I’ve probably written on this topic before, but I think it is worth revisiting: how do you fill the void inside you created by Borderline Personality Disorder?
Anyone who has been diagnosed with BPD and debriefed about its characteristics knows what I’m talking about. When you look inside yourself for some core identity or defining values, there are none. Your self perception is like an eggshell without a yolk: there’s something very fragile on the outside, but NOTHING on the inside. You act, walk, and talk much like any other human being, and many times can fool people into thinking you’re normal. Deep down, however, you’re a bottomless well filled with doubt, anger, confusion, anxiety, and nothingness.
I say this a grown male at age 33. During adolescence, most teenagers feel pretty hollow until they grow into young adults. If you’re under the age of 18 and reading this, take solace in the fact that many people your age doubt themselves on a daily basis. Very few teenagers truly “have it together” unless they are unusually blessed with some rare talent that ushers them up the ladder from “kid” to “adult” at high speed. Otherwise, you begin to find yourself in your college years and early twenties, after you’ve had time away from home to establish your own boundaries, self identity, and personal relationships.
The problem for those with BPD is that the self doubt and emptiness almost NEVER disappears, not even once we hit 30. Most people in this age range have a firm grasp of reality, their abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and life aspirations. On the other hand, people with BPD are metaphorically rowing across a fog filled lake, not sure when they’ll hit shore (if ever). It’s a really sh*tty feeling. Good personalities and functional lives are built on core values, beliefs, and talents that one can tap into to get ahead. If you’ve got BPD, you likely have no clue what you really want, how to get it, or what you really believe in. Or, if you have a vague idea one day, it changes the next. You’re a personality chameleon, constantly morphing to satisfy what’s going on right now, but when left alone, void of any self identity whatsoever.
The other day I was pondering the lives of my classmates from college and where their own journeys have taken them. My thinking was that I might be inspired to follow in their footsteps since I haven’t yet decided what to do with myself. My tendency is to always look at the high achievers and attempt to mimic them. The idea of being “average” doesn’t really appeal to me, because ever since my youth, I’ve been throwing achievements into my BPD void for temporary relief, only to see the feelings they create dissipate and vanish into thin air. If I can’t make something of myself on the inside, why not take what positives I get thrown at me from the outside?
It’s been a full 10 years since college graduation and some of the people I knew have gone on to do some remarkable things.
One classmate attended Yale for graduate studies and took a job with Pepsi. Pictures on from his Facebook profile show him enjoying baseball games from box seats at Yankee Stadium (not exactly cheap seats if you’re familiar with baseball). He graduated from college summa cum laude and has really hit his stride. I was always impressed by his intelligence, but now more than ever marvel at what’s he been able to do with it.
Another continued her incredibly successful collegiate athletic career and qualified for the 2004 Olympic Marathon trials. If you look at our college’s track records, her name appears in nearly every top 10 performance category. She also owns school records across many distance running events. No one in the past decade has come close to touching her times. Since then, she’s been working as a successful teacher at a private school.
Another has earned both a graduate degree and law degree from a top school, and is currently working for the Federal Reserve. He married his college sweetheart and they’ve had their first child. He makes a solid living and has a breadth of opportunities before him should he ever decide to take a job in the private sector.
One classmate took a more altruistic route: he went to live in Navajo, New Mexico where he worked as a teacher and track coach. He lived in a traditional dwelling made from basic building materials. A few years later, he successfully coached his team to multiple state championships. He was also featured in two critically acclaimed documentaries about Native Americans living in New Mexico and their plight after leaving their reservation to pursue their dreams. The films chronicled top runners and scholars, and my former classmate was featured many times talking about the disadvantages the Navajo face compared to the average American. One documentary was shown multiple times on PBS and garnered several awards. For a guy that graduated summa cum laude and could have easily attended an Ivy League Graduate school, he instead chose a dramatically less glamorous path and yet has enjoyed immense success and personal gratification.
All of these people have a few things in common: they knew what they wanted, they did the work to make their achievements possible, and have since reaped the rewards of success. I, on the other hand, have floundered my twenties away initially working as a bartender, waiter, and supermarket employee; later moving to Costa Rica to join the offshore gambling industry. To say the least, it’s not exactly PBS worthy documentary material. Now I’m reemerging at 33 and returning to the USA with little direction other than I want to do something that helps people instead of preying on their addictions. My life over the past few years has been selfish and in many ways detrimental to the rest of the world. I’m not exactly proud of what I’ve done, other than the fact that I’ve managed to sack away some money for a really rainy day.
If I DID NOT have BPD, I could probably spell out in vivid detail what I want out of my life and the emotional obstacles I’d need to overcome in order to live out my dreams. I could tell you that I believe in social justice, higher education, and making an honest dollar. Further, I could say that I actually make a difference in the world.
Unfortunately, I DO have BPD, and despite my three decade plus existence on Earth, I still don’t know what I want – let alone how to achieve goals and feel good about myself – while contributing to society in a positive way. Perhaps I’m using BPD as a crutch for my personal procrastination, but I honestly STILL DO NOT know what I want out of life despite being 10 years past college graduation and having a lot of interesting living tucked under my belt (for better or worse).
People could probably better identify with my struggles if I was missing a limb: it’s a clear and discernible handicap that others can understand with sympathy and respect. Instead, BPD lurks beneath the surface of my existence as a constant reminder of what I’m not and it festers like a constant cancer on what little human relationships I actually do have. No one feels sorry or respectful for someone with BPD because we make it pretty damn hard to be lovable, let alone respectable. The little we can accomplish is overridden by a giant emotional toll on those around us and others have little empathy for our struggles. When you’re a personality chameleon, it’s just as easy to be invisible as it is one of the crowd; manipulative for self gratification or devoid of any sense of responsibility to the rest of the world.
Now do you see why I’m so empty inside?