I am finding this socialising thing a tough challenge on so many levels.
How do you socialise when you have BPD? To socialise successfully, you need a clear identity. Don’t you? A strong sense of self? Or is that just me? One of my warped perceptions? How do I know? What is real and what is not? That’s the problem with BPD – you don’t know so your identity becomes fluid. You are a chameleon. Continually twisting and turning, evolving with each and every prompt. You change your thoughts, your opinions, your look, your mannerisms to gain approval, to gain attention, to feel included to be a part of something becomes a craving. Everyone needs to be a part of something. It’s a human thing. But with BPD the need to be included, liked, approved of, loved can quickly become your only thing, it consumes you, and you will do anything to get validated as a person because you don’t feel like a person. Me, I know that technically I am classified as human – but I don’t identify as one. I don’t define myself as anything. I am just me and me is an un-classified “thing.”
How can you converse when those around you are so distinctly different? When you feel as though you stand out in all your awkwardness when are fully aware that something about you is wrong and that you are walking around with a flashing neon sign on your head titled “weirdo!” You know your language is different; you know your perceptions are different. The sense of being unusual and out of place is so intense your mind is torn and split and at war with itself. What do you do when there are differing opinions? You want to make friends with more than one person present because some part of each of them attracts you, but they are different. When they offer opposing views, who do you agree with? Do you speak up, or nod blindly, dumbly at each? You know you are doing it wrong, the words you want to say catch in your throat because … well they are both right and they are both wrong and if you agree with one the other may not like you and you realise you are sitting and nodding, with your eyes bulging and your clothes are clinging to you as the panic sweat kicks in and you feel so much more self-conscious and it builds and builds and people are just looking at you sideways, then you wonder why and the thought pops into your head that they don’t like you, because hell that one has a neutral face, that one is looking down to the ground, that one is turning her back and oh no it’s gone wrong again. You’ve stuffed up, you are a frozen, stinky, sweaty, nodding, grimacing socially inept failure and everyone sees this and hates you, and you run. Because being home alone with a bottle or two of something is so much better than being alone surround by rational, intelligent and perfect people. Then you drown in your faults and your failures and your nothingness, and you feel through every part of you that you are a failure. Alienated, outcast, unworthy, inept, unlikeable, unlovable, dumb, stupid, hated and you don’t want to leave home again.
The need for approval and desire to be a part of something is so intense. Personally, I find myself mimicking, listening for people to identify their hobbies and interests, trying to find something that I will be able to do so that we have shared ground. On the rare occasions in smaller gatherings, I may pluck up the courage to inquire. But that’s very rare. Then if I like that person, I will go home and study their hobbies and interests intently. I find myself wanting to learn what they know. I occasionally adopt their hobbies and interests as my own. Sometimes that works out well. I learn new skills and some I enjoy. Others, well, I quickly lose interest if I can’t share them with the person my focus is upon.
It’s the same with jobs. I cannot settle. I do not have a career path. I will sub-contract myself for short-term appointments, learn new skills (this can be an advantage) but I am not doing it for me – I find I am always doing it for approval from others and so far, I have not enjoyed anything I have been paid to do. In fact, I usually end up hating work because it never satisfies that hidden, inner me that I cannot yet grasp. Without identity, I cannot find my life path. Two such closely interwoven issues, leaving me feeling trapped and unfulfilled. Because I will only be and only do what you require of me. This hole, this chasm in me is a huge vulnerability and social liability. If you want a cold, conservative, strict person in a pinstriped suit, I will be that person. If you desire someone who is vibrant, alive, free, colourful and outrageous, I will become that person.
With relationships, I am even worse. I am a blank slate waiting for you to write on me. I will completely alter myself to suit your needs. It works for a while, but because somewhere deep within I know that the character I am playing is just that – a character and not me, I start to fall apart. I don’t know what to do. Panic, despair, anger, emptiness, loss, confusion and depression follow. Then I leave, an empty, broken and lonely shell. Wanting you so that I am not alone, and hating myself for needing something or someone that is so inherently wrong for me.
Aside from lack of identity, socialising with BPD is difficult because you read things differently. Perception filters are seriously skewed. I read emotionally. My rational brain switches off completely. I feel swamped by perceived behavioural requirements. I need clear, steady eye contact and physical touch to understand the truth because authenticity in a person is essential to me. Because I need to see the truth in a person’s soul, I tend to stare intensely into their eyes. Most people find this very off-putting. I don’t mean it to be – it just says that I find you fascinating and I want to get to know you better. In fact, I want to know absolutely everything about you. I also like to touch you, to feel your reality. But I know that this is unacceptable behaviour, and if I do this, people think I want to sleep with them. I don’t. I just need to “feel” the inner you. It is how I read you.
I find that I struggle with neutral faces; I don’t know what they mean. I can’t read emoticons either. I have a cheat sheet so that I can understand people on social media, or understand text messages. I can’t handle people wearing dark glasses. I perceive them as dangerous, dishonest, sneaky, secretive and threatening. If I’m feeling stressed or agitated and I see people in sunnies, my brain goes into fritz mode as all I perceive them as menacing … and I freeze and I can’t stay at the local cellar door, so buy a bottle of wine and go home and scull it in forty-five minutes!
Yes, this is an extreme overreaction. I know that. I am trying to deal with it. I have been forcing myself to pop across to the cellar door once a week, just for a short while before it gets too busy so that I can learn and understand and not freeze, sweat, blurt out ridiculous, loud, panicked random phrases and be normal – I would so much like to socialise and behave like a sane human being. But I have not yet learned the art of small talk. I want the truth. It is not appropriate to interrogate people, but the black and white of me prevents me from engaging in superficial conversation because to me superficial = fake = dishonest = bad, and I don’t want to interact with people who are bad because bad people hurt people.
If someone glances away from me, or turn back to continue conversations with others when I enter a room, my immediate thought is that they dislike me, I am interrupting and that I am unwelcome. I find myself tearing up, apologising profusely for interrupting, quickly purchase the nearest thing, go home and cry. I take such things as absolute rejection. People need to be very overtly friendly or else I perceive them as hostile.
And living in a small community feeling everyone around you is hostile as a pretty damned awful feeling.