You know those stories of children who, after years of struggling to read, find out they had dyslexia the entire time and now everything makes more sense? I can’t relate to dyslexia, but I can definitely relate to the 20/20 hindsight after receiving a medical diagnosis.
After a decade in recovery, I’m only now realizing how the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder had been impacting my ability to manage “basic” things. What I thought were personal flaws or a lack of self-control were really byproducts of a brain that happened to be a little unique and needed a special tough.
As I’ve adjusted my lifestyle to my “brain-style,” three challenges have stuck out that seem to come easy for most but are a struggle particularly for a lot of people with BPD:
1. Making plans ahead of time
Borderline Personality Disorder is well-known for quick mood swings at the drop of a hat.
Never knowing what your mood will be like at any given moment can make things very unpredictable when it comes to planning activities and get-togethers.
You may have every intention of getting up to do that yoga class and going to lunch with your girlfriends, but that morning you could wake up with irritation, be raging by the time you finish breakfast, and then be so depressed and exhausted you cancel the whole day last minute.
Trust me, I’ve done it a million times. Not only does it bum your friends out, but you don’t feel too great about it either.
Eventually you stop trying to make plans altogether and resort to isolating in order to avoid the feelings of disappointment in yourself. Inevitably this ends in broken relationships over time.
2. Celebrating holidays and special occasions
Going into crisis without warning is always a possibility; however, the stress and pressure of family get-togethers, holidays, and celebrations create an environment that is extra-vulnerable for the person with BPD.
“You may find yourself avoiding special occasions, lying to get out of the obligation of attending, or numbing yourself with alcohol or substances in hopes it will get you through.”
You may already struggle to manage your emotions on a daily basis, but when there are weeks of planning for an occasion in advance and you are expected to be on your best behavior, your brain is already geared up to search for threats. It won’t take much to set your brain off into a dysphoric episode.
You may find yourself avoiding special occasions, lying to get out of the obligation of attending, or numbing yourself with alcohol or substances in hopes it will get you through.
You may even work your way into getting uninvited on purpose just to dodge the risk of going into crisis in front of everyone. Again, this contributes to breakdowns in relationships and self-respect.
3. Choosing a career path
Unstable self-identity is one of the main symptoms of BPD. This is so much more than someone who goes through a phase or changes their college major a few times before they settle down.
When it comes to finding and keeping a steady job, stable traits over time help to focus your energy and emotion in one consistent direction.
For people with Borderline Personality Disorder, traits are difficult to maintain over time, emotions are going in all directions, and our behavior follows the mood instead of being independent of the mood. You may find yourself passionate about a topic one day and bored the next. You may have big plans for your future when you’re feeling good, but once depression hits you’re ready to commit to inpatient hospitalization for life.
Over time, you become discouraged and give up on finding meaning, purpose, and direction in your life that is sustainable. It all feels out of reach.
These three areas can interfere with the BPD-sufferer’s ability to hold down jobs, to maintain long-term relationships, and to stay on track with long-term goals, but they ARE NOT impossible challenges to overcome.
Understanding why I was having difficulty in these three areas allowed me to stop judging myself so harshly for cancelled plans or job opportunities lost. It wasn’t because I had no meaning or purpose that I was struggling to find a path.
It wasn’t that I was a flake, or a terrible friend, or a disappointment to my family.
The truth was that I had a funky brain, some bumps in the road that I needed to navigate around, and a whole heap of strengths to make up for any and all difficulties.
“I’m no less worthy or valuable or skilled or talented than anyone else. I am simply neurodivergent.”
I learned to not care so much about the little things, like cancelling plans, and care more about being honest with people about my fears and misgivings.
I experienced the joy of finding friends who could understand and support me when I couldn’t make it to their birthday dinner.
I found purpose and meaning in a job that fit my flexible emotional state. And all of this helped me to learn, ultimately, that while I may fight harder for the things other people take for granted, I’m no less worthy or valuable or skilled or talented than anyone else. I am simply neurodivergent.
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