Geeks Vs Loneliness: the shame cycle of BPD

Borderline personality disorder brings with it huge challenges. Here, Jo chats about keeping on top of her temper...

I slam my front door and run upstairs half screaming, half crying. I immediately ring my mother for help. She’s the only person I can turn to in these situations. I sob and shout down the phone while she tells me to take deep breaths and explain to her what’s happened. I eventually manage to take a breath and get a jumble of words out which make just enough sense.

“I did it again. I screamed and swore at a neighbour and completely lost it.”

I battle with my anger and guilt while tears stream down my face and tell my mother of yet another altercation I have caused because I can’t control my emotions and impulses.

Welcome to the never-ending shame-cycle that is Borderline Personality Disorder.

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Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD for short is like being a walking, talking, ticking time-bomb. The trigger for an all-out emotional explosion can be as small as someone looking at you the wrong way, or accidently brushing past you and not apologising. Today it was my neighbour telling me to keep my dog on the lead, when it ran into her aggressive dog outside my home and they had a canine tiff.

I saw red, I felt threatened and I blew up. I shouted, I swore. I did it again. My neighbour knocked on my door afterwards to confront me, little knowing this was the worst thing you can do to someone with BPD who has just exploded. I lost my temper again, made an even bigger scene and now all my neighbours are probably aware of just how crazy I am.

I now will spend days, possibly weeks hiding in my home, checking the coast is clear before I leave and feeling ashamed to be seen by anyone. I will berate myself, punish myself with a cruel and tactless inner monologue and retreat even further into my hermit lifestyle. In time I will recover, and then someone will trigger me, and it will happen all over again.

I congratulate myself however. I did well in this new home. Seven whole months went by before I started creating conflict with the people around me. I think that’s a new record. Silver linings are all I have at this moment in time.

It wears you down, feeling constantly ashamed of yourself. Humans need self-love, not self-hate, but when you have a disorder which makes you anti-social, it’s hard to be kind to yourself. People have reminded me many times that my behaviour is “unacceptable” or I’m being “unreasonable”. I’ve lost count of all the times I’m told to “calm down” and that I’m “blowing the situation out of proportion”. On the outside BPD seems like a disorder that’s completely irrational and extreme.

BPD may seem irrational to outsiders, but the disorder makes a lot of sense when you think about what is really happening in the psyche of the sufferer, aka me. BPD means you are in constant “fight or flight” mode because of past trauma exposing you to danger early on in life. You’re always on alert for threats and your senses are supercharged to be better able to spot them. In a way it’s like being a wild animal –my senses are concentrated on being alert to my environment, and just like a deer, if I sense even the slightest danger, I bolt. My bolting is just more like lots of screaming and shouting (a minor difference, I jest.)

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My psyche is doing good work to protect me from harm; it doesn’t realise it lost the ability to differentiate between real danger and perceived danger some years ago. I am so sensitive from years of being in “fight or flight” that I’ve entered burn-out and now my skin is wafer-thin, and things that aren’t a threat are calculated as such by my confused mind.  

Having therapy has helped me understand why I react the way I do, but it doesn’t help the guilt and shame you feel when you act like someone you detest. I am not a rude person, but very often my actions suggest otherwise. The things I say are rude, my tone of voice is angry, my body language is aggressive. The casual stranger I am barfing vitriol at in the street for getting in my way doesn’t know I am not really that type of person.

What else are people supposed to think when they see someone acting like I do? They’re only human after all. If I don’t want to wear a board around my neck with, “Has BPD, will probably verbally attack you. Doesn’t really mean it” around my neck, I have to accept and deal with the fact people I lose my temper with will judge me to be someone I’m not. 

The cycle of shame gets easier as I learn to forgive myself sooner. It helps if I reach out and apologise if this is achievable and I feel comfortable with letting the person know about my mental health. I won’t lie, it is very ego-stripping to have to tell strangers you are mentally unwell to explain your erratic behaviour. I have pride, like anyone else. I don’t want to admit my weakness so sometimes I just let people think I’m a monster.

I’m still working on letting go of my pride and being kind to myself. The less I hate myself, the calmer I am and the cooler my trigger finger is. It all ties up together and only time and commitment to my personal development will stop the cycle altogether. For now, it’s still a work in progress, and that’s ok. Now If you’ll excuse me, I have a big cake to bake to try to smooth things over with my neighbours. Hopefully I won’t end up throwing it at them.

MIND has more on BPD, here.

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