Opinion

Borderline Personality Disorder: Depression, But Livid And Swole, And Ready To Fight Me And Everyone I Love

Source: Chemistry World

This article is part of a series for Mental Health Awareness Week.

By Hannah Bailey

Content warning: this piece contains discussion of alcohol abuse, suicide, and self harm

I went through 14 chaotic years in the mental health care system before being diagnosed with BPD when I was 21.

I have been diagnosably depressive since I was 7.

My self-destructive tendencies emerged at age 13 with cutting and purging behaviours. I was immediately shimmied forth into CAHMS, and later into adult mental health services, where my case was diligently mishandled by over 35 counsellors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, photosynthesists – you get the picture. I was batted back and forth – the problematic hot potato case – and I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. 

My first suicide attempt was when I was 15. I tried another four times. My left arm, and both thighs, look like mismatched tweed when I’m feeling self-compassionate; like an inescapable reminder of my failures, and the failures of my supposed caregivers, when I’m feeling low. 

I have struggled with alcohol abuse on and off since I was 16. 

All of my romantic relationships can be clinically described as “unstable and intense”. My family relationships don’t fit so neatly into DSM terminology; I would choose the terms “spewing volcano” or “meteor collision” for my relationship with my mother. 

It’s been a little over three years since I first heard the term “borderline personality disorder”. My lived experience changed radically upon discovering that I Am Not A Total Wackjob; that others, many others, feel like This too. I remember the epiphany when I first researched the condition,  thinking “yes, finally, yes, this is me”. I remember my relief at the thought that others exist who can understand – really understand – the turbulence, unpredictability, and unrelenting emotional intensity that constitutes my day-to-day existence. 

BPD is not your garden variety mental health condition. Depression and anxiety – though indisputably painful – are becoming increasingly understood, and folks are increasingly sympathetic. This is great! But my experience with BPD is, well, weirder. In order to survive, I am constantly aware of my base mood. Part of the fun with BPD is that whatever emotion is happening, it is happening at 100%, and prone to spiking up and down very fast.

These emotional extremes are dangerous and chronically misunderstood.

When my base mood is low, I can escape peer scrutiny by saying I’m feeling depressed, which is a functionally adequate descriptor (to get well-intentioned folks to leave me alone). I get depressed sometimes as well. But BPD lows are different – much more emotionally active. I feel actively hopeless and vulnerable, and stumbling on the verge of tears. I feel energetically that there is no purpose to my existence; that I am aggressively pointless, a waste, a leech of energy and resources that I do not deserve. I feel passionately paranoid that my friends ALL secretly hate me, and that I’d be doing everyone a favour if I went ahead and killed myself, god, five failed attempts, I can’t even kill myself right. 

It’s like depression on red bull and steroids; the same despair, Now with Wings!, and an active craving for self-destruction. These spirals used to culminate in a trip to A&E for stitches. I’ve recently trained myself to talk through that destructive energy with a Samaritans volunteer instead of acting on self-violent impulses. 

When my base mood is happy, now, this is the tricky bit. I am HAPPY!!! And I can feel 100% delight in my music! 100% satisfaction in small things (food! birdsong! a particularly green ivy leaf oh my god look at it it’s so green wow!)! 100% connection with my phenomenal friends, 100% joy, 100% euphoria. I am UNSTOPPABLY ALIVE and the WORLD is SPARKLING BUBBLES and WHY WAS I EVER SAD???

This is, I hope you can see, not the most stable state to be in. Similar intensity happens for anger, anxiety, rationality/logic – yes, it’s possible to be energetically, aggressively, passionately logical. The slightest tremor can send me shooting off to a different emotional extreme, and these tremors can be caused by anything. ‘What are your triggers, Bailey?’ Um. Yikes. I guess. … Other people? And the things that other people say and/or do? And myself??? And things that I say and do, and think? General ennui? The concept of time??? The sight of my own left arm, or my own face in a reflective surface???? A text message asking ‘how are you’ during a global pandemic, of course I’m not okay, nothing is okay, how could you ask such a horrible question, why would you make me THINK about how not okay I am, how COULD you be so CRUEL??? I don’t want you to speak to me ever again. Why are you leaving? Don’t leave. Don’t come anywhere near me, but don’t leave. Love me, adore me, I hate myself, don’t leave me, get away from me how dare you I hate you I love you don’t leave me.

The diagnosis of ‘traits of BPD’ – a psychiatric equivalent of “stay alert” – is increasingly common for those who don’t consistently present five or more of the nine diagnostic Traits. I present, or have previously presented, all 9. (Do I get a voucher? A certificate? ‘Congratulations, All Of These Things Are Indeed Wrong With You, You Definitely Have BPD?’ I do feel like an impostor writing this, and I needed validation from several others with BPD to be able to write). I am working intensively in psychotherapy to tackle the Life Things that shaped and/or destabilised my identity. I also need regular talk therapy as a sort of week-to-week maintenance check to keep me connected with the present. This is a long process and there is a long way to go and I am working on being okay with that. 

I am 24. I have made a lot of poor decisions, and spent many, many years flailing in an abyss of self-loathing, self-doubt, and self-destruction. It has taken a long time to reach a point of self-awareness where I can feel any agency over my life. Having felt suicidal for eleven years, it’s a bit of a shock, now, to realise that I am planning for A Future. I am about to start a Music degree, having made the decision to leave a course that was not right for me. I have reached a fragile level of… perhaps self-belief… more likely self-compassion and forgiveness in the face of failure. I feel driven to pursue Goals. I have changed the energy that used to be raw destruction into a meticulous work ethic, and an intense need to help others find their happiness through music and theatre. My emotions remain intense, but now, I am choosing to energetically, aggressively, passionately create meaning for my existence through my work. 

I wish that there was more popular understanding that, when you have BPD, Everything Is A Lot All The Time. Living with BPD is 100% emotion, always. I forget that not everybody lives like this. I wonder, often, what it’s like to just feel…fine. That’s the dream.

If you need support for any of the points raised within this article, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. Contact Mind or The Samaritans, and their helpline on 116 123.

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