After yet another emotional explosion, for the umpteenth time, I finally decided that enough was enough. I desperately needed clarification on why I felt such raging intensity, injustice and mistrust to those around me. The trigger? Probably the realisation I was destroying everything around me that I’d worked hard to achieve. And the recognition of the self-destructive pattern that was negatively impacting on my personal and professional relationships. These outbursts had become my way of coping – a standard response to emotional build up.
A few months ago, I was diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, which after reading up on, made sense to me. Although nothing about me as a person had changed, the perception of me certainly has, whether it be how I perceive myself or by others. I’m all too aware that people with personality disorders are considered ‘too complex’ to handle. Anyone I choose to disclose my diagnosis can read articles online with headlines suggesting ‘risky and dangerous.’ As well as multiple warnings of involving yourself with these ‘testing, manipulative and deviant people.’ Fortunately, further reading shows more supportive articles providing balance and insight.
An unstable identity is a core feature of personality disorders and for men, this represents a challenge. Quite rightly, women’s rights activists over the years have campaigned for equality with men, but amid this social change, male identity has been eroded. An obvious example being the ever-increasing pressure on male body shape and size. Unhelpful phrases, such as ‘man up’ to demonstrate how men should be strong and manage emotion, all combine to create confusion. Imagine how it feels to already have an unstable identity with no social indicator on how you are expected to be. Whilst we can’t overlook that everyone is different, for those with personality disorders, it’s hard to qualify what is the ‘norm’ and adapt behaviour accordingly. Understanding male identity in today’s social climate is near impossible.
What I’ve learned since being diagnosed is that I must work with the illness than against it. I refer to my emotional intensity as the ‘beast within,’ transforming into a hulk-like manifestation during an episode. Other people may not see I’m unwell and instead see it as acting out or anti-social perhaps. To me, everything just feels normal. It feels right. It feels just. And proportionate to the intensity of how I felt in that moment. Indeed, the self-punishment post episode equally feels right, normal and just. Or it does initially, at least. Life feels genuinely easier for me if people hate me because they don’t understand, rather than accept me for what I am. And yet, the rational me seeks to reject this feeling that it’s not a sustainable mindset for life.
Ultimately, I’m always on a countdown to the next episode and to delay that requires constant and conscious mental effort. People advised me to talk through my intensity and thoughts but that brings a whole other set of challenges. Talking about this with others around me can help and invites a point of view and perspective. Without communication little can be understood and makes you as a person feel misunderstood. Your reactions seem extraordinary and therefore ‘unacceptable’ even though, in your mind, perfectly acceptable to you. And it’s this awareness that enables me to better prepare for challenging situations. Otherwise, it allows permission for continued self-loathing, which perpetuates leading to further disgust and worse behavioural decisions. But, as difficult mental illness is to manage, whether male or female, it doesn’t make me a monster.
As long as I’m aware of the negatives, then those attributes can be channeled into positive outcomes. It’s early days in my recovery following my diagnosis. After-all, I’m a work in progress. We all are. And the key word is, progress.