“I keep seeing my neighbour’s pool in winter, just an empty bowl of dusty blue tiles. Imagine standing in the middle of that, when suddenly, the pool fills up. In an instant, you’re drowning.”
It’s Mental Health Week across Australia. Each state starts and ends the special week at different times, but today—Monday—there’s a lot of overlap. So I want to explain why this week should feel like an important call-to-arms, and tell you what it’s like to live with a common—and little understood—mental illnesses: borderline personality disorder, or BPD.
Between one and two percent of Australians suffer from BPD. Women are up to three times more likely to have it than men. It is often connected to (or misdiagnosed as) another mental illnesses, which means it can get lost in other, bigger discussions. It can blend in with depression, anxiety, and bipolar. It might be genetic, or it may result from trauma. It might also be both, or neither.
It is hard to offer a simple medical definition of BPD, but I’ve heard it brilliantly summed up as “chronic irrationality.” Think severe mood swings, impulsivity, instability, and a whole lot of explosive anger.
BPD feels like floating above a dinner party, above the chitchat and laughter, looking down at the smiling people who understand one another, and thinking: why not me?
It sends you into spirals of self-doubt and hatred. It makes you feel like a tangled slinky, forever bumping inelegantly down a flight of stairs. You know something within you is twisted, and even once you’re told what, you’re left wondering why.
There’s always this stifling sense of isolation. I say “sense” because I can be surrounded by the most supportive friends and still think they’re out to get me, or mocking me behind my back. The tragedy of BPD is that it runs on such solipsism that it inverts me as a person. I become toxically narcissistic—self hating to the point where I irrationally project my emotional insecurities onto those around me.
It almost goes without saying that it’s hard to maintain relationships. The combination of feeling absolutely nothing while flinching at everything doesn’t make for a whole lot of fun. BPD makes me lash out, allowing some of the cruelest things to tumble from my mouth. And believe me, there are only so many times loved ones will forgive a lack of control.