In Part One of What is BPD? I said I would write about our life with BPD. I’ve pulled on my big girl pants, thrown the mask to the floor and I’m ready to spill my guts!
Actually, I’ve probably hyped it up a bit too much, and it’s thin on salacious details. No, I haven’t left out any stories about climbing the church spire dressed as Batman and there are no anecdotes of us walking around town with a trolley full of lego. But, salacious or not, telling you about what goes on behind the mask and everything we try to keep hidden is a big thing for us. As you read on, you will understand why EVERYTHING is a big thing for us.
In my previous blog I told you about the nine characteristics of BPD. I’m going to cover each characteristic and explain how they can be seen in our Wonky life. Each characteristic is intrinsically linked to each and everyone of the other nine characteristics and they have a habit of joining forces and ganging up on us. This is known as a ‘seriously sh *t day.‘
I’m going to start with emotional instability because it affects everything we do and say. As you read this, there will no doubt be times when you recognise your own behaviour and I have, as ever, used analogies to make comparisons. The key, huge, mahoosive difference is the intensity and the duration of our emotions.
We go extreme, we go long!
Research shows that those with BPD have above average intelligence and we function at the top of the scale when we use our rational minds. Similarly, our emotional minds function at the top of the scale. That means we’re only a clever clogs until our emotional mind overpowers our rational mind. This blog is a great example, despite being a highly personal and emotional subject, I’m using my rational mind to write it. I don’t think I could even begin a blog were I using my emotional mind. Just mindless scribble!
I’m adept at using my wise mind at work and when in Mummy mode. I know exactly who I am, with a clearly defined role and the full knowledge of what is expected of me at work and as a Mother. I have a clear identity, worth and value and I can nail it. My son is 25 now and my role is to reply to WhatsApp and complete on demand bank transfers. I no longer have an identity, other than the ‘missus of a reformed man.’ My life goals exceed those of a 1950’s housewife. I really need to find a job! I have probably scuppered my chances with any potential employer who reads this blog. I’m not sure that Unstable Mabel comes across as Employee of the Month material. Perhaps Unstable Mabel IS my identity. Aaaaargh!!
When our emotional mind is triggered we experience a rapid mood swing from neutral to off the scale – either end. We are often accused of having ‘multiple personalities’. We don’t actually, we just have multiple moods, but it’s easy to see why others think that. We are like an entirely different person when we’re depressed, not just on the inside but there is a visible change in our physical appearance and facial expressions. Compared to our usual happy, bubbly, smiling selves, it’s easy to why people would think that, but they are wrong. I’m right and you are wrong. (See all or nothing thinking)
We start our day mid-scale and happily stay there until we are triggered, causing our emotions to go straight to the top or the bottom of the scale. There is no in-between or middle range for our emotional reactions, we can only do extremes. We feel the same emotions as you, but magnified a million times! Positive, negative and all the other emotions you feel.
I will use anxiety as an example. It is natural for anyone to feel a bit anxious before an exam or job interview – sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, maybe trembling, but not quite shaking.
There is no ‘a bit nervous’ before an interview for us and we go straight to the top of the anxiety scale. We react as if there is a hungry lion heading towards us. We will be drenched in sweat, shaking from head to toe, vomiting and staying close to the toilet. Our off the scale anxiety starts the minute we get confirmation of the interview and not just for the 24 hours before the interview, as you most likely do. We don’t have panic attacks, we have panic episodes that can last for days and can’t be stopped by taking a few deep breaths into a brown paper bag.
Anxiety stays at the top of the scale long after the interview when we will replay every single moment of that interview, questioning and doubting ourselves at every step. Did I look right? Did I look wrong? Did I say the right things? Did I say the wrong things? Did they say the right things? Did they say the wrong things? Why didn’t I say that? Why didn’t they say this? Eventually, after beating ourselves up, with the regret and guilt we feel over what was said and what was not said, we drop to the bottom of the scale and convince ourselves we didn’t want the stupid job anyway. Guess which mind we’re using?
Unless of course, they subsequently offer us the job and then we’re immediately ten metres tall and the biggest success the World will ever know!
Anger is the strong emotion that you feel when you think that someone has behaved in an unfair, cruel, or unacceptable way.
We probably get angry at the same things as you, most of the time, but the difference is that our feelings of anger will be off the scale! We feel anger like no other, we bypass anger and go straight to rage.
David and I are polar opposites in the way we express our anger.
I run away and hide.
I don’t like to show or admit to feeling anger because I don’t like confrontation. I stay silent, go upstairs to lie on the bed and pretend I’m absolutely fine. I need to be in control of my anger, not let it control me. I refuse to let anyone see me cry. I’ll admit there have been times when I couldn’t control my anger and I’ve lashed out and I’ve had to replace a lot of crockery! However, it’s a good few years since I’ve lost it, probably comes with age.
David, on the other hand, used to lash out in anger and rage. In fact, becoming physically violent and aggressive has often seen him returning to prison. I haven’t seen this side of him and I doubt I ever will. He still gets angry and swears and shouts a lot, the same as most other people. But he doesn’t get violent and aggressive. It’s still there, he’s just learnt how to control it.
I’m not convinced that either way is the healthiest way to control anger, but it works for us.
Let’s face it, it’s not our fault that we get angry in the first place – it’s the other people who trigger our anger!
Fear of rejection and abandonment
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that our fear of rejection and abandonment is limited to our relationships and friendships. If only it was that straightforward. It is so much more than that and it’s a constant fear that never leaves us.
When we feel rejected, it’s just reinforcement and validation of everything we know about ourselves. Straight to the bottom of the scale. Constant rejection as a child creates a life long expectation to be rejected by everyone. We obsessively look for signs that we are about to be rejected.
If you wave at a friend walking on the opposite side of the street, or wave as they drive past and they don’t respond, the likelihood is that your reaction would be “Oh. They didn’t see me.” and not give it a second thought, ever, ever again.
If that friend doesn’t wave back, we assume that we are being ignored, rejected and abandoned. We need to know why we were rejected and will ruminate on this for days. What have I done wrong? What did I do? What did I say? Why don’t they like me? Has somebody said something? Why doesn’t anybody like me? Why does everybody hate me?
We are ALWAYS to blame for their rejection. Of course, the obvious solution would be to drop a quick message when you get home:
“Hey, I saw you in the high street earlier. How are you doing? xx”
It might be the obvious answer to curb our anxiety and nip it in the bud, but our fear of rejection makes us fear their response. What if they don’t reply? What if they lie about being in the high street? What if they say they hate me? We do absolutely nothing but over think it again and again.
Yes, we’re fully aware of how illogical this is, we know it’s counter-intuitive and we know there is a very simple solution to stop causing ourselves more pain. But, we still do it, because it’s the only way we know how. We don’t know how to stop ourselves. We let our emotional mind take over and we ignore our reasonable mind and forget all about using wise mind.
Every blog we write exposes us to the possibility of rejection. As soon as we click publish, the fear of rejection soars sky high. What if nobody reads it? What if loads of people read it and think it’s crap? What if we are totally humiliated? The self-questioning continues to the bottom of the scale when we ask ourselves what on earth we were thinking? We can’t write blogs, we’ve failed at blogging, I’m never going online again, we’ve failed, which obviously means we are total failures – in everything.
One or two positive comments later and we’re soaring past the top end of the scale and jumping around the house with excitement. We really do punch the air, high-five and bust some moves in the kitchen with a lot of “Whoop whoops” and both dogs joining in! Overflowing with confidence, feeling successful and accomplished, as we prepare for our celebrity-filled book launch and start writing our acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for blogs.
I’ll introduce this delightful characteristic by telling you that between us, David and I have been married five times. What a great thing to have in common.
No, it’s not a love of wedding cake, David hates marzipan and icing, and I’m a messy eater who shouldn’t be permitted to eat in public. No, a bib doesn’t work or stop me from getting spaghetti in the back of my hair! I’ve tried.
So when it comes to marriage, we’ve both made mistakes and we’ve both repeated them. Why?? Probably because we allow our emotional mind to take control.
It all starts at that first meeting when we go straight to the top of the love scale. When you meet someone for the first time, you may enjoy their company, be pleased to find you have a lot in common and you’ve both got the serious hots for each other. You exchange numbers and arrange a date.
Not so for us Wonkies!
While you are adding each other on WhatsApp, we’ve fallen head over heels in love. We’re consistently told “You’ll know when you meet the one, you’ll just know.” We know we’ve met ‘the one‘ very time, because we go way past the top of the love scale. (See also Impulsivity)
We want to take them
and never let them go!
I don’t mean take them hostage, although one of us did go to prison for that. What I mean is that we want to spend the rest of our lives together. Starting from NOW!
Within days or weeks of that first meeting, the chances are that we’ll be living together. I should also point out that for every relationship we have ever been in, the red flags were obvious within days. We ignore the red flags, our rational minds and our gut instinct to stay with the dream that we’ve found ‘the one.’ We never listen and we never learn.
Sometime in the early days, we realise that we are completely incompatible and we’ve made a huge mistake, again. Time to end the relationship, right? Of course we don’t. We put everything we’ve got into making it work. After all, we blame ourselves for it not working. How many times have we met ‘the one’ and f*cked it up? Of course we blame ourselves if it keeps happening. So, why do we marry? Firstly, make no doubt about it, at that time we are head over heels in love. We might have realised that we’re not with ‘the one’, but the love is still there. There’s an obligation to prove it to our cynical friends and family and ourselves. We need to prove to our intended how much we love them. We need them to prove they love us enough to commit to marriage. All in the hope that they won’t reject us. If you’re ever tempted to do the same, don’t! That’s how you end up spending years trying to make it work and it never, ever does. Not even if you start a family together.
Another consideration is the endless quest to be loved, to belong and not to be alone. Being single reinforces our lack of worth and value. It’s validating our thoughts and feelings that everybody hates us, nobody wants us and we’re just a burden to everyone. Extreme? Of course.
Splitting is a term used to describe the inability to hold opposing thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. We see the world in terms of black or white—all or nothing. It’s a defence mechanism to protect ourselves from anything bad. Once we have decided that something or someone is bad we get rid without a second thought.
When my son was ten months old, I decided the time was right for me to go back to work as a health & safety consultant. His father was strongly opposed to my plan. He could not have made it any clearer how important is was (for him) that I should be a full-time Mum. That was the exact moment that I split on him. From good person to bad person and and love to hate in the blink of an eye. Completely irreversible. The marriage ended at that exact moment and my life as a back to work, single Mum began.
As a child, if someone you believe to be a good and trustworthy person, does a bad thing, they immediately become a bad person. That belief stays with us and we expect all good people to do bad things. We immediately reject anyone who we think is going to do bad things and anyone who we perceive to be a bad person.
Splitting only occurs when we’re triggered. It’s immediate, unplanned and conclusive. Would our reaction be the same if we were in the middle of the scale? I doubt it very much.
Black and white thinking has a considerable impact on our daily lives. Our thinking is very rigid. There is only right or wrong, if we are right then you must be wrong. It takes a conscious effort for us to consider an opposing view and not fixate on our view being the only right view. We’re getting better!
Every single characteristic comes to the fore when we are in relationship – from emotional stability to dissociation. Maybe not at first and not all at once, but they will all rear their ugly heads at some point.
We are extremely difficult to live with. Note, I didn’t say “I think” or “I feel” we are extremely difficult to live with, that’s because it’s a matter of fact. I’m sure you have already worked out for yourselves that we can be hard work! We don’t mean to be, but we are.
Self-image is low self-esteem magnified by a million. It’s not body dysphoria, we know exactly how we look, because we have grown up being told how we look. This is how we believe we look and anyone saying differently doesn’t know what they are talking about. Don’t forget, you only know what you see on the outside and what we will allow or want you to see. I’m sorry but you really don’t have a clue what’s going on inside. That’s exactly why we wear masks, so you never do see what’s inside. We know we’re not right and we do everything we can do to hide it.
We have been told throughout our childhoods who we are and what we are. We know it to be true, because we’ve been told the same things so many times, from so many people. We know the sky is blue and we know the grass is green because we were told so at an early age. So we know that we are damaged goods, we know we’re not the same as you and we know we have no worth, value or talent. Would you try to convince us that the sky is green? Never gonna happen!
From an early age we are told, and we know, that we’re not the same as everyone else. We don’t fit in, we’re unloved, we’re different, we don’t have many friends and we are repeatedly told exactly what we are not – nice, special, clever, sporty, creative etc. We’ve been constantly told that we are nasty, disruptive, unlikeable, dramatic, stroppy, argumentative, liars and an endless list of other negative traits. Often at home, in the wider family and at school.
So, who the hell are we? What is our identity? Where do we fit in? We try to be good, but everyone tells us we are bad. We don’t want everyone to think we are bad, because we are not. They refuse to see the good, however hard we try. Where the hell do we belong? If we are bad, then surely we must fit in with the bad people. Out of the frying pan into the fire?
I really need to get a job and an identity. Can I claim Keef as my identity? I’m certainly starting to, but it’s not a job. Can Keef get a job blogging, writing and Tweeting? Not on the back of a dozen blogs and an average of 20 likes per Tweets. But this blogging and writing is all about trying to find out #whatcanbe for Keef.
We just don’t have the ability to control our impulses, which invariably leads to self-damaging and harmful behaviour. Our rational mind is fully aware of the risks, consequences and the potential for harm, but our emotional mind says “F*ck you. I’m doing it!” and wins very time.
Substance and alcohol abuse is the go to impulse for many. At least it gives us an identity, albeit coke head and/or alcoholic will never be my identity of choice.
We were in our forties when the penny finally dropped that drugs and alcohol really don’t do us any favours! Stopping drugs and alcohol does not stop the impulsivity, we just develop new and different impulses
A few years ago I decided I had to host a Caribbean themed barbecue and clicked on Amazon without giving it a second thought. This is where the all or nothing thinking comes into play. The impulse to shop is so strong that it overpowers are rational mind. It is self-damaging behaviour, although it’s enjoyable at the time, the consequences can be harmful.
Given the combination of impulsivity and the all or nothing approach we take, you can probably imagine the amount of sh*t I bought. But it doesn’t stop at the first shop, because the Caribbean barbecue occupied my emotional mind every waking moment for six weeks. On an almost daily basis I had to shop for the most crucial item I had just thought of, immediately. Is it even a barbecue without a 6′ inflatable palm tree beer cooler? No it is not! Obvs. I had to buy six.
Cocktails? I needed every possible cocktail ingredient, ice bucket, tongs, cocktail shakers and accessories, Did you know you could buy all that in one fancy presentation box? I couldn’t believe my luck that is was only an extra tenner! Seriously, it was even posher than the velvet lined presentation box of BBQ utensils! Then cocktail muddlers appeared online and I found a really fancy one. I bought two, just in case two people needed to muddle at the same time.
Was it the best barbecue ever hosted? Was it worth spending all that money on four types of divided serving dishes? The OTT banquet? Worth it? Was it hell!
Everyone got absolutely wasted after two cocktails! Nobody went into the Caribbean style gazebo, the new barbecue went unused and I forgot to get the food out of the fridge! We played Beer Pong for most of the night, until my son turned up after work, around midnight, with six live lobsters and plans for Lobster Thermidor. We popped the lobsters in the sink and just giggled at them for a couple of hours. We didn’t eat the lobsters either as we had come to know and love them. (If you want a half price fancy cocktail set and posh BBQ set, BNWT, still boxed – DM me, Hun)
It’s not just me, if David decides he has to have a book about Lucky Luciano, he will go on Amazon, put Lucky Luciano in the search and click buy all. Literally, all or nothing. Was it worth it? The books remain unread to this day, despite his rational mind reminding him beforehand that he hasn’t read an entire book for three years. He knew it would be different this time with these books.
“Shall we get another credit card, Darling?
Is shopping self-damaging behaviour? It certainly is when we empty our bank account and can’t pay the bills! But we don’t even consider that when we’re ‘on one’. Do we look at the prices before we checkout? No way, when we have to have it – money is no object!
As for our relationship, check this out for impulsivity – We ‘met’ on Twitter. We exchanged a few Tweets, took it to DM and within a matter of days, we had both fallen head over heels in love on WhatsApp. Yup! Within two weeks I travelled from Kent to Norfolk and we spent three days and two nights in the Norwich Premier Inn. The day after I returned home, David came down from Norwich and we are still seriously, absolutely and completely living happily ever after. My rational mind was screaming at me – you’ve never met him, he’s been in prison for armed robberies and violence, you can’t meet a complete stranger in a hotel, he was a homeless crackhead etc. For once our impulsivity didn’t lead to harmful behaviour and if we’d listened to our rational minds we never would have met.
Suicide and Self-Harm
We’ve reached the section that is hard to write about and hard to read. I’ve plonked it in the middle of the blog, because I don’t think it’s an appropriate subject to end a blog with.
I have to cover it, because for those with BPD the risk is extreme. Self-harm and suicide attempts are so common in BPD that it is the only mental disorder that includes them in its diagnostic criteria. Almost 80% of those with BPD report a history of suicide attempt. In the BPD community, there are 8-10% deaths by suicide – 50 times higher than in the general population. This sh*t is real!
I have to admit there have been a number of suicide attempts between us. There are times when the bombardment of negativity from our emotional minds get the better of us, it really wears us down. We really can’t control it or stop ourselves from going way off the scale. If we get to the point that our emotional mind has become unbearable and we’ve had enough, we can’t see a way out of the situation we are in, we’ve run out of hope for the future, everything has gone wrong, we have no-one because everyone hates us and they’ll all be better without us.
But I question whether we actually wanted to die or did we just want our thoughts and feelings to stop. Just stop. It is hell feeling that way and we get desperate to switch off, even if it’s only five minutes respite from our emotional minds. When it becomes unbearable it feels like the only way to end our thoughts is to end our lives. We don’t want to end our lives, what we actually want is an end to the pain we are feeling. We just want it to stop. I remember driving to work one morning and as I approached the ‘sh*t your pants’ roundabout, I considered pulling out of the junction a bit early and crashing into another car – not a lorry, that could be fatal. All I wanted was to be in hospital for a few days, not with life-changing injuries, a coma would be good for a few days so I don’t have to go to work. Suicidal thoughts? Well, no, I don’t think so. I just wanted to be out of the game until it got better. Similarly, David wants a week on the block to put his life on pause.
When it comes to self-harm, we somehow swerved it. Unless self-sabotage is a category of self-harm. We are ‘experts by experience’ on self-sabotage.
It would be negligent for me to exclude self-harm when trying to raise awareness of a behaviour that three-quarters of those with BPD engage in. In fact, some studies show it to be more like 90%.
Self-harm is classified as ‘non-suicidal self-injury’ and not necessarily an intent to die. It’s an attempt to use pain to deal with pain.
I’m not going to describe the how’s and why’s of suicide and self-harm. I’m just giving you the facts.
When we face danger, there are traditionally two reactions – fight or flight. We have a third option – we freeze. Often as a response to ACES we put our minds and bodies into ‘numbing mode’ as part of a freezing response. However, sometimes we stay in numbing mode for so long and long after the actual danger has passed, that becomes a way of life. It’s another part of what makes us who we are. We becomes emotionally detached, and view life in a ‘dissociated’, or ‘depersonalised’ way.
Emotional numbness can be a result of emotional intensity and sensitivity. One extreme to the other?
Emotional detachment can stem from early experiences where revealing your true feelings resulted in rejection, abandonment, or shame, especially when someone has experienced repeated emotional wounding, deprivation, or neglect.
It feels a bit like boredom and a sense of emptiness. We avoid showing or feeling any emotions, or react to events with the happiness or sadness as you might. We avoid connecting with others in a deep and meaningful way. We can hold back and watch life without participating. It also means we don’t feel the positive emotions such as love, joy, and connections.
It all seems quite effective at first – the pain has temporarily gone away and we can get on with life feeling empowered and confident. We can function normally if we detach from our emotions – get up in the morning, get dressed, go to word and in terms of productivity, we’re at the top of our game. Whilst also feeling sad and lonely.
When we suppress our emotions, they just grow stronger as they accumulate. Then something seemingly quite trivial happens and we are straight back down to earth, forced to confront real and unsuppressed feelings. Ouch!
Dissociation can be defined as the disconnect between your thoughts, emotions, behaviours, perceptions, memories, and identity and is one of the main symptoms of BPD.
I will start with a few examples of mild dissociation, which some of you may have experienced firsthand.
At some point, most of you will have arrived home with no recollection of the journey or missed the junction you should have taken. Generally, it’s because we are so deep in thought and have driven on that road so many times that we don’t give it our full attention and we drive on auto-pilot. Now magnify it by a million times and you’ll get an idea of what happens when we dissociate.
Daydreaming was a favourite past time for me as child, most of the time I was a beautiful Princess being rescued by a handsome prince who would whisk me off to foreign lands. I was known by my family as “Dolly Daydream … Always got her head in the clouds …. Away with the fairies again'” To me, it’s not daydreaming it’s just thinking about a better place, instead of focusing on the ‘other stuff’ surrounding me.
Another example is when you’ve got your head in a book or engrossed in a movie to the extent that you have absolutely no idea what’s going on around you.
Conversely, I can be so lost in my thoughts that I can watch an entire movie and not even remember watching it. I don’t just mean I don’t remember any of the film, I mean I don’t even remember being in the room at the time the film was on. This drives David absolutely batshit! He knows that I watched it, because he saw me watching it, I know I haven’t watched it because I haven’t seen it. I think I’m right and he thinks I’m a bit of a twat!!
Now magnify these examples by a million and you’ll get an idea of what happens we we Wonkies dissociate.
One of our superpowers is to feel completely separated from our body, as if we were observing our own body from the outside, or as if we’re in a dream. It can be a feeling of being so detached from the real world, that we fail to recognise familiar places and objects.
Sometimes we can experience periods of amnesia and lose minutes, hours or even days with no memory of where we were or what we were doing.
It’s not easy to describe. It feels like we are acting like a different person. I don’t mean just putting my work head on, we adopt a completely different persona, to the point that we don’t even recognise our own home.
You other people might have cause to use a different name in different situations. The key difference is that you are aware of your identity or role change in these situations and it doesn’t stop you from functioning in day-to-day life or relationships. We’re completely away with the fairies!
So, that’s covered the nine characteristics and how they relate to us. But that’s not it. I’m going to have to knock up a part three to cover all the good bits, of which there are loads, and dispel some of the myths and assumptions about BPD.
In the meantime, I have a few key messages, one of which is quite detailed to reflect its’ importance.
We are extreme
Our emotions are the same as yours and equally valid. The difference is our reactions are extreme and we have very little ability to regulate our emotions.
Never stop caring
If a toddler was screaming at the top of their lungs or kicking the crap out of their toy box, we would seek to identify the cause of the behaviour and their distress. We would want to know how they are feeling to react in that way. Are they angry? Hurt? Distraught? Hungry? Tired? Insecure? Attention seeking? Sometimes they just need nothing more than a cuddle. But we would identify their needs and move heaven and earth to meet them.
Until what age? At what point do we withdraw our compassion and support? At junior school when their emotional instability is more prominent? Maybe secondary school? Why is there a time limit for compassion?
Does our compassion and support end when the child has been labelled ‘unmanageable, out of control, disruptive, violent and there is nothing more we can do?’ Next step expulsion. Yep, that should sort them right out, it’s exactly what they need and this approach is the ONLY way to fix them. How long does is take for exclusion from school to become exclusion from society?
It’s no surprise that the next step is often a custodial sentence. I’m privileged to be one of the minority who didn’t join the school to prison pipeline. I was expelled from the Girls Grammar School at the age of 11 and expelled from the comprehensive at 15 years old. I must have been a handful at that time. I was also homeless and sleeping in the porch of The White Hart Pub shortly before my Dad attempted suicide. I’ve had better weeks.
I didn’t end up in prison though, I lied about my age to get a job as a live-in chambermaid. My brother, however, did go to prison many, many times over. Has he also got BPD? Who knows?
With the exception of my son, my family do not recognise poor mental health. Despite berating me, for as long as I can remember, for being “highly-strung, completely OTT, drama queen, neurotic, attention-seeker, lives in a world of her own, falls in love at the drop of the hat” The very characteristics that are used to diagnose BPD. Irony, much?
But that’s not it. I’m going to have to knock up a part three to cover all the good bits, of which there are loads, and dispel some of the myths and assumptions about BPD. Who knew how much I had to say? All or nothing, eh?
I can see you’re getting bored now, so I will close the blog here.
Mate, I’m cream-crackered! See you in part three.
Wonky Keef xx