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How To Know When I’m Not Myself: An Open Letter

Dear friend, relative, significant other, or miscellaneous acquaintance,

I am weird.

Please allow me to elaborate.

I have borderline personality disorder. Rather than bore you with the details of what that means in clinical terms (you can look up the symptoms online), I’d rather tell you about what those symptoms do to me specifically, so that from here on out you can tell when I’m not acting like myself. Because undoubtedly, that will happen.

Understand that I often act oddly – but it’s not me, it’s my anxiety. When I have to communicate with other people, especially in a face-to-face setting, my social phobia kicks in hard, and I find myself conveying messages I never meant to. My face distorts oddly and makes expressions that most people don’t know how to read, which throws the whole conversation off kilter. My tone of voice will accidentally and without my command communicate the opposite of the meaning I’m trying to impart. And since I have such a dry sense of humor sometimes, I often accidentally leave the impression that I’m some kind of sadist who takes things way too seriously when I’m really just trying to be funny or ironic.

Anxiety does all of this to me. It gives me poor judgement and worse communication. It makes me panic and amplifies the symptoms of BPD that already make talking to people so damn hard.

Possibly the worst part is that I know when it’s happening, too. I can feel myself drowning as the waters rise; I can watch the other person’s confused demeanor grow more and more uncomfortable as I say the wrong thing over and over again. But it’s not me. The real me is trapped inside my brain somewhere, without the ability to express herself.

And that’s because mental illness is smothering. I stare off into space as if I’m not listening for long periods of time, my voice changes octaves every few minutes, and at my worst I may even sound like I’m trying to keep some terrible secret from you. (I am trying to keep a big secret from you, by the way, which is that I have a personality disorder and trying to talk to another human being is making me panic.) But all of these strange behaviors have reasonable (if unusual) explanations, and they all come down to a my condition: BPD.

One of the BPD symptoms I suffer from badly is dissociation, which I named “ghost syndrome” before I even got my diagnosis. In other words, I often feel like a ghost: invisible, bodiless, and totally unable to affect my surroundings, as if reality is on TV and I’m just a passive viewer. Literally, I fall into the belief that no one around me can see me. (It’s a curious, deeply unpleasant floating sensation.) My dissociative episodes are usually sparked by anxiety, which, as I mentioned, runs high when I’m around other people. That’s why I have strange little physical tics when I’m talking to you – I literally forget that you can see me, even if we’re talking to each other. I bite nervously at my lips, or stare at your nose too long, or make inappropriate facial expressions that match whatever’s going through my mind at that moment. I know it’s unpleasant for everyone. I’m working on it in therapy.

This dissociative problem also explains why I may seem bored when you’re talking. Please don’t take it personally. I’m not yawning because you’re boring. I’m yawning because I don’t even realize I’m doing it. And even if I did realize it, I’d probably be oblivious to the fact that you can tell.

Another problem that comes with the territory of having borderline personality disorder is personality inconsistency. Most of the time, I feel like a kid in junior high, in that I switch clothing styles every week or so in the tireless search for the identity that fits me best. Imagine reverting from goth to cheerleader to geek and back again, endlessly, every day, well into adulthood, never comfortably settling into one image. That’s BPD.

And so it follows that I don’t come off as a consistent person to those around me. People I’ve just met probably wonder how string-of-pearls-wearing, ‘50s housewife Zoe from yesterday morphed into punk rock Zoe today. The reason is that I can’t make up my mind about almost anything – clothing style is just one benign example. In more serious moments, I may change my political views at the drop of a hat, just because my condition forces me to agree with the opinions of whomever I’m talking to at that moment. If a third person walks into the room, my morals suddenly shift to mirror theirs as well as the first person’s, and I check out from my surroundings in order to spend the rest of the conversation just trying to figure out how to agree with everybody. It’s as painful and confusing as it sounds, but I hope you understand it isn’t my choice.

In fact, if any of these problems were my fault, they would have been fixed by now, because they are a bane to me and everyone around me. I have a terrible time making friends, because no one realizes why these issues exist, and I end up drifting away from most new people I meet, alienated by their lack of comprehension of what I’m going through and my own fear of sharing the information in this letter. My symptoms stem from a place of neurology, and I’m doing all I can to fix them so that the real me can emerge from hiding and I can act like myself again.

So to new friends: Please bear with me. And to old ones: Thank you for your understanding and patience. It means the world.

Zoe

6 thoughts on “How To Know When I’m Not Myself: An Open Letter

  1. Seeing what you are doing, as if an observer, and having no control over it is the most infuriating, helpless feeling there is. You have no desire to make someone feel unaccepted or judged- yet your face keeps making expressions or your tone comes out all wrong. It’s awful. You aren’t alone.

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    1. I was hoping, unfortunate as it is, that other people would be able to relate to my experience, and that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Thanks for letting me know you relate. You aren’t alone either.
      Zoe

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Zoe, thank you for sharing your story. You’re very brave and your courage allows the rest of us to be more understanding and aware of our surroundings. Your beautiful soul comes through in your writing. If you don’t mind me saying this, consider reading the work of Eckhart Tolle as his teachings really help with dealing with anxiety and other behavioral issue. Wishing you all the best.

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  3. Dear Zoe,
    Thank you!
    This was really deep, and moving.
    I could have thought you was writing of me, and I really want to thank your bravery because I didn’t.
    I’ve never been lucid enough to put all of that together.
    Now I fell I am very lucky to follow Phil and so to have the chance to read you.
    Sorry for the English, I am used to read rather than write.
    Have a beautiful day

    Like

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