I remember the morning I talked to a (formerly) close friend of mine about my mental health issues; at this stage I was just on a general anti-depressant and only really starting to accept that my mental health was in a horrendous state. He knows other people with BPD and saw something familiar in me, while my therapist insists it was not his place I’m still really grateful that he helped ease me into what would become my diagnosis. He read me a list of common symptoms, five out of nine is enough for a professional to make a diagnosis; all of them applied to me with varying severity.
I’ll spare you the list, but if you’d like to read more on the subject this website does a decent job of providing some context alongside the clinical descriptions: https://www.borderlinepersonalitytreatment.com/bpd-diagnostic-criteria-dsm.html
In addition to ‘crazy’ and ‘bitch’ (often used together), those of us with BPD hear the word ‘unstable’ being thrown around quite often and it is used regularly in the diagnostic criteria. It’s used to talk about our relationships, moods, impulses and sense of self.
I used to get quite touchy when I heard the word ‘unstable’ being used in a discussion about my mental state. I’m not sure it’d be correct to say I’ve embraced it, but it doesn’t make my blood boil anymore. There’s nothing else that quite so succinctly sums up what’s going on in my head so I feel that it’s important to accept.
My sense of self is far from stable; the idea of having to describe myself makes me freeze up. I can’t tell you if I think I’m a good person or a smart person, even what I like to do changes day to day. I don’t have a sense of self beyond what I get from the people I surround myself with. When I have students who like me I think I’m an okay teacher, when I have students who would rather not be there it’s because I’m doing a terrible job. When there’s a conflict with a friend or a lack of communication it feels like my heart has been torn out.
We put people on pedestals and grow quickly attached when things are going well; this approval is almost like a drug. When shit hits the fan we can get very defensive and shut down. It means I’m the worst and it means they’re not much better. I lash out, only verbally but I know I can say some really nasty shit. It’s all real though, at least in the moment I see it with perfect clarity. I often end up feeling used when friends distance themselves from me and I tell them as much. It’s hard to have lasting relationships, much less stable relationships once that has happened.
Instability affects our moods and our behaviours as well. Sometimes it’s just like water off a duck’s back; I can see my world falling apart because of decisions I’ve made and I feel nothing. This is rare though, more often it’s like I feel everything. People with BPD are often thought to experience emotions much more intensely; both good and bad.
When I’m hurting I feel like I’m in agony and there’s nothing healthy I can do that effectively distracts me from it. Emotional pain often manifests as physical pain, I get a tight pain in my chest whenever I’m really distraught.
While I’m working on minimizing it and I know the instability is far from a good thing there are some silver linings to it. When things are going well I get giddy; I was always an excitable child and that’s definitely something I haven’t shed in my adulthood. My mood swings to the point where it elicits confusion from my partner; I can be a sobbing shell of a person one minute and laughing maniacally at videos on YouTube the next.
It takes me from unwashed mess to the dance floor, from feeling like a failure to feeling like I can take on any challenge. The instability is something that I’ve made some semblance of peace with… at least for now.