I struggle with the concept of labels. They can be empowering and life-saving or reductive and constricting (and everything in-between). In twelve-step meetings people introduce themselves with a label: “my name is _____ and I’m an alcoholic.” At times I am struck by the courage of this, and at other times I roll my eyes and dismiss it as a cliche. I am not proud of my latter reaction but it’s important for me to own it as a way of establishing my ambivalence about what I’m about to share.
I have quiet–and highly self-aware–borderline personality disorder: Quiet BPD (QBPD). I add “highly self-aware” not to make myself look better, but because the awareness has implications that are mostly positive but sometimes negative.
Generally a classic Borderline has extreme outbursts of rage. Their inner drama gets put on display and is overtly directed at others. With quiet BPD the volatility is almost invisible and gets directed inward. Though I’m less likely to burn bridges or overtly hurt others with my volatility I still experience the same internal maelstrom as those with classic BPD: abandonment fear; rage; mood swings; self-doubt; toxic shame; extreme feelings of emptiness; depression. But instead of lashing out, I tend to direct the rage, shame, blame and hate toward myself.
The self-awareness generally keeps me from acting-out because I can discern that the incident or person triggering me is not actually responsible for my feelings. If I feel abandoned when a friend cancels plans, I know that the intensity of my feelings is about my trauma. How the self-awareness hurts is more difficult to articulate so I will do my best to keep it simple. Imagine having an unrelenting incongruity between your intellect and body. My intellect knows that I am not being abandoned or rejected, but my body still goes into fight-flight-freeze. My intellect tells me that I’m okay but my body insists that I am in grave danger. It is, to put it simply, crazy-making.
When I am struggling with my QBPD, I tend to hide my feelings and thoughts from others. I am afraid to let them in on the full extent and frequency of my inner storm. How do you tell someone that you have spiraled into a grave depression simply because they have been less available during a busy season at work? Needless to say, hiding my thoughts and feelings leads to isolation.
In classic BPD fear of abandonment often manifests in clingy behaviors. The clinginess is a fight for attachment. However misguided it may be, there is a life force in it. I, on the other hand, turn the neediness into avoidance. I feel hopeless in my neediness in as much as I know that it longs for attachments more appropriate to childhood and is therefore, doomed to leave me dissatisfied. I also know what it is like to be clung to, to look into the eyes of someone who is hungering for something that I don’t possess and I don’t want to be the person inflicting that on others.
It has probably become clear that avoidance is my go-to strategy. It serves to protect me from feelings of abandonment and from feeling burdensome to others. Though it is about self-preservation in some ways it is also about love. In the deepest part of me I do not wish for others to be hurt–especially my loved ones. So it stands to reason that I would withdraw when I convince myself that I am a potential source of pain or frustration.
So far I have focused on interpersonal loneliness and isolation. There is also a deep intrapersonal loneliness (the two go hand-in-hand). Sometimes my feelings are so unbearable that I go numb. The only feeling I can access is the heaviness in my chest. I feel empty. Life becomes surreal: I watch everything as though it were occurring on some distant screen. My sense of self evaporates. I lose interest and compassion for myself and others. In classic BPD one is likely to act out in extreme or impulsive ways (self-harm; picking fights; suicidal behaviors; attention-seeking behaviors; etc). This is when I’m most likely to act-out as well. But, not surprisingly, my forms of acting out are usually quiet and private. If I stay in the numb place long enough I eventually feel anxious and restless. I feel as though I am in a double-bind: the fear of being grounded can be as intense as the feeling of remaining ungrounded.
My name is Jose and I have QBPD. Somehow reasserting that is both relieving and terrifying. I often hear others talk about their borderline clients or partners in a way that almost dehumanizes them (I have been guilty of this as well). It’s as though the moment someone is deemed borderline they become a hot potato that nobody wants to touch. Everything gets filtered through that lens. But I know that the very same traumas which have created the challenges above have also given me amazing gifts.
I can often attune to aspects of people that not even they are fully aware of yet. I have an uncanny ability to spot the talents, gifts and inner beauty in people.
My sensitivity is not limited to feeling pain; it finds joy and beauty in things. Sometimes in things that few would ever notice.
I am a compassionate and empathetic listener. Deeply interested in the lives of others–especially those I love.
I can love with the openness and purity of a child unfettered by the unnecessary parts of what people call adulthood.
I can be creative and have a deep appreciation for the creativity of others.
I take joy in finding beauty in that which is not generally deemed beautiful; pleasure in finding the melodic in the dissonant (this works both literally and as a metaphor).
I cheer for and feel love and affection for the marginalized and disenfranchised. I am sensitive to the context of their lives.
I do my best to live my life with integrity and am frequently seeking to be better.
When I was writing about my challenges I was connected to my sadness but it was contained (in a good way). When I wrote these sentences about my gifts I bawled my eyes out. It’s as though it is more painful to own what makes me beautiful than what I believe, erroneously or not, makes me ugly.
My name is Jose and this is all of my craziness. I don’t know that I could let anybody into my struggles any more honestly or directly than this. I’m not sure that I should share this. I’m aware that it might, at best, give me a temporary feeling of relief and that the battle will resume shortly. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe a moment of well earned relief is worth the time it took to write this. It is a moment of honest release without impulsivity. It is doing something (action) that is not acting-out or acting-in. So yeah–fuck it.