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What It's Like to Experience 'Emotional Dissociation'

Dissociation is a hallmark of borderline personality disorder (BPD). BPD is marked by rapid mood swings and unstable shifts in identity and relationships. I was diagnosed with borderline by a school psychologist in 2016 and re-diagnosed by a psychiatrist in 2017 after two years of suspecting that I had the illness.

Because I experienced a unique form of dissociation, I often questioned whether or not I had the disorder.

For the longest time, when I heard my friends describe their experiences with dissociation, I couldn’t relate, to the point where I thought I didn’t experience dissociation at all. Though they didn’t have borderline, they would talk about the times they dissociated as states of unreality. There were moments where they stepped out of time, felt outside themselves, distant from their actions and the people around them. I would not experience this more clinically recognizable form of dissociation until my trip to the psych ward last February, where everything felt surreal, unreal and like a bad dream.

Up until my stay in the psych ward, I had only experienced another form of dissociation – “emotional dissociation.” And ever since, emotional dissociation is still the only form of dissociation that I consistently exhibit.

What is emotional dissociation?

To put it simply, emotional dissociation is the unconscious suppression of or distancing from one’s emotions.

In my case, after speaking with my therapist I discovered that I emotionally dissociate. I told her I have trouble recalling entire days, weeks, months and even years in my memory. When I look back on my life, some years shine like gold in my memory, and those are the ones I remember well. Others, years in which I have been particularly mentally unwell, have a certain grayish hue to them, and they are just blurs in my mind. If someone asks me if I remember an event, I’ll at least recall something vaguely, but that point in my life will forever be a haze. It is for this reason I have started keeping a journal, marking every day of my life in writing so that my experiences remain in sharp detail.

What my therapist theorized concerning why these memory lapses occur is this: she said that what happens to me is the same process that happens to people who have been through traumatic events. To deal with their trauma, some people distance themselves from reality (in the other form of dissociation), and as such they cannot remember the events as they transpired. Mental and emotional dissociation work the same way. Dissociation is the brain’s survival mechanism, both mental and emotional.

I realized that I likely suppress many of my emotions because the dramatic mood swings of borderline are probably too much for me to take most of the time. Somewhere in my childhood, I probably learned to just push those feelings down because the swings were too tough to handle. Now that I am older, I am trying to just feel emotions fully when they arise. I still can’t control when I don’t feel and when I do, but that will come.

So to anyone questioning if they have BPD, or if they dissociate or not, because they do not dissociate from reality but they do dissociate from their emotions, consider that you may be experiencing emotional dissociation.

Follow this journey on Mental Maverick.

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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6 Things Your Borderline Friend Wants You to Know

There are several tough things about having borderline personality disorder (BPD). The daily swings in moods, emotions and identity is certainly no cakewalk. I find for me, the worst part about having BPD is the constant struggle to maintain stable friendships and relationships.

I only found out I had BPD about three years ago, and since then, especially concerning friendship, it has been a steep learning curve. I’ve loved and lost so many friends, and I’ve had to relearn how to be a good friend, how to beat the borderline inside me who tries to warp friendship into something it’s not meant to be — therapy. I’m sure the story is the same for many people out there trying to recover from BPD and form lasting friendships.

Two things prompted me to write the list below about BPD and friendship. First, it truly hit me that borderlines view the world in a completely different light than neurotypicals do, and it’s important that our friends have an inkling of what’s going on as they watch our brains go haywire from the outside. Secondly, an event transpired a few nights ago that prompted me to write today, and it also leads me to my first point.

1. My worst fear is abandonment.

I was in a group chat with three of my closest friends an evening or two ago. We’ve been friends for about two years, were roommates in college, have shared mental health crises — the works. I even travelled to Europe with one of them. And yet, when all three vehemently promised they would remain my friend, would not suddenly stop being my friend and truly thought of me as one of their favorite people, I was genuinely shocked and moved.

BPD makes it nearly impossible to believe anyone could ever want to stay in my life. Trust is incredibly hard, even with assurances as wonderful as my friends have given me. To anyone reading, know that borderlines go day to day expecting those they love to leave them, and understand this is often the baseline where their emotional reactions are coming from.

2. I need constant validation.

Considering those with BPD have a generally irrational and constant fear of abandonment by loved ones, it may come as no surprise that many of us require a constant stream of validation that our loved ones don’t hate us, aren’t going to leave us, aren’t mad at us, aren’t annoyed by us, etc.

While it probably isn’t healthy to validate 24/7, I believe the best thing you can do for a borderline friend is send them an unsolicited text everyone once in a while to tell them you love them or are thinking about them. Knowing I am in my friend’s thoughts and matter to them, without asking for validation in the first place, is literally the best thing in the world.

3. I question every interaction I have and action I take.

Because I fear abandonment, I also fear doing something wrong. And because the symptoms of BPD include rapid, uncontrolled swings in mood and emotions, there is a very likely chance that at any given point in the day, I could say or act in a way that is hurtful (recovery is an ongoing process to help control these changes in emotion).

The issue is, I don’t always recognize if I have acted incorrectly. So I overanalyze every interaction for potential flaws in fear that I said or did something wrong. No one is more critical of me than myself.

4. My emotions hinge on tiny, mostly irrational moments. Be patient.

If someone doesn’t text me back the moment after I text them, it feels like the end of the world because I assume the only answer is that I’ve somehow said something wrong or annoyed them.

Other times, if someone cancels plans, I spiral into a depression because I planned my entire day around seeing that person. I may or may not assume that person hates me.

When I see a picture on Facebook of a friend hanging out with someone else, I get a pang in my gut because that friend is hanging out with other friends, and so they obviously must not love me.

Borderline is not rational most of the time, and neither are the emotions attached to it. As mentioned above, I view the world in a very different way. My world is all or nothing, black and white, soaring or spiral. Be gentle with me but also keep me in line by reminding me you are allowed to have your own life apart from me.

5. Boundaries are hard-learned and important.

Borderline personality disorder, despite the stigma, is not inherently toxic or abusive. Borderlines can be loving, supportive and kind. I am one of them. From a cursory reading of the above, however, it’s easy to see how BPD friendships can cross boundaries into the realm of toxicity.

It may not be for everyone, but I find myself asking my friends consistently, “Is this OK?”

Is it OK for me to talk about certain topics, to text at certain times of day, to ask for validation in a certain manner? As a borderline, boundaries can be easily blurred in the search for validation and in desperate attempts to avoid abandonment. Establishing checks with your friends to ensure those boundaries are still in place can mean the difference between saving or losing a friendship.

6. I love you intensely.

Borderlines are truly all or nothing. If I love you, I love you completely, with all of my being. If you are loved by a borderline, then you are loved by someone who would do anything for you.

This love can be unhealthy is left unchecked and painful if abandonment occurs. I would fly around the world in a second for my friends (I’ve been known to spontaneously travel days just to see people). I would probably take a bullet for my friends. You can be left thinking you love the people in your life more than they could ever love you, and this can lead to some toxic power dynamics in relationships.

However, I think this love is the most beautiful thing about being borderline. I think borderline love is one of the strongest loves on the planet. If you are my friend, I am loyal to you. You are beautiful to me. You accomplishments are poetry. I think you’re fucking amazing. And you’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

To anyone who is a friend to someone with borderline personality disorder, thank you for being there.

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How I've Learned to Cope With the Emotions of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder — wow that’s a lot to take in.

What does this mean?

Am I “crazy”?

I had no idea what BPD was before I got diagnosed. When I saw a doctor and reviewed the criteria, I easily matched up and there was no doubt in my mind it was the right diagnosis. Now everything makes a little bit more sense. How I react to situations. The way I respond to people.

BPD for me is having overly-sensitive mind with a lot of emotions. I will overanalyze how you say what you say, how your body language is, the tone of voice you use, if you are in a rush etc. BPD causes my brain to start looking for protection so I don’t get hurt. It was my automatic response for a long time. Now I understand what it is.

I am now able to catch myself before I have a BPD response and really think about think the situation. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are wonderful in helping change my thought processes so I am not always in fight or flight mode.

What causes BPD?

In my experience, I believe it is the environment I grew up in. Sometimes, home life, school, friends and other social groups can affect someone being predisposed to BPD. Maybe constant invalidation of your feelings caused you to be afraid to speak out and voice your opinion.

I was always the quiet one, the shy one, the one who struggled with friends. Negative coping strategies like self-harm reinforced the fact BPD responses were the only way I knew how to respond. Years later when I grew up and got diagnosed, it all made sense like a light bulb went off.

CBT and DBT are in the works of changing my thought processes. It is a lot of work, but worth it in the long run. Going to support groups, a psychologist, a psychiatrist and having your own network of support can help in BPD recovery.

Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

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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Pete Davidson Talks BPD and Depression on SNL's Weekend Update

On Saturday night, a new season of “Saturday Night Live” premiered, and comedian Pete Davidson took to the Weekend Update desk to talk about borderline personality disorder and depression. Davidson only recently opened up about his borderline personality disorder diagnosis on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast.

“As some of you know, I was recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a form of depression,” he told Weekend Update anchor Colin Jost. He then gave “advice” for anyone who thinks they are depressed:

If you think you’re depressed, see a doctor and talk to them about medication, and also be healthy. Eating right and exercise can make a huge difference. And finally, if you’re in the cast of a late night comedy show, it might help if they, you know, do more of your sketches.

He joked that perhaps being on TV more would help with his depression and read a fake doctor’s note: “Please use Pete in more sketches, where we gets to kiss the host, and use more of his rap videos, which I think are actually good.”

Borderline personality disorder is not a “form” of depression, as Davidson said, but audiences seemed to respond well to his lighthearted jokes nonetheless. After all, it’s not everyday you hear depression discussed on late-night TV.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental disorder marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behavior, self-image, and functioning.” While people with BPD have high rates of co-occurring mental disorders, like mood disorders and anxiety disorders, it is not technically a “type” of depression. The National Institute of Mental Health also notes that the label “borderline personality disorder” is very misleading, though a more accurate term does not exist yet.

What do you think of Davidson’s sketch? You can watch the full video below:

When Borderline Personality Disorder Makes It Hard to Identify Your Emotions

Although I am now in a very different place, I still have an odd relationship with my emotions. My borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) meant that I entered therapy with no language to name, describe or express my emotions. This took me by surprise because I had always considered myself as someone with a high level of emotional intelligence. I was the one my friends shared their problems with. I could always give a helpful and balanced insight, and provide emotional support. I was the “fixer,” the “mom,” the “therapist” in most of my friendships. I had a degree in psychology. I could read other people’s feelings and describe them back to them with a startling accuracy. So I assumed that, of course, I had a good grasp on my own emotions.

I had no idea how wrong I was.

When I started individual therapy, my therapist’s constant questioning of “What are you feeling?” drove me crazy. I couldn’t answer… because I didn’t know. Eventually my feelings started to take forms, but at first they had odd names, like “corkscrew feeling” and “fizzy feeling” and “run away feeling.” It was difficult to reconcile with this version of myself that was unable to use my usual very articulate verbal skills to describe what was happening inside. Now I am much better at it, but I still don’t always know what I’m feeling.

I did a piece of free writing, as a part of a workshop, which I would like to share. It is about how it feels to be a fully grown “high-functioning,” articulate and intelligent adult who is unable to name and/or describe her own emotions.

Here’s what I wrote:

I struggle to name them, or even describe them. But they kick me in the diaphragm like toddlers throwing tantrums. So violent their assault is that I can act long before I think; just to make them stop. Before I even know what they are trying to tell me.

I’m told that my face and body show what I am feeling, clear as day, but when asked to say what’s happening inside me, I say, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” And I don’t. It all just feels like emptiness, not so much nothing as a gaping hole — an agonizing lack of anything, an all consuming vacuum.

Emotions are huge. And I’m learning to know them, to listen to them and treat them. To describe, share and resolve, rather than shut down. But it’s a process. A hard one, a painful one, confusing and frightening. And sometimes the battle feels endless and sometimes I lose all hope of ever finding my way out of this maze. I lose a lot of battles, but I keep fighting. I trust the people who promise in their wisdom that I can win the war if I just keep on fighting. If I just keep swimming, they tell me I’ll get there.

And change happens, almost against my will. It’s terrifying and unsettling. I spend a lot of time frozen in fear. Or numb because it feels too big and I need to rest. But as I go on “anger,” “fear,” “sadness,” “shame” and “guilt” become characters. And I see them now — almost viscerally. I can hear them. Sometimes they whisper, sometimes they scream. Sometimes I’m thrown from one to another by their storm and I’m afraid to feel them because they are so heavy. But as they become clearer and I know their names and shapes, I begin to believe one day I’ll control them, as now I’m scared to feel them because of their power to control me.

So when I say I feel nothing, with tears rolling down my face, be patient. Know I’m not lying. I’m learning.

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What a Breakup Feels Like When You Live With Borderline Personality Disorder

Breakups are different for everyone. So many mixed emotions, tears and in some cases, relief or calm. Any emotion felt during this time is valid, and it may be different for you each time you experience it.

Breaking up when you have borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be a traumatic experience, upsetting for all parties involved. It’s hard to fully explain just how out of control and broken you can feel during this process unless you are familiar with the intense emotional tug of war that happens with BPD. Sadly, it usually becomes toxic, both for you and the other person, and too often it ends in tears and regrets.

One of the most common traits of BPD is splitting — it sounds painful, and it is. It happens when your feelings towards someone are so strong they engulf you, and fluctuate between “good” and “bad.” There is no in-between, no gray. You start with a passion so intense it takes your breath away and captivates the object of your desire — a love so strong it is impossible not to get caught up in it. We feel so strongly, with every fiber of our being. More than that, it courses through our veins like blood. We fall fast and hard and no matter how much we may try to keep our heads above the surface, we find ourselves drowning.

This “honeymoon period” can border on obsession. You float around in rose-tinted spectacles, led by your passionate heart. You ignore subtle signs that things may not be OK, because you love this person — you ignore the warnings of others because in your eyes, they are flawless. As you can imagine, this can sometimes lead to dangerous situations where a vulnerable person with BPD would be easy to abuse.

And then something happens — a big fight, a disappointment, a horrible shock — and it’s like the rug is pulled from under your feet. It’s not just a sinking feeling for those of us who are emotionally unstable… it is utter devastation. The world quite literally stops turning and you are left floundering in slow motion, unable to think or reach out to anyone, unable to rationalize. Everything you knew was a lie. There is no gray. Your view of perfection has been tainted and now it is a view of disaster.

How long has this person lied to you?

They clearly don’t love you. They never did.

You aren’t worthy of love. You’re so gullible to think this time would be any different.

Before you know it, you’re curled up in the corner sobbing, inconsolable, possibly even suicidal or wishing to hurt or “punish” yourself. Nothing else may have even been said or done, but you cannot rationally see this. You are distracted by your own thoughts, suffocated by your doubts, fears and anxieties, many of which reawaken and bubble up in full force from your past. An intense fear of abandonment is common in those with BPD, and it can honestly feel like your world is falling apart when someone rejects or leaves you. You can’t imagine a future where they are not in it, and you don’t want one without them.

The next stage is anger.

How dare they do this to you?

How dare they have this power?

Of course, the issue at hand may well be minor, but your twisted perception of reality can make it seem like the worst crime in the world. You hate them for making you struggle like this. You hate yourself for letting it all get to you, for believing the “lies,” for being gullible and naive enough to ever think you were capable of being loved. These thoughts are truths in your mind and they stick into your flesh like thorns.

Lastly, there is the debilitating fear as the splitting cycle begins to reset. A noxious mix of angry and confused, half grieving because it’s all gone wrong, overwhelmed with love and yet in physical agony and mental anguish because you can’t possibly see how you will live without them. You drown in the tidal wave of emotions as every wave knocks you off your feet, and then the cycle starts all over again. The calm hits, and it is like nothing happened. You feel nothing but intense love, and forgiveness for their perceived sins, and this sharp U-turn can be frustrating, disturbing and upsetting for the other person. And for you, it can impact your life so badly that you can’t cope. I’ve made attempts on my life before or badly hurt myself following a fairly minor issue with past relations. Not so much due to their actions, which would rationally not warrant such a response, but due to the horrible and distressing thoughts that fill my head during this process.

Perhaps the worst part of this roller coaster is that you can’t get off and you can’t control it, any more than you can control the weather. You appear manipulative to others, they grow suspicious of your sudden changes in opinion and mood. What seems to you like an attempt to reconnect and explain your behavior comes across as sending them on a guilt trip — an inability to understand your extreme reaction often makes the person feel like they are being painted as a “monster” or exceptionally cruel. They aren’t, but having such an intense reaction to their behavior can make a small fight feel like a serious offense.

It’s no wonder some of these people leave. It is painful and distressing for all involved. It can seriously impact your own view of yourself too. You begin to feel afraid you truly are manipulative or toxic, or that maybe it is you who is a monster. This can lead to isolation, and a deep mistrust of people.

There are so many articles online about how to break up with a borderline and how it might affect you. I hope this piece can shed some light on what we go through ourselves, and I hope people may begin to feel compassion for us and maybe have some understanding of the turmoil going on in our brains, rather than simply viewing us as complicated and difficult. We don’t want to hurt or manipulate you. We just want to be supported and loved.

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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