This is an extended version of a piece written a couple of years ago for Cosmopolitan’s website and Liverpool’s Writing on the Wall festival, can’t find the polished 500 word version. Cringing reading it over now but I hope it’s informative and helps someone.
Your knowledge of BPD, or Borderline Personality Disorder, from popular culture most likely extends to the infamous portrayal of Alex Forrest from Fatal Attraction, a film which first coined the term “Bunny Boiler”. Although bunnies make me sneeze (if you can’t pet em, may as well eat ’em), and the cooking in my kitchen extends to food poisoning after nights out because I just can’t decide if it’s pale pink or white, watching the film felt like a slap in the face. I wanted to hug Alex because I could feel her pain; I know how you feel, they all think you’re a terrible person but I know you’re hurting. I will never deny that I’ve done bad things, but please read my story before calling me “crazy”.
Some believe in love at first sight. They just “knew”. Well, I just knew there was something wrong with me. I clearly remember my second year at university huddled beneath the desk in my student accommodation, hysterical because a boyfriend hadn’t texted back. He lived in the building next door. I’d cut myself and gotten drunk. I don’t remember much, other than clearly thinking, Something is wrong. I need help. I really am emotionally unstable.
BPD is a mood disorder characterized by a dysregulation of emotions. Marsha Linehan perfectly describes it as, ‘People with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.’ Although invisible, this emotional equivalent can make day to day life terrifying. A first visit to a boyfriend’s house can turn me into a nervous wreck, terrified in case there’s a poster of a girl on the wall because she’ll make me feel ugly and I’ll go home and cry myself to sleep because although he’ll love me for me, he’ll be falling asleep looking at a girl with boobs the size of fishbowls. A similar metaphor to describe BPD which I particularly like is that of an open wound, except the wound doesn’t heal the same as a regular person’s. Every time you’re reminded of what hurt you – for example, a film featuring that girl off the poster – the pain hurts the same as the first time. Every reminder is like pouring salt into the wound over and over. I’m already terrified of getting married and have seriously considered never going through with it because the idea of a potential stripper at the stag do is too much. No matter how much you reason with yourself, nothing makes you feel better, and you can’t talk yourself out of feeling crazy.
Let me explain it a little more simply. To you, mild irritation because mum made fajitas for dinner when you’d been craving lasagne all day but neglected to tell her any of this, can equate to irrational fury. Happy times can be so few and far between that they can be mistaken for euphoria.
Here is my own analogy to help explain my personal experience of BPD: Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff. You jump. You fall and fall into a pit of depression. Just as you’re about to hit rock bottom and try to top yourself, you hit a trampoline. You soar high into the sky. It’s euphoric. Life is amazing! Let’s go out! I am so HAPPY! …And then the cycle restarts.
I have a schizophrenic friend with a tendency to stop taking his medication at regular intervals. I never understood why he would stop taking something that benefitted his condition. This particular friend genuinely thinks he’s Jesus, though, so taking that away probably doesn’t feel great. Everything changed when I got put on medication, one being an antipsychotic drug. This particular drug, quetiapine, has made life a lot easier for me. But they also, especially for the first few month, made me feel dead. I was like a zombie, going through the motions but unable to feel. I was sad inside, but I couldn’t cry no matter how badly I needed to. I developed a cycle: take meds for a month, run out of pills, not be able to get an appointment until next week, become steadily more erratic and unstable. It’s hard to tell how much is genuine and how much is panic at running out of your security blanket when you’re taking such strong meds. I would continue the cycle once I’d realized Oh, that’s what they do. But the cycle is addictive, alternating between relief at feeling nothing and frustration because you’re unable to feel.
I was eventually given an antidepressant to help alleviate my mood. I’ve always been sceptical of anti-depressants because I don’t believe you can’t force happiness. It’s obviously a situation in one’s life causing unhappiness so surely it’s more logical to identify the problem and work on creating a better environment. However, I figured that if I was already taking drugs I didn’t want to be on that I may as well do things properly and take whatever they wanted to give me. Although I’m aware that it could be a placebo effect, I was determined that anti-depressants did not work…but after some time I began to feel better. Not really better, in my heart, but, I did start to feel better even though I was very conscious of it being artificially so. I was still sad, but not as cripplingly so. It became easier to drag myself out of bed in the morning.
Sometimes I wonder if BPD even exists. What if it’s just an excuse for me to act like an arsehole that a co-arsehole invented one Christmas when he chucked a bowl of sprouts across the room in a rage but then felt guilty because the sprouts hadn’t done anything to him, it wasn’t their fault they were ugly and stank and tasted rank? But I know it’s real. It was real the Valentine’s Day my boyfriend found me on the bathroom floor, hysterical and bleeding. A symptom of BPD is disassociation, which sounds like a convenient excuse to act like a lunatic and deny all knowledge afterwards, but as a result I can’t remember much from the hours leading up to the incident. All I remember is my tears, the blood, and his tears, as the rose petals and treasure hunt clues sprawled around the bedroom lay rejected. I have no excuse for my behaviour, but I would do anything to have known about my BPD back then. It’s a memory that haunts me, makes me afraid to go to bed because I’ll be alone with my memories and guilt.
One day I’ll think, I AM good! I AM enough! I can like what I see in the mirror and be happy, but then a passing comment from a male pal – ‘Mate, did you see how hot that girl was?’ – can make me fall to pieces again. I don’t care that I looked nice five minutes ago; now, all that’s important is that I was probably given up for adoption by a bell-nosed monkey because even a parent can’t love a kid with a honker like that, and it doesn’t matter that I have pretty eyes because everybody will be too busy noticing my monkey nose and hippo hips and teeny tiny tits.
I always thought I wanted to know what was wrong with me,tThat having a name for what was wrong would give me peace. But it’s a double-edged sword. Before, I could convince myself I was just a short-tempered bitch and could change whenever I wanted. But now, along with relief, it’s a burden. Even the name Borderline Personality Disorder is depressing. My body isn’t the problem, but my personality, the thing which makes me me – like I only have half a personality – so where’s the other half? Did Baby Jesus forget one half and give it to my friend Jack the schizophrenic who has several?
BPD sufferers also have a crippling fear of abandonment, so naturally this mainly affects relationships with those we’re closest to. You’d think it would make us clingy, but the funny thing is, we get so terrified of losing someone that we’ll do everything we can to push them away. We’ll be cruel, saying we hate and never liked them because it’s better than admitting how much we care, how much the thought of losing them terrifies us. Deep down, we want them to argue and say they care enough to stay. For me, this happens every time. They say they like being kept on their toes and that they’ll stay. But they leave. You’re devastated but at the same time know you deserve this pain because you brought it on yourself. The cycle is addictive. It’s as if I want to sabotage my own chance of happiness because then the power is in my hands, and the devastation proves I can still feel something, the medication hasn’t killed my brain cells. I need reassurance that feeling is a real thing, that I haven’t just made it up, the way if you stare at a word long enough it seems like random words strung together that don’t really mean anything.
It’s fair to say I can be clingy, whether the perception of abandonment is real or imagined. There’s no distinction in my mind when I’m in a bad place. The other week I’d had a fight with me dad the previous night and he was late from work, it was dark, I don’t like the dark at the best of times, when I go downstairs in the middle of the night to use the loo I have to turn all the lights on even though I know they’ll wake people, not because I’m worried I’ll get a drop of wee on the toilet seat when I’m getting up because sometimes when you wipe you miss a bit, but in case there’s a rapist hiding behind the door who’s into water sports. As I was saying, I don’t like the dark, if dad’s home late and it’s dark outside, that’s a bad enough omen for me. ‘Mum. Mum. MUM! Why isn’t he back? Call him and find out where he is. Did he pick up? Why not? Do you think he’s crashed? It’s hard to see whilst driving in the dark, I hate driving in the dark, sometimes when I’m driving in the dark I forget to turn on my headlights…’ So, I’m a little clingy. Like a limpet. If I’d killed him myself it would be bearable, but since nobody had asked my permission I was in a fit of panic.
Another symptom is impulsivity. It can come in many forms, most commonly inappropriate tirades of abuse towards loved ones. Personally, I felt anxious and often suicidal, and booked a trip to Thailand at the last minute. I knew nothing about the place, even the gist of where it was on a map. At this time I was depressed after the breakdown of a relationship to the person I thought was the love of my life. Without really thinking it through I booked a skydive. I didn’t even want to jump out of a plane, never had. But I clung onto the idea. I needed a “project”. I would convince myself of irrational things like If I jump out of a plane, he’ll love me again. I would point-blank refuse to think beyond the skydive. The adrenaline rush afterwards was immense. That year I got back into climbing, joining my university’s society. I would climb to the top of the bouldering wall and jump off, despite it hurting my ankle many times. I just wanted to feel anything that wasn’t rejection.
I’ve only been diagnosed a year, and I’m still only 21 years old. I can’t claim an Eat, Pray, Love transformation. But I can say that in my brighter moments I’m learning to see the merits of being a little kooky. Yeah, I blow all my money on flights and then miss my return flights because meds keep me away with the fairies and then flights that I’m not even riding back down to the ground on, but, you know, I’m kinda badass! You may not know what mood I’ll be in from one hour to the next, but you can ask me to come do anything at a moment’s notice and I’ll try anything once. I can see things such as impulsivity as a flaw, or make the decision to accept my BPD and value my personality traits.
Having BPD is hard. Right now bipolar is the “cool” disorder as many celebrities having admitted to having it. But as of yet, nobody in the public eye has confessed to having BPD despite it supposedly affecting 1-2% of the population. It’s very much a taboo subject. The internet is rife with comments such as ‘They will stalk you’ and ‘Don’t stick your dick in crazy’, and characters such as Alex Forrest only reinforce this opinion. So can you blame us for getting angry and acting out? Despite telling others about problems with good intentions, they have a tendency to store this information in their mind for a later date. Here are some of my favourites:
- ‘If you’re going to cut yourself, at least do it properly.’
- ‘I hope next time you cut you do the world a favour and die.’
I constantly feel guilty for having something wrong. I was never molested as a kid. Although there were some bumps along the way, my upbringing wasn’t traumatic. There are people far worse off than me. I don’t deserve to have an excuse for being so miserable. At the same time, I feel anger and hurt that whoever’s up there chose me. During my darkest moments I rage for not having a physical ailment – people are kind if you have a broken leg and ask to sign the cast, but with BPD they can be nasty because you often bring it on myself by treating people badly. I often wonder if I was a fluke, that I was never meant to be because all I bring to the world is hurt.
A “friend” told me, ‘If you want to change, you can.’ This opinion is so naïve and hurtful, and I struggle to comprehend this ignorance even if it comes from a good place. It’s like telling someone who has cancer that if they think healthy thoughts hard enough it will go away. Society is sympathetic towards physical illness, but mental disorders cause fear. The view is, you aren’t dying of a terrible disease so count yourself lucky, buck up and deal with it.
So there you have it. My disorder is not an excuse for me to act out, but neither is it an excuse for anyone to call me a “psycho”or “crazy”. Views on mental illness are outdated and we as a society should be ashamed of the way we treat those who are, simply put, ill. I just want acceptance. The phrase ‘eyes bigger than his mouth’ comes to mind. The world is so concerned with curing cancer and making those who’d never walk again prove their critics wrong, that for decades they’ve neglected the mind. What use is an able body if the mind is broken?