I had something of an epiphany the other day. My psychologist recently encouraged me to write a dedicated blog post discussing the relationships in my life which have strengthened with my diagnosis and therapy. It prompted a line of thinking. Sure, I could write a post that praised individuals for their support but I felt that first I had to work out why some relationships had crumbled and why some had been enriched.
While it may be a simplification, one fact remains fairly evident. My relationships that have deteriorated have all been with people who have told me how I ought to feel, those who would not listen. Those that have strengthened have all been with people who have tried to understand how I feel.
I have mentioned these oppressive forces in previous posts. Those who have tried to make me feel ashamed of my emotions, those who have recommended I watch Hollywood portrayals of mental illness for my own understanding, those who have taken it upon themselves to sanesplain, those who have used my mental illness as a scapegoat for their own behaviour. I could talk about these occurrences and the damage that they inflicted all day… in fact perhaps I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t done so previously.
It does bug me endlessly what people often decide to take away from the information they receive about BPD; they’re literally handed a handbook on how to interact with us and throw it out the window. They take on labels to use as weapons but not nothing that humanises us. See, this all ties in to one of the core principles of BPD; invalidation is our kryptonite.
Most Borderlines have been taught from childhood that their emotions are shameful. I was a very sensitive child and quickly learned to bottle that inside. I rarely spoke up for myself until I was an adult and I can’t say that’s gone particularly well. I can honestly say it stumps me, so often I feel like I’ve been objective and layed out my thought processes only to be met with hostility. I guess I haven’t been as diplomatic as I’ve thought, though when you have little practice with these types of conversations it’s pretty difficult to dissect. It’s that hostility though, the implication that I’m moronic or evil just for laying out what’s in my brain, that destroys me.
I am ashamed to admit that I have trouble focusing on the positives. The negative emotions and encounters are so overwhelming, I can get swept up and haunted by them for days on end. It sounds a bit ridiculous to anyone unfamiliar with BPD but we have ‘worst case scenario’ syndrome and our brains are programmed to make us feel like crap as part of a terrible defense mechanism.
If invalidation is our kryptonite then validation is our salvation. The simple act of listening to our experiences and letting us know our feelings are valid goes a long way. When I first came out as a Borderline by making my blog public I was met with silence from many of those I had considered close to me. Those who reached out, who read my words to try to understand my experiences have been constant positive forces in my life.
There were those who didn’t surprise me; Elsephine and Caroline have always been amongst the most compassionate people in my life. They’re there if I’m stressed or just need someone to chat to, I can count on them to be there through thick and thin. They both eagerly let me know that they were proud of what I had done and that they had my back. My two J’s sent me messages of encouragement, both asking me to talk to them if I needed more from them. They walked into a situation which wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable because supporting a friend meant more than that.
Of course I can’t discuss the positive forces in my life without mentioning Tyler. Tyler’s support has been a constant. Dating for eleven years, since I was sixteen years old, of course we were close. We spent most of our time outside of work together and have a lot of common interests. When it came to discussing our emotional experiences, however, there were some barriers. Sometimes we didn’t want to upset each other or didn’t know how to open a conversation about a difficult topic. Through consistent work on our communication, on both ends, our relationship has deepened immeasurably. These days I can’t think of a single topic I would shy away from with him and I honestly believe he feels the same for me. He is the love of my life and my anchor; I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t supported me through some truly rough times.
There are of course those with whom my relationships have not been terribly affected one way or another as a result of my emergent mental illness. Those who have taken things as they come and continued to hold a place in their life for me. I don’t mean to be dismissive of these people, it’s very refreshing to feel that my mental illness is such a non-issue in some parts of my life. BPD is not a defining factor, I can be myself which is a rarer feeling these days than I’d like. They help me feel human, feel normal.
There are those who didn’t know how to navigate the situation initially but have patiently tried their best to understand. They’ve lent me their support when they’ve had the strength to do so and that is greatly appreciated.
We take a lot of patience and while I feel very guilty asking for something that I am not always able to give this needs to be consistent… and Borderlines are anything but consistent. I have had people who previously seemed understanding forget everything they know about my condition when it becomes inconvenient. People who I trusted belittle me for symptoms of my mental illness, telling me to “grow up” while in the middle of an episode.
My advice for those with a Borderline in their life: if you remember one thing about us it’s invalidation vs validation. As a teacher, I honestly feel that’s actually pretty important for any human interaction. Don’t scold us for emotions which are hardwired into our brain, because as much as you may dislike hearing about the difficult shit we are living it 24/7. It really is as simple as validating the Borderline in your life. Listen to them, continue to treat them like a human being, be compassionate.
And if that’s too difficult, just copy and paste some of the stock standard lines from the following pamphlet, because really, it’s better than a lot of the reductive shit people have thrown at me: https://www.mifa.org.au/images/Documents/Wellways/164942%20Borderline%20Personality%20Disorder.pdf