The SociABLE Sunday’s series features stories from a range of guest writers on the struggles they need to overcome to be able to socialise.
In this post, Artie shares his story of socialising with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder).
There are a lot of things people don’t understand about BPD and the effect it can have on relationships. Making friends, talking to people, creating a connection, all very confusing for both parties. BPD is unpredictable and can be very different from person to person.
So I’m going to try my best to encompass some of the difficulties and ways someone with BPD can make socialising easier on themselves. This can also help someone who does not have BPD to understand what someone might be going through.
I’ve found (with myself and other people I have known with BPD) it can be hard to participate appropriately in conversation. Over-sharing with strangers is a big one; it’s like you lost your filter and once you start you can’t stop. You can see it in their eyes: “Oh God, who did I sit next to? How do I get out?”
Or you find that you forget to reciprocate questions, or your questions are too personal. And it’s always too late for you to correct yourself. What’s worse? Pretending it didn’t happen? Or bringing attention to it and saying sorry?
These things take a lot of practice. Start with small talk questions, they might be boring but not everyone will be okay with you asking about the scar on their face or which parent gave them the most emotional trauma growing up. Start with, “how do you know so-and-so?” or “what do you do for a living?”
Substance abuse is a big one for many people with BPD. Though I am technically not an alcoholic, I rely on alcohol during social situations either to get myself out of awkward conversation or to make it easier to ignore the anxious voice in my head. So if you have problems with alcohol or other drugs, try hanging out somewhere you can’t order alcohol.
I love going for coffee with my friend… I have a terrible coffee addiction. Losing your logic and control to substances can also lead to impulsivity and risky behaviour. You might keep drinking to excess or buying others drinks to bribe affection from them, but you could also end up being somewhat unsafe in other ways too: unsafe/risky sex, going for a walk on your own, speaking to strangers. Generally your symptoms are much easier to aggravate as well. Try to set a budget for the night and tell your friends, they can help hold you accountable. It’s a slippery slope that can lead to a much worse situation.
Splitting can be one of the more difficult symptoms to deal with. If you’re not aware of this term, splitting is the black and white thinking. ‘To split’ is to drastically have your feelings changed to the opposite end of the scale. Splitting can be triggered by something really small, like your friend making a joke at your expense. This could be okay any other time but this time it isn’t and now you hate them. Sometimes you can see what’s happening, but sometimes it’s so consuming you can only feel this emotion.
Try to remind yourself that splitting is often temporary and you’ll probably feel better after you’ve had some sleep. If it’s still there the next day, then you should look more deeply into why that is.
The one piece of advice that will help you across the board is self-control. Urgh, yeah I know how that sounds to you. ‘How am I supposed to control feelings that are so huge and ugly?’ Practice. Also urgh, I know. But you really do get better with practice and you only really need to get to a point where you don’t outwardly lash out at people. Your feelings are huge, but they change so quickly you will regret taking it out on someone.
Start learning to hold in your big emotions at the time until it’s appropriate or until they pass. It’s appropriate when you have a friend who knows and understands that sometimes you need to blow off steam and what kind of friend you need them to be. When I’m angry about something, I need to vent to someone not involved and be told that my feelings are valid and fair. But I also need to be told when I’m being the issue not the other person. It’s a hard balance for anyone and it can take time to get there. It all comes with open communication. Or therapy. Therapy is always a good idea.
If I don’t have access to this person, there’s another thing I’ve learned: leave the situation. If you can only leave for a bit, then do it. This is why I used to smoke so much; I’d leave the situation to go for a cigarette by myself or with someone else. I don’t recommend smoking! It tends to make you even more anxious and jittery than you were already.
One of the best things you can do is find a space or group for people with BPD for you to join. I understand this isn’t easy or always accessible but the benefits of going to a group are worth it. You can learn so much from other people because, even though it isn’t you, you really relate to other people’s problems in group. They also tend to give great advice and validate how you feel all in one go! It’s super exhausting though, in a good way.
DON’T join Facebook groups for people with BPD. Health professionals do not monitor them; the admins are also people with BPD and we are not always the best to control entire groups. When you’re genuinely looking for advice, no one will respond.
DO speak to your GP or local mental health charity; see what services are available. I briefly attended the SUN group (which has a few locations but mainly Croydon so best to check with someone), it was peer advice and assistance for people with BPD and sometimes Bipolar Disorder.
Socialising is hard with BPD but then so is everything. If you are diagnosed relatively quickly and you’ve started noticing your patterns of behaviour, you can change it. The statistic is, after two years of treatment… 50% of people with BPD recover. Try to get into whatever therapy or treatments you can, do a lot of research to put words to your feelings, and go easy on yourself.
People with BPD are not inherently abusive like a lot of people think and it is often thought to be caused by trauma or other environmental factors.