“In my life, relationships are like rubber bands. They stretch and snap back so many times, but eventually something breaks and there’s no way to repair the damage.” -Kiera van Gelder, The Buddha and the Borderline
I never know what kind of reaction to expect when I tell someone about my diagnosis. The conversation is rarely a pleasant one, typically after I’ve suffered an emotional breakdown on a stressful day or sometimes in response to being asked why I no longer maintain a relationship with my family. Most people show some level of sympathy, even if they don’t really understand what Borderline Personality Disorder is. Some people express doubt or disbelief, especially if they’ve heard the negative stereotypes associated with the disorder, and assure me that I’m “not that bad.”
There is a wide range of experiences among people with Borderline Personality Disorder, but one thing we all have in common in interpersonal relationships is the core wound of abandonment. I don’t fully understand how it comes to be, but deep down I hold the belief that I am inherently unlovable, hard-wired to believe that even the people I care about the most will one day abandon me, and the best I can do is delay the inevitable. Often this fear of abandonment goes hand in hand with serious feelings of depression and a sense of emptiness. Imagine that you are in a room full of people you like, but you secretly believe that they all hate you and that they’re just too polite, or afraid, to tell you how they really feel. The intense fear of abandonment warps my perception of reality and causes me to sometimes act out in strange and unpredictable ways.
Most days I can suppress the idea that no one really loves me, but it’s always sitting in the back of my mind, waiting to be triggered. On the wrong day, the slightest perceived rejection cuts deep and will send me into a full panic. Maybe a friend had to work late and canceled dinner with me. Maybe someone took a little too long to respond to a Facebook message.
Immediately I think about the worst case scenario–that it’s finally happened; they’ve realized I’m not worth their time. By the time I realize I’m overreacting, the damage is done. I’ve yelled, cried, and left several voicemails pleading with my friend not to abandon me.
The first couple of times I subjected someone to this sort of treatment, I smoothed things over successfully. I explain that I was having a bad day and that I misread their intentions. I tell them about my mental health issues and that I’m working on getting better. And I am.
But as I grow closer to someone, anyone, the emotional stakes get higher. My outbursts become more frequent and desperate. The thought of losing a close friend drives me to engage in self-destructive behavior. The pain that I inflict on my loved ones pales in comparison to the fear and disgust that I feel about myself, but it’s still an undue burden, and eventually it’s too much for some people in my life to tolerate. They tell me that they’ve had enough, and suddenly my fear has been realized–I’ve brought about the exact thing that I was fighting to avoid. Each time I destroy a relationship I can only hope that I’ve learned enough to keep from repeating my mistakes in the future, and to stop asking the question…
Will you still love me tomorrow?