Nope, not that eff-word. I love that eff-word – where would we be without it’s delightfully releasing fricative force?
Lately I’m overwhelmed with ideas to consider/write about/explore in relation to that all-consuming topic of my life: BPD. I know that it’s actually much more important to LIVE a life rather than just spend it looking at life from every possible angle in your mind. Looking at it, analyzing it, considering it from every possible angle is just too exhausting for anyone’s mind, let alone a borderline’s. However, that’s what this post is going to be, in the hopes that venting some of these constant buzzing thoughts regarding the inner life and identity of BPD gets them out for the day (or hour at least).
It hardly needs to be said that, as borderlines, we spend so much damn time thinking this out (well, trying to), questioning everything we do/have done, trying to come up with solutions when ultimately, we don’t even know if we want to be ‘solved’ – after all, most people with BPD grow to see the disorder as their ‘actual’ identity. This is tragic but completely understandable – and, in fact, inevitable – for a variety of reasons:
#1) BPD lasts.
Untreated, it’ll last decades – for some people, a whole lifetime. If you make it to your 40s/50s (given the 1/10 BPD suicide statistic), you may be one of those people lucky enough to have the symptoms simply dissipate on their own: yep, some studies have shown that, inexplicably, many of BPD’s symptoms will lessen or soften with four or five decades of
horrific self-abuse practice (hip hip hooray??). However, for the borderline right in the throes of this disorder (20s and 30s), it’s now defined the vast majority of your inner existence. That’s a powerful sense of identity when not much else had lasted in your life; because, of course, your BPD has likely damaged most of your core relationships, robbed you of your hobbies/opinions/passions, and caused you cut ties with anything that gets too ‘close’ to prevent the painful situations you anticipate. Ironic result? The problem destroying your life is all you really have to define yourself by.
#2) BPD (and all the shit it brings with it) just feels “realer” than the rest of your life.
I’m not entirely clear on the mechanisms at work in this one but one thing is very clear to me: pain, loss, sorrow, darkness, agony, anger are all very “real” words in my vocabulary. Happiness, peace, love, calm, joy, laughter – not so much. I mean they’re real, of course, but they are inextricable from a sense of falseness or transience in my mind: that is, I know (or BPD makes me “know”) that they will never last – so why pursue the pain by acting like they will last? “But that’s just stupid,” non-borderlines will point out. “Why dwell on sorrow and pain and anger and all that dark shit when they don’t last either.” True. And yet, in the BPDer’s mind, they are the ones that last – primarily because (largely unconsciously) we make them last.
Research has shown that you make pathways in your brain just as you do in a landscape. Those that are well-trafficked become those that are ‘real’ – your mind understands them, it’s used to travelling them, and – as a creature of habit just like the rest of our human parts – it wants to keep going down them because they’re familiar. The pathways that don’t get much use become exactly how you’d expect an unused path to become over time: overgrown, treacherous, scary, daunting. The mind resists the work of forging those new paths.
I first came across that information in my initial counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder, and it really excited me in a way. For one thing, it made so much sense. Our brains and bodies are built out of repeated connections and patterns. Make certain connections a million times (i.e. love isn’t real, love never lasts, I don’t trust it and it’s hurt me), and your brain is a friggin effective learner: it will help to reinforce the “knowledge” that love is not a path to go down, so just stick to this lovely little venue of miserable loneliness instead.
Even as I’m bloody writing these words I can actually feel my well-worn brain patterns resisting what I’m writing (seriously)! “No, no, no, NO, Cat, don’t even think things like this, deep down you know you should stick to what you’ve always followed, you know it’s true.” But the fact is – and it’s taken literally a few years just to get to this point in my own head – I do not have a good sense of what is “true.” I really don’t. I’ve got a very strong sense of what my BPD believes to be true. And that’s never worked for me. In fact it’s sucked so bad at guiding my life that I’m now willing to do god-awful things like sit through the required group therapy (the horror… the horror) just to combat its influence. I know BPD is just a part of the picture and not the “real” picture, but I’m still struggling to apply that knowledge to my life in concrete ways.
#3) BPD’s symptoms can be very similar to the actual parts of your identity that it grew from.
Picture this: Take a creative, sensitive child with a propensity for drama, passion, story-telling and spontaneity. Now subject him to all the conditions that create BPD, including a genetic predisposition, a family that’s not comfortable with emotions or punishes them, a traumatic event that produces overwhelming feelings which can’t be expressed, and a peer group that rejects and belittles his ideas, emotions and identity. Gradually, the creativity and storytelling traits become duplicity and a talent for lying – even when it’s not necessary. Suppressed, the propensity for drama and passion become violence and uncontrollable emotions whenever they do burst out. The spontaneity become impulsiveness – promiscuity, gambling, self-harm, drug abuse.
In this way, BPD takes certain aspects of your being and slants them in a self-destructive direction. But because those aspects really do represent parts of your personality, you’ll feel as fiercely attached to them as if they were parts of you. How many borderlines meet their BPD diagnosis with anger, defensiveness and disbelief (*raises hand*)? “It is NOT a mental illness, it’s just who I am.” It’s an absurdly common reaction to any mental health diagnosis, and it was certainly mine. I was sure that I didn’t have a problem – everyone else just had a problem with the way I was. I was sure that I’d always had an association between love and pain, or love and violence: that’s just me. I was sure that I’d always had a habit of lying, or an inability to handle strong emotions, or a lean towards self-destruction. The resistance in me was insanely strong: THOSE THINGS ARE WHO I AM AND IF I GIVE THEM UP, I CEASE TO BE ME!!!!!!!
I still feel like that when I get in really severe BPD mode (i.e. depressive or raging low points). But by exploring and validating who I really am, I’m finding it easier to let go of the ways that BPD has defined me. It’s not easy, to say the least. I mean it’s been defining me, and telling me that’s how I have to define myself, for over 20 years now. But the cliche is true: behind every horrible person was (and sometimes still is) a ridiculously sensitive and damaged person in need of love and validation – the kind that only comes from within (please don’t fucking fool yourself like so many borderlines into thinking someone else holds that key).
Note: the very phrase “self-love” or “self-care” still my skin crawl instinctively. I’m not even remotely comfortable with it yet. But as I progress through therapy, I’ll be sharing a lot of techniques to facilitate the ability to “self-care” while I attempt to work on them myself too.
In conclusion, no matter how long it’s been going on, how bad things have gotten, or how many past examples you’ve built up to make your point: don’t be so sure that being horrible, evil, bitchy, manipulative, violent or destructive is your “true” nature – even if you’ve gone to great lengths to prove it to other people until they wholeheartedly agree.
That’s BPD’s identity, not yours: you owe it to your true self to put in the hard work it takes to separate the two.
Cat Earnshaw xx