Living With BPD As A Black Man
Sooooo I have been contemplating writing this post for some time now but I have always stopped myself because of my fear of abandonment, you'll come to learn as you read that this is a common 'symptom/sign' of BPD. This fear honestly stems from all of the internalised words I have heard before when I have wanted to be vocal about what is going on with me? Hearing things such as "you're using your mental illness as means of justifying being sh!ty towards others" can definitely cause one to feel some type of way especially disclosing to others. However it's a new year, people are starting to have the conversations that need to be had around the topic of mental health.
What is BPD?
BPD or Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. The symptoms include emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking or perception, impulsive behaviour and intense but unstable relationships with others. In order to be diagnosed, you need to have 5 of the 9 'common' symptoms however one should always see a professional in order to be properly diagnosed.
These symptoms are:
- Efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
- A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often swinging from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
- Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self
- Impulsive behaviors.
- Self-harming behavior, such as cutting.
- Recurring thoughts of suicidal behaviors or threats
- Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
- Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger
- Difficulty trusting, which is sometimes accompanied by irrational fear of other people’s intentions
- Feelings of dissociation, such as feeling cut off from oneself, seeing oneself from outside one’s body, or feelings of unreality
History On My BPD
I came public about my diagnosis in December of 2015 after I had an 'episode' which is when I decided I needed to go see someone and get help. Look, to tell you the truth I'd always 'known' since 2012 when I had been seeing a psychologist in Cape Town who told me that she suspected I had BPD after our sessions were up. I had been seeing her to help me deal with the loss of my Mother who passed on after a battle with cancer in 2011. Since leaving therapy I had always ran away from the label of BPD even though I would read up on it and notice some of the symptoms. Denial is such a real thing; the fact that there were not many black people that I knew who had BPD or I could speak to about it, mental health was not talked about amongst my peers (early 20s) much like the older generation. How does one even begin to understand themselves and find support on this journey?
One symptom that stood out with me was the anger I had issues controlling and I'd often lash out at close ones and it usually wasn't warranted. However, having kept things bottled up that those close to me could've done or said earlier would result in me lashing out later. The problem is that I couldn't explain to them what was going on because I didn't understand it myself. How do you support someone when you don't know what they have or understand it?
This was before I started with Dialectical Behavioural Therapy.
Fast-forward to 2017 and it was the first time in a long time I felt in control of my emotions or atleast aware a bit even though I had some 'episodes'. These were always induced by liquor which had become a buddy to help with social anxiety which I used to never experience, as I was always in the mood to party in my early 20s. This changes as one grows older, emotions become more intense and adult problems contribute to the stress of it all but with my research I have come to learn that there are ways in which one can manage Borderline Personality Disorder which is DBT.
I started DBT early 2017 where I was being coached on:
- Mindfulness: the practice of being fully aware and present in this one moment
- Distress Tolerance: how to tolerate pain in difficult situations, not change it
- Interpersonal Effectiveness: how to ask for what you want and say no while maintaining self-respect and relationships with others
- Emotion Regulation: how to change emotions that you want to change
The goal of DBT is to help people build a life that they experience as worth living. In DBT, the person and therapist work together to set goals that are meaningful to them. For example, with my therapist she'd always want me to name the feeling and try find out what made me feel that way and whether I could change it or not?!
All We're Asking For: Understanding
Something as simple as someone not responding on time to our texts can send us on a rollercoaster of paranoia where we start asking ourselves whether we did something to you or not, "did I say something wrong/offensive in that text?". The fear of abandonment is very real, even not being included in plans can set us into a spiral where we relive all the 'episodes' we've had around you and think we're being ostracised (which is what often happens as people get tired of 'dealing' with us). It's difficult being black and trying to explain what is going on with you when your community does not even try to understand mental health let alone even do a little research about what could be affecting a close one after they disclose to them. Well some!
One cannot deny the fact that everyone has problems to deal with and it can be difficult to support someone when you yourself are not okay and that would be unfair on anyone. When it comes to understanding BPD, one needs to speak to whoever they know who has BPD about their triggers as these can be different from each individual however they stem from the same symptoms. The one thing we're asking for is empathy and understanding, understanding that we're trying and we need support.
This letter better sums up my train of thought and will help you better understand BPD: https://themighty.com/2016/07/how-to-explain-borderline-personality-disorder-to-loved-ones/
There's definitely a lot I have to say on BPD which is why I will running a series of articles, but I do implore you to read up more on it, understand it and educate.