Having a healthy, stable sense of identity means that you have consistency, understanding and acceptance of yourself over time. BPD often means that nothing is stable, with an inability to form a coherent sense of self as a result of constantly shifting and reactive emotions.
Compartmentalising experiences in your life rather than combining them into a complete ‘whole’ person means that those with BPD are left feeling fragmented, incomplete, lost and empty.
“The large inconsistencies in behaviour, over time and across situations, lead to difficulty integrating multiple representations of self, a lack of a coherent life narrative or sense of continuity over time; and a lack of continuity of relationships that leaves significant parts of the person’s past ‘deposited’ with people who are no longer part of the individuals life, hence the loss of shared memories that help define the self over time.”
As an illustrator/artist I find it extremely difficult to complete a sense of artistic identity. Whilst at university it was understood that everyone was there to learn to define themselves, by creating, developing and honing their artistic practice into a solid and reliable identity.
Now that isn’t to ignore the fact that everyone’s artistic practice is constantly evolving as they learn new techniques or alter materials, mediums, and visual style over the years. It is however to say that the inconsistent and unstable identity disturbance that is present in Borderline Personality Disorder has transferred itself to my practice as an illustrator.
“Identity seems to revolve around a ’cause’ or shifting causes. People with BPD tend to depend on relationship with a charismatic other, or in the ‘orbit’ of a strong personality. The tendency to confuse one’s own attributes, feelings, and desires with those of another person, especially in intimate relationships, means that when a breakdown in a relationship occurs it can lead the person with BPD to fear a loss of personal identity.”
Whilst this references intimate relationships specifically, it can be applied to the fragmented artist as well. Perhaps if you are also artistically inclined, you will understand that feeling when you see a piece of art that resonates with you, and suddenly you must become that artist, and produce their work.
What I mean is that you tend to ‘take on’ the other artist’s creative values, and seek to apply them to your own work. However in the art-world you can’t just become the other artist, to do so would be blatant plagiarism, which is why I just take fragments. This practice of ‘stealing’ from other artists has been around for centuries.
The artist and author Austin Kleon even wrote a whole book about it and made a handy chart to explain exactly what I’m trying to explain:
The crossover between artist and unstable artistic identity means that my creative past is compartmentalised and refuses to combine into a complete artistic evolution, or history.
For example, I made a handy graphic too:
It is impossible to remember myself in terms of anything other than the compartment I am in now (Post Break Up 2). When working on projects and personal work it’s as if I never completed a Foundation Diploma, or went to University to study Illustration at all. I feel as though I am completely in the dark, starting from scratch in an unknown and unidentifiable place in time.
Each compartment is attached to strong, emotional memories, and so who I was as a creative (my artistic identity: the work I produced, things I learned etc.) is locked into that box, never to integrate with the rest of my history as an artist.
This means that when attempting to form some sort of linear coherency in the evolution of my work, it is difficult to recognise past work as my own. I can’t physically feel the emotions associated with the other boxes unless I am placed in a state of mind that reflects the associations, so I cannot feel connected to my previous work.
It feels as though I could feasibly say that that work wasn’t done by me. Looking back the emotional memory associated with it is not available, and therefore I can’t put my name to it.
This identity disturbance also has a significant effect on my future work; making it impossible to pin down a direction, vocation, path, or whatever you call it, and settle on some sort of distant future goal.
My artistic identity is compromised as a result of my unstable sense of self. It’s as if I am a pinball in an arcade machine, a chaotic blur racing from one visual style to another, jumping erratically from technique to technique – never able to stay put long enough to make an impact – and never able to truly connect with my own work.
This probably accounts for the multiple deletions of websites, portfolios and the destruction of old work that I cannot put my name to, as well as frequent starting and stopping of new sketchbooks after only a couple of pages.
One day I hope to have consistency, but on the other hand I’m so inconsistent that I don’t even fully know if I actually hope that… At least I’m consistently inconsistent.