I've been on and off dating apps for many years. I joined a few of them again recently, and I've been struggling to decide how much to share about myself and my mental health, both on my profiles and in the messages I send.
Mental Illness Impact on Self
As someone who lives with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I'm engaged in a daily struggle to maintain my sanity. What impacts my sanity the most is the belief that I've said or done something to interfere with other people's sanity. I've learned that the best way to interfere with other people's sanity is to become involved with them in intimate relationships. That way, I can offer them front-row seats to witness my cyclical descent into instability and be swept up into it themselves whenever they try to bring order to my intermittently untameable internal chaos. I don't know how to stay sane, in love, or out of it. When it comes to relationships, all I seem to do is bring my partners into the eye of the storm of a woman who's lost her center and herself.
I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) in my 20s after a pill overdose and a pseudopsychotic episode. After receiving outpatient care for a year, I was told that I no longer met the criteria for BPD. In the years since, I've been living my life with the understanding that I have depression, anxiety, and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This changed in 2022. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
Like many people who live with borderline personality disorder (BPD), the relationships in my life have been turbulent: I've been estranged from my family on several occasions, and my friendships rarely last longer than a few years. However, the most dysfunctional relationships I've had have been with my two long-term romantic partners. I don't like how I behaved in either of those relationships, yet I felt helpless to find a way to behave differently. I watched myself become passive-aggressive, demanding, argumentative and possessive. I witnessed the hurt I caused and wrestled with intense shame, despair, and self-loathing. The turmoil I struggled with in my relationship with my first boyfriend was so intense that, after our breakup, I ended up overdosing as a cry for help. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
People who have borderline personality disorder (BPD) have a reputation for being difficult to treat in therapy and not trusting therapists. As someone who has BPD, I can attest to this: I can be very defensive, and I have a habit of trying to do the therapist's job by diagnosing myself and telling them what I think I need. I also don't stick with any therapist for long and have been known to bail with almost no warning.
Fulfilling social connections can provide a feeling of belonging and a support system that benefits our mental health, but mental illnesses often cause us to isolate ourselves from others, making the mental illness worse by depriving us of the basic human need for connection. I talked about my experiences with social anxiety in a previous article, "How I Overcame Social Anxiety by Acting As If," and I want to talk a little more today about how, although mental illness and isolation go together, connection is a path toward mental health.
Whether or not we like it, we live in a world made for extroverts. Life demands so much of our social energy, and while extroverts feel energized in the company of others, introverts like me feel drained when they spend too much time around other people. Neurodiverse people and those with mental illnesses might feel even more drained in social situations than neurotypical individuals. If we don't recognize when we're socially overwhelmed and do something about it, we can end up coping with it in other less healthy ways.
People who know me describe me as friendly, and it's funny for me to hear because I wasn't always -- I had social anxiety. Connecting with others is at the core of who I am as a person, but social anxiety held me back from belonging for the first two decades of my life.
Social comparison is a part of being human. Using other people as a reference to decide how we see ourselves is often an unspoken force behind so much of what we do. "Comparison is the thief of joy," an adage often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, has been on my mind quite often lately. I realized I compare myself to others at the expense of my happiness. I have two chronic anxiety disorders and sensory processing sensitivity which interfere with my life in every way, and I find that I often don't consider these traits when I criticize myself for not working as much, having as grand of ambitions, or achieving as much as my peers.
Love is a powerful force, but when it comes to loving someone with mental illness, we have to think about how to love through a different lens. We all likely have seen this type of story before where someone with mental illness or trauma falls in love, finds happiness, and suddenly all pain and hardship disappears for good. These stories put the emphasis on the partner as some type of savior, valiantly rescuing a "broken" person through the power of love. These savior stories create unrealistic expectations of what it's like to love people with mental illnesses as if the right person can rescue them from their darkness and pull them back into the light.