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 there is nothing lighthearted about it. There are so many "types" of BPD, no one ever fits in the exact same basket. What is shameful to me may not be to someone else. It's in its complexity that the struggle can be immense because what triggers me is highly individualised as is the shame that comes along with it.
Being such a complex illness that is different for everyone, Borderline Personality Disorder can be like being stuck in a perpetual state of ever changing chaos. I have learnt more and more as I understand my illness that things can change in an instant and I feel emotions on such an intense level all the time that 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 went past a mirror at home, inside my head I would insult myself. 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 realised 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 that I love and the loss I have felt at the people who have given up on me. I have always struggled to feel proud of anything, instead of finding the negative in the situation because its a strangely more comfortable feeling than the more foreign pride feeling.
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 then didn't deal with any of these issues for many years, it meant carrying shame around 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 and by reaching out for help, taking control of my illness in the best way I know how was the turning point for me. I realised I could use my experiences and my knowledge to help other people. So the shame I carry still, helps me to understand others and also to express it without judgement. I sit with the feeling when it comes and then let it pass. I made the decision that I either gave up or fought for my life.
I decided to fight. Despite me 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 have 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 more empowered again. The feeling of shame never quite goes away altogether and when things get bad, it is the key driver to destructive behaviour 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.