The BPD Symptom I Find Hardest to Explain to Others
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
There are certain things that seem almost inconceivable to explain to somebody who doesn’t share the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD), and one of the hardest of these for people to grasp I think, is about self-concept.
I have spent the entirety of my life from my teenage years up until now in my 30s, vicariously living through constructed versions of myself which I attached my entire sense of identity, meaning and purpose to. I’m an “all eggs in the one basket” kind of girl. Not in the sense that I chose to distribute them all in one place when I had several other options, but in the sense that there has only ever been the one basket.
When I was younger, my basket was labelled “Dancer.” I told everybody I was going to become a dancer — period. It was that or death, and I genuinely wasn’t being flippant or exaggerating for effect. I wholeheartedly meant it. Being a dancer, I knew what clothes I should wear, how I should spend my time and what I should be doing. It meant I knew the kind of TV I should watch, movies I should go see, what magazines and books to read, who to spend my time with and where. I knew what I should talk about and spend my time thinking about. I had a role, a place and a title for who I was. I lived off it with every fiber of my being.
When it crashed, it was because of anorexia. I felt like I was failing at the only thing I knew how to be or how to want to be. I believed it was completely who I was and I was failing at it.
In walked my eating disorder.
I’d decided if I couldn’t be the best dancer, then I would be the thinnest and that would feel like sort of the same thing. When I had to leave my dance degree because my weight had dropped too low and I was too sick, I felt annihilated. I chose anorexia.
I picked up all my eggs and put them in the next basket marked “Anorexic.”
I spent six years in that basket and it was hell. But it was my hell, I related to it. I knew who I was as an anorexic and with that, I had a sense of control and relief. Again it told me what to wear, what to do, what to eat, what to read or watch or talk about. It came with beliefs and values and a “ready-made identity.”
I eventually learned to give it up when the cost of remaining sick became too high, but I traded it for roles in the health and social care sector instead. I completely changed myself for each role, invested everything I had into it and each time it didn’t work out, I felt completely erased — like I had been destroyed.
The latest and most raw was becoming an Occupational Therapist. It was the last person I remember being, that occupational therapy student I was. It was the last time I saw myself, the last time I remember feeling happy or OK.
After a couple of suicide attempts on summer break after year one of my course, I was suspended from my course for a minimum period of a year. My attempts were largely brought on by my lack of object permanence related to my BPD. I knew University was coming back after summer, but I just couldn’t feel it and this meant I couldn’t sense who I was.
I was utterly devastated and it flung me headlong into the deepest depression. Three serious suicide attempts later, I found myself for over a year on an acute inpatient psychiatric ward under section. I came out swearing I would get back into university again and return to my calling, gearing my whole life and identity back towards that goal. My inability to stop self-harming and further overdoses when the fear of it not materializing came back, got in the way of the medical evidence needed to regain my place.
It’s now all over.
People tell me it isn’t the end of the world and that it was just a course. I know to them that’s the reality. I find it hard to explain to someone that I feel literally like nothing without that course and it isn’t me just being dramatic. I don’t know who I am and it’s agony, it’s excruciating. It feels like I’m burning inside with alarm bells ringing and ringing constantly. Who am I? Who am I ? Who am I?
I feel like I can’t breathe or move, I’m immobilized. I can no longer see a future and all my suicidal urges are pushed to the forefront.
I’ve tried to tell people I’m not a person, just a collection of bad thoughts, urges and impulses — that these things I’ve become have been images people have bought into. I am not an integrated being that holds together — if you take the image from me, you take me away from me. I don’t know who I am, what I want, want I like, what to watch, read, think about, where to go, what to discuss — nothing. I’m not here.
I find myself grasping back onto my self-harm. I will be Suz the self-harmer. I don’t like her, but I know who she is. I know what she does with her time, the kind of places she goes and things she watches and reads. I don’t like it but it keeps me alive, it keeps me from the existential despair that drives me to make attempts on my life.
I just wish I could find a way to tell other people that I’m not a person in the way they are and have them understand. Have them understand I can’t define myself, find myself or contain myself. Have them understand that just because they see a person standing in front of them it doesn’t mean the person exists as anything more than a construct.
Just because you’re reading words that came from my mind, it doesn’t meant the mind that thought them into existence belongs to a coherent whole being. I just wish I could explain it in a way you’d be able to see. Those of us who desperately lack ourselves aren’t being dramatic when we pin our existence on something or someone else — we are borrowing a life to keep us alive the best way we know how.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via alexandralarina.