Here’s a little experiment for you, even if you don’t have depression or BPD: the instant you open your eyes in the morning to start your day, try reciting the alphabet backwards as fast as possible. Right away, you’ll probably stumble a bit on a couple letters, and might even forget some altogether. This doesn’t mean you don’t know your ABC’s, it just means that your mind is not in a focused state.
For people with BPD and depression, this lack of concentration that normal people experience in the morning upon rising happens throughout the day. Sufferers of depression find it hard to complete tedious tasks. A Job like computer programming, which requires focus and logical thinking, is made twice as hard simply because your mind is not at peak performance levels. If you add BPD and its impulsive nature into the mix, you end up with a person who has no motivation or focus, plus severe mood swings and anger issues. All this combines to produce unproductive people, handicapped not by a lack of desire,work ethic, or intelligence; but by there own mind’s inability to function properly.
Many doctors believe that depression is caused by an imbalance of serotonin in the brain. The lack or over abundance of this crucial chemical is a chief contributor to depression. Furthermore, serotonin also helps regulate sleep. If you’re unable to sleep or sleep too much, you might have issues with serotonin in your brain. One of the first steps in treating any case of depression is analyzing sleep patterns, and taking medication that will help your body sleep when necessary, and function properly the rest of the day.
This brings us back to my initial example about reciting the alphabet backwards immediately upon rising in the morning. Your hazy state of mind, caused by the sleep process and serotonin, inhibit you from peak performance. Again, this doesn’t demonstrate a lack of intelligence or general knowledge: it just means that your mind is not ready to work yet, and needs extra time to “warm up”. Now, imagine that same frustration and cloudy feeling throughout the ENTIRE day. This is what part of depression feels like for people who have never had it.
Borderline Personality only complicates things further. People who are otherwise highly competent and bright will find ordinary tasks difficult. Moreover, when it’s necessary to focus and really do your best, your mind chokes and is unable to get itself together.
I can use myself as an example. Part of my diagnosis for BPD came from a standard personality and intelligence assessment from a neutral psychologist. He gave me a battery of the usual IQ challenges: arranging blocks, using logic, complete word puzzles, etc. Most of the test went as expected, except for one area where I was completely useless: memory recall. In this part of the test, I was first shown eight letters and their corresponding symbols. Then, I was told to fill in as many letter/symbol combinations in order as they appeared on the paper under a certain time limit. The result: I failed horribly. Although most of my results were consistent with the fact that I had a college education, the memory and concentration tasks fell short of what I should be able to do.
As a result, the psychologist concluded that my mental health status was slowing my brain’s capacity to function at its best. He recommended that I continue working with my psychiatrist and take any prescribed medication to help get rid of the depression. For the most part, the use of medication and psychotherapy has helped me concentrate better, but the effects of BPD and depression still loom large in my mind.
My BPD was probably at its worse during college, when I needed a clear head the most. I can recall several instances during tests, music performances, or races where my mind just shut down and I completely blew it. Instead of completing these tasks in a satisfactory manner – or at least commensurate with my level of preparation – I failed and completely frustrated professors, teachers, and coaches around me. It was only after I revealed my diagnosis of depression and BPD that those instructors who knew me best understood why I performed the way I did.
So, if you have BPD and depression, or know someone who does, give yourself and them a break. Most importantly, realize that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with your level of intelligence if you find yourself struggling at work or school. For the moment, know that your mental health is acting like a ball and chain on your mind, and that with time and medication, you’ll begin to truly perform to the best of your abilities.