What is BPD?
BPD stands for borderline personality disorder, sometimes referred to as emotionally unstable personality disorder. Everyone with BPD will have their own individual experiences with the symptoms, I’m going to talk about my specific experiences below. It is generally agreed that someone can be diagnosed if they have at least 5 of the following symptoms;
- Fear of abandonment, presumed or otherwise
- Unstable, changing relationships (generally easy to make friends but hard to keep them)
- Impulsive or self-damaging behaviours, which can include drinking, drug use, unsafe sex and binge eating.
- Unstable self image, struggles with identity and sense of self
- Suicidal behaviour or self-injury
- Varied or random mood swings
- Constant feelings of worthlessness or sadness, sometimes described as emptiness
- Problems with anger, sometimes culminating in physical acts of aggression
- Stress related paranoia or loss of contact with reality
If I was to go down that list and tick off the relevant symptoms I would tick 8, leaving the anger issues. However, I don’t think this list helps a non-sufferer to understand what the disorder really is.
Describing my own experiences without simply replicating this list is proving harder than I thought it would be. I wrote “define your BPD” in my notebook, but I am now realising that I should have given this some more thought.
I’m going to start with a point on the list; the unstable sense of self. Lots of people with and without mental illnesses will notice that they change aspects of their self according to the context they are in and the people that are around them. For example if you work in an office and your colleagues know you as ‘the tidy one’, you might experience some difficulty if you encountered them alongside your college friends that know you as ‘the wild one’. These two groups of people have interpreted your behaviour and other cues to form an impression of you in two entirely different contexts, shaping their impression of you. As a result, your behaviour will have changed slightly to fit into what they expect based on their impression. Encountering these two groups together might cause you to feel uncomfortable and unsure how to act, and possibly anxious as a result. I probably don’t have two people in my life that experience the exact same person. The uncomfortable feeling I just described is something that shapes every aspect of my life.
In order to reduce anxiety before I meet someone new, or someone important, I find myself deciding what impression I want the person to form before hand, and then manipulating my behaviour and appearance to ensure that they form the impression I approve of. My wardrobe would confuse anybody, its almost like my character costume box.
Furthermore, because I like to categorise people and find relationships much easier when a person can be cleanly and easily described, I willingly pick up labels. I can promote certain aspects of my personality, in a way exaggerating them, so that people can feel like they know me well. When people feel like they know you, they don’t search deeper or notice the inconsistencies.
I’ve talked a lot about my experience with ‘the self concept’ because I feel it is the most important point on the list. Mood swings and the other emotional issues probably have their roots in an individuals biology and are therefore less interesting to me, however the behavioural issues feel as if they are caused or at least affected by the unstable self image.
Impulsive and reckless behaviour can be a mechanism to find stability. A lot of behaviours that would be considered reckless come with person labels; the party girl, the bad driver, the promiscuous person, the adrenaline junkie ect. Behaving in extremes makes your sense of self feel more stable, because their are fewer contradictions between the idea in your head and the behaviour you’re displaying.
Finally, I find relationships extremely hard to manage. The friends that I have held for more than a year all have at least one thing in common, they are consistent and clear cut. They are also patient and strong. When people are consistent in the way they treat me, I can be consistent in my responses. When people behave towards me in a way that doesn’t match the way they think about me, I notice. This leads to me being unsure about what category to keep the person in, friend ie good or non-friend ie bad. When someone treats me like a friend but gives signs that they feel differently I experience a fair amount of distress. I am not certain why this is, however I am grateful to the friends that have stuck by me through problems and changes and whatever chaos I’ve thrown up, rather than take on an aspect of my personality and run with it.
I’ve tried to explain my experience with BPD in a way that anyone could understand, however the ideas are complicated and confused in my head, and therefore I imagine that this post might not make too much sense. Trying to understand yourself is a challenge, especially when you are a ‘complicated’ person, and I am still working on it. Based on the difficulty I faced when sitting down to write this post, I still have a lot of work to do. I might set myself this challenge again in a years time, and see what I write differently and what I write the same.
Thank you for reading,