I wake up every day feeling exhausted. I spend the next hour or so pushing myself into life. Then I mentalise tasks for the day, accomplishing at most half of them, on good days. Either my head is heavy and distressed or it dissociates and levitates, taking along my body. That is, focusing and finishing a task is challenging. Meeting and even chatting with people can send me into a frenzy. Knowing exactly how I am feeling and why is a preoccupation I can’t do away with. When I fail to be in touch with my emotional brain, life falls out of place. This is how life is with borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Borderline personality disorder comprises a set of unhealthy and insufficient emotional coping mechanisms programmed in a person before adolescence. A person with BPD is incapable of regulating their emotions. Perhaps because our emotions, senses, and feelings are a gigawatt times of an average person’s. Besides, our intense emotions shift rapidly with minute triggers, which could go unnoticed even under a microscope.
You can imagine mood swings as a sine curve with crests and troughs. Except in folks with BPD, these crests and troughs are deeper and more frequent. While this is challenging to manage, this emotional intensity is also what makes us extremely empathetic, imaginative, passionate, and creative people. A diagnosis, therefore, is a blessing if one is willing to heal and find appropriate treatment.
A person with BPD is constantly in emotional distress or zoned out when their mind is in distress. Some of us externalise the distress (act out) while some keep it internalised (act in). Most people’s perception of BPD is based on the former or the classic borderline. Such people self-harm in visible ways by cutting themselves, have poor impulse control (and, therefore, often have addictions and eating disorders), and feign narcissistic disregard for others.
However, no one with BPD is either completely classic or quiet but falls on a continuum in terms of how the symptoms manifest. I’m more of a quiet borderline. What that basically means is that I rarely rage out. My self-harm is internal and, therefore, remained invisible for years. In distress, I have pushed in too much alcohol, sedatives, and analgesics, skipped meals or overeaten unhealthy junk, banged my hand against the walls, burnt, bitten, and stapled my flesh, suffocated myself, slapped and punched myself.
But none of it was grave enough to leave permanent scars, just enough to soothe the agony. I resisted pleasurable activities like going out, talking to people, traveling, writing, dancing, and pursuing hobbies as a means to punishing myself. Why? For I felt unworthy of happiness, success, and affection all my life. A result of ubiquitous feelings of shame, guilt, and fear that plunged me into the dark valley of unworthiness.
I always had a sense of being different. As a kid, I remember spending hours in front of the mirror, trying to look for traces of me. When someone called out my name, it took me a nanosecond or two to connect it to “myself.” Basically, growing up was a process of trying to find at least a semblance of belongingness or connectedness to something and someone. It was akin to chasing a shadow of someone I couldn’t connect with.
Eventually, as life bruised me repeatedly, the chase became more and more draining. I gave into the volatility of my lived reality. I became what I wore, mimicking the attitudes of those I sat with, hoping they wouldn’t shove me away.
Everything I did, everyone I met, was a means to the singular end — finding myself. An end without an end. I was never at peace because there was no acceptance. On the outside, I was almost a regular person. People who got close saw the eccentricities, moodiness and spontaneity – some relished it, others despised it but most felt jaded and moved on.
I grew up in an environment where opening up about my inner struggle felt like I’ll be causing trouble for my parents. As a child, I felt responsible for myself. As a teen, I was at the receiving end of the emotional breakdowns and manipulations of family members.
My sense of right and wrong got skewed to the extent that self-worth went totally out of the window. So, I learnt to keep things to myself. My family decided it was best to leave me alone when I was cranky, upset or depressed. Eventually, shutting down during times of emotional distress and stress became a pattern. The concept of conflict resolution didn’t exist in our dictionary.
Meanwhile, there was no one to guide me through my increasingly precarious mental health. In my early 20s, I struggled to recover from past and present traumatic events — my sister’s demise, harassment in school, ostracisation in university, and erratic relationships. My persistent mood swings were baffling me more than anyone could imagine. I could be extremely open and social one minute and turn totally quiet and closed the very next. I could be maniacally chirpy and become an absolute wretch within hours. Anxiety and depression became my only companions.
The fear of being misunderstood, manipulated and abandoned took permanent ground in me. I never really understood how “people” think and found myself trying to mind-read people in order to act like them. It seemed better to be lonely and delirious than misjudged and loathed. Unfortunately, this got me more into trouble than keep me out of it. Tired of keeping up with people, I resorted to a self-imposed isolation.
I believe that every part of our body works in a consortium with other parts like an orchestra, manoeuvred by a choirmaster. If one part malfunctions, the symphony goes out of place. But if the choirmaster is overwhelmed all the time, all parts fall out of place; the symphony then turns into a cacophony, one that reverberates clatter incessantly. Even silence then takes a disturbing mould. Self-loathing voices frequent, imaginary beings pitch louder, and an interminable mental clamour takes hold.
After years and years of dealing with emotional turmoil, mental agony aggregated across my body as tight knots. That is when the illness began to surface through signs of physical distress in my late teens but my lack of self-love ensured that my body’s silent screams for help remain unheard.
Come 2016, my body and mind just couldn’t keep up. I literally fell apart.
What followed were a series of emotional outbursts, suicide attempts, and self-imposed days of incarceration. One afternoon, dehydrated between screams and sobs, I went online and filled the form on a doctor’s personal website. Within minutes, I received a call. Once again, I wore a mask. Hiding my anxious sobs, I booked an appointment.
I was diagnosed with major depression, social anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, and sleep disorder while a vague “borderline personality disorder” was written behind the prescription.
You now know.