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Being the crazy-ex girlfriend: break-ups, boundaries & borderline personality disorder
C.N: Suicide, Suicidal ideation, Self Harm, Trauma
It’s 9:15pm. A day of emotional dysregulation has drained me of all of the energy I have. I contemplate getting into my pyjamas and brushing my teeth, but both tasks feel pretty insurmountable. I collapse into bed fully clothed and begin to fall asleep, but just as I’m drifting off, my hand fumbles beneath the cover for where the small of your back should be. It’s not there. Upon this realisation, I curl into a ball to try to soothe the knot in my stomach. I sob. I remind myself to breathe. And I hope that tomorrow might just be a tiny bit easier. Break ups are rough. A break up on top of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD/EUPD) is something else entirely.
I feel a real sense of impending doom whenever I see a woman on screen begin to behave erratically after a break up. How far are the writers going to take this… will she go on a wild escapade to fix things, invent a new beau, and ultimately remain the butt of the joke? Or will she burn down a house? Threaten to kill herself to manipulate her way back into a relationship? Most importantly: will a balding, middle aged man in a white coat tell her ‘victim’ that it isn’t their fault, and that their psychotic ex’s behaviour can be excused on the account of her ‘Borderline’ or ‘Emotionally Unstable’ Personality?
What is BPD/EUPD?
Borderline Personality Disorder is also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD), or Emotional Dysregulation Disorder. Diagnosis relies on a complex matrix of nine symptoms, of which a sufferer must display at least five:
1. Fear Of Abandonment – This is the big’un. People with EUPD are often terrified that the people they love will leave them. This is part of the reason that break ups sting so hard: that thing that you’ve been dreading for years? Yep, it’s happened.
2. Unstable Relationships – People with EUPD tend to have very intense and short-lived relationships. I’ve definitely had a stormy dalliance or two in my time – and it took a lot of work and self-reflection to be in a stable and healthy one.
3. Unclear or Shifting Self-Image – I either think I am THE SHIT or the worst person on earth. Sometimes simultaneously. There is no middle ground.
4. Impulsive Behaviour – People with EUPD may indulge in harmful, sensation-seeking behaviours, especially when they’re upset: this could be binge eating, spending impulsively drinking to excess or maybe just cutting yourself an offensive full-fringe during lockdown just to feel something.
5. Extreme Emotional Swings – I can go from suicidal to horny in 15 seconds. It’s exhausting.
6. Explosive Anger – This is a symptom that I don’t suffer from. This is just one example of how EUPD can look different dependent upon the individual. Some people deal with their overwhelming emotions by acting outwardly and getting angry, some people (read: me) deal with them by acting inwardly and crying into their cat.
7. Chronic Feelings Of Emptiness – People with EUPD often talk about feeling empty, or like there’s a kind of void inside them: they’ll try to satisfy themselves by filling that void with things like food, drugs, sex. Just call me Angelica Schuyler, because I will never be satisfied.
8. Feeling Out Of Touch With Reality – When under a lot of emotional stress, people with EUPD may lose touch with reality or even dissociate completely. I sometimes get so emotional that I fully forget how to speak for about 30 seconds: it’s not what I would call a pleasant experience.
9. Self Harm/Suicide – A really common symptom of EUPD is self-harm, and 1 in 10 people diagnosed with EUPD die as a result of suicide. Not a joke, just a fact.
Despite seeming somewhat disorganised, all of these symptoms stem from the same place: individuals with EUPD feel the same emotions as anyone else, but the volume is cranked up to eleven. Both pain and joy exist on an unexplainable and often unimaginable level. I like to use the analogy of when you accidentally leave your caps lock on, and all your typing seems UNNECESSARILY INTENSE.
So… what about Crazy-Ex’s?
A very common coping mechanism for dealing with the pain that goes along with this intensity is finding a ‘favourite person’. Someone who you know won’t abandon you. Someone to stabilise that unstable self-image, keep you in touch with reality, and help you to feel less empty. This is often, though not necessarily always, a romantic partner. And that is where the ‘crazy-ex girlfriend’ narrative takes root. During a borderline break-up, the loss of your ‘favourite person’, combined with intense symptoms of emotional dysregulation is a cocktail bound to result in a ‘crazy’ ex.
I’ve just come out of a loving 2-year relationship with the woman I thought I was going to marry. The relationship ended mutually, with enormous amounts of love, respect and compassion on both sides, and it was the right decision for both of us.
And yet, I’m still feeling pain like I have never experienced before. Thinking of her with someone else tears me up from the inside out. Despite busying myself with activism and creative projects, my mind cycles back to her, us and everything I could have done differently. Imagine the pain, confusion and desperation that everyone goes through after heartbreak, and then multiply it by 10: that’s where I’m at. Sometimes I’m fine. But then the smallest thing breaks me, and it takes hours to recover from the ensuing spiral.
I see a recipe I want to cook for you. I break.
I see that book we’d been talking about for months. I break.
I watch a film that I know your grandad would have loved. I break.
My back hurts and I don’t know why. Then I remember it’s because you’re not here to remind me to sit on my chair properly. I break.
I try to book a holiday, and remember all of the trips that we’ll never get to go on. All of the adventures we’ll never to get to have together. I break.
I’m working unbelievably hard to manage these feelings in a boundaried, and healthy way. I’m keeping my distance from my ex, giving myself time to grieve, and investing these feelings in creative pursuits. And honestly, it’s exhausting. I feel drained. The longer I cope with this intensity of emotion, the more I understand the other people with my condition who haven’t been empowered to cope in the same way. The more I understand the lengths that people with EUPD would go to in order to stop the pain: whether that’s inventing new partners, or burning down houses. And the angrier I get that these ‘Crazy-Ex Gf’s’ aren’t getting the help, compassion and respect that they so clearly need, and deserve.
Lucy Jane Dickson is a queer 25 year old performer, writer and charity fundraiser with Borderline Personality Disorder. She is a passionate activist who frequently writes about her experiences of the intersections of queerness, fatness and disability. She is also one half of Queerly Productions: a production company dedicated to creating Musical Theatre work for Queer women and Trans performers. You can follow Lucy and Queerly Productions on Twitter.