Dating, going to parties, or disagreeing with someone are all difficult if you might spend a week in the throes of anxiety afterwards
Living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is like going through the looking glass and getting stuck there. As much as I might bang on the glass, it doesn’t shift, and I’m marooned in a world of nonsensical contractions and miscommunication. For me, one of the most difficult parts of having BPD is the impact it has on my interactions with others. It’s difficult to form lasting relationships when I constantly misinterpret social cues, believing that people are attacking me or being snide when in reality, this isn’t the case.
The diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is very broad, and includes people with symptoms of varying degrees of severity. Most BPD sufferers will experience intense emotions that can change very quickly, moving from feeling euphoric to very low and even suicidal in the space of a day or a few hours. Some people have difficulty maintaining a strong sense of self. Others report feelings of paranoia, numbness and emptiness. Seeing and hearing things that other people don’t, and intense worries of abandonment can all be part of Borderline Personality Disorder.
BPD is also characterised by impulsive and dangerous behaviour, including self-harm, binge drinking, drug use, dangerous driving, shoplifting, unprotected sex, and disordered eating. Others are often quick to judge and see this as evidence of the sufferer being a ‘bad person’ or an ‘attention-seeker’, but in reality those with Borderline Personality Disorder are using such behaviours as coping strategies, to mitigate the overwhelming pain or emptiness or confusion they’re feeling.
I was diagnosed with BPD while under the Coventry and Warwickshire Eating Disorder Service, which is in itself is a damning indictment of the state of mental health services in Britain. I had to get to five and a half stone before anyone would take my need for treatment seriously, and I tried to end my life four times before Borderline Personality Disorder was even mentioned. I struggled with my mental health very seriously during my undergraduate and master’s degrees, and am only now, at 24, beginning to understand why I experience the world as I do. Still, life is anything but ‘normal’. Here are some scenarios where my BPD can really mess things up for me.
BEING ASKED OUT ON A DATE
Most people are both excited and nervous when they’re asked out. I’ll have these feelings, but they’ll be magnified to crazy proportions. I’m usually good at making superficially good impressions on new people, but I fear that once they get to know me, I’ll be rejected. I might make an excuse and cancel, and then spend the evening under the duvet, eating a jar of olives.
GOING TO A PARTY WHERE YOU DON’T KNOW MANY PEOPLE
Large groups of people make me want to disappear. I’ll spend hours choosing an outfit and oscillate between refusing to go and fearing I’ll miss out on an awesome party if I don’t. I’ll drink too much, and either end up being the most gregarious person in the room, or someone who sits in the corner, anxiously clutching a beer and tweeting so I don’t have to talk to anyone. I’ll go home, convinced that the experience has been a disaster, and beat myself up about it for days, imagining that everyone else who went to the party has been talking about how rubbish I am.
MANAGER AT WORK KEEPS UNDERMINING YOU
This is a nightmare scenario for me. It brings up all kinds of insecurities and I’ll start to feel disliked in the office, and as though my work isn’t good enough. It’s like a siren starts going off in my brain. I freeze up and shut down, convinced that all my previous bullshit-paranoid thoughts have been validated. I’ll call in sick, avoid the manager in question, and I’ll probably start planning to leave my job.
AN ARGUMENT WITH A FRIEND
I’m very bad at resolving arguments, and if I have a disagreement with a friend, I’ll believe that the relationship is already ruined so there’s no point in trying to sort things out. I see even minor arguments as proof that I’m unlikeable and a bad person who doesn’t deserve to have friends.
It’s common for people with the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder to swing between intensely valuing and devaluing others. This means thinking someone is amazing for a while, and then as soon as they disappoint you, believing that they are the worst person in the world. I have to fight every day not to see well-meaning comments as slights or attacks, and to be forgiving and understanding, because it feels like every cancelled appointment or thoughtless remark is done on purpose, because I’m a shitty person who is disliked and doesn’t deserve friends.
I have difficulty forming and maintaining stable relationships, partly because of my urge to behave impulsively, and partly because I have trouble knowing what was really going on in a social situation. After a night in the pub with my boyfriend and his friends, I invariably believe that the experience has been a disaster and everyone hated me, even if my partner swears otherwise. It’s like I’m seeing the world through a warped filter and I can’t trust my own perceptions of situations. I feel like I’m experiencing everything drunk or high, and not in a good way.
I may sound like an exhausting or unpleasant person to be around, but I’m generally pretty kind and thoughtful. I’m always ready to listen or get the bus to a friend’s house with wine and chocolate if they’ve had a bad day, and I explain to my close friends exactly why I’m prone to oversensitivity and why I often misinterpret harmless situations.
It’s helpful to have at least one person in my life that I trust to tell me the truth about how an evening with friends or a particular interaction has gone. I’ve also realised that I’m much more likely to experience things in a ‘BPD way’ if I’m in a large group of people I don’t know well, because my social anxiety amplifies this.
Borderline Personality Disorder is still a very misunderstood illness, and although my experiences with it are both intensely personal and painful, I feel that it’s essential that I keep writing about it. No one who’s going through this should have to suffer silently, believing that they’re alone.