Do any of these sound familiar to you right now? Feeling empty, lethargic or spaced out; wanting to binge eat; sore knees from over-exercising; intense emotions that swing from happiness and confidence to anger, sorrow or shame; getting on great with your lockdown buddy, then thinking they hate you; confusion about who you are...
It goes without saying that we’re living in a very, very strange time right now. So much so that, when I feel some of those things, I can’t tell if they’re the symptoms of my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or simply what it feels like to be living through a global pandemic.
If you’re feeling some of the above, I’m not saying you have BPD too; nor am I saying you don’t. Like Trump, I’m not a doctor. If you have concerns about your mental health, I suggest looking at these resources on the Rethink, Mind or NHS websites. In the meantime, I’m here to tell you about my recent lockdown experience and how I coped.
First off, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2011 and, in the past four years, I’m pleased to say I’ve got a handle on it. I manage it in a few different ways, including giving up alcohol and kickboxing, and hadn’t had any severe symptoms or relapses in that time, up until Easter weekend.
Until then, my mental health in lockdown had been reasonably good. I’d had a few down days, as we all do, and I had my ways of coping. I’d discovered playing a meditation app, sort-of paying attention to it but mostly having a big, cathartic cry helped a lot. It was like a surrender to the state of things, and I felt loads better for it.
My housemate and I looked forward to Easter, and tried our best to make those few days not feel like every other. We ordered nice meals, did some arts and crafts, walked around Hampstead Heath for our daily exercise, ate Easter eggs. Lovely stuff. I went to bed on Sunday night feeling positive about lockdown life.
Then I woke up Monday feeling anything but. I felt low, but also agitated and confused. I felt lazy and energetic, wanting to do everything and nothing; I wanted to talk to my friends and be left alone. I hated how I looked, poking at my totally acceptable, post-Easter tummy. This wasn’t a down day; I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself, I hated myself. I literally sneered in the mirror.
Wanting to get away from me, I went for a walk. I floated around the heath in a daze, then came back and curled up on the sofa. The tears came without the meditation app, and they didn’t stop. What’s more, I didn’t feel better – I felt worse. And then I felt worse. And then my housemate came in to ask if I wanted dinner and I said, “No thank you.” And then I felt worse and worse.
I lay on the sofa thinking, “What is happening? Why isn’t it shifting?” and then I shut down. I stopped crying, I stopped moving, I stared into space and lay on that sofa for an hour. This service has come to a complete stop.
As my senses returned, I remember thinking, “OK, I think we actually have a problem here” and laughing at that on the inside. When I could finally move again, I dragged myself onto the floor, grabbed my phone and Googled, “Borderline Personality Disorder episodes.”
I blinked at the NHS website and Mind’s page on BPD and self-care resources – and there it was, plain as day. I had the “splitting” episodes – where you experience severe black-and-white thinking (i.e. I/they like/hate me, everything is awesome/awful). For me, this can then trigger a dissociative episode (the aforementioned full body shutdown).
When I’m “splitting,” I tell myself I’m being over-dramatic and doing it for attention, despite isolating myself entirely.
Once I saw how I was feeling written down, I almost immediately felt better. Having a third party validate my feelings pulled me out of my haze. It literally felt like a weight lifted, and so I could move again.
The self-care advice from Mind was simple. I was feeling dissociative, and they recommended grounding exercises. I was feeling depressed and lonely, and they recommended things like wrapping myself in a blanket, watching my favourite TV show and talking to someone I trust.
I text my “Uni Girls” WhatsApp group about what happened. They let me ramble, then reassured me that I wasn’t overthinking or “being silly.” They told me they loved me. They all checked in with me individually the next day, and the days that followed. They sent flowers and books and virtual hugs. It was a tremendous wave of love and, as I do, I felt guilty. But I quickly rid myself of the guilt, because to hold onto it would be to undermine everything they were trying to do to take care of me.
At the moment, without the distractions and stimulations of the outside world, we’re all inside our own heads a lot more. We’re all confronting our inner demons, whether we want to admit it or not. Being so cut off, we’re also feeling the pressure to try and fix everything ourselves.
That’s why having people to vent to, who will let you try to articulate your not-always-crystal-clear feelings, just for the benefit of talking it out, is so important. I know I’m lucky to have such a good support network.
But here’s an important takeaway I’ve had from all this (other than that people are ultimately good): It didn’t actually matter if I was having a BPD episode or not. It just didn’t. If I wasn’t having one, should I have treated myself any differently? Should I only be kinder to myself if I can slap a “BPD” sticker on it? Should I have chastised myself for having a wobble in the middle of a global pandemic? No. 100% no. And you shouldn’t either.
I’m writing this because I want to help other people who are feeling the same right now. Whatever the state of your mental health – diagnosis or no – your feelings are valid. Just because, once upon a time, a group of doctors told me I have Borderline Personality Disorder, that doesn’t make my feelings of instability or emptiness any more real or worthy of attention than yours.
Whatever led you to click on my story, hopefully you’ll come away with something, whether that’s a better understanding of mental health, Borderline Personality Disorder, or taking one little tip that might make you or someone you care about have a better day tomorrow.
In times of distress, I’ve learned my BPD can make me feel unworthy of love and want to isolate myself – which is actually the opposite of what I need. If you have a friend who is struggling, or has been a bit quiet for a while, check in with them. Don’t take the silence as an assumption that everything’s OK. Kindness is a gift so easily given.