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The Borderline Personality Disorder Symptom I’m Struggling With the Most During COVID-19

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Living with borderline personality disorder (BPD), I’ve found few people truly know what it is about in terms of symptoms and diagnosis — a mental disorder characterized by emotion dysregulation and extreme emotional hypersensitivity. Growing up in the 1970s, the diagnosis of BPD did not exist. Instead, they earmarked me with the labels of depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). As the years passed, more became known in terms of personality disorders.

In addition to BPD, I have four other diagnoses or mental disorders, each with their unique symptoms that display when triggered. I have often compared living with multiple mental disorders with the arcade game, “Whac-a-Mole.” In the game, a mole pops up from its hole and you use a rubber hammer to knock it back down. No sooner having done that, another mole pops up, then another and so forth. I never know, in any given 24-hour span, which of my disorders will come out to play. I have spent an entire lifetime playing “Whac-a-Mole” with the symptoms from my disorders. Any person who lives with a mental disorder gets to have the same fun time I do in dealing with their symptoms.

Having undergone psychiatric treatment along with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and talk therapy for over 20 years now, I kid myself that I have my symptoms under control. For the most part, I do. Then again, I have never lived through a pandemic before, nor have I undergone extended periods of quarantine, social distancing and the basic shutdown of life as we know it. I think most would agree that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has turned the entire world on its head.

Being a part of the mental illness community, I share that we have suffered greatly, symptom-wise, during this pandemic. There is one symptom in BPD that is extremely difficult to explain. It is also exceptionally difficult to live with. I have noticed that this symptom has been kicked up a notch since COVID-19 came on the scene. In rating my symptoms on a scale of one to 10, this one would probably be a 15. It is known as having a lack of object constancy, also known as object permeance. I will try to do justice to the hell one goes through in living with it. First, let’s look at how it develops in the brain.

Object constancy is defined as “the ability to believe that a relationship is stable and intact, despite the presence of setbacks, conflict, or disagreements.” This is real. It is developed during the timeframe of infant through toddler. Another definition would be “lacking faith in reality.”

Living with object constancy issues is something I would never wish on any human being. Object constancy is considered a developmental skill that a child does not fully develop until about the age of 2 years. It takes time and continuous experience as to the reliability of the key people in their world, typically Mommy and Daddy, to develop brain synapses for object constancy. These synapses tell the child that when Mommy leaves the room, she’s still on Planet Earth and will come back.

Infants typically experience separation anxiety whenever they are separated from a parent, even for a second. Have you ever tried passing a newborn to a relative, only to have the baby begin screaming their lungs out? Unless they can see their parent close by, an infant will be terrified they have “lost” their parent. As the child grows into a toddler and begins to venture out with walking, there is the ever-present glance back to create the brain synapses of connection with the parent.

During this developmental time, if the parent raised the child to feel secure in the connectivity of their relationship, confidence sets in and you have a sense of well-being and fully developed synapses in the child’s brain for object constancy. If, however, the child was left alone for extended periods of time, screaming their little lungs out with a wet diaper or needing a bottle, the synapses regarding object constancy never form properly.

There are many people, like myself, who grew up with parents who were alcohol dependent during our formative years. Add in the fact that people with BPD typically endured childhood trauma of some type. I am not blaming my parents, albeit the blame falls on them; I have just released the fault and replaced it with forgiveness. Struggling with object constancy will never go away, however.

What I live with is a lack of ability to understand that things or people remain constant, even if I don’t see them for an extended period of time. There will always be a need for me to check and verify those people I love are “still there.” With BPD, our lack of object constancy stems from issues we also experience such as fear of abandonment and dissociation. My family has lived through the repetition of my need “to check” — the constant questioning as to whether or not they love me. It has always been there in any relationship important to me, like a cruel taskmaster, causing me to question my very existence at times.

Things we are facing now as a culture, such as quarantine and social distancing, have taken this symptom to a whole new level. Add in the fact our only daughter is about to give birth to our first grandchild during this pandemic, and this is indescribably hard for me to cope with. I have imagined our daughter’s pregnancy and the birth of our grandchild for years now. What I never imagined was forced separation during that time. The inability to touch my daughter’s belly and feel the kicks of our grandchild — I had that ability briefly and then it was stolen by the pandemic.

You may think, “how rude of me to not be able to suck it up and just get over it.” I do realize there are people taking their last breaths without a loved one there. God bless the medical community, who are stepping in to hold the hands of the dying at this unprecedented time. My “wise mind” or logical mind understands what is happening and why. I can be triggered, however, and I was. When a person is triggered, the symptoms they experience come to the forefront.

This past week, realizing our daughter’s baby shower was long since canceled due to the pandemic, she asked to pick up flowers for the centerpieces we had designed for use in another project. The act of placing those flowers in a plastic tub and her taking them away put me in a state of mind with my object constancy issues I had never experienced before. This symptom exploded in my brain, aided by fears from the pandemic. I did not realize how much I was shoving down and ignoring the grieving process over not being able to give our daughter a baby shower.

Since those flowers left the house, I was unsure of what was real and what was not. I experienced bouts of dissociation, at times cycling every five minutes. I trusted no one and didn’t know who I was at times. The restaurants my husband and I frequent and the stores we shop in are closed, and in my mind, they no longer existed. At times, I felt as if I was evaporating. If my husband came to touch me, I screamed and recoiled like a scared animal. The reason being, my mind was not capable of separating what was real at those moments. I refused phone calls or video chats with my daughter. I was afraid she no longer existed.

I was not sure if the people in my life, friends or family existed. I also convinced myself they hated me. In my brain, I was no longer worthy of their love or friendship. If a text message or phone call went unreturned, I was a wreck. I isolated in my bedroom for about four days. There were moments of lucidity when I could talk or text someone back. Most of the time, however, I could not speak and felt I could barely breathe. Honestly, I did not want to eat or drink, nor was I capable of taking a shower. My husband resorted to spoon-feeding me and getting liquids in by way of a straw. I existed in my own special hell.

Why am I sharing this dark experience with you when it is currently a very dark time? I live with mental illness, yet I am also an advocate on behalf of the mentally ill. This is just one symptom that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. I am blessed to have my husband by my side for 30-plus years, and a family that loves me and understands, for the most part, my symptoms.

What about those out there, like me, who are alone and now further isolated by social distancing and lacking a support system? I am extremely disillusioned with how our local mental health community did not step up and has taken so much time to get into “help mode” via online offerings.

If you know someone who struggles as I do, would you please find time to reach out to them? Place a quick check-in call? Please don’t be afraid of them. We are human beings with different genetics, or situational upbringing that damaged us. We never asked to have a mental illness. No one would. We need to know you are there, if we might need you, and that we are going to make it through this OK. Although we may be too afraid to pick up the phone if it rings, that’s OK; call anyway.

The good news is I am starting to come out of object constancy hell, little by little. It enables me to share this blog with you. My story is just one of many whose lives have been turned inside out this past month. My hope is we can all keep as safe and well as possible, during this time. Let’s pray we will all, more than ever, value what we don’t have access to now on the other side of this.

With you in the journey,


Struggling with anxiety due to COVID-19? Check out the following articles from our community:

Photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash

Originally published: April 16, 2020
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