Hollow. Empty Shell. Nothing. Blank Page. The Void. Ghost. Numb.
Many of those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder will experience the ‘black and white’ thinking, or ‘splitting’ as it’s more commonly known; a term used to describe the intense, unstable switch between extreme idealisation and devaluation in interpersonal relationships.
However, despite feeling ‘too much’, many people suffer with feeling ‘too little’. In this case, it appears to be ‘feeling nothing’. When you delve deeper into this feeling (or lack thereof) it becomes apparent that it is more than just feeling nothing.
Everyone experiences this in different ways, and there is no particular way to define it.
For me at least, there appears to be several different ‘versions’ of emptiness. One thing is for certain, this emotional numbing is not a conscious choice and is very frustrating to deal with.
I have named this aspect of BPD ‘ghosting’, as it feels like I am detached and held at a distance from everything, unable to change or interact with surroundings. I do not just ‘feel’ empty. I am empty. I feel that I cannot build any connections with those around me, or feel anything on the spectrum of emotions from happiness to sadness or melancholy.
Just simply ghosting. Watching the world moving around me, unable to make an impact or change. It is knowing that I should be feeling something, but I just simply don’t.
I can also liken it to waiting. Waiting to feel something, anything. It is like you are a dog, staring intently at the front door in anticipation of your owner’s return, waiting and staring. It is waiting and never knowing when your owner may return, or whether they will be happy or angry.
Then the numb-fugue will shatter as your owner bursts through the back door instead, unexpected and unannounced. This brings an overwhelming barrage of emotions. You’re relieved at your owner (feelings) returning, confused at their unexpected arrival, barreling around the room tripping them up, jumping over them in true chaos. You don’t know what to feel first, you don’t know how to tackle this in a calm, considered manner, you just FEEL, and you feel A LOT.
You were so used to just sitting, waiting, staring, that this suddenly feeling EVERYTHING is too intense, too confusing, too exhausting to keep up with.
You can also experience and intense and overwhelming sense of longing. A sense that you need something, you’re not sure what, you’re not sure why, but you must do something to fill this desperate, inherent emptiness.
This is why many people with BPD are prone to impulsivity, an intense desire to fill the emptiness, boredom or loneliness. Something to curb the deep-rooted fear within you; fear of being alone with yourself, and your thoughts, fear of feeling something that is too much for you to cope with.
This can result in over-eating, reckless spending or self-injury among other things. The fear of this emptiness drives you to do things that go against what you know to be bad for you. It almost seems like an intense desperation, this drive, that you must keep running for fear of being caught up with.
As if something terrible is going to happen if you just stop. If the emptiness sets in then you’re screwed; it’s all over. Like needing your next ‘fix’, it is terrifying feeling like you have no control over this sensation.
Before I understood what these feelings meant for me – whenever I self-harmed to transform the emptiness into ‘feeling’ – and was questioned, I would simply reply with “I had to.” (I sometimes still do, as it summarises it quite well). It is almost a compulsion, an urge I can’t override, driven by terror and a need that must be met.
It is being aware of the emptiness underneath the surface, and not knowing how to fill it. It is feeling devoid of feeling. It is sitting on the outer edges, blurring and on the brink of disappearing. It is fear-driven desperation for something, but not knowing what. It is standing behind a translucent partition that divides you and the rest of the world. It is being cut-off from parts of yourself with no way to access them.
It is the grey in between the black and white.