Not because I can’t write like that anymore; I’m sure, given time and materials to fully research the topic, I could write a reasonably professional sounding report into the causes of BPD. No – I’m not writing that type of piece because I don’t think anyone can say definitively that “this” or “that” causes BPD in people.
All I will say is that current scientific research appears to indicate that BPD “might” be caused by a genetic mutation; that it is caused by approximately 40%/60% genetic/environmental factors. I’ll go with that.
I’ve read several BPD-based blogs over the past few months and opinions differ greatly. Some people squarely put the blame on environmental factors – the unvalidating childhood, possibly even abuse. I veer towards the condition having a genetic basis and that’s what I want to talk about today, because I want to talk you through the “development” of my own, personal version of BPD. It might help some of you start to see patterns from your own childhood, or you might disagree with it entirely. I don’t really mind how YOU interpret it; that’s up to you. I just want to put MY story out there incase it helps even one other person get their life into perspective and realise that HAVING BPD IS NOT THEIR FAULT.
I firmly believe, and have evidence to support, that I was born “sensitive” and with an incredibly literal (i.e. black/white/all/nothing) brain.
The literal brain: before I started school, I was taken to a doctor for an assessment. I can’t say exactly why, but the test involved a lot of walking up and down, jumping, skipping etc. So when the Dr then told me to “hop into that chair while I talk to your Mum”, I took him literally. I can still remember trying to hop onto the chair before scrambling up when he wasn’t looking.
All through school, I was “mature”, “hard-working”, “diligent” and “conscientious”…yes, even at the age of 5. Because that’s what was expected of me; I didn’t know that you could behave differently and was a right little prig towards other children in my class who didn’t take such a literal view on life.
Even now, if someone in authority tells me something is important, I believe them 100% and “diligently” and “conscienciously” strive my utmost to get that something important done to the best of my abilities. In other words, I take everything seriously, which then leads to excessive amounts of stress and worry over something that isn’t actually as important as I first thought!
Anyway – back to my evidence for a genetic basis to my BPD.
Born sensitive: I used to dread parent’s evening at school. Not because my parents would learn about my bad behaviour and poor grades, but because no matter how good my grades (and they were almost always in the top 20-30% of the class), at least one teacher would tell them I’d been crying in class. Again. I would then get a bollocking (no other word for it, sorry!) when they got home.
I’ve spent some time this morning, going through my old school reports. It’s incredibly telling that my Primary 1 teacher wrote “She is timid, but never gives up even if she is distressed”. My P5 teacher wrote “She tends to get upset when she makes an error” and my P7 teacher wrote “Stacey must try to overcome her fears of failure. If she gets anything wrong she is plunged into despair.”
How can anyone tell me that my genetics weren’t involved right from the start? I have always (and will always) over-react to certain emotional triggers. I will get overly angry when my computer misbehaves. I will automatically cry when I fail to do something correctly first time, or get criticised for making a mistake. I will get stupidly frustrated when things aren’t going the way I “need” them to go. I will run myself into the ground to do something immediately and perfectly because I wrongly assume that’s what’s required.
Now – I’m not saying environmental factors didn’t also come into play. I was exhorted to “stop being such a cry-baby” at least once a week by somebody as I grew up. Kids at school took great advantage of the fact I could be easily wound up and their favourite game appeared to be “let’s make Stacey cry”.
Incredibly unvalidating…because someone with undiagnosed BPD can never be validated enough. Because everyone assumes their brain works “normally” and they’re just not trying hard enough. Because nobody understands, without talking to a psychiatrist/psychologist/reading a tonne of textbooks, HOW a BPD brain works. And without that knowledge, the person with BPD can never be understood, so can never be treated appropriately and can never feel validated. The condition then starts feeding into itself and you start getting the secondary symptoms of poor social skills, lack of identity etc. In my latter school reports, there are many references to my lack of confidence in class work, and how I worked much better individually or in a smaller group (that’s still true today). Those early teenage years were also the years where I had the fewest friends and fell out with those I managed to keep on a regular basis, due to my lack of identity.
There are your environmental factors, but they wouldn’t have played their 60% role if not for that initial 40% genetic temperament/genetic mutation.
What can we do about it? Well, we’re in a better position than we were 34 years ago when I was born. We know more about the condition. It has a name. It has symptoms. It has probable causes. It has treatment. It can be “recovered” from to a great extent.
Even though we’re not at a point in medicine/genetics where we can erase the mutation, or tweak the genetic code in order to give someone a “normal” brain rather than an over-reactive, exaggerated BPD one; we can work on the environmental side.
If we know what to look out for in our children (exaggerated, prolonged emotional reactions), we can validate them. We can help teach our kids how to handle their emotions, teach them how to reason their way back to level-headed. We can ensure they get the chance to develop their social skills and work out who they are, before it’s too late.
I can say with about 90% confidence that my two daughters do NOT have that genetic mutation/glitch that is the beginnings of BPD. Yes, Porglet Minimus can get extremely upset when things are not going her way, but the upset is immediately switched off once she gets what she wants. That’s not BPD; that’s being 5. And yes, Porglet Maximus has an incredibly black & white view on what’s right and wrong/fair and unfair, but that’s because we’ve brought her up that way and she has a questioning mind.
I do my best to teach them appropriate ways to handle their emotions. When Minimus gets upset because Maximus doesn’t want to play Barbie with her, she throws herself on her bed and doesn’t want to talk. But gentle persistence gets her sitting up; a hug helps her feel validated; and the gentle reminder that she, not Maximus, was the one responsible for her upset (by choosing to take offence), gets her smiling again within minutes. Whether I’m doing the right thing or not, I guess I’ll discover in the next 10 to 15 years…but I’ve learnt from my own childhood.
This isn’t to say that my friends and family made mistakes with me. They didn’t choose to make me feel the way I did; they dealt with me the only way they knew how, given the evidence (or lack of it) before them. I’m 110% confident that if my BPD had been diagnosed in early childhood, my life would have been a lot easier and I wouldn’t have faced the battles I did throughout my teenage and young adult years.
So there you have it; my personal view on my personal BPD. We’re all different, which gives credence to the argument that only part of the condition is “built-in” and the rest develops due to environmental factors. I know a lot of people with BPD suffer more from the uncontrollable anger, for instance. For me, it’s criticism and “what will people think”, because that’s the mantra I grew up with. But BPD is built into my genetic code and is something I’ll have to live with every day for the rest of my life.