Love on the Borderline

Privilege comes in all sorts of forms.

There are those of us who benefit from systemic privilege based on race, those who benefit from the archetypes of gender, those who are able to live carefree on account of their sexuality.

I believe in something called mental health privilege. It’s the reason that I’ve publicly marked the anniversary of an unprecedented breakdown related to Borderline Personality Disorder three years ago. It’s also the reason for shining a light in areas historically bathed in silence around mental health — the TV industry, for one — so that no one has to suffer in the same way. After all, what good is it to survive a fashion of hell, to chart a depth of darkness, if one cannot plot some sort of map to prevent others from falling by the wayside?

It’s also the reason to unflinchingly examine every year gone by. It’s a process that can often feel too much and too personal for some, but one whose worth is redeemed even if it can help just one person. And in that respect, the last 12 months have (unsurprisingly) continued to bring more revelations.

I’ve stated in the past that BPD, like every mental health condition, is never completely ok to live with. It lurks around every corner waiting to pounce on every insecurity, a lightning strike of emotion whose forks are just as unpredictable in every sense apart from the fact that they ultimately reach down to the ground and insist on your company for the journey. It happens in the bad times, and it sees no difference in the good either.

Mercifully, the bad times have been few and far between since 2016, perhaps even infrequent enough to count on one hand. The good times are regularly documented on social media, not for any false sense of balance but for a genuine adoration of a life that was once a whisker away from ending. For a sense of posterity and wonder that being alive can be filled with a relentless charm even in the face of a death that always feels like it could have been yesterday.

Every BPD sufferer has different triggers, but for most of us a sense of abandonment tends to drive many decisions. This is never more apparent than when love is involved.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote: “For one human being to love another, that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks… the work for which all other work is but preparation”. No one embodies that quote more than someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. Love is always the most precarious part of life, an impenetrable monolith that darkens even the most stable brain, an unfair hurdle race of trial and error, and error, and error.

When BPD has formerly been aligned with abusive relationships, love becomes even more treacherous. It seems safer to stay away from it, an object out of one’s control, than to risk repeating old patterns and descending into old habits. When it arrives it seems easier to run, or at least cover a mental cork-board with escape routes and defence mechanisms that ultimately lead back to a solo centre.

But love, like most things in life, comes without warning. And it can be a BPD sufferer’s worst nightmare, a trigger for fight or flight that could spell doom. It consistently echoes with waves of the past, causing a fear that is real, constant, and ultimately destructive. How can we stop this razing everything to the ground? How can we maintain our sense of self in the face of something that requires someone else?

One of the biggest tasks for us all, not just someone with BPD, is perhaps to realise that love and pain are two separate words for a reason, that the mention of one ought not bring an inference of the other. That the various forms of love are actually something not only we are capable of giving freely, but something we truly deserve.

However an even bigger task is realising that the love for oneself far outweighs all of this. As long as this remains rock solid, any other kind of love — familial, romantic, professional, social — feels superfluous to our needs.

It is also to realise that there is no comparative for the love that we’re fortunate enough to both receive and accept. That books and films and even our own desires or experiences cannot be a reflection of the love in our lives. Each iteration is its own deformed beauty, a beauty that can only be acknowledged once its elasticity is as well. It cannot be made to tick boxes or yield to control and expectation.

For someone with BPD, the easiest way to confront such a complex issue is frighteningly straightforward. It is to simply become love, to both reflect it inward and pay forward every ounce of that goodwill given, to emanate that feeling from the core. It is not to treat is as an enemy or a weakness, but to absorb it and become willing passenger to its course even as everything ends. It is to trust in its transience, and to realise that even in the slow burn of time this flicker can both light up a room or indeed save a life.

With my own life saved and looking at yet another miraculous year of promise and excitement, I realise that love maybe isn’t a task as Rilke says. Love, too, is a privilege, and looking back at my life before the last three years, it is one that I know I can never take for granted again for as long as I live.