Almost Too Sensitive For The Regular World


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Think Black and White "Image courtesy of [anankkml] /".

Think Black and White
“Image courtesy of [anankkml] /”.

I’ve borrowed my title from a good friend.  She struggles like me and when she suggested we were both “almost too sensitive for the regular world“, I finally had the words that I hadn’t been able to find.  How do I fit into this regular world when so much of it grates so painfully against my raw skin?

I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  It’s also known in some countries as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD).  I admit I have struggled to get a hold of what the well-known BPD spokesperson, Marsha Linehan, said a while ago. She said that people with BPD are like people with third degree burns right across their emotional skin.  I know lots of people with BPD find that description very helpful, but it just didn’t mean anything to me for so long.  Perhaps because I’ve never had third degree burns on my body.  I’m on the ‘outside looking in‘.  I have no idea what that feels like.  I can only imagine, and that must only go a small way to knowing the full reality.

But it’s starting to make sense at the moment.  I’m struggling with my black and white thinking, a common problem amongst BPD sufferers.  I so want there to be a whole spectrum of colours in my world, yet I always come back to my black or white.  Yes, I can’t even do black AND white mixed, or grey.  It is one or the other.  It’s so difficult to see another way of looking at things.  I simply can’t see it, and actually I don’t particularly want to.  Yes, that’s right, I want the spectrum, but I also want my safety of black or white.  I think we all want to hold onto what we believe and know, unwilling to see another way.  This is more than that though.  It’s not just unwilling, but unable. It’s simply doesn’t exist.

This week there have been a number of things upsetting me, in a range of environments.  What I mean is that they packed a punch right in my chest, they had the ability to wreck my day.  Often they do wreck my day… if I let them and don’t fight back.  But this is simply ‘normal’ living with BPD and it requires hard, conscious work to have me see it differently without wrecking the day.  This week has seen me tied up in knots over what I believe to be right and wrong.  Yes, I may as well transpose ‘right and wrong‘ for ‘black and white‘.  I’m not so much talking about what is right and wrong for anyone else, but rather what is right and wrong for me.  And I want my black or white.  It’s simply how my world should be.  Shouldn’t it?

See, put aside BPD and I’m actually pretty open-minded about other people and society.  What I have trouble being open-minded about is me.  Pretty much you can do what’s right for you, and it won’t ever trouble me.  I’d like very much for you to stick by the law, and be compassionate towards fellow beings, but aside from that, I am not interested in judging you.  What I can’t seem to stop doing is judging is me.  And that’s where the horrors of BPD get me tangled up.

Going back to those third degree burns, people with BPD feel everything with so much more intensity but we are also incredibly unsure of ourselves.  I judge myself and my reactions to the world around me, yet I have little idea if I have got it right or not.  I constantly doubt those reactions.  And of course, with my black and white thinking I need to know if I have it right or not.  Without that, I don’t know who I am.  And not knowing who I am is yet another part of BPD.

There are plenty of people out there who are willing and champing at the bit to tell you that people with BPD are incredibly hard people to live with and even associate with.  Mental health professionals are among them, and it was not that long ago that my own doctor seemed to forget that I had BPD and told me what terrible people we are.  There are masses of web sites which will tell you these so-called ‘truths’ about BPD.  The last thing you should want for yourself is a Borderline in your life.  Apparently.

I have no time for these myths, and not simply because I have BPD.  I base my bias on the recognition that while sometimes it might be difficult to be interacting with someone with BPD, the reality of life for the actual person who lives with this disorder in their mind day in, day out is so much worse than anything you can experience by knowing them.

Imagine those third degree burns.  I know it’s difficult but imagine living with real, physical third degree burns over your entire body.  Whether we’ve been there or not, we know it’s going to be painful, uncomfortable, difficult to move and hard to function in everyday life.  Now try to imagine those ‘burns’, or maybe wounds (probably yet to be healed) on your emotions.  Again, it’s going to be painful, uncomfortable and difficult to simply live life.  That’s what living with BPD is like.

Next time you get told, or read, that a person with BPD is hell to live with, stop and think how it is for the person themselves.  It is so much more painful.  Maybe we need support and empathy rather than judgement.  It is almost like we don’t fit in this world, but we can do with your acceptance.  I believe that there is hope for people with BPD.  We simply can’t do it while we’re being judged.

“For all these years, you’ve lived under the illusion that somehow, you made it because you were tough enough to overpower the abuse, the hatred, the hard knocks of life. But really you made it because love is so powerful that tiny little doses of it are enough to overcome the pain of the worst things life can dish out. Toughness was a faulty coping mechanism you devised to get by. But, in reality, it has been your ability to never give up, to keep seeking love, and your resourcefulness to make that love last long enough to sustain you. That is what has gotten you by.” 

― Rachel Reiland, Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder

© Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


28 thoughts on “Almost Too Sensitive For The Regular World

  1. Wow, does this ring true for me. My mother passed on last year, after extended difficulties (to put it mildly) for a year. She was diagnosed many years ago with bipolar disorder (back when it was still called manic depression). No one suggested BPD to her (as far as I know), but the feelings you’re describing very much fit how she felt a lot of the time. She talked sometimes about third-degree burns, or PTSD, or as she described it “all or nothing thinking”. Black and white. “Other people’s opinions are pressure on me.”

    In a post called, “You’re going sane in a crazy world!”, I blogged about this and said, “No one knows or can understand the bewildering depth of pain and sorrow, loss and loneliness that someone with a mental illness may suffer.” After living with my mother for nearly fifty years, I feel quite confident of that statement.

    May God bless you as you go on, one day at a time, one thing at a time.

    • I can understand the ‘wow’. While I have BPD myself, when I was first diagnosed and began to do some reading I was struck by how I could see a relative with similar traits. It was quite a revelation. If you are interested, there is a book called ‘Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder’ by Paul Mason, Randi Kreger. I realise your mother has passed but it may still be interesting reading for you to help you understand the way she was.

      I love the quote from your blog post. Thanks. I’m off now to read the post. 🙂

      • Thanks, that sounds like a great book. It could still help me heal. It was only a couple of years ago that I consciously said to myself, “Mom has an illness, and it affects me, too – maybe I need to cut myself some slack.” Started to make a difference. Thanks for checking out my blog, too.

  2. Support and empathy rather than judgement is a no-fail/can-never-go-wrong approach to everything, methinks. If only we human beings tried a little harder to be that way. There is way too much judgement in the world. There has always been. Part of the human condition, I suppose… Ceiling Cat knows I try hard not to be judgmental but I don’t always succeed.

    I’ve had several second degree burns in my life but no third degrees. However, I did receive and had to treat many patients with third degree burns back when I worked at the third level hospital. It is a terrible thing. There is lack of pain because nerve endings have been destroyed. The pain of the treatment, however, is unbearable. It was unbearable to watch as well.

    Anyway, my badly made point is that yes, the pain of living with BPD is [almost] unbearable too. I put almost in brackets because yet people do manage to keep living day after day but that does not diminish the pain.

    Sigh. Hugs

    • I totally agree with you. Love your ceiling cat. I might have to adopt that term myself. And no, your point was not badly made. Actually I love the way you made it. Thank you. And big hugs back.

  3. Sensitivity is a double-edged sword… Helps me teach but limits my managerial abilities apparently!

    Had never heard the term BPD before but am going to look it up now.

    Thanks for this post!

    • Thanks. Good luck on your search for material and remember to be careful of the negative stuff out there. There is a good book called ‘I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me’ by Jerold Kreisman and Hal Straus… if you’re interested.

  4. Oh goodness. So this morning started off with a full blown “panic attack” when trying to discuss the VERY topic with my partner.

    I was trying to tell him.. that it is as if everything I feel.. I FEEL. That I cannot have an emotion without it running my entire body. that when I am happy I can feel my right toes! but that when I am self concious my arm nerves spasm… Or that when I am proud my left hamstring loosens…. or angry and I cant breath….. And the converse: that I cannot have a pain without having SERIOUS emotional responses to it. As if every nerve on my body was placed on the outside and every waking moment in this world feels like fire burning my skin, my nerves, my soul…

    And as someone who deals with chronic pain, i also deal with chronic sensory overload. Though I have read many books on BPD, and am starting to self-diagnose; my question for you is how do you deal with Dr’s that tell you blatently that you are lying, or seeking drugs/attention/pity? That I am “making this all up, because it is easier than just accepting a bit of discomort and getting on with your life

    I have also been told my entire life that I am “Too emotional, too sensitive, crazy, to calm down and just relax, that it’s not a big deal, why are you over reacting, you’re over reacting”,..Overreacting….

    Oh how I hate that word. I cannot be reacting more than I am reacting. There is no such thing as over reacting! My reaction is what you get! If you don’t like it, maybe you need to get the *** out of my life… or you know. MAYBE just effing MAYBE.. you are not reacting enough. MAYBE this is a serious issue that I am legitemitely upset by; and MAYBE that should be enough for you to stfu and listen to what I am saying. That MAYBE my intense physical and emotional discomfort is because of what is being discussed, or NOT being discussed; rather than because I am a crazy, emotional, overreacting woman, who can’t control herself!

    • Wow, you raise some great points there. Sensory overload is sometime I struggle with too, although not from BPD. For me it is from fibrolmyalgia, which is another illness that it is difficult to find doctors who recognise and accept. I have a doctor a little like yours although I suspect he thinks I just read too much and think I’m suffering from everything I read about. That is so not my reality as I am very aware of what I DON’T have (and that must be healthy, right?). I’d suggest you find another doctor, but I know that is really difficult. Also if you have BPD or even traits of it, we get a pretty hard time from doctors. Many doctors think we are simply too hard to work with (charming!) so it’s important to ask around and find out who is a good doctor who isn’t going to stigmatise your very real reality.

      And I totally agree with you about over-reacting. “My reaction is what you get!” I love that and it’s right. Don’t let anyone undermine you!

  5. Beautifully written and said, Cate. Like I may have tried to say in my last post, I’ve made life difficult for those people “fortunate” enough to be near to me – but at the same time, it’s got to be harder to be me in this context. I pray it is, as I’d not want any of those folks to have the pain. Anyway, if your IRL self is anything like your online self, I don’t think you’d be difficult at all.

    I can relate to the dichotomy of seeing very clear black and white at times, yet wishing there were limitless greys in between at other times. It seems perfectly normal and reasonable to me.

    • Hi Sid, I think we’re all pretty good at making life difficult for those fortunate to be near us, but you know, I think we’re even better at making life difficult for ourselves. We have to remember that. As my IRL self, perhaps I should put you onto my brothers. I’m sure they’d be on to tell you about my true self. Meanwhile I’ll stick with that online image. 😉

  6. I admit I have struggled to get a hold of what the well-known BPD spokesperson, Marsha Linehan, said a while ago.

    I’ve heard of Marsha Linehan before. In 2009, TIME magazine featured and in-depth article titled The Mystery of Borderline Personality Disorder (John Cloud/Seattle Thursday, Jan. 08, 2009). Dr. Linehan was briefly mentioned, but as I recall the article, she was pioneering some innovative approaches to BPD treatment and was achieving more results than seen in the past. She employed the use of dialectical behavioral therapy and breathing from the solar plexus (third chakra as some people know it). The article also mentioned that in prior years, doctors frequently thought of BPD as a “death sentence.”

    I’m sorry this info is only from memory. Unfortunately the article is now only available to subscribers with a TIME web site log-in. It was an interesting article, but obviously she’s still doing work in the field and up-to-date information can be found easily enough.

    • Hi Andrew, Thanks for your comment and for the information. I am familiar with DBT but haven’t used it myself, beyond what I have read. That said, I know people who have been through the training and found it very helpful in finding ways to manage BPD traits. I haven’t heard of the breathing technique although I can imagine it would make sense as something that would help too. Oh and yes, I’ve heard that “death sentence” line too. There are whole websites dedicated to that view and in my opinion aren’t very helpful for anyone. Imagine getting a diagnosis and being told it is a death sentence. It certainly wouldn’t give you any hope. That’s such a shame because of the harm it does for people who I believe do have hope. BPD, in my opinion, is manageable given the right help.

      • Cate, so glad you could reply to my comment. I should point out that no doctor has ever told me out loud that there’s no hope or used the death sentence line. And the breathing thing I found interesting because I’ve been meditating regularly since 2008. I do different forms, including focusing on each of the seven chakras, not just the third. 🙂 Regarding my comment, I also want to point out I didn’t mean to suggest you should try this, that, or the other thing, but only wanted to contribute what little knowledge I had of Marsha. When I write something, I often can only get my meaning across accurately when I wait a few days to edit, which I don’t do with comments. 🙂 As for your post, it’s a good point of view to share. It’s hard. If one has a relative who is deceitful and manipulative, then blames it on her mental illness without regarding how it affects other people, then feels abandoned by those who love her because she doesn’t feel “supported enough.” Sometimes we have people like that in our families and it makes it difficult to take one back into the fold because of severe trust issues. But of course BPD or other mental illness doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is susceptible to becoming deceitful or manipulative. That can happen to anybody who chooses that path to deal with the stresses and challenges life throws at us. For some people, self-honesty can be extremely difficult. I should stop writing now before I become unclear or irrelevant. 🙂

        • Thanks Andrew. I think it is sad when anyone uses mental illness as an excuse to be manipulative and abusive and agree that it makes it difficult for families. It just shows me that with the proper treatment there is hope for all of us, but it is sadly too common that people don’t get the treatment they need.

  7. I’ve often thought the same thing when I hear people complain about living with or dealing with someone with BPD, or Bipolar Disorder, or OCD. Don’t they realize how much harder it is for those who actually HAVE the illness? We need to support and be compassionate toward those who are suffering. Judging from all the comments you received, you have helped a lot of people with this post. So thank you!

    • Thanks for that Janet. I think you’re right in that we need to support people getting such diagnoses. It is scary enough with out being told everything negative. It’s surely the same as if someone diagnosed with a physical illness is only told the worst. How can they possibly find hope for the future? It’s so damaging.

  8. Thank you for the insight. Your post has definitely inspired me to consider alternate perspectives in regard to BPD. BPD, in particular, is something I have had trouble understanding.

    • I’m glad if I have achieved inspiring you to learn more. That’s awesome! BPD is a difficult diagnosis to get your head around. There are so many aspects to it, and so it means that sometimes it is hard to see two Borderline’s as alike. Unfortunately too, much of the information on the internet is quite negative but I encourage you to keep hunting. The good news is there too. 🙂

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