It can be easy to doubt yourself when you wrestle with frequent emotional dysregulation. The intensity of the feelings can leak into your narrative and your narrative, in turn, can add intensity to the feelings. I’m pretty self-aware and high functioning most of the time. So for example, I can feel abandoned but know that I have not been abandoned. The insight is what saves me from disaster most of the time. However, despite the awareness there are times when I can doubt my reality.
Lately I have felt under attack in the world. More specifically, I feel that I have been attacked by other men using forced closeness and coughing assaults as weapons. I am aware that people who struggle with BPD can experience paranoia and that we have a tendency to see the world as a hostile place. But I’m not crazy. And when I’m being crazy all it takes is a calm moment to realize that I was being crazy. That I know to be true. So when I look back at some of the things that have happened in the past month, I know that I’m not insane. That I have survived two incidents that were both scary. Well…now three.
I have started taking my walks around my dad’s neighborhood. It’s quieter there and you get the ocean breeze hitting you. There are fewer pedestrians and I have looped around the block for a total of 5 miles without so much as seeing another person walking by. I felt a sense of safety. I thought I had found a cozy safe place for my exercise. That dream was short lived.
I was on my seventh lap around the block. About fifty yards to my right and across the street there was a man yelling some information to whoever lived at the residence there. I didn’t think anything of it. Suddenly I look up and realized that this man (probably late 30’s, stocky, buff, baseball cap) has chosen to run across to my side of the street and run AT ME. My initial thought was that maybe he was looking down at his feet and just being careless. None of us are perfect, after all. But then I see that he clocked me and is still coming up close. I back off to the middle of the street and he laughs and says “How you doin’ buddy?” I ignore him. I’m livid. Why does this keep happening to me? I feel a sense of rage. I calm myself down. It’s easier to calm down when I’m on a walk. I focus on my breathing and I let it all go. So much so that by another half block I’m back to thinking about how I want to do 11 loops in order to make sure I get close to five miles. Success.
On my last loop around the block I’m walking down the hill when I hear someone yell out at me, “Hey buddy–will you help me unload this?” I look up. It’s the redneck guy who ran at me at the top of his driveway trying to unload a large lawnmower. He’s grinning at me.
“No, I won’t” I say while continuing to walk.
“Yup. Not during COVID.”
“You’re seriously worried about that stuff?!”
I’m still walking here by the way, folks. Which means he’s screaming louder and louder to try and be heard.
“Fuck you then, bro!”
“Good luck with your lawnmower, buddy!” (If it isn’t clear, I said this sarcastically.)
I’m proud of how I handled myself. Direct. Assertive. Sarcastic, yes, but I think given the context sarcasm was warranted. Funnily enough I felt strangely calm WHILE it was happening. No hesitations. No confusion. No pauses. Immediate and firm responses.
Then a minute passes and I start to feel the rage creep in. It is no longer an exception for me to be tested, threatened or attacked when I leave the house. It is becoming a 50/50 proposition. This country is so divided right now that even the desire to not get infected represents a political position to some. Redneck guy was testing me. He was testing to see if I’m like him or not. He was testing me to see if he could intimidate me and obtain alpha status (as though that were a status that I was even vying for!).
Then just as I was feeling pity for myself I realized that this is nothing compared to what women and people of color have experienced. Leaving the house could lead to police harassment and brutality. Walking down an ally-way could lead to a sexual assault. The only reason I feel fear right now is that closeness, coughs and fights could lead to infection and, therefore, everyone is a potential weapon. Though I have always struggled to see the world as a safe place at an emotional level, I have never felt particularly scared to walk down a dark street at night. So for the first time in my life, I am afraid to walk down the street….at any time. And it shows how privileged I have been in that way for all of my life.
So I have to come to a place of acceptance: it is not in my head that the world is really divided right now; it is not in my head that hyper-masculine males have begun to try to target and test me (and others, I’m sure); and, therefore, I have to accept that I must remain vigilant when in public places and be ready to defend myself. I do not need to feel sorry for myself about this because others have suffered this for far longer and far more intensely than I have. It is no fun but it is the new reality.