Someone said something hurtful today or something I perceived as hurtful. Now, I am afraid. They told me they forgot we had plans today and would need to reschedule. Something else came up. Something more important than me, I guess.
They really don’t want to see me, and they really don’t want to spend time with me. Now I’m crying. Look what they did! People who love you don’t do this! They don’t like me and that’s fine because now I hate them. Yes, I loved them yesterday, but I hate them today. They never liked me anyway.
This is why I don’t have friends. This is why I can’t have friends. Friends hurt. Relationships hurt. I’m too scared to try again. It is much easier being alone.
Something as simple as cancelled plans can send someone, like me, into isolation. Before my diagnosis, I was unaware that what I was doing was isolating. I just knew there were periods where I was terrified to be around people. If someone said something I perceived as hurtful, then my relationship with them could change in an instant. We could go from speaking every day, to hardly speaking at all.
The only thing I felt was everlasting was the fear of the intentions and words of others. That is still true today. Having borderline personality disorder (BPD) means perpetual misunderstandings. Misunderstandings on both your end and on the end of the person you are communicating with.
Communication is a never-ending problem for me, affecting my ability to develop and maintain interpersonal relationships. I have an aching, nagging desire to interact with people on a personal level, but that fearful, irrational voice in my head wins me over every time with “what ifs.”
“What if this person is just trying to get something from you?”
“What if he/she is just pretending to be your friend?”
“What did they really mean when they said (insert said dialogue)?”
I manage well in passing interactions like, “Hi, how are you?” I can respond, “Good, and yourself,” and continue on with my day with little to no interaction with that person again. However, creating personal relationships is unbelievably difficult. Wanting to create relationships while having BPD is like being pulled in two directions.
Imagine a weak person is pulling on your left arm, and a strong person is pulling on your right arm. You are swaying from left to right, and both your arms are becoming stressed. You may start to panic, wanting someone to let go. The stronger person will end up winning, but both of your arms will be exhausted. The weak person is my “rational” thoughts, and the strong person is my “irrational” thoughts. My irrational thoughts about forming relationships always win because my fear is stronger than my courage. As much as I want the “weak person” (my rational thoughts) to win, it hardly ever happens.
Isolation with BPD is not wanting to be alone, but not wanting to be around people either. This is extremely conflicting and creates a lot of anxiety. I cling to just one person, and when that one person is busy, I will stay at home by myself no matter how much I want to interact. I can also become hostile towards them because I will feel as if they have abandoned me if they have other obligations.
Because I cannot trust anyone else, I would rather be alone for days on end waiting for one person than take a chance and spend time with someone new. The lack of support around me causes me to develop a lot of feelings of emptiness, depression and boredom.
Here are some things to know about the isolation BPD causes:
1. Isolation causes an inevitable sense of paranoia.
Since I am too afraid to spend time with people, I can go days without too much social interaction. Because I am lost in my own mind and alone during these times, I become paranoid. I become even more paranoid people are saying things behind my back or are planning things that could hurt me. This becomes an unbreakable cycle of delusions that is problematic because it only causes me to isolate myself even more.
2. Isolation also causes panic attacks prior to arranged interactions.
Being in isolation also worsens the anxiety I feel before social gatherings or interactions, causing me to have panic attacks. The idea of having to communicate builds up so much uneasiness that I become exhausted even hours before interacting. If I can avoid it, then I will. If I cannot, then it causes panic to the point of crying and hyperventilation. If I do have a high level of anxiety/panic, then I will disassociate.
This feels as if I am watching myself in a movie or as if I am out of my body. Since I had been in my own head for so long, it almost feels like I have forgotten how to have normal communication. I develop poor eye contact and look at my feet a lot. I will then resort to a corner or isolated area of the gathering to avoid social interactions.
3. The isolation in BPD can cause you to lash out.
Part of having BPD is extreme emotional reactions, even aggressive ones, to simple situations. If I have isolated myself for quite some time, then I will become irritable as a result of all of the racing thoughts I have failed to manage on my own. I may scream, slam doors or throw objects. I have never (and will never) hurt anyone; however, I have turned my anger onto myself with self-mutilation.
4. When I am being social, I can only pretend for so long.
I have BPD, but I am also a public speaker and Miss Maryland 2015 for the Miss World Organization, which puts me in social situations on a regular basis. I was able to manage social situations over short periods by making myself feel beautiful and glamourous. It was a lot like playing dress-up and make believe. I loved partaking in pageants because it allowed me to embody a confident, outgoing woman when I often felt unsure and nervous, with an unstable self-image. While I “pretended” to be much more confident and outgoing than I was in reality, it also gave me the courage to show parts of my personality while feeling safe in a physical image I felt was more acceptable to society. I still struggle with feeling “safe” in being myself.
Eventually, it became exhausting to keep my true feelings and changing identity a secret. Part of having BPD is having an unstable identity. One minute I want short hair and dark clothes. The next minute I would want to pretend to be Barbie. Being in pageantry required me to have self-confidence and knowledge about myself that I truly did not have and am still struggling to find. I could only pretend for so long. The same is true for having social interactions. It becomes exhausting and difficult for me to manage.
BPD is a serious, complex mental illness, with isolation as one of its primary symptoms. It is an illness that is often difficult for the public to understand as people with BPD struggle with “back and forth” thinking — we want relationships but also push people away. We want you to understand our intentions are not to hurt you, and we really do not want to hurt ourselves. All we want is understanding and love.
With patience and a commitment to helping loved ones struggling with BPD, they can get to a place where isolation from others can be an occurrence which happens less often. All we need is your support.