We are 99% ape (Silvertown, 2008).
That’s part of being human. That’s DNA for you so there’s no getting away from that, and, why would we want to do so?
Our ape relatives are astute, intuitive, communicative, loving, helpful to each other, intelligent, so, it’s not the 99% ape bit of my DNA that concerns me, it’s the 1% fruitcake! (it helps to retain a sense of humour).
Well, my 1% fruitcake kicked me in the butt recently to abruptly remind me that it was there, in its little percentage of being, making me feel different to my fellow apes. After quite a significant relapse of my mental health condition, after years of managing very well with myself, my brain decided to go into synapses and neuron overload, whizz-bang wallop!
So, after a lifetime of misdiagnosed ignorance from doctors when I was younger, I decided to take myself to see a psychiatrist (before I got so bad they came for me!). After all these years I was finally diagnosed as living with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, also known better on your side of the pond as Borderline Personality Disorder.
I say living with and not suffering from because I will not allow my new diagnosis to define me as a person and well, I have lived with it since I was a child, albeit without the fancy tag attached so I’m used to its effects. I guess I’m now designer branded with a cute label huh? Or maybe not so cute; especially as after a little digging online to gain some insight into BPD I came to realize what a much maligned and misunderstood mental health issue this really is.
I was shocked and surprised at the quantity of negative, ignorant and stigmatizing material there is out there regarding BPD. There is too often a one shoe fits all mentally circling mental health problems so this is my minor attempt at trying to reduce some of the fear and loathing I found online regarding BPD by sharing a little of my own experience.
Firstly, it is important to note that as each of us is unique, our biological and environmental responses may vary according to the personal way we react to certain stimuli. Generalizations do not help and only serve to increase stigmatization and fear.
Personally, I do not match up with all the criteria listed in the DSM for BPD, just as many of you will not with whatever daily challenge you are living with. Some symptoms I have don’t even make it onto the DSM.
This shows that we all live with our differences in individual ways. So, what does a diagnosis mean to me? Will it change me? No, not at all; it’s taken me a lifetime to become accustomed and accepting of my own skin and to learn to love myself as I am, so, a diagnosis won’t change that.
It may, however; change how others see me, as I decide to reveal this to them and how I react to their concerns has to be positive. I have learned more about the biological processes of the brain in the past couple of weeks than I have done in a lifetime, so, my diagnosis has educated me, which has to be healthy and good.
Will it define me? No, not at all; we are not our labels and a diagnosis is not a self-fulfilling prophesy, it is part of the whole of us but not the whole of us. What it does do is expand my understanding of my biological processes and help me to tailor my own self-treatment to suit that processing. This is a good thing.
BPD has a lot of negative press and one common misconception is that we are all bunny boiling freak shows on hyperdrive zooming on a path of self-destruction.
Wow! I mean, I’m vegan, trust me; I’d rather pamper your bunny than boil it.
For me, that clinginess and not wanting to be physically alone is hardly relevant. I am actually much more productive when I work alone and have been single for many years, by choice, so clearly, I don’t need a relationship to prop me up and make me feel whole. That misconception can go straight in the trash!
For me, when I go through a very active period of BPD symptoms, it is the rapidity of fluctuating emotions that are hard to deal with. The extremes of euphoria and depression, sense of grief and loss, the heightened fight or flight response, the hallucinations, the paranoia, lack of sleep, crowded thoughts and a palimpsest of noise with frustration firing at me for not being able to control my feelings. Those are the things that give me the most aggravation, and those are the things that accompany that hollow, empty feeling of being alone and misunderstood.
It’s not being physically alone that creates a void; it’s being mentally alone in a cavern of despair without light. Disconnected warped reality and a feeling of losing focus, being zoned out, detached, alienated, emotionally numb, withdrawn, disinterested, depersonalised, contained and trapped within oneself; they are the worst aspects of BPD for me, yet they are rarely promoted as defining factors of living with this illness, many choosing to sensationalise the more socially unacceptable traits instead like rage, impulsiveness and self-harm.
I often feel split, divided, feeling a strong emotional response for a while (short or long) until my brain rejects this and moves to the next emotional state at which point it’s as if the previous one, the previous ‘me’ didn’t exist at all. I know this is my brain being defensive, protecting itself, blocking out emotional overload and moving onto a more attractive state of being in that moment.
We have to remember there are biological processes at work here; I mean, if my amygdala is overactive and my pre-frontal cortex is underactive sometimes I just have to accept that my brain switches states as a matter of biology. This is where physical and biological processes meet emotionally reactive ones or vice versa, but this is not a science paper, I will leave all that to the experts in neuroscience.
The often intolerant attitude to BPD I found online though astounds me. We may be a bit hybrid, we may have had to deal with identity issues at some point, but, remember, we are also loving, kind, vulnerable, human, 99% ape, and only 1% fruitcake.
I am full of hope, that once conversations are opened, that a better understanding of mental aloneness will be reached and that BPD sufferers will stop being treated with the one shoe fits all mentality.
Silvertown, J. and Pond, C. et al, (2009). 99% ape. London: Natural History Museum in association with The Open University.
A good self-help book is:
Galen, G. and Aguirre, B. (2013). Mindfulness for Borderline Personality Disorder. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Can be bought here:
Useful/Interesting Links Concerning Brain Function and Symptoms in BPD:
Pec O, Bob P, Raboch J. Dissociation in schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2014;10:487-491. doi:10.2147/NDT.S57627.
At https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3964156/ [Accessed 19 Apr. 2018].
Krause-Utz A, Frost R, Winter D, Elzinga BM. Dissociation and Alterations in Brain Function and Structure: Implications for Borderline Personality Disorder. Current Psychiatry Reports. 2017;19(1):6. doi:10.1007/s11920-017-0757-y.
At https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5283511/ [Accessed 19 Apr. 2018].
New, Antonia & Hazlett, Erin & Buchsbaum, Monte & Goodman, Marianne & A Mitelman, Serge & Newmark, Randall & Trisdorfer, Roanna & Mehmet Haznedar, M & Koenigsberg, Harold & Flory, Janine & Siever, Larry. (2007). Amygdala–Prefrontal Disconnection in Borderline Personality Disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. 32. 1629-40. 10.1038/sj.npp.1301283. At https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6598104_Amygdala-Prefrontal_Disconnection_in_Borderline_Personality_Disorder [Accessed 19 Apr. 2018].
Paret C, Kluetsch R, Zaehringer J, et al. Alterations of amygdala-prefrontal connectivity with real-time fMRI neurofeedback in BPD patients. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 2016;11(6):952-960. doi:10.1093/scan/nsw016. At https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4884315/ [Accessed 19 Apr. 2018].
Psychiatrictimes.com. (2018). The Neurobiology of Borderline Personality Disorder | Psychiatric Times. [online] Available at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/special-reports/neurobiology-borderline-personality-disorder [Accessed 19 Apr. 2018].