My mouth hovers a millimetre or so away from the surface. The bath water is warm and ripple free. The sound of my heartbeat echoes in my ears. If only the water level was slightly higher, I would inhale this vaguely rose-scented peace, return to the void and sink into blissful oblivion. My relaxed heart thuds more slowly and I observe it, contentedly, before pulling the plug out. Death does not scare me, but I will not die today, not as long as my conscious mind governs me. Not as long as I have reasons not to.
Yesterday I didn’t know why I had those feelings so often, but today I do. The diagnosis came unceremoniously on top of an invoice–Emotional instabile Persönichkeitsstörung–it said. Borderline personality disorder. Or emotionally unstable personality disorder, as they like to call it in Europe.
I had to look it up you know, even though I’ve lived it for forty-two years. I discovered many vitriol filled opinions about ‘my kind’ out there on the world wide web (Quora, I’m looking at you). Hatred is not easy to accept for a condition where one of the primary characteristics is unqualified fear of abandonment. So, just to make myself feel better, I googled ‘famous people who have borderline’ but I shouldn’t have. Amy Winehouse, Marilyn Monroe, Britney Spears. All touted as hysterical, unstable women. The Hollywood tropes were if possible, worse. Single white females with fatal attractions. Grossly misleading.
But that borderline is not me. I do not cling to partners to assuage my fear of abandonment–which as an adoptee I’ve long been aware of–instead I subscribe to a more open, networked relationship philosophy, where I maintain and support freedom for all those I love. My fear of abandonment has propelled me to consciously create a configuration which offers a multi-modular family; space when I need it and support where necessary. Yet fear of abandonment also means I prize my network and work hard to maintain a mutually agreed, consensual level of commitment. Something the therapists call ‘lack of object constancy’–most easily summarized as out of sight, out of mind–allows me to grieve more gradually when some inevitably choose a different life path. I prefer to let them walk away. My mind protects me against the terror of abandonment, luckily, since it is their right to leave, as it is mine. I could not live or love without being able to do so. Of course this does have consequences, in these geographically spread times, on friends and family who live far away. We have little contact. That’s sad, they tell me, but there’s no point in beating myself up about it.
These two facets of ‘borderline’ allowed me to protect myself as a traumatized child, they allowed me to survive. And as an adult, they have supported me in living in a world where I know from experience that dependency on loving promises and altruistic intentions is foolish. Because as far as I have been able to tell, you cannot know for sure that those you love will not leave you. Why shouldn’t they? The future is unknown and dutiful promises can so often become bonds. To stay with someone out of duty is the worst abandonment of all, I think, the abandonment of the self.
Then there’s the manipulative, destructive and violent side of borderline. I won’t lie, there was a time twenty years ago where alcohol addiction cultivated a hell of self-destructive lies and promiscuity. I failed at suicide a few times. Back then, a diagnosis would have been helpful. Indeed, help would have been helpful–but I only got shame and abuse. Pull yourself together, they said, grow up. Adoption, narcissistic parenting, divorce and emotional neglect baked borderline right into the heart of me. But once emancipated, over a period of years I started to heal. I read, I educated myself, I sought advice. I’m grateful that I was able to cut the ties with those people who are toxic for me, and surely that I am toxic for. They are out of sight, out of mind. Some folk are never meant to be in a relationship together.
But there’s one more important way that borderline still manifests and that’s in an acute sensitivity to my environment. It’s why the doctors define me as emotionally unstable. The inability to be regulate my sadness and anger in the face of horror. The inability to temper euphoria when life is overwhelmingly delightful. A lack of identity means I absorb by osmosis, what many can shield themselves from. Other people’s emotional spectrum is not as wide, and yes, I see how it might be useful to limit this.
The ascension of Trump to the White House and the rise of the far right across the world, threw me into a six-month frenzy of anxiety and depression. What I didn’t understand was why others couldn’t see the madness of electing such a man. Of casting their vote for oppression. I still don’t. Maybe if the world knew what it was like to live in fear, he wouldn’t be there with his ignorant, abusive, little fingers loitering over the red nuclear button. Maybe if the world knew what abuse does, the vile Hollywood icons would have toppled sooner and the many, many victims wouldn’t have been left for years in the hot-and-cold flash of trauma. Maybe if the world felt as much as I did, we’d be kinder to one another, feel more empathy, and we’d all be outraged at the gross impact of privilege, oppression and the disgusting, squalid inequity. I still cry when I watch YouTube videos about Kristellnacht; I think everyone should.
Yet the reason they call it a disorder is because we cannot bear to accept how the world works. We cannot and will not adjust to it.
The truth of this diagnosis is heavy. Not only because I feel paradoxically both validated and unvalidated. Also because there is a desire from the doctors to get me into a numbed mode from the dystopia which surrounds me. A part of me does not want to feel it less. There may be pills. Therapy. Help is finally on the way. But I’m glad that the diagnosis was given twenty years too late. Because my formative experience will not leave me now–I will not die today, and I don’t want to. Not when there is so much to do.
Published on The Body is Not An Apology