Living with a mental health condition can mean keeping a lot of secrets. Not necessarily because you want to keep them, but I’ve generally found people often don’t want to know about what they don’t understand — what is not perceived as “normal” behavior. Try, for example, answering someone who asks how you are with “I am having an excruciating week because my mind won’t shut off and all I want to do is pull the duvet over my head and not face reality.” I am sure many people may not know how to respond to that, never mind deal with it.
Here are five secrets I have never told my friends about my borderline personality disorder (BPD):
1. Social gatherings drain me.
When a social event is coming up, I have to mentally prepare myself for days in advance (sometimes weeks). A social gathering is not a time when I can unwind, relax or have fun. No, my thoughts are constantly racing, and it takes an enormous amount of energy to act social. When I arrive, I always compare my outfit with everyone else’s: Am I over/underdressed? Who looks prettier than me? Should I wear my hair up or down? In what position must I sit or stand in order to look comfortable and not give away my anxiety? Am I fiddling too much?
Then, during a conversation, I would always think ahead to two or more subjects to talk about so there are no awkward silences — all the while trying to concentrate on what you are saying. There are moments when I can’t hear you, but I find it difficult to ask you to repeat yourself for fear of looking like I wasn’t paying attention in the first place. I try to laugh at the right time, have the correct reaction or facial expression, and try to hear what you are saying above the loud chatter and music. Then, at some point — completely unpredictable — everything becomes louder. The sound of people talking and the music. And it feels like bugs are crawling inside my brain and I am going to lose my sanity and composure at any moment. Then, when the night is over, I am exhausted and am reminded of why I always find random excuses not to go through with a social gathering.
2. I hate small talk.
Almost just as exhausting as socializing to me is talking about insignificant things. If I can’t philosophize about life and talk about topics that matter to me, I don’t see the point of engaging in the conversation. I do realize chit-chat is part of life and I do it, but it takes every inch of my energy to entertain conversations that feel pointless to me. I want to talk about what you are passionate about, your past, your hopes and dreams, and what struggles you face. I guess I need to have heartfelt conversations to feel I am not alone. That you, too, have a level that people don’t see. I ask the questions, because deep down I wish someone would ask me the tough questions people may not want to hear the answers to.
3. I am not a “bad friend,” I just don’t see the point of investing in relationships.
For over 20 years, I have lived with people rejecting me. They seem to love being with the spontaneous, creative and loving person, but when things get tough, they leave. They can’t seem to deal with the neediness, the mood swings, the depression, the anxiety and the fears. They love me when I fit their picture of “perfection,” but they move on when I cannot keep up appearances. So forgive me if our friendship or relationship seems superficial to you, or if it seems like I “don’t make an effort to spend time with you,” but I just don’t trust you. I don’t see the point of putting in effort and building a relationship if you are just going to abandon me later on.
4. Pushing you away is my way of saying I truly need you in my life.
Despite all of this, I still need you. Despite me pushing you away, I still hope you will stay by my side and hold my hand. I am so desperate to tell you how I am suffering and that I truly want a relationship with you, but I don’t know how! I don’t know how to operate in today’s society, I don’t know how to sustain relationships if I can’t even have a good one with myself, and I don’t know how to trust people to accept me for the dark, broken person I am. If I push you away, at least then I can say I did you a favor. It was going to get messy, and you would end up resenting me for emotionally blackmailing you to stay with me. At least when I push you away, I make you leave before I am left.
5. The words “be positive” are like nails on a chalkboard to me.
Whatever you do, don’t tell me to be positive. If it was that simple to switch my mindset, don’t you think I would have done that by now? You must understand my world and the way I view it is completely different from yours. My reality is like something out of “Alice in Wonderland.” Everything to me is either life or death, big or small, exhilarating or torture, high or low, black or white — it is never in between or a perfect equilibrium.
So when you tell me to look at the bright side, it kills me. I would love to think about things as positive or “happening for a reason,” but to me, it all seems hopeless. I just want you to hold me and tell me you care about me and that everything is going to be OK. I can’t see past this very second, so when you tell me I must view things in a positive way, I want to scream. How can you not see how dark this situation seems to me? I am most probably overreacting, and I believe there is a better way to look at things, but not right now. Right now, my world is falling apart, and I just need you to make me feel safe and loved.
In my experience, living with secrets is what BPD is about, and I believe this is probably the main reason why many people don’t understand our condition. We may often act in a certain way, and what we say is not always what we feel — a never-ending seesaw ride.