In this challenging and confusing time, many people across the globe are finding their everyday lives irrevocably changed by measures being taken to tackle the outbreak of COVID-19. Large proportions of the population are finding themselves self-isolated at home, confined to this space for an unknown amount of time.
Workers are finding their jobs threatened and financial security cast into doubt, students are losing their chance to take exams and achieve their needed qualifications, and families are now having to manage putting food on the table and entertaining children from home for the foreseeable future. This is an unprecedented time, and represents a huge challenge for every member of society to weather the storm.
For the estimated 1.4% of the population with a borderline personality disorder (BPD) diagnosis, this huge public health threat can make it incredibly challenging to maintain mental well-being and stability.
BPD is an extremely misunderstood illness, with many associating it with negative connotations. It is characterized by emotional instability and hypersensitivity; a fancy way of saying that emotions are essentially all over the place in day-to-day life, cycling through extreme highs and lows in quick succession. Regular social interactions become minefields with the potential to trigger intense feelings of abandonment or persecution, almost like you are being individually targeted and the whole world is pitted against you. It can be an exhausting battle, one that not many can fully appreciate without experiencing it. But I also like to think of my BPD as a superpower — bear with me here without laughing. Although we find ourselves “irrationally” affected by the world around us, many of us also have incredible insight into other’s feelings and are able to sympathize, comfort and support where others may not be able.
Navigating life with the challenge of BPD is an ongoing struggle, but having “anchors” in life that provide stability such as work, family, studies, etc is a crucial part of managing day-to-day life. So, what do we do when those foundations are removed? When our carefully constructed reality is turned upside down and no longer in our control? Many people out there are feeling powerless and overwhelmed, but when this feeling is an essential part of your life anyway and something you tackle every morning as you get out of bed, this restless time has the potential to destabilize your recovery completely.
I have personally fought tirelessly day in and day out for the last 18 months to get my life back on track since being diagnosed and to keep my head above water, only to find all my carefully constructed safety nets disintegrating around me and being forced into isolation from the world. But I refuse to let this beat me and set me back, and I’m sure there are many out there scrambling to construct safety plans for this exact purpose. So, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about managing BPD in this uncertain time.
This is a key part of managing BPD anyway, and I often build in structured activities to keep myself going such as swimming at the local pool or a trip to the library. With these activities rendered obsolete for the time being, it’s time to get more creative. Set your alarm, drag yourself out of bed and start the day. Don’t wallow in your duvet and lose touch with the world. It’s important to have purpose. Whether that is a job you’ve been putting off like cleaning out the wardrobe, finally reading that book you’ve been looking at for months or getting on with a creative project you haven’t had time to even think about. Find a task and dedicate your time to it, give yourself a reason to get up and attack the day.
It can be easy to get lost in your own company, something that can be toxic with BPD. I often say that I am my own worst enemy, and it’s true. Without others I feel untethered, lost in my own world. That’s why social connections are so important. When physical distance is prohibited, this can be challenging to say least. But we live in a golden age of technology! The last pandemic a hundred years ago had people cowering in their homes with no link to the outside world. We are fortunate to have telephones, FaceTime, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, group chats, Skype, even Netflix parties are now a thing. Take advantage of this incredible platform and reach out to others. Chances are, they are feeling lonely too. Have a conversation with your family, friend or even someone new. Connect with them, share your experience. Even if it is just a 10 minute chat, you are tethering yourself back to the world and getting out of your head.
The dreaded “E” word — I’m sorry. I know first-hand how frustrating it is when your psychiatrist harps on about exercising, getting the endorphins going, etc. We’ve all heard it before, and probably ignored it. But when you are confined to the inside of your house for weeks on end, this really does come into new importance. You don’t have to be an Instagram-worthy fitness buff. Just 10 minutes of activity every day can have a huge effect. Get the blood pumping. Burn off some of that anxious energy. You don’t need a gym to get some healthy exercise in. Do a yoga tutorial, go into the garden and do some star jumps, dance around your kitchen in your pajamas to some really good music. Do whatever feels right. You may not want to, the sofa may be way too comfy, but even those few minutes of activity can help relieve tension and act as a coping strategy.
4. Know When to Ask for Help
Every single person in this country is feeling the effect of this pandemic. You’d be pressed to find anyone who isn’t struggling and under a huge amount of strain. But for those of us with mental health conditions, and in this context an enduring personality disorder, it can feel like this is the end of the world. It’s tough to react rationally in normal situations, but when everyone is panicking and acting irrationally, our unhealthy behavior is unconsciously validated. This doesn’t have to be an excuse to let your brain panic and slip into relapse mode. It can sometimes feel like your mind is just waiting for an excuse to submit to the temptations of unhealthy coping strategies, and something like this is a perfect way for that demon to take over. Do not give it power! There are people out there who can help. There are charities that can offer support in this difficult time, and crisis lines on hand to help in any way they can. Utilize these resources, lean on the services. It’s what they are there for.
Living with BPD is often a lifelong battle, one that is by no means easy or straightforward. For myself and many others, stability is hard-earned and precious. Giving in to the disorder in this uncertain time can seem like an easy option, an excuse to relapse and escape the reality of the situation. In the long run this in not a sustainable option. There will be a time when this is all over, and life will continue. We all need to be here then to rebuild and spread love. We need to survive and find some way to keep going. I fought tooth and nail to get to where I am now, and I have no intention of letting this push me back into a dark place. Take back control.
Sending love and light
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.