In the search for people to write posts on their lived experiences with mental illness, one of the ladies who agreed to share her story is Tegan. She was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and describes the experience as feeling her emotions without her skin on. If you’ve ever had a wound on your arm where the skin has been torn off, you’ll know how tender, raw and painful it feels. Now imagine all of your emotions without their skin. You get hit with everything at once. It’s really intense, and you don’t have any skills to deal with it. You get so many emotions that you can’t even decipher or make sense of them.
So how do you cope?
I would imagine that your survival instincts (remember that Neanderthal man who Sam talked about in the anxiety posts) would kick in. Your brain would narrow your focus to one simple thing. Survival. All those emotions at once would be really overwhelming. You’d probably panic. And then do anything that you could possibly think of to stop it all. You’d feel so overwhelmed and panicked that you’d choose the first thing to enter your head, whatever that may be.
As I mentioned in the last post, it is very common for people with personality disorders to have had a history of trauma or abuse. So it is very likely that you would feel really crappy about yourself. You might even hate yourself so much that you feel like you need to be punished. So the strategies you’re likely to turn to will be things like hurting yourself. It could be with food or it could be with alcohol. Or even with drugs, cigarettes or razor blades (burning or cutting yourself). Anything to relieve the pain you feel inside. Even suicide.
And when people try to help, you reject their advances because you feel like you need to push them away before they abandon you (which is what you feel you deserve). And this confirms your belief so you push people away even more, by using any means necessary. You argue with people, yell, scream, insult, push, shove, steal. And so on.
And then you feel even worse about yourself because you know that kind of behaviour isn’t what you should be doing. So you increase your efforts to punish yourself. You would be unlikely to recognise much good in your life. You might meet someone and marry, but because of how you feel about yourself, the relationship is likely to be full of arguments and bad feelings. Parenting would also be a huge challenge. As would your work relationships.
If you’re lucky though, you will reach a point, like Tegan, where you acknowledge that you can no longer live that way. And so, after many false starts, you begin a very long, slow journey to make changes in your life. You seek professional support from a psychiatrist and psychologist skilled in working with BPD.
Stay tuned to hear from two very brave women, Tegan and Kaye, about what it is like to really live with BPD.