When all my feelings start to crowd in, my first tactic is distraction – anything that will take me away from my own head. Last night I learned how to solve a Rubik’s cube. Turn the left side towards you then the top to the right, left side towards you again why won’t these feelings go away? They’re a jumbled confusion getting louder and louder. As soon as I get one coloured square into place, another escapes. I can’t pick out which feelings are present; all I know is that they’re filling my head, squashing me, making it impossible to think. I put down the cube and head to bed.
In bed the emotions really cram into my brain. I can’t tell what I’m feeling – it’s like having a hundred different voices screaming at me. I’m so scared. I feel like I’m going mad. I feel like I’m relapsing back into the Bad Old Times. This episode came from nowhere, and that’s one of the most frightening things of all. This could happen again, anywhere, anytime, with no warning. I think I’m going mad.
Now comes the panic. I’m going mad, I must be. I’m going to destroy everything and everyone I love – just like last time. I’m toxic, dangerous, unfit for human company. My emotions are grenades which I carry with me and hand out to anyone nearby. I feel so alone and so out of control. I’m shaking uncontrollably, hyperventilating. I message a friend, and she responds with calmness and kindness. I take my pills and they knock me out. Sweet benzodiazepines.
The next morning, a lot of the thoughts that I couldn’t identify the previous night start to separate out and congeal. I’m making this up. It’s my fault that this happens, and I could get better if only I really wanted to. I secretly want to be ill, I want this pain. I’m a wimp for taking those pills and I should have toughed it out. I’m falling back into illness and it’s my fault.
There’s a part of me which doesn’t want me to get better. There’s a part which enjoys watching everything burn. It’s ready to sabotage my attempts to get better, to get help. It doesn’t want me to talk to my counsellor, or take my pills, or exercise, or build healthy relationships. It wants me to be as reckless and destructive and dangerous as possible.
I talk about these thoughts and impulses in the third person, but they’re part of me. Part of me wants me to be ill. So when I am ill, then this is just something I wanted all along. It is All My Fault. Blame and guilt are at the centre of this, along with helplessness and unworthiness.
Why is it that I can’t manage my emotions without getting completely overwhelmed and spiralling? Why can’t I stay healthy? Other people can manage it, so why not me?
There is actually a good answer to this question. I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
I feel scared and ashamed just typing that previous sentence. I’m not ready to accept that it’s real and that it’s a part of me. I’m scared to look at it, scared to see myself through that lens.
My BPD label feels to me now like the label of lesbian felt to me when I was fifteen. Back then, I was so ashamed to be gay. I couldn’t say it out loud; I could barely write it down. It made me into an outcast, an unlovable beast who didn’t deserve closeness or happiness. My gay shame told me that I was at fault for my feelings, and that the best thing for everyone else would be for me to hide away and to hope that I ‘grew out’ of it.
Reader, I did not grow out of being a lesbian. And intellectually at least, I know I’m not going to grow out of BPD. That thought terrifies me – knowing that this will always be here and that BPD is something I’m always going to have to manage. It’s a lot of work to manage BPD. A hell of a lot of work. And I’m still ashamed and guilty and lonely and frightened and a million other things besides.
Ironically, having BPD means I have a lot of feelings about having BPD.