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First person

“I knew I had a name for this f*cker”: living with borderline personality disorder

By October 10, 2021No Comments

Jordanne Jones on living with borderline personality disorder


I’ve had a large amount of external situations that would have had their negative impact on my mental state since I was born into this world. After a long and frustrating time of not having the words at hand to express how I was feeling, all I knew was that there was something that lay deeper than just what was happening in the physical world. 

There was something at my core that felt too enormous for me to ever grasp or manage, something I believed would one day kill me. Something a universe big. My mind world. An extremely visual and striking place to me. A complex spiderweb-like structure that has been branching off to all corners of my mind all the way down to the pits of my stomach. A whirlwind of memories, faces and conversation moves rapidly between the webs. 

And this cluster of an analytical mind travels way beyond my body, with the strength to pull me out of my body altogether. But in all its chaos, there’s a hollowness, an emptiness. I pleaded with my Mam often that there was something terribly wrong within me, that I was very sick and needed emergency attention. When I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, or later known as EUD (emotionally unstable disorder) at 17, I knew I had a name for this fucker. 

So, what is BPD? BPD is a dissociative disorder that occurs as a result of long-term damage done when trauma interrupts a person usually in the years that they are emotionally developing. It is ultimately a desperate longing for nurture, care, safety, and security. It involves behavioural patterns that develop in response to the person’s trauma; chronic feelings of emptiness and irregular emotions

I felt it as a void that was going to eat me if I didn’t feed it. I fed this void with impulsive behaviour in situations where my self-worth was nowhere to be seen. The mind can manifest trauma into a consuming monstrous emotional torment, which for me was always extremely visual, and I delved into it, because it called out for me to listen to it, to feel it, that it was worthy. And maybe it’s, cynical but I do believe it was worthy of long visiting hours; I listened to my pain like nobody else could, I respected it and felt it through.

No doubt it could make me wail trying to grab on to the crumbling rocks, and out of its abysses, but I never would have begun to understand it if I hadn’t visited it’s depths and through that I seen it’s profundities. I always had an analytical mind, I spent most of my time exploring my identity and how and why I was programmed the way I was. But once I had a strong understanding of why I was the way I was, I needed to recover, and I don’t think I realised that understanding wasn’t recovery done. 

So, what did I find on my journeys? I explored why I felt so detached and disconnected from the reality around me. One of the hardest and scariest symptoms of BPD is feeling like you’re losing grip of all that’s in front of you and falling further internally. I once wrote in my diary about how I responded to hearing news that triggered my trauma, while I was already being engulfed with emotional pain, its teeth pressed against my fighting hands. It reads, “I repress because I can’t function if I begin to try process, some things are too big to process, especially when the loading bar isn’t even close to an end on childhood memories that have stuck around richly enough to sting as much as they did when they were happening, so who knows when I’ll get back to this emotional burden.”

This detachment is a survival technique to get me through a day because people will be expecting conversations and colleges will be expecting attendance and if I take this one on it might be the one to drown me. This one will have to go into the growing archive, but I’ll make my visit back and feel it’s true wrath later on. 

But eventually, these worlds, my reality, and my mind world bubbling with trauma, seeped into one and other, I couldn’t tell me apart from my trauma; it had consumed me, and I saw myself as it. I was the pain of my trauma; I was its ugliness and I hated myself. All gates were opened and painful memories, or agonising emotions, crept to the fore threateningly and some smothered me before I was ever the wiser.

This was extremely interruptive to my life and confusing to those around me, hard to keep up I’m sure, seeming as it was never the most gradual of transitions and they always came in their extremities. These emotions could come as they pleased but they could also be triggered by any acknowledgment of associations with my trauma, and an array of strong visual links and correlations that I had going on inside; my trauma was triggered multiple times a day. This leaves the disorder feeling inescapable, and the hopelessness of that is crushing. 

I wondered who I could have been if my traumatic experiences didn’t happen, or if they didn’t impact my wiring the way they did. It always felt like a tumour I wish I knew about sooner, growing in me since I was a kid. Huge chunks of myself, in different times of trauma in my life, stuck around in me forever like lost ghosts stuck in purgatory, searching for their needs to be met and their stories to be heard. They lived in me and through me.

Again, making relationships difficult or unstable with these conflicting senses of self. Making my own understanding of my sense of self a question too daunting, that when thought about too much, made me feel like absolutely nobody at all. However, I got the chance not many people do. My BPD allowed me to reconnect with these parts of myself still present within me, I got the chance to nurture all of them, all of me. They are heard, they are seen, they are cared for, because I am mine.  

BPD is one of the most stigmatised disorders and also the most common disorder linked to suicide. People with BPD are highly misunderstood. Our desperate tries at attempting to receive our longing of love and healing, comes from our suffering, inner turmoil, and our immense fear of abandonment, but it has been described as manipulative and such. But our manipulation has no selfish intention; it is our cry. 

The recklessness and mania may look messy and even frightening from time to time, but my worlds seep into one and other; don’t expect us to keep our flooding gates locked forever. As much as we try, it is all of us and its visiting hours require visiting from family and friends. 

What I don’t think is talked about enough is our beautiful sense of spirituality. We are observing sponges true and true. Yes, a hyperawareness to the world and those around us is a response to trauma and a coping mechanism, but it makes us intuitive. When I’m present and able, I take my surroundings in in the most insightful ways. I feel emotions in their extremities and so my love is oceans big. 

To me, empathy is visceral. I always thought of it like my BPD brought me to the depths of mental hell and the rawness of that lives on like a burn within me. And so, with that knowledge of the gravities of where your mind can bring you, my sympathies are explosive for anyone I care for when I fear or see their trip to the mind’s dark corners. And with my BPD’s demanding of study, I thought I knew little of who I was. Turns out, I know a lot. 

It’s difficult to write this while in recovery because at this moment in time, I’m in a very good place with my BPD and could have probably better described it’s agonies at a different point in my mental health story. Thankfully through psychotherapy specific to BPD I have made great progress in undoing learned behaviours and patterns that were unhealthy. I truly felt my mind as a muscle that I had control to mould with time, patience, nurture, and a different perspective. 

I had to make visits to the dark caves and pull out what they offered me and put them on the table in front of me. Mostly I bathed in their guts, wept into its skin, and dissected it until it drove me insane. This time, I knew I was missing a step after the dissection, I shouldn’t have been curling back up into its guts. That’s when I was meant to be opening up my heart, letting go and making room for me. I was stuck in my story. I finally felt my feet move forward and what was behind me wasn’t garbage, but it was weight I didn’t need to hold on to forever. I could use my visual mind and my connectedness to make this practice as real to me as my mind world.

This is where I began to feel a big shift in my attitudes towards my abilities and strength, feeling a sense of control I didn’t feel ever possible. I saw a rope sink down to the ocean floor where I lay stiff. Taking the rope was my mind opening up and engaging with what would help get me out of there. My climb wasn’t always graceful, it was a rope that went from point A to B, but it’s journey wasn’t linear, when I began to see the light, it was I who was holding the rope and pulling myself up.  Therapy was one of the key things that helped me navigate my journey and I encourage therapy for everyone, but I know that not even those that need it most have access to it. So, in that case, a collective effort to spread more awareness is essential and urgent. I’ve tried to do it in my writing today, but has film ever tried to do it? 

If you read my last article for rogue on social class, you’ll see I like to end my personal spiel discussing films’ representations of whichever theme and what I feel, in my humble opinion, they may have got right or wrong. The films of the week that explore dissociative disorders are Split (2016), directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and TV show’s BoJack Horseman (2014), and Legion (2017). 

Legion is a terrific sci-fi series, based on Marvel Comics centred around David Holler, a psychiatric patient diagnosed with schizophrenia, who also happens to have many super abilities. While it’s not schizophrenia that we’re discussing, the two disorders have many overlapping symptoms and there is one representation that resonates with my BPD hugely. David has a strong visual mind world that seeps into his reality and his trauma has manifested itself into a gruesome torturing figure named Shadow King. 

This results in David’s dissociation and detachment from reality, making it hard for him to distinguish past from present, and memory from imagination and so he is portrayed as an unreliable narrator in capturing this side of his diagnosis. Its visual storytelling also includes a place named the Astral Plane, a place that seems to be somewhere between psychosis and reality, where David has found himself, locked away internally questioning his identity and making sense of his mental state.

While dealing with superpowers and such, it’s on dangerous grounds of glorifying a disorder, however what I believe it does is include a superpowered person who has the disorder, which helps represent diversity in the sci-fi world, and respectfully tells the supernatural story while using it’s plot lines to demonstrate metaphorically what it may feel like, and what it means to live with, the disorder.  I recommend Legion because it’s an incredible, bingeworthy show with great visual symbolic storytelling that translates David’s confusion, anxiety and how vast the mind and it’s capabilities can go in someone with a dissociative disorder like schizophrenia or BPD. 

BoJack Horseman is an animated sitcom about a washed-up Hollywood star, who happens to be a horse, and while the show doesn’t claim that BoJack has BPD many of his qualities align. His internal suffering is always referred back to his difficult upbringing and the neglect of his parents like most people with BPD. BoJack seeks out these external modes of nurture and comfort as a blanket for his poor self-image and lack of self-worth. He fills his void with addiction and impulsive decisions and self-destruction, which are a result of his irregulated emotions, only spiralling his life into a mess he can’t find his way out of. BoJack is rash in his attitudes towards relationships; he can cut people loose with the click of a finger or try controlling a situation’s outcome all to avoid these real or made-up scenarios where he will ultimately be abandoned. 

His emptiness pulls him towards intense unstable relationships as an attempt to connect and feel whole again, whereas his trauma makes him want to live a life without love, because to BoJack love will only get you hurt, so to commit emotionally is a very complex and complicated thing for BoJack to manage. His black and white approach is a coping mechanism, his idealization for those around him is his desperate chase of comfort and love, and his devaluation of those around him is his desperate run away from being hurt as a means of protection. BoJack may seem like a cruel representation of someone with BPD because often his desperate attempts to not end up miserable and alone are worthy of accountability and consequence, but as the show progresses, we understand where these patterns come from, and we realise how misunderstood of a character he is. I don’t believe we can tie BoJack to BPD, but the show explores a lot of what it might mean for someone to live with the disorder. 

So, these shows in my opinion, with their faults, managed to demonstrate some of the symptoms of BPD well, so that leaves Split to make a balls of it. Split is a psychological horror about a man, Kevin Wendell Crumbs, who kidnaps three girls and is on a murderous rampage. The film uses Kevin’s Dissociative Disorder and his different personality alters as the main subject of disturbance and the frightening element to the story, which is exploitation of the disorder for entertainment at the cost of those with the disorder. 

This stigmatisation of DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) in the media will hinder people with the disorder on their journey of acceptance when they already feel misunderstood, and heighten their anxieties around how they are perceived; there are already existing preconceived notions that people with the disorder are a threat. 

The film makes a poor choice to include accurate representation as if it were informative and mix that with inaccurate and damaging information, distorting people’s awareness, and comfortability with the disorder. The ending scenes of Kevin are in bad taste, his DID ultimately transforms him and his body into a killing machine and that’s the last note on his DID the film decides to end on. I do not recommend Split as a film to watch as a way to better understand someone with a dissociative disorder, and I feel their dramatic license was taken advantage of when portraying an already misunderstood minority group.