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Sea, Sand, Sun and Sadness: The Challenges of BPD in the Summer

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It’s summer again! Sun, sea, cheery children and happy families all over Facebook and everywhere you look. It is also a time when my borderline personality disorder (BPD) rages and rants like a snubbed toddler. It is when the full extent of my “damage” shows itself in glorious technicolor, to anyone who happens to be looking.

I’ve spent the majority of my 43 years watching others on the beach, in the street, on the news and now, in this digital age, on the internet. Sunblushed children, “yummy mummys,” giggly “date nights,” gangs of extended family and friends in tow. It all looks so right. It looks so normal, so great. Yet, it is all utterly foreign to me.

My brain illness sets me apart and colors me in grey. With a concerted, exhaustive effort I can just about act like I fit in, for maybe half a day. I can wear the right cosmetics (but never the bikini) and “blend” in with a group of friendly strangers who don’t notice or mind me photobombing their lives for an hour or two. Truthfully, life doesn’t work that way for me, and I can’t see how it ever could.

I can’t go to the beach with my kids. Well, not without wearing jeans, trainers and a button up coat. I can’t bear the physical exposure, the perceived judgments. I give myself so many limitations. I feel so inadequate amongst those “other mothers.” Where they seem so warm, open and filled, I judge myself to be cold, distant, frightened and empty. They are at ease enough to “have a drink,” to lower their inhibitions and necklines with admirable abandon. They are au naturel, with no desire to make up their faces when the bright and friendly sun is happy to bring out their natural glow. They are comfortable with their imperfect bodies, letting go of constraints so effortlessly or so it seems.

How increasingly envious I feel seeing this through the safe and anonymous eyes of Facebook, all my deepest horrors rise to the surface. My misconceptions, which are common amongst people with BPD, mean I assume everyone else is happy. I catastrophize everything, waiting for the walls to come crashing in, as surely they must. (A tsunami in Cornwall? Rare, but still!)

I feel ruined. Worst of all, my children miss out. They can’t have those fun-filled, carefree beach days, not with me. My social reasoning is so impaired. I dissociate further and the instability of my self-image leads me down into the darkness of self-loathing (with a hefty double side order of guilt.)

I am capable of losing myself on the internet in a positive way sometimes, mainly during the other three “safer” seasons. I like looking for support groups. I have a thirst for information, a need to find answers and a quest to locate “fun.” I look at beautiful, dark architecture, multi-colored clowns and elderly rescued Labradors, and I like it. Yet, as the weather gets warmer and the good and the sane jet away to further shores, documenting it all gleefully on Facebook, my paranoia starts to kick back in. I have the suspicion that all my (so-called) FB friends are doing it just to spite me. Irrational, right? Well that’s the name of the game.

My symptoms start to rumble and flicker, then spring to life in all their jangled toxicity. They hadn’t gone. They were just in hibernation. I can’t afford to take my children away, even if I could stand to. My marriage has failed. I’m trapped. The kids must hate me. I’m confused, sad and lonely and on and on and on.

Watching these seemingly easy family holidays transpiring via sparkling satellite racks me with regret about every element of my life. It is hard to live with. My kids never see me barefaced or barefooted. My self-doubt and prickling anxiety forbids it. This leads to anger, anger at myself, at those healthy, wonderful “other mothers,” and at God himself for having cursed me with this illness.

The impotence of this self-hate becomes too much. All too often, walls get secretly punched. The sudden and immediate pain extinguishes my overstimulated senses, but only for a while. Then, the tears arrive. Tears of grief at the notion of a better life denied to me by genes, early experiences and rotten luck. I grieve the life we could have had if this illness not had been written through my core, like the words through a stick of seaside rock.

So this year, as the planes fill up with trios, quartets, droves of fun seekers, eager to dance their easy dances on beaches, in restaurants and in theme parks everywhere, I will find a way to ride my own wave. This year, I have a better reason than ever to try harder. My kids are growing up. They are more aware and more observant. Hiding my pain behind this mask of normalcy won’t fool them for much longer.

So off the laptop will go, as well as the internet and TV. Instead of yearning for a slice of someone else’s easiness,  I will work with what I have, and I do have quite a lot, an inquiring mind, a tenacity born of desperation, a much loved big brother and four fabulous children.

Tomorrow, I will be with my (no longer so little) babies, hearing and seeing them, not just nodding and smiling at them through the smeared and confusing partition of guilt that has traditionally obscured our view of each other. They can visit the beach with their father, then they come home to me. I will hear their tales of adventures with my own two ears, consciously unfiltered by the old, ruinous feelings of uselessness.

Because I’m not (totally) useless. I may not (yet) have found a way to wear a pretty, yellow maxi dress and frolic with abandon on the sand. Yet, I refuse to waste another summer yearning for another life, a life that may just remain but is too far out of reach.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: August 16, 2016
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