Over the next few weeks I am aiming to write nine blog posts with regards to borderline personality disorder, each one discussing in detail one of the nine criteria. This first post is the first of the nine criteria in the DSM (of which you only need to meet five for a full diagnosis, and three that impact your life for a diagnosis of traits of BPD): frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
I think that this is going to be difficult to talk about. Those who don’t understand what it’s life to with the unshakeable fear that nobody really likes you and that everyone is going to just leave when they’re done using you, may find some of this tricky to understand. I think it’s a symptom that has a lot of misconceptions. These misconceptions have fed stereotypes of borderline personality disorder, notably the crazy, stalking ex-girlfriend. I want to shed some light on this.
I don’t fully understand why I have abandonment issues. A lot of people with my diagnosis have experienced trauma or neglect during childhood. Although I was bullied and remember often feeling lonely when I was a kid, I was not neglected and I did not experience anything particularly traumatic as a primary school child. I am from a stable, happy family. Most of my fears of abandonment have been very much imaginary. But they felt so real to me. I’ve broken my own heart so many times.
I suppose some of it must have come from self-esteem issues. Although I am a somewhat more glamorous version of my child self (I wore thick glasses, had wonky teeth and had awkward frizzy hair), I had low self-esteem as a kid and I still have a low-self esteem in many ways now. I always felt like I was the Ugly Duckling and I was always comparing myself to other people. When I was younger, I just wanted to fit in and it felt like I never did. In primary school, I was part of friendship groups but I was never anyone’s ‘best’ friend. I always felt like I was on the edge. I always felt like I was replaceable. So when someone was kind to me, it meant everything to me.
I had friends for the first few years of secondary school, but I always had problems being close to people. I was experiencing emerging symptoms of an illness I wouldn’t be diagnosed with until I was 18 and I was distressed and angry and unpredictable. I always felt like other girls never really liked me or suspected they were talking about me (which in fairness, they probably were) so I cut people off before they could hurt me. I was mean. I know I was, and I hated myself for it. But I paid for it.
From the age of 14 and a half onwards, I was completely alone. I was processing some troubling things that I was angry and conflicted about, I took it out on all the wrong people, I isolated myself completely, and eventually everyone accepted that the nice, fun Rosie was gone for good and had been replaced with someone who was miserable as hell and couldn’t hold a conversation for more than roughly thirty seconds. From this age until I was 17, I never once saw a friend outside of school. I was rarely invited anywhere. When I was, I would make up an excuse. I was pretty detached in my own little world.
Of course, I had problems with relationships too. When I was a teenager they did bring out the worst in me. I would become obsessed with people, convincing myself that this person was the one who was going to make me okay. I was constantly doubting them, doubting myself. Even in ridiculous relationships in the earlier years of secondary school I would idealise someone so much that I would feel like I couldn’t live without them. What some people might have thought were silly childhood crushes were actually deadly serious. One of my first lapses into self-harm was when an emotionally abusive older boyfriend said that I had to carve his name into my skin so I did and then he told everyone that I was plain Crazy.
But ultimately, these fleeting obsessions would always be cut short by the panic. That realisation that this person is going to leave me, this person is going to hurt me. I have to cut this person off before this happens because I know that I am not emotionally strong enough to cope with it. In all fairness, teenage me was a bit of an idiot, but she was a mentally unstable idiot who considered suicide as an option time and time again as a way of making these intense, debilitating attachments go away forever. The criteria describes attempts to avoid attachment as frantic. That is exactly what I felt for many years. I felt like I was constantly trying to keep up with people with no break. It felt like a nightmare that I couldn’t break out of.
Now? I’m twenty years old, and of all of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder, attachment issues are probably the thing that I don’t struggle with. My last attachment lasted for almost a year. It wasn’t that long ago, but I feel like I have grown so much since then. It was painful and it was toxic and it nearly took my life. I’m embarrassed to talk about how awful attachment issues can be because other people just don’t get it. My friends could tell me a million times what was going on, but I couldn’t open my eyes to it. Or rather, I didn’t want to. Attachments can be deliciously addictive. I don’t feel anything towards this person anymore. It feels the person who was so obsessed with them just wasn’t me.
I now struggle to form any new meaningful attachments beyond the healthy ones I already have with my family and close friends. People who meet me think I am cold. I probably am. I like people and I feel like on a surface level I would want to spend time with them, but there’s no emotionally processing there. It’s like I spent so much time trying to cut off attachments that were literally driving me to suicide that in doing so I cut off my ability to form any new ones in the first place.
I learnt the hard way that if you push them, people really will just leave forever. Having an illness is a reason but not an excuse for the way you make other people feel when they are hurting. I acknowledge this and hope not only that others forgive me, but that I can eventually forgive myself for being a sh*t friend and a sh*t girlfriend and just generally a problematic person when I was struggling. I also learnt the hard way that some people will thrive on your vulnerability completely intentionally. They will know that your attachment to them is killing you, and they will keep driving it anyway. I suppose I am just grateful that I was able to let go time and time again, and I can honestly say I’m a better person because of it.
I suppose my goal for the future is to start from scratch, to learn how to make healthy attachments with others that don’t lead to the beliefs and behaviours that I had in the past. I want to continue looking after myself as Me rather than someone else’s. I want to continue to wake up and remind myself that I am good enough by myself. Because I am and always will be.