Functional: ‘capable of serving the purpose for which it was designed’
By Lisa Bean West

I’m now classed as a ‘Functional Borderline’.  I still have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, but I can get through most days without major incident.  It’s hard sometimes to look back at how I used to be, how I used to look and all the weird and wonderful things I used to do.  It can cause a lot of shame, but also a sense of ‘missing’ some of the odd parts of myself, the parts that made me different and eccentric because actually being ‘normal’ is relatively boring.  I also sometimes just miss the ‘crazy’, because for the majority of my life, that’s all I’ve ever known.  As much as I am proud of how far I have come, being a functional borderline has its downs.

Classed as a ‘Functional Borderline’

Sometimes that expectation is my own, but most of the time I feel it emanate from others. It can mean that I don’t notice my emotions or my feelings that often, and so in the darkness of the night can feel a little overwhelmed by the constant chitter-chatter of my never-ending internal dialogue.  I’ll chastise myself for having a bad day, a day when I again feel like a mental health patient and not a human.  I will not ask for support or help because I have to present myself as OK, even if I’m not.

There is this huge expectation to be ‘OK’ all of the time

Despite my now purple hair, I look like a normal person.  My scars are barely visible.  I’m the highest weight I’ve been since before my eating disorder; therefore I am absolutely fine.  If I look fine, then I have to be fine.  I’ve always been so self conscious of my appearance and how I am seen by others, so even though I want to appear fine and ‘normal’, this makes it incredibly hard because often my outward self does not match my inner state.  I can feel completely hopeless and suicidal, yet have a smile on my face.  How do you communicate that to other people without them completely invalidating you and fobbing you off: ‘You look fine to me’.

I act like I have my shit together 99% of the time, but actually I don’t, I’m just good at hiding it.

I have a complete aversion to being perceived or seen as weak.  From my early life experiences crying = weakness, any kind of negative emotion = weakness, so I hide those parts of myself away.  It’s tough holding myself together all of the time.  It can feel like suffocating; the tighter I hold myself in, the less room there is to breathe.  This also poses problems when trying to communicate my needs to others; I have what is called ‘Apparent Competence’, meaning I come across as completely in control and competent in all aspects of my life, when in fact I still struggle daily with a lot of things.  It then becomes hard for others to believe I am struggling, because I’m pretty ‘functional’, and then I feel completely invalidated and start to question myself.

I HAVE to cope; I don’t have time to NOT cope

Life is busy now.  People rely on me, I have responsibilities, things I need to get done.  I do NOT have the capacity to do those things AND fall apart.  I have to be functional.  Again, there is this huge amount of pressure to be ‘OK’, pressure from myself and others.  Sometimes I can feel totally overwhelmed by stress, not necessarily from anything significant, but from the pressure of having to cope.

I can never have a meltdown or crisis, and when I do, people are surprised.

I haven’t had a crisis in quite some time now, which is surprising, since part and parcel of having BPD is that people quite literally jump from one crisis to another.  It feels completely odd to me to be a ‘functional borderline’ and not to be in some form of crisis, because my whole life has been one.  Sometimes it feels like the calm before the storm, though DBT has taught me to live in the moment and not live my life waiting for the storm to come.  Because I seem so functional, if I were to have a crisis, most people would think it had happened out of the blue, but to me, it probably would be a build up of stress that erupted over something small, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

People don’t understand why I’m not working and contributing to society, when in fact I get incredibly anxious even walking to the shop.

People made the assumption that I’m now ‘Fixed’

This is my absolute bugbear!  So when I finished DBT treatment, some people made the assumption that I’m now ‘Fixed’ and can jump straight back into my old life of working 40+ hours a week.  I can’t.  I haven’t worked for over 5 years now and the thought of even going for an interview for volunteering makes my stomach churn and my heart race.  People don’t realise that spending those years in and out of acute mental health wards and intense therapy programmes is completely exhausting.  Those years wiped out who I was as a person, pretty similar to wiping your laptop and starting again.

I need rehabilitating.  I need time; opportunities to practice and utilise the skills I have learnt.  Space, to be able to find out who I am again, who I am without my illness defining me.  I need to re-learn how to be a person, specifically an adult.  I also need time to do another piece of psychological work, specifically focused on recovering from trauma.

My life is not as it was

I wish it was as simple as resuming life as it was, but my life is not as it was.  It’s changed and so have I.  I need to grow.  I don’t need to be made to feel bad for that because this isn’t how I wanted my life to be, but this is how it is and it’s me who is having to pay the price for something completely out of my control.

I’m a robot and live on autopilot; that’s how I get shit done.

I’m ‘functional’ because I work hard to do what I need to do to make things work.  Often I spend my days physically present, but mentally elsewhere.  I feel like a lot of my life is mundane and lacking in fun.  I don’t know whether that is because most adults’ lives are like this, or if this just me; life can be starved of fun a lot of the time, so I resort to autopilot to get through.  I’m a functional because I have to be.

Intelligence has nothing to do with mental illness

I was once discharged from hospital after only a few days; I spent those days dissociated and attempting to take my own life because the psychiatrist said I was intelligent.  During ward round, he said to me, ‘You don’t need to be here. You have a degree, you’re intelligent so you’ll be fine going home’.  That was it.  Since when did mental illness discriminate?  Since when do only ‘unintelligent’ people suffer with mental illness?  Some of the most inspirational and ‘intelligent’, well-known people suffer or have suffered with mental illness.  Abraham Lincoln had clinical depression, Charles Darwin had panic disorder, Edgar Allen-Poe had depression and addiction.  More recently, we have lost several actors and actresses to suicide, all with varying diagnoses.

Intelligence has absolutely jack all to do with mental illness, yet there is still this assumption that it does.  I believe that in some circumstances, being intelligent and having mental ill-health can make things worse.  I have a lot of insight into my illness, yet can feel powerless in controlling it or myself.

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It’s hard being a Functional Borderline because I’m still on the Border between coping and not coping.  The difference is that although I am choosing to cope, I feel that often it is not a choice.  It’s either that or fall.  If you are also a Functional Borderline, I take my metaphorical hat off to you because I know how damn hard it is to live your life whilst covered in invisible third degree burns.  Your struggle is just as significant, your fight just as hard.  Your worth is just as valued, and your life just as cherished.

Bean X

Reproduced with permission, originally posted here

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