Earlier posts have offered some background on Borderline Personality Disorder, including the fact that BPD may have some genetic links. But the clinical definitions only go so far in illuminating how these issues feel. So today, I invited a friend and fellow author to assist me by discussing her experience with Borderline Personality Disorder. If this sounds like you, know that you are not alone.
By: Chris Dean
I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Funny how two-dimensional letters with no depth can represent something so wild and big and chaotic. At least that’s how it feels from the inside looking out.
I could try and use all kinds of flat, clinical words to try and explain what it’s like to live with BPD, but I’d rather explain how it feels. After all, the hallmark of this particular beastie is basically out of control, extreme emotions.
Borderline Romance: First Comes Love
Let’s start with something happy. Close your eyes and picture falling so head over heels in love that the rest of the world melts away. Now take that feeling and multiply it by ten with an added hint of frenzied desperation. There is nothing in your universe but THAT person! The way they feel when you put your hand on their arm, the way they smile when you say their name, the way they smell when you bury your head in their neck and hug them so freakin’ tight, you’re in danger of disappearing into them.
And oh, GAWD, you want to! You need to know them inside and out so well, that the two of you become one, an all-consuming entity of pure love. Because that person IS your life! You only truly exist when they’re looking at you, talking to you, sharing the air you breathe. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known them five years, five days, or five minutes. What matters is that you’re TOGETHER and the rest of the universe is nothing more than an annoyance.
The Flip-Side of Borderline Personality
Fast forward three months. (For some weird reason, three months seems to be the magic number for my threshold of tolerance.) Close your eyes again and imagine that now, when you look at that same person, everything good and beautiful you felt about them has turned to disgust bordering on revulsion. Now take that feeling and multiply it by ten with an added hint of something close to hatred. You want nothing more than to be as far away from this person as humanly possible, but first you want to take a piece of their heart (or soul) with you. You want them to hurt just as bad as you KNOW they’ll end up hurting you if you stay.
So you pick fights over nothing and - wait, that’s not exactly true. Their very existence fills you with a rage that equals the intensity of the love you felt such a short time ago. And these feeling are simply too big and powerful to fit inside your body or your head. These emotions come out in venom-filled bursts, usually dripping with wild accusations designed to push them so far away that they’ll fall off the edge of the earth, preferably in tears.
Then the numbness. Imagine what a snake hunting a mouse would feel. Like that, only inside a human. Cold, calculating, almost predator-like.
Only you really don’t want to stalk your former lover; this is reserved for the stupid ones who can’t just leave you the hell alone. These really BAD relationships become a repeating cycle of bullshit. The numbness becomes the lull in the emotional storm before you batten down the hatches, pull up your boots, and go back in for another round of all-consuming love, immeasurable hate, followed by a numb reprieve.
Sad thing is, some people see this kind of insanity as a true measure of the depth of your love. Because heavy picture frames, stiletto heels, and pieces of pottery hurled at one’s head in the heat of an argument are surely signs of the kind of abiding love everyone looks for, right?
There's Always Anger
I’ve been told one of the things that defines Borderline Personality Disorder is the anger, but if you’ve never lived with borderline, you can’t even begin to know what that anger’s like. Close your eyes and try to imagine the feeling of your insides filling with burning acid. Now imagine that if you don’t find a way to release it, the pressure will either blow you wide open or burn its way through your chest into your very soul. Now multiply this feeling times 100.
It’s nothing like being pissed-off, seeing red, or even a downright furious variety of ticked. Borderline anger is pure, unadulterated, uncontrollable, blind rage. It’s an anger that’s brittle like untempered steel, with the potential to snap at any moment and shatter not only those around it, but its host as well.
It’s like having the most evil, ferocious beast trapped inside your guts, trying to bite and claw its way out. It’s an apocalyptic fury you can’t just swallow or breathe through, because you can’t fucking breathe. In these dark moments, all you know is there’s a primal scream of inexplicable rage rising up from your core and if you don’t open your mouth and release it into the world, it’ll demolish all that you are, leaving behind a million jagged shards.
The thing is, it isn’t always focused outward. If it was, life would be either a million times easier, or a million times more dangerous. Understand, when the crosshairs end up turned towards yourself—your inadequate, failure-as-a-human self—then the unspeakable anguish and pain of the depression creeps in. It’s really closer to despair, and it’s all your own damn fault because you’re a horrible person and you deserve to feel THIS. DAMN. BAD. You deserve to be punished and if no one else is going to do it, by gawd, you’ll have to.
And so the loop tape in your head begins, replaying every HORRIBLE thing you’ve ever said, done, or even thought. Only thing is, these supposed ills are viewed through a skewed fish-eye lens that magnifies the flaws until the pores of your face look like Grand Canyon-esque chasms.
There’s really only one way to make this pain and self hatred stop; pain inflicted from the outside.
My pain delivery method of choice was always branding. That initial burst of agony, followed by the gradual calm as nerve endings cauterized, stopping their signals from completing the journey to my brain. I always breathed more deeply knowing the added bonus would come days later, when the REAL pain began. Because the initial burn was nothing compared to the ceaseless fire of those injured nerves regrowing and days worth of new pain signals mercilessly finding their way home.
Fuck the guilt and the shame that I’d feel later when I was hiding my scars. The pain carried me away from that place of funhouse mirrors where, no matter which way I turned, I was faced with hideously distorted views of myself. Putting my hand through the damn mirror and cleaning up a little broken glass and blood was worth the cost. Besides, the pain brought with it a kind of baptism by fire, washing away the current round of emotional sin and leaving me clearer headed, lighter hearted, and ready to bounce through the next cycle of mood-go-round like a maniacal Tigger.
How The Hell Do You Cope with Borderline Personality Disorder?
Before I even knew what to call the monkey on my back, I’d already discovered a few coping mechanisms. Because sometimes a gal's gotta learn to fight for what’s important in her life.
I met and fell in love with my Hubby in 1998. At that time, I was still in the full swing of not much control of my larger-than-life emotions. I engaged in the standard risky sexual behavior, destructive relationship habits, and self mutilation in the form of branding. Yet, this guy saw past the crazy mess I was and loved me anyway. I knew this was something special I didn’t want to screw up, so I had to find ways to cohabitate inside myself, with myself.
First, there was the anger. I learned to watch for the signs; the tightening in the chest, the metallic taste accompanied by the constricting at the back of the throat. The way my shoulders would pull and my right eye twitch just so...it was how I knew it was now or never with altering the course of the hurricane before it made landfall.
Before my muscles gave way to an autoimmune disease, dance was my favorite release. Loud music, eye closed, letting the angry rush carry me along until I was too tired to even think. Something to preoccupy and exhaust my body while my mind dug its way out of the quagmire.
I learned to scream-cry into a pillow until my throat was raw, put on a special playlist and go outside to throw rocks at trees or (in the past) chop wood until I couldn’t lift my arms. Anything at all to give the energy a conduit to the outside without leaving emotional casualties in its wake.
Today, instead of picking up a lighter and a piece of metal to burn the creature out, I talk to Hubby or call a friend who understands. In that safe zone, I can shout out my rage, unleashing the beast where he can do the least amount of damage, before it reaches the point of all consuming.
As for the relationship cycles of love-hate-numb-love? I know they’re there. I know when I start to pull away. I also know that, after fourteen years, Hubby has never wavered for even an instant in the way he feels about me, which makes it a lot easier to stop mid-cycle and fall in love with the guy all over again.
Seriously though, this isn’t romantic slop. This is the reality of keeping a loving relationship alive, despite BPD. I can’t change the way I’m hardwired, but I can train myself to react differently.
When the distance between us starts, he understands and, instead of grabbing me in an emotional chokehold, he holds my hand and gives me room to think and breathe. He calls me on my bullshit and doesn’t engage in lover’s warfare if I try to bait him into an argument.
If I say something truly hurtful, he tells me and I HAVE to be responsible for carrying my own load of crap and reigning in my emotions as best I can. And yes, I occasionally fall in love with the guy all over again. Because it’s fun and, for me, it’s what works.
I’m always going be a person who lives with BPD. I’m always going to have to deal with the high and low tides of my emotions. It’s just the way I’m built. But that doesn’t mean I have to continue on the destructive path I once walked. It just means I have to know who I am and keep on working my ass off to be the best version of that person I can.
Chris Dean writes at pixie.c.d. (formerly Life Your Way!) where she shares acts of stupidity, life with adult offspring, and the occasional useful bit of info on life with chronic illness. She lives in Indiana with her amazingly tolerant Hubby (who swears he doesn't mind putting up with her), their four adult-kids, and a petting zoo of cats, dogs, chickens, Muscovy ducks, and geese. When not writing, you can find her avoiding laundry on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
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