An Open Book: Let’s Talk About Borderline Personality Disorder
Please welcome back Can’t Talk streamer and guest writer Kirstin Carnage for a personal piece on Borderline Personality Disorder.
Trigger warning: This piece refers to eating disordered behavior, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
I don’t even know how to start this. My name is Kirstin, and I have Borderline Personality Disorder. Wait. That sounds like I’m at a meeting, and public speaking is not in my arsenal of strengths. Um, let’s start over. I want to chat about Borderline Personality Disorder. Yes, a chat seems a lot more comfortable than me announcing this. I’m sure if you’re not familiar with it your first question is “Wait, back up, borderline what though?” Well, nothing, really, but when BPD was first “discovered” they thought it was on the borderline of both the psychosis and neuroses spectrum and the name stuck. I have talked and tweeted and even blogged about my struggle with mental health but BPD has been the one part that I’ve neglected to elaborate on, despite the fact that it’s the largest part of my battle against my brain.
Why is that? I’ve talked at length about how staying silent about these kinds of things reinforces the stigmas that come with mental illness already. I guess because, honestly, I wasn’t ready to publicly confront it. I haven’t hidden it, but I’ve definitely suffered in silence during lots of “episodes” because I know the way BPD is perceived. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe I should explain how I got to the point of understanding BPD.
Since I can remember, I have always taken things harder than people I know. When people would joke around at my expense, it always really bothered me. I’d always get that same line when I complained about it. People would ask me, “Who cares what people think about you?” But I did. As far back as my memory reaches, I have always obsessed about what people think of me. My first memory of it is in 3rd grade, winning Bingo but not wanting to speak up because I knew my friend would get mad that she didn’t win. (She had to have everything before me.) Sure enough, when I did call out (after winning 3 times in silence) she banished me to eat alone at lunch. I wasn’t aware of it then, but I had already started developing a need to be liked and a fear of abandonment that would develop into BPD later.
At 20, I hit a breaking point. My mood swings were out of control. After a messy breakup I had to move back in with my bio-mom, who I won’t even get started on. I got to the point where I was drinking pretty regularly, manipulating and conning co-workers to buy me booze. I had stopped self-harming after high school, but with all the change and chaos around me I began again. What finally convinced me to get help was a literal knock on the door. I had passed out, face-down, on the living room floor after drinking half a bottle of tequila. I don’t remember calling my best friend (who lived across the country) but apparently I started talking about wanting to die, and then my phone died and I passed out. When she couldn’t get ahold of me, she called 911 in Virginia, gave them my address, and that is how two very concerned policemen showed up at my door in Arizona. While I’m sure they could tell things weren’t OK, they pretended to believe me when I said I was just tired. They handed me a cell phone and called back my friend, who made me promise to get help.
I didn’t hesitate after that. I knew I needed help. I began seeing a therapist but she recommended I get an official diagnosis before we continued treatment. She said she had an idea of what might be going on, but she really wanted a confirmation. That’s when I ended up at a doctor’s office; he interviewed me for an hour, blurted out “Borderline Personality Disorder,” scribbled a prescription for some antidepressants, and sent me on my way.
I left the doctor’s office feeling more confused than ever. He didn’t really explain anything, and I had never heard of BPD before. But when I got home, I used my powers of Google-fu and I swear there was a light shining down and a heavenly choir in the background as I read through the definition of BPD on the NIMH website:
“Extreme reactions including panic, rage, or depression…” I had a history of getting more angry than the situation warranted; I panicked frequently over the perceived abandonment of a friend not answering a text in .2 seconds, and any bad news could send me into a tailspin of depressed behavior.
“…a pattern of unstable relationships rapidly cycling between idealization and devaluation…” Someone could go from being my hero, my favorite person in the world, to the devil himself just for cracking a joke at my expense, or for snubbing me, even if they didn’t know they were doing it.
“…distorted self-image…” I struggled with an eating disorder all through high school, including taking diet pills which aren’t legal in the USA that my mom used to buy online..
“…impulsive and dangerous behavior…” I threatened to get out of a moving car, I slept with strangers, and I drank myself into what was probably alcohol poisoning three times in two months.
“recurring self-harming behavior including cutting and suicidal threats…” check and check.
“intense and rapid mood swings…chronic feelings of emptiness…inappropriate anger…having stress-related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms…” It was like somebody had been watching my life and writing down all of my behaviors. Every single thing on the list, I struggled with on a regular basis and now I knew that it wasn’t My Fault. I cried so hard, knowing that there was a reason I was like this, and that it was possible to get help for it.
My therapist was unsurprised when I brought her my diagnosis. She told me that BPD is more commonly found in people who were neglected in childhood or had an unstable upbringing. Because my family moved every 3 years, I had no sense of home and didn’t have roots anywhere. People with BPD are often compared to chameleons because of the way we change depending on our surroundings. It’s all tied back into doing whatever is necessary to make sure people don’t leave. We are the perpetual people pleasers, bending over backwards and changing our personalities to be liked. It’s why I started (and stopped, ironically) smoking. It’s more than a want to be liked, it’s a need. Left unchecked, that need can consume. I’ve stayed up until sunrise thinking about hypothetical conversations, how better to win over someone who didn’t like me, obsessing over what it was about me they didn’t like and vowing to change it.
But, I guess none of this really explains why I don’t talk about it much.
Despite the fact that I’m not super proud that I struggle with things like self-harm, mood swings, and codependency, it’s also because BPD is highly stigmatized. I’ve had people refer to BPD as the “psycho chick” disorder because it’s more often diagnosed in females and our risky, impulsive behavior is high-profile and leads to a lot of drama in our personal lives. I’ve seen it misrepresented in movies and television shows. I’m 99% certain that most of my friends and family, though I’ve talked about it pretty openly with them, either don’t know I have BPD, or don’t understand what it entails. Because it’s not a chemical imbalance, but a series and pattern of behaviors, a lot of people think that it’s a choice for me to behave this way. Back when I was still dating, I had a disclaimer on my dating profile because I was tired of making connections only to have people say, “Oh you have BPD? Yeah, that’s not something I feel like dealing with.” That abandonment, of course, only reinforced my bad behavior and it was a really vicious cycle. Also, frankly, I’m not proud of the fact that a lot of my self worth comes from how many times I’m validated that day, or how many times I’m reminded that people like me. Perceived abandonment or dislike still gives me mild panic, and while I’d never threaten to get out of a moving car now, I still get impulsive and irrational under high stress.
In the 9-ish years since I was diagnosed I’ve made a lot of improvements in my outward behavior, thanks mostly to the fact that I better understand myself now. It is, however, a daily struggle to recognize the BPD thoughts, separate them from reality, and then react to what’s actually happening rather than what my BPD is telling me is happening. “No, Kirstin, they didn’t message you back because they’re fucking busy, not because they decided in the last 30 seconds that they hate you and you’re worthless and they’re just going to ignore you forever.” BPD can’t really be medicated, but there are therapies and coping skills designed specifically for it which help. The smallest interactions can leave me picking apart the conversation for days, replaying body language and inflections in search of some sort of sign as to whether or not I “passed” some sort of social test. This is very draining, obviously. Every day is like that: A constant battle over unwelcome thoughts, irrational fears, and self-doubt. My social media presence has gotten more “real” over the last few months, but I still curate everything I post obsessively. I tweet and delete based on what kind of reaction I think I’m going to get. I’ve been afraid to post things about BPD because I don’t want to watch my follower count plummet once people realize I don’t have it all together.
But, really, fuck that shit. That’s letting the stigma win, and that’s exactly why I’ve felt so alone in this. Every time someone understands BPD I feel a sense of euphoria, so why keep quiet instead of helping other people understand? Because people I don’t know might make a snap-judgement about me? I no longer give any fucks. Well, OK, that’s a lie, but, my desire to reach out and hope that this article helps someone else feel less alone outweighs my need to be liked. I’d rather open the dialogue about mental illness than watch my followers go up and, as superficial as that sounds, for someone who craves validation those stupid fucking numbers do a number on self-esteem.
I want people to feel safe and comfortable with who they are. To feel accepted and OK with talking about it. That process is hindered when we don’t talk about our struggles, so I’m opening the door. If you have any questions about BPD, my struggles with it, etc., comment here or tweet me (@kirstincarnage) and I will answer as best as I can. When it comes to BPD, I’m now officially an open book.
Oh, right. Speaking of books, I recommend these if you either have BPD and want to better understand it, or love someone with BPD: