The Question I Dread Hearing as Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
We live in a culture that defines certain phrases, questions or traits as the baseline for politeness and human interaction. Perhaps the most common of these is the question we all ask some version of several times a day: How are you? How’re things? How’s life? It often seems this question is asked more out of a sense of tradition or obligation than genuine care.
When someone asks this question, a mathematical equation to deduce the “right” answer immediately takes place in my head. Can I trust this person with my honesty? Do they really care or are they just making conversation? Will my answer burden them? And the most challenging aspect of this question: How can I possibly respond to this with any measure of accuracy?
The thing about living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is the inevitable changeability of mood, and with that comes the changeability in my sense of well-being. I could be walking down the beach on a beautiful day and feel a sense of joy. Then a friend might not respond to a text or might respond in a way that comes across to me as uncaring, and I will come apart at the seams. Suddenly my moment of peace becomes a several-hour breakdown filled with uncontrollable crying, a certainty encased in fear I am alone and will die that way. Or, I might have a confrontation with a loved one and find myself overwhelmed with anxiety and paranoia for several hours, then find myself laughing at something when those feelings have passed, or the loved one has reassured me multiple times that they don’t hate me. The much longer lasting ups and downs of bipolar disorder further complicate all of this.
So when someone asks me how I am or how I’ve been doing, even if I am able to conclude that the person asking is genuine, trustworthy and won’t be burdened by my answer, I’m still left with the difficulty of not even knowing how to answer with any clarity. Because the reality is, my day-to-day sense of being is more evasive than dry sand slipping through fingers. And when I attempt to answer by considering how I’ve been over a collective amount of time — be it days, weeks or months — all I can recall is the number of breakdowns I’ve had in the said period of time. Which usually triggers a sense of shame. So I will often find myself saying “OK” because it seems like the only thing to say.
What I have noticed with trusted friends is that more specific questions can be helpful, for example: “How are you right now?” Or, “how are you today?” Being asked about any recent events or struggles the person is aware of is also helpful because it gives me a specific subject to respond to, rather than an overwhelming wave of multiple issues I don’t know how to explain.
I don’t know if others living with BPD and/or bipolar disorder struggle with this question in the same way, but if you know someone with BPD, maybe ask them and see if there’s a way to communicate more effectively with them about how they’re doing.
Image via Murisa Hasanovic