitless. This may be in part due to that time I was living with a partner who asked me to leave with 4 days’ notice, for an unknown period of time while he had “space”, with very little money and no means of transporting more of my stuff than I could wrangle onto a train. I felt stuck then, trapped outside of the house I’d left all my belongings in, the inescapability of my newfound semi-homelessness crushing me; but honestly, I’d be scared shitless even if I hadn’t had that experience. My cPTSD means that the world feels fundamentally unsafe and totally beyond my control. Cohabiting with a partner (especially when they own the house and you’ll technically be their tenant) is scary for anyone, but it’s especially scary for someone whose biggest fear in the world is situations they can’t readily escape from.

There are a few ways to mitigate this. I have to strike a balance between finding control where I can, and accepting that some things are beyond my control. For example: I cannot control whether my Daddy and I break up, much as I wish I could, but I can control what the terms of our break-up are. They’ve promised to write me up a proper tenancy agreement that guarantees me 28 days’ notice before I have to leave, which means I’ll be in a position to transport all my things and adjust to the change. Essentially, they’ve promised to give me an exit strategy, and it has soothed my anxious mind a lot.

There are other elements of wanting an escape that bleed into my relationships. My BPD prompts me to attempt to break up with my partners with alarming frequency, even when I don’t really want to end the relationship at all, and I imagine that’s in part because I’m trying to gauge how readily I can escape any given romantic connection when my fight-or-flight response kicks in. This is troublesome, but Lucid Morgan forewarned my partners of it early on in our relationships, so they know how to assauge my fear of being stuck without making me feel like they don’t really want to be in a relationship with me anyway. They say things like, “I really want to be with you. If this is you talking, and not your BPD brain, then obviously you can leave whenever you want, but just know that I don’t want to break up at all.” It helps.

One other thing that helps might be dysfunctional, but in times of crisis, it really helps. I’m suicidal a lot, and sometimes the only thing that can dissuade me from killing myself right now is knowing I can always kill myself later. My distress feels pressing and, yes, inescapable, and that prompts thoughts of killing myself to get away from it – but the option of killing myself later washes away some of the wounded-animal, fight-or-flight desperation without involving, you know, doing it right now. Even when I’m less acutely distressed and more chronically miserable, I find it a comfort to know that I could bow out of life any time – and that frees up more space in my mind for actually enjoying life as I live it. Weird, possibly unhealthy, but a useful interim solution until I can work through my need to always have an exit strategy.

All of this is to say: trauma is a bitch, and this is one of the many effects it can have on your brain and how you navigate the world. It’s okay if you’re always looking for an exit, but it’s a feeling that can suck, and all I want you to take away from this post is that you aren’t alone in it.