[This post contains detailed, visceral descriptions of dysphoria and suicidal ideation – please do not read if you are vulnerable.]
The suicide rate for people with borderline personality disorder is estimated to be around one in ten, which gives BPD a survival rate approximately equivalent to Stage 2 Hodgkin’s disease. Most weeks, this fact seems staggering to me. Other weeks I’m like, “Yep.”
This has been one of the latter kind of weeks.
Don’t worry; I’ve got this. I’ve managed to survive long enough to gain both a middle-aged woman’s perspective (this too shall pass) and a truckload of responsibilities (two of which are awfully cute and think I’m the center of the universe). Taking myself out of the picture is not even remotely an option at this point. But some days I do wistfully yearn for the days when I might have gotten away with it, slipped easily from existence without leaving much of a hole.
I’m aware that this is a horrible thing to even think, much less put into writing. And for some of you, unfathomable. “How can you be so selfish?” Well, let’s see how selfless you become when your leg is in a bear trap. “Why can’t you appreciate all that life has to offer?” Strangely, I do appreciate life. I’m not depressed; I take fierce, daily joy in any number of things, and can name at least ten of them at any given moment (because I have carefully collected them, like medications lined up neatly in a cabinet). It’s not life I have a problem with. It’s me. Life is an absolutely glorious thing and I’m just… this awful reeking hole right in the middle of it.
I’m fully aware that this is dysphoria talking. I don’t feel like this every minute. But you don’t have to have your leg in a bear trap every minute to seriously consider, during the latest entrapment, that maybe just cutting your legs off would be the way to go. In the case of BPD, the offending leg is called consciousness.
Let’s see if I can help you to imagine having BPD, on the off chance it will improve your ability to empathize with, communicate with, and help people who need your help more than I do. (By the end of this you will see why genuine, unfeigned empathy is so desperately important with BPD in particular.)
Think of someone you hate, genuinely loathe and wish to erase from existence. And don’t tell me there’s no one you hate. Someone who bullied you to the point of PTSD? A terrorist? A mass murderer? A cult leader? No matter how kind a person you are, there’s someone that you genuinely feel sick at the very thought of, someone so irredeemably vile that if they were drowning and reached out to you you’d have to stop and consider what to do. For the sake of simplicity (and humor) I’m going to use Jar Jar Binks. But fill in “Jar Jar” with whatever name resonates most deeply in your fuck-you zone.
You’re a smart person; you probably already know what I’m about to say. And that is: for someone with BPD, Jar Jar stares back at you from the mirror. Yeah, you saw that coming; you’re not shocked.
Oh, but there’s more, so much more. It gets so much more delightful than that.
Being Jar Jar makes it impossible for you to access the panacea that gets most humans through all manner of pain and adversity: genuine, requited love. I’m not talking “romantic soulmate” b.s. here, I’m talking about the kind of warm, caring, tender, respectful feelings any two humans can theoretically feel for each other. Nope, you don’t get that. Because every time someone says they love you, you hear, “I love Jar Jar. I’ll stand by Jar Jar. I know Jar Jar has flaws, but overall he’s pretty awesome.” Someone who says these things does not sound like someone you should place your faith in. The more love and support someone offers you, the lower they sink in your estimation, slowly but surely. Because they fucking love Jar Jar. How can you take this person seriously?
And here’s the absolutely crazy thing. The more cogently, eloquently, and passionately a given stranger rants against you, even if you dislike that person and find her abrasive and awful, the more you still kind of have to respect her. Because, damn, she sure has Jar Jar’s number, doesn’t she? Such perspicacity. She sees right through that slimy little fuck.
The best kind of people, though, are the ones who find Jar Jar contemptible and beneath them, as any reasoning human would, but who are sedate and polite about it. Who mostly don’t give Jar Jar any thought, because who has a minute to waste on Jar Jar? But yeah, if there were two tables and one had Jar Jar sitting at it they’d go sit at the other one. So classy. So polite. And yet so absolutely right about Jar Jar. These people are fucking catnip. Irresistible. These are the people you build your world around, when you’re a Borderline: the ones you can trust because they know what’s up, but they don’t feel the need to be dicks about it. We’d walk through fire for these people to prove our worth to them.
And usually, we don’t succeed. These types usually don’t bother with us. But suppose we stage a coup? Suppose we slap on a Han Solo mask over our Jar Jar face, get one’s attention, and somehow pull off a conversation? Awesome! For a minute or two, anyway. But the mask has no air holes and eventually you have to take it off to breathe, and then one of two things happens. They recoil, in which case it’s all over, or they park right next to your lop-eared Jar Jar self and hang out. In which case… Whoa. Paradigm shift. This person likes Jar Jar. Watch her stock slowly plummet.
So, you see? As long as we see Jar Jar when we look in the mirror, requited love is impossible. And not seeing Jar Jar takes therapy that costs tens of thousands of dollars. And even then, it means we only see Jar Jar some of the time. Less and less of the time, the longer we manage to survive.
And then some weeks, that fucker pops up in the mirror again, and when he does, it’s like waking up from a dream. You feel like you’ve been fooling yourself with your own Han Solo mask all this time. You want to burn everything you’ve built to the ground, because you built it all for fucking Jar Jar. And he doesn’t deserve that shit.
It’s in these moments when you go from being simply disgusted with yourself to outright enraged. You’re not just loathsome, you’re loathsome and dishonest. You’ve been passing as human, collecting things that humans deserve. You’re a thief. Any juvenile delinquent off the street deserves what you have more than you do, because they, at least, are human. You? There aren’t even words for what you are. Some people can see it, and instinctively shrink away. Others are fooled, but that just makes them fools. And this is the point at which it’s so easy to tell yourself that you have to protect others by removing yourself from the picture before you can steal more things that belong rightfully to humans.
Usually, thinking this in the privacy of your own room is not enough to push you over the edge. Borderlines don’t trust their own minds enough to take advice that comes purely from within.
But here’s the thing about having BPD: so many people agree with you. You’re constantly bombarded by messages laced with contempt for “drama queens,” praising dispassion as virtue. People with intense emotions are constantly described as “toxic” and “radioactive” and as though they were some kind of virulently contagious cancer. No one takes any responsibility for their own reaction to a Borderline’s symptoms; it’s only the Borderline who is supposed to control hers.
To me it seems as though it would be such an easy thing just to say, “Feeling like that must be so hard. I can’t even really imagine it, but I can tell it’s miserable, and I’m so sorry. I hope it passes soon.” But people don’t say that, generally. Generally they back away like you’re vomiting battery acid, hands raised to protect themselves. In their eyes you see what you expect to see – revulsion and fear. It confirms your image of yourself as loathsome, which is the very thing that causes you to have such intense feelings to begin with.
The cycle can be broken, but only by compassion. And sometimes I look around and I just don’t see a lot of that.
Show me I’m wrong?
Not by showing compassion to me, no, not this week. Not when you’d be showing it to Jar Jar. Find someone else out there. Someone besides me who drives you crazy. Stare at that person from a thousand different angles until you feel a faint, surprising spark of affection. Fan that spark into a flame, protect it as though it were your one source of warmth in a long Westeros winter.
How will that help me? I don’t know how to explain, but it really will. Just knowing that there are people out there trying to forgive the imperfect, trying to see the good in people, gives me hope that I don’t always have to slap on my Han Solo mask before I leave the house.
Which is good, because on weeks like this, I don’t even know where I left the damn thing.