One component of BPD I struggle with is isolation. I tend to push myself away from others for stupid reasons, most often being that I feel I am in competition with them. As a result, I don’t connect well with people and don’t maintain friendships unless I really work hard at them. Some people thrive around others and get their energy from being social. I don’t. People tire me out, wear me down, and get on my nerves. Yet, when I’m not around others I still feel a haunting sense of loneliness that never seems to go away.
One facet of the BPD diagnosis is an inability to be alone for extended periods of time. Essentially, “normal” people can tolerate loneliness better because they know, in time, that it will be possible to interact with others again. For Borderlines, being alone often feels like being sentenced to isolation for an eternity. On top of that, most Borderlines feel they will never be able to reconnect with others again. I believe this realization – true or false – comes from a general fear of abandonment that is at the heart of BPD. If things like love, friendship, solid familial relationships, or a validating environment were withheld from you during your upbringing, it follows that similar situations in your later years will trigger the horrifying sensation of abandonment. “Normal” people don’t have this fear because they were well equipped emotionally as children, even if they prefer to be solitary as adults.
I have also come to the conclusion that thrusting myself into a highly social environment will not help me either. Part of my non-Borderline personality prefers time alone to recharge and reflect. When I took the Meyers-Briggs personality test, I came out as highly introverted. I need time to be me in thought and action even if it means I must step away from a romantic relationship or family life for a couple hours each day. Setting aside time for myself is a pressure release valve of sorts. Once that pressure is released, however, any further time alone begins to feel like solitary confinement.
Thus, the challenge of balancing one’s emotional needs with those around them is a constant juggling act, made even more challenging if BPD is put into the mix. Ask a street juggler to juggle three tennis balls and he/she will do it easily. That’s like asking the most social person you know to interact with others at a party. Ask the juggler to add in a flaming torch, and suddenly the juggling act becomes exponentially more difficult and dangerous. This is way I see BPD playing into social relationships and how we interact with others.
Last year I blogged about finding an abandoned kitten on my street. When I first heard her screaming outside my apartment building, I went around my neighborhood looking for her litter mates and/or a distressed mother cat. I also asked neighbors if they had lost a pet. Sadly, this kitten was never found by her mother and was most likely left on the corner by a human who didn’t have the ability to care for her. In Costa Rica, it’s common for unwanted animals to be dropped off in more prosperous neighborhoods because people will adopt them off the street. Otherwise, they end up in shelters and will eventually be euthanized. Well, days later after first hearing the kitten’s cry for help, I adopted her and took her in. The thought of someone abandoning her disgusted me and I knew I needed to step up and do something about it.
To my surprise, having another creature in my apartment actually helped me perk up a bit. Esperanza has lived with me for 1.5 years, and I take good care of her. Granted, we don’t have intense discussions about politics or analyze the failing world economy. We do, however, keep each other company. Having a cat also gives me small chores to do each day (cleaning litter box, feeding her, letting her out, etc.). This helps keep me out of bed and focused on reality in a healthy, productive manner.
There are days, though, when my BPD gets the better of me and I get mad at her. When I act this way she tends to fight back and both our tempers flare for an hour or so. Still, I’ve never once thought of getting rid of her or sending her to a shelter. The thought of abandoning her goes right to my core and it scares me. I know she’s just a cat. All the same, I could never stop caring for her because abandoning another human or animal is despicable to me.
Ultimately my cat distracts me from the BPD thought process that tends to throb in my mind like a migraine headache. Similarly, I’d be equally distracted if I had a roommate or live-in girlfriend. Although no human companions are readily available, my cat helps fill the void of isolation with some much needed variety, which is, after all, the spice of life. Instead of lying in bed feeling like I’m the last human on earth, I have a cat that will run in and curl up next to me for an afternoon nap. It’s just enough company to feel a little more happy and less alone.
As with any life changing decision I urge caution and careful consideration before moving forward. In the case of adopting an animal, you’re going to have to prepare yourself to spend money on food, veterinary care, and pet toys. The animal might also be traumatized, scared, and nervous about meeting someone new. Additionally, you will have more chores and will need to find a kennel for your pet when you leave town for a few days. Don’t adopt a pet as a passing fancy. Like humans, they have minimum needs that must be met. They also need to feel loved and appreciated.
That said, if you feel lonely and are prepared to take on some additional responsibilities, I highly suggest adopting an animal from a nearby shelter. Talk it over with your family, your psychiatrist, or someone you know who has pet. Once settled in your home, shelter animals are extremely grateful for a second chance at life. Best of all, you will feel very good about making a difference in the world while at the same time making a proactive decision to lessen the effect BPD has on your life.
Always carefully consider adopting an animal. Some may have behavior problems. Some may have been abused. Others might be sick and will require substantially more care than any other animal. I urge you to talk to people with pets and see how it impacts their day-to-day life. If you had pets as a child, make sure you remember all the good and bad things that came with having them in your home. In most cases, the good you do adopting animal will far outweigh any inconvenience they might cause.