Updated: Dec 22, 2019
Shame is part of my daily life. You see, I am what they call a “quiet” borderline. I admit, it sounds a little on the creepy side, but I can assure you there’s nothing lighthearted about it.
There are so many “types” of borderline personality disorder (BPD) — no one ever fits in the exact same basket. What is shameful to me may not be to someone else. It’s within this complexity that the struggle can be immense; what triggers me is highly individualized, as is the shame that comes along with it.
Since it’s such a complex illness that’s different for everyone, borderline personality disorder can feel like being stuck in a perpetual state of ever-changing chaos. As I grow to understand my illness, I’ve learned more and more that things can change in an instant. I feel emotions on such an intense level all the time, it still takes me by surprise. Instead of lashing out at others or smashing things (trust me, there are many times I want too), I direct that level of hatred and shame inwards on myself.
I remember casually telling my doctor that when I go past a mirror at home, I always insult myself inside my head. It could be anything from, “You’re an idiot,” to, “You can never do anything right,” to, “You can never be loved because you are so unattractive.” Or sometimes, it’s a simple, “Fuck you.” I mentioned that I “casually” told this to my doctor and afterwards promptly moved on. He directed me back to what I had said. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much of the comment, but when I sat and thought about it and talked it through, I realized it was another form of self-harm I was inflicting on myself. The constant barrage of criticism and negativity racing through my head was me feeling shameful almost all the time and I was the one responsible for it.
If I drop something, I insult myself, and when I say insult, I really mean it. Shame is part of my life every day — the shame that people in my life have seen me lose everything and fall to the ground, and the shame that my illness impacts the people and world around me. The feeling of being a burden on people who I love, and the loss I have felt at the people who have given up on me. I’ve always struggled to feel proud of anything, and instead always find the negative in the situation. It’s a strangely more comfortable feeling than the more foreign feeling of pride.
When I was younger, I also had to deal with my sexuality and growing up in a small town where it just wasn’t OK to be gay. I experienced a very traumatic sexual assault and blamed myself for everything. Because I was so young and didn’t deal with any of these issues for many years, carrying shame with me became a normal part of my daily struggles. It felt like there were way too many balls in the air and I couldn’t possibly juggle them all.
Reaching out for help and taking control of my illness in the best way I know how was the turning point for me. I realized I could use my experiences and my knowledge to help other people. So the shame I carry still helps me understand others, and I’ve learned to express it without judgment. I sit with the feeling when it comes and then let it pass. I made the decision that I either had to give up or fight for my life.
I decided to fight. Despite missing some material aspects of my old life, through my writing and my public speaking, with my special guest star Harvey who is my assistance dog, I’ve been able to help people in ways that I never thought possible. Despite the accolades I craved and won in my career, nothing came close to having someone approach me and tell me that I had made such a difference in their life. I am still learning every day that the shame I feel on my worse days will pass and I will feel empowered again. The feeling of shame never quite goes away altogether, and when things get bad, it is the key driver to destructive behavior towards myself.
If I could draw a picture of what BPD feels like to me, it would be a stick man clinging to the side of a cliff just enough to see over. On the other side of the drop, there is the rest of the world, people laughing, love, happiness… life. My stick man sometimes climbs up enough to join in, but he inevitably stumbles and finds himself holding on for dear life, watching again from the edge of the world.
The more I learn about myself and my illness, the more tools I will have to one day walk past the mirror and smile.