by Jon Finkel
Jon Finkel of Colgate University
I am my own greatest critic. Imagine if, in your mind, you spend most of your waking moments reciting and preparing for every conversation with friends, family members, and acquaintances before those dialogues actually occur. You consistently judge each word that leaves your lips. In addition, you feel as though every social interaction you have seems mechanized, simulated, and tenuous. These are alls some of the characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), an underdiagnosed mental illness affecting a widely estimated 1.6% – 5.9% of the U.S. adult population (according to NAMI). For me, this disorder is reflective of an unfortunate interpersonal saga that has rewritten itself time and time again, leaving behind an increasingly damaged self-confidence and a paranoia unleashed. I have seen unsteady friendships built on idealization and devaluation crumble through my fingertips. In other words, I put many individuals up on a pedestal one day and the next, they fall victim to my slightest criticisms. I have been unable to develop profound relationships due to my fears that these interactions would ultimately lead to abandonment and loneliness; instead, I have created a loose federation of acquaintances.
I never had an easy time answering the question “Who am I?” because I couldn’t consistently, confidently and independently come up with an answer on my own. I felt like a social chameleon, a real-life version of the Woody Allen film Zelig.I feel miserable when I find myself alone, with my thoughts, and with myself. There is not a single person I hated and do still hate more than myself.
I find that in order to love others, you must first love yourself. I often advertised myself to mental health professionals as a misanthrope – I despised other people. But I realize now that I only hated other people because I detested myself the most. I often tell myself “I embarrass myself by living” fearful of how others perceive and judge me, arguing that this is a social world and we must be well liked by others in order to survive. My greatest dilemma each day in the morning was always “Do I want to be unique today or do I want to fit in?” This unintended inability to nail down any passion or identity can also be described as a hallmark of BPD. Nothing was natural to me; I felt like a subservient robot, trained to follow orders and codes from others in my milieu.
As far back as I can remember, I have never felt grounded in any activity, place, or most importantly, with any person. Loneliness has become my greatest constant. Seldom do I feel at ease, even if that is how I seem. When I am with other people, I yearn to be alone, but when I am by myself, I desire the company of others.
Throughout my semester of studying abroad in Denmark during the fall of 2014, I wanted to get back to Colgate University. When I arrived back at Colgate in the spring, I wanted to go home to New Jersey. When I got home to New Jersey for vacation, I wanted to go back to Denmark. This truly vicious cycle of feeling out-of-place no matter where I am is exhausting. Most people have their ‘happy place.’ I don’t. It can, in large part, be attributed to this mental illness of BPD, one in which I struggle to find a vital and stable self-identity and comfortable environment.
It is now several months after graduation and I see myself fighting with the thoughts in my mind on a constant basis just as I have for my entire life. My many different negative thoughts coalesce into a major belief that I am nobody and that I lack an identity or a true passion. I live in absolutely constant fear of abandonment and judgment from my peers. I dwell in persistent paranoia of what others think of me. I often feel lonely, even if surrounded by people who I consider my friends. The problem is that I can never become engrossed in the now. I’m always thinking of other places, other moments in time, and other people.
Today, I have found that therapy and medication help to mitigate the symptoms of BPD. The most effective pieces of treatment for me, however, have been to remain open with how I have been feeling and also, to place myself in social situations time and time again to improve my interpersonal relationships. I have been a staunch believer that the longer one keeps pain and anger inside, the more difficult it becomes to combat the destructive thoughts. It is always beneficial, in my opinion, to be transparent about your damaging thoughts rather than to hold them in, lest you do something you will regret later on. I am grateful to have family members and some friends I can speak with; everyone does not have that luxury. It is important to note that transparency is a coping mechanism I have relied on and might not apply to everyone else who has these thoughts. I still often struggle with emotional regulation, but I have developed increasing clarity as to how I can ease the strain of my negative thoughts. That being said, what is therapeutic for one person is not necessarily helpful for someone else. A lot of therapy is about trial and error and finding out what combination is right for a specific person.
I remember back in the 6th grade, in lieu of weekend homework assignments, my science teacher instructed the class to “Follow your bliss.” It is a simple message, but a tough one for me to attain. Happiness is my goal and I intend on reaching it.