For Crying Out Loud or Why BPD isn’t all bad

By Claire Graham

What I’m about to present to you came by happenstance and was prompted by the death of the master of the rock opera, Meat Loaf, on 20 January 2022. You’re probably wondering why the voice of Bat out of Hell has got anything whatsoever to do with the psychiatric diagnosis I live with which is Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD for short. Please do give me your time, your indulgence and I’ll explain it to you.

When you’re given a mental health diagnosis it’s an overwhelming message to digest and process. Due to the NHS being overstretched and not in the movies there is no comfy chair, no comforting hot drink, no leather couch and no being asked about your mother. Well, you are actually asked about your parents, but it’s not by some old bloke sounding like Sigmund Freud. I’ll dispel that myth right away for you. You’re probably in a shabby room that could weep and wail with the amount of distress it has absorbed into the walls, sitting on a slightly stained cheap uncomfortable chair and there is a half-used box of cheap paper hankies which you’ll make good use of repeatedly. You will probably have limited time with a tired and overstretched mental health professional and encouraged to do your own research. The research will often be online articles and charity fact sheets which are useful but do tend to present the absolute worst-case scenario of you being an awful, manipulative and damaged person that will be impossible to treat.

I learned that psychiatrists and mental health professionals dislike Borderline patients and that BPD is a poisoned chalice of a diagnosis because if you’re in crisis you won’t be taken seriously due to being viewed as being a drama queen. Next mood swing due in two minutes and all that. No-one wants a personality disorder in the first place. I’d have liked a nice healthy brain with regular brain chemistry and it wouldn’t be living in the high church of woo woo but here we all are. I’d have liked no self-harming, no taking three pills to make me socially acceptable and my life totally stymied by it. I won’t get into that now in detail and you can read all about this in my other article on this blog if you wish. More importantly, you go through a phase of thinking you are NOTHING BUT BPD. You’re actually personally erased by the bullshit going on in your brain. However, that eventually passes and its helpful to know that mental health services have to give what’s happening with you a label to get you into the system. This is the helpful information that someone should sit you down with and tell you about. You’re welcome. No need to thank me.

When I eventually picked myself up, got onto the meds, got the coping strategies nailed down a bit more and the world wasn’t ending just yet, I realised that the way my brain works does occasionally work well for me in the most unexpected ways. This is where our dearly departed friend Meat Loaf and his much-missed song writer friend Jim Steinman both come into this. I hyper-focus when I am enthusiastic about something and I can go down a rabbit hole very quickly. After I had stopped crying on and off for a whole morning over Meat Loaf passing away – that emotion dysregulation right there – I came to a very sudden realisation. I had been brought up on his music thanks to my next-door neighbour’s son being a hardcore fan. He would play Meat Loaf so loudly that every time they opened their front door it would be booming out his bedroom. It was the first proper rock music I ever heard as a wee girl and I wanted more of that, thank you very much. I actually thought that life and love were supposed to be lived as ludicrously as the Bat out of Hell album and that the shooting stars would fall through my trembling hands, never mind getting a kiss from the wolf with the red roses. Still waiting on that. The point is that I experience emotions in a way that is as overblown as one of Jim’s finest lyrics. That’s the best description I can give anyone. It has been difficult going through life to find out that other normal human beings won’t feel the same intensity as you do all the time and that it can actually scare people off. However, the right people will understand and accommodate you if they’re decent. It’s all about communication and its perfectly fine to tell someone if it’s safe to do so.

Everything is highly charged, ramped up and oh my goodness me, if we love something we go into Overtly Attached Girlfriend meme-mode. If we enjoy something, we overthink, hyper-focus and it’s so much FUN. I almost feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t. How do you ENJOY STUFF? I recently bored the shit out of everyone close to me because I had finally understood why Interstellar Overdrive by Pink Floyd is a psychedelic masterpiece after three decades of not quite getting it. I’m a huge fan incidentally. I honestly thought I had discovered the secrets of the universe all by myself, I was tripping balls so hard with no substances involved. Syd Barrett, my birthday twin and fellow target for faraway laughter, I get it. Sorry it took me so long. It’s eight minutes forty seconds in when Nick Mason’s drums kick in hard and your guitar goes into doom metal territory after noodling about for ages. It totally slaps. Brilliant. I had played the track on repeat well at least 10 times one day and given that it’s 9 minutes 40 seconds, you work out how much time I had spent on it. I was working from home too. I can multi task. Okay I admit it. I’m playing it on repeat right now.

Also, you really want someone living with BPD on a work project or doing something creative. We are the masters of overthinking so by the time you’ve set out your proposals we will have pointed out the pros, cons and suggested fixes before you can even blink. Our hyper focus, if we’re sufficiently interested, means that we will get the job done for you. You may have to leave us alone as interpersonal relationships can be very tricky for us and we can’t always control what comes flying out of our mouths but we’ll do whatever it is and do it very well for you. Trust me, failure is not an option and the worst thing you could possibly do is to give us negative feedback. It MUST be correct or we feel like the worst person in the world. Use us to your advantage but for heaven’s sake, if we make a mistake make any feedback as kind as possible. Oh, you just thought you’d just send a quick nippy e-mail rather arranging a gentler chat and allowing us the time to fully understand? You’ve now got a colleague locked in the toilets going into crisis and refusing to come out. Slow sarcastic handclaps and lost productivity.

We’re also extremely empathetic. Due to anxiety being a real issue and worrying about what the world thinks of us all the time, we’re highly intuitive, very switched on and we pick up if someone’s unhappy or needs help quickly. Nobody feels rubbish and alone, not on my watch. Often, we can’t bear anyone feeling sad so we will go all out to make someone feel better, often at the expense of ourselves. We care and we care very deeply. We will literally absorb what you feel and adopt it as our own.

We’re also tough as old boots. On a daily basis we have to do mind gymnastics that you wouldn’t believe just to navigate the day. That friend hasn’t messaged you back in five minutes – oh my GOD, they secretly hate you and you’re such a bad person. Oh wait – they just messaged me. Maybe I’m not a total sack of shit after all. What the HELL – you’re moving that meeting to my lunchtime that must be at the same time every day? DO NOT WANT! That’s my routine and my whole day just got screwed over. What are you doing this to me?! Stress overload – right, let’s disassociate and escape it except you can’t quite do that this time and the world feels like a badly tuned radio. That’s on top of the rapid mood swings, suicidal thoughts/idealisation and any self-harming or substance abuse issues. We’re usually un-shockable and hard as nails. The problems start when our natural resilience cracks and we fall through. I often seriously wonder if I will make old bones myself.

We’re good people. Granted, we’re often hard work and we need handled with care but if you give someone living with BPD a chance, you usually won’t regret it. If we love you, we will REALLY love you and go the extra mile. We’re not just a diagnosis – we’re multi-faceted people just like you. We’re friends, spouses, parents, colleagues. We’d do anything for love, but we won’t do that. Go and listen to the song, the answer is there. Your Borderline friends have the answers too.

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