Should a reclusive borderline try to meet people or find intimacy? If so, how?
January 10, 2009 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Long post about my struggle with friendlessness, shyness and borderline personality disorder inside. Short form: how does a shy, sensitive, friendless guy meet kind, like-minded people and build up a social support network, and should a borderline avoid seeking a partner altogether?

My apologies for the long post.

I'm male, approaching my mid-twenties, living in Brisbane, Australia. I lost my parents to a car accident when I was in my early teens. I lived with my grandmother until I was 17, and then moved out on my own. She has since developed Alzheimer's and now has a full-time carer. I see her far less often than I should.

I didn't enjoy school, I had few close friends and was generally unliked. I felt very strong negative emotions whenever I was teased or criticised, and my only external reaction to being hurt was to become completely silent. I had always been very shy, but became much more so after I entered boarding school. I had one intense relationship from about age 14 to 17, which ended with me being dumped. I realise that's not atypical, but I mention it because it's the only emotionally intimate relationship I've ever had.

Not long after this relationship ended and I left school I became totally reclusive, leaving my apartment only to go grocery shopping and for haircuts and dental appointments and little else, really. There's a multitude of reasons for it. First and foremost though, I feel incredibly uncomfortable around people; I hate being judged or rejected and I'm terrified of the powerful negative emotions that being emotionally close to someone can stir up. Sometimes I feel as though simple financial opportunity also keeps me here - if I had to go out and work, I probably would. Other times though I feel completely helpless, as though if it weren't for the inheritance I'd be homeless and utterly unable to function. I feel very ashamed of myself for achieving so little in life.

My days have consisted of little more than reading, watching television and browsing the web. After a while I got sick of fiction and started to only watch the news and documentaries on television, read news websites and expose myself to a wide variety of opinions on various political topics and educate myself on the various things that interested me; liberal political ideologies, economics, technology and science, chemistry, physics, programming, electronics, business, sociology, history, religion, that sort of thing. I feel like I have a fully-fledged personality, but it hasn't ever really been exposed to anyone.

For a while I maintained some friendships over the internet. However when my ex-girlfriend reached out to me a couple of years ago as a friend, I became far too enamoured far too quickly, experienced rapid mood swings and overwhelmingly powerful emotions (positive and negative), I started blaming her for everything, experienced rages and then one evening a suicide attempt and hospitalisation. After that I cut off all ties with everyone, both out of shame for what I had done and fear of feeling those emotions again. I visited a psychiatrist again and received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, the description of which really rang true for me, aptly describing my emotions and post-predicting much of my behaviour in relationships through most of my teens and beyond, as well as my personality when dealing with people I'm forced to deal with (like the barber and dentist and so on), which is always incredibly friendly and deeply interested in whatever they have to say, regardless of whether i really care or agree.

I've tried therapy and medication, on and off for years, with a few different professionals. There's some comfort in knowing there's an explanation for my shyness, rapidly changing moods and intensely overpowering emotions, but ultimately I found therapy and medication to be ineffective, even though I tried it with hope and an open mind. I remained terribly lonely and unable to meet people.

However after this most recent lonely new year's eve I decided to finally stop feeling so sorry for myself and try to turn things around and get out and meet people. I stopped blaming my past for all my problems and finally accepted that I did most of this to myself. There's also a creeping sense of desperation that my life is slipping away from me, that before I know it I'll have missed my entire youth. 23 is still early enough for me to turn things around and have some semblance of a normal life. I'm sick of being a loner.

Since starting to entertain the notion of going out or even *gasp* finding a girlfriend a whole new raft of insecurities have cropped up. I worry people will find me terribly boring, who could ever be attracted to someone so insecure and needy, someone who can't even sort out his own life, i have serious body-image issues, lack of sexual experience (I'm a virgin), i'm too self-centred, what if people find out i'm crazy (do i even tell them?), men are supposed to be assertive and secure, blah blah, the list goes on and on and on. I'm fairly confident most of these insecurities will go away over time, I just have to push through them and force myself to try.

But more importantly, I don't want to hurt anyone like I have in the past with stupid shit like suicide attempts and terrible rages and blaming people for all my problems. There are some who view borderline personality disorder as an uncontrollable and endless series of manipulations, and while I disagree and find that opinion deeply damaging and hurtful, there's no denying that my actions and inability to cope with powerful emotions have caused deep pain to people, for which I've only recently been able to apologise.

After the new year began I asked an old school friend to meet up some time. Just this week he and his girlfriend came over for dinner. There were a few moments where we all seemed to enjoy ourselves. I forced myself to turn off my default "I'm fascinated by everything you're interested in" personality but I had difficulty connecting since I don't have many experiences to draw conversation from and neither of them are into politics or follow the news or have much interest in science or anything I had to say, really. After I had mentioned off-hand that I "hadn't been out in years", they invited me to go out clubbing with them the rest of the evening. I turned it down, thinking it'd be far too much far too soon, and then they left. I felt good about the evening for a while but soon after I felt quite apprehensive that they may have found me quite boring or weird.

I don't really know what to do next. My other few friends from school have left the country.

So, given all of this;

How does an almost completely friendless person find friends? How do I meet people? I would find it easier to relate to people who have similar interests to mine; so, current events, politics (more socially left-wing than not, but totally open-minded and not blindly aligning to either side), science, skepticism in general (including atheism but not preachy about it), economics, media, society in general. Preferably quite intelligent people. All of this with the caveat that I'm extremely shy and fragile, and that's not likely to go away until I get a lot of practise socialising. I don't think I'd ever enjoy the bar scene or music festivals or anything like that, which is unfortunately what my old school friend seems to enjoy the most.

What am I going to do if I do actually find someone with whom I can be close? Should I explain how insecure I am, how easy it is to set off mood swings? Should I just avoid seeking a partner entirely, for now?

How do I explain locking myself away for the last 5 years without totally creeping people out?

Fellow recluses, shybies or borderlines, I'm also interested in your anecdotes of recovery or coping.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
You sound like you should go on a Metafilter meetup.

"current events, politics (more socially left-wing than not, but totally open-minded and not blindly aligning to either side), science, skepticism in general (including atheism but not preachy about it), economics, media, society in general. Preferably quite intelligent people" sounds like a lot of people on here.

Take it slow. Don't explain your past to people, because the past doesn't matter. It's what you're doing here and now that matters. As long as you do things like make eye contact and involve yourself in the situation, you're most of the way there.
posted by Solomon at 8:53 AM on January 10, 2009

Anonymous poster, you have already made a big step by reaching out to an old friend, so congrats.

Answering this because I was really shy at points in my life, and I have a sibling with similar psychiatric challenges (borderline, etc).

Just take a few first steps. Because of your borderline disorder and interaction with treatment, etc, do you also have access to support groups for outpatients? When my sibling wanted to start making friends and interacting, she want to places like that -- sometimes they will have classes, get togethers, but she never felt that she was that different from everyone else and it was a good starting point.

What about taking a university course or courses? That is where you can definitely exchange ideas about -- insert dream topic of your choice (physics, history) -- and usually there are least a handful of other people who are the same.

You may want to try craigslist for your city (doesn't look very active), but just have a small post asking to have a discussion partner, or whatever.

Finally, are there any outdoor activities that you enjoy (hiking, biking, etc?) It is pretty easy to go to these events (a hike, a ride) and interact with people casually. Everyone is there because they enjoy the activity. You can get away with only saying a few sentences, and believe me, people will start talking to you. Over time you can have a discussion about X or Y and mae firends.

Do you work? Daily interactions with people may help. What if you looked for a part time job?

Last thing -- I say this as someone who has really struggled with shyness - when you interact with someone, most times, people are really not looking at you at all. They are more interested in having someone listen to them - hear their voice, what they think, etc. Sometimes they are more concerned about projecting their own image -- so they aren't really looking at you and assessing you. Just remember that.

Good luck anonymous poster.
posted by Wolfster at 9:15 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I felt good about the evening for a while but soon after I felt quite apprehensive that they may have found me quite boring or weird.

I used to say things like that. For me, therapy and drugs fixed this. Maybe you haven't found the right people or prescription yet.

But, to summarize the advice I was given, you have to assume the best, lacking evidence to the contrary. These people showed up and you had a nice time. Hooray. Stop analyzing it. Stop thinking about the past or the future. Stop worrying about that one awkward moment during dinner. When you feel yourself starting to obsess about a past situation, just find something to do to get your mind off of it.

But getting past these mindsets are precisely what therapy is great for.

How does an almost completely friendless person find friends? How do I meet people?

There are about 8 million AskMe posts about this already. In fact, it's like a biweekly thing. Executive summary: join clubs, talk to new people for no reason at all, get out and do things. You'll never make new friends at home on the interwebs.

What am I going to do if I do actually find someone with whom I can be close? Should I explain how insecure I am, how easy it is to set off mood swings? Should I just avoid seeking a partner entirely, for now?

There are about 16 million AskMe's about this.

My opinion: a partner may well distract you from being the person you need to be. That said, I wouldn't avoid it. Seeking it out never seems to work anyhow. Just go make some friends. That's the number one thing that's going to make you happier and eventually lead to you finding someone.
posted by TypographicalError at 9:24 AM on January 10, 2009

Also, if I may, you don't sound shy. You sound chronically depressed. You're a little sick in the head, and that shit happens to people sometimes. It's great that you want to work through it. Don't get all ashamed about it, or think you're a pariah. That's a nasty little spiral.
posted by TypographicalError at 9:27 AM on January 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you want to meet people you should look for those with similar interests. Are you religious? Even if not, church groups (especially Unitarian ones) are very inclusive and usually have a 20-something group that has activities you could join in on. They're not bad, seriously, and they are predominantly good people who go.

Also, try taking a book or your computer to a coffeeshop. Pick one that seems kind of like your vibe-- where the other people there look like people you want to meet. Buy a coffee, be nice to the cashier, sit down, read your book/surf the interwebs and just be around people. You probably won't approach anyone and nobody will approach you *most likely* but being out and around people may help you feel less shy.

There's also a class. Are there any local colleges you could try an art class at? Art classes are great ways to meet people because, 1. Most classes allow you to talk during class while you make art, 2. the other students should be around your age, 3. artists are generally nice, and 4. you get to learn something and express yourself at the same time.

And lastly, I have this advice for you. Don't worry about what other people think. Seriously. EVERYONE is nervous, shy, thinks they may be weird or ugly, is uncomfortable talking to strangers, often feels like a failure, etc. Essentially, we're all crazy. Really, it's true. When I realized this and applied the consequences to my own life ("well I'm afraid that person won't say anything nice to me, I'm afraid they won't want to talk to me so I won't say anything to them.... wait, but what if they feel the same way? Actually, they probably do..... so what does that mean? That we'll never talk?") I started being much more outgoing.

It's important to realize that your worth is absolutely not related to what people think about you.

Not at all. Your worth depends on what you think about yourself. Try keeping a journal, I bet you'd find you're just as interesting, educated, and worthy of real relationships as anybody else.

Everyone is nervous, so don't be.
posted by big open mouth at 9:31 AM on January 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

While dealing with my own inner demons and insecurities, I too went on a long social haitus after a particularly troublesome series of events in my life...and yep, its been about 5 years here too. The problem you're having though is simpler and more fundamental than you might realize...your first step should be rediscovering yourself, and loving yourself for who you are. This is crucial before stepping out to make connections with other people, because a good circle of friends should not be a "goal" but rather something that forms naturally that everyone wants to participate in.

You're an adult now, which is really in your'll notice...looking back, that all those you went to school with that singled you out were actually dealing with their own social akwardness as well....highschool is not a good litmus test for where you are today...back then it was more of a viscious cycle, and would seem pretty cruel without realizing what was actually happening, but that's how it is in highschool...just see that for what it was, and move on.

A direction you *should* be heading for yourself is to find something you're good at (maybe a hobby of some sort) and build up your confidence by admiring your talents while doing it. Confidence is a powerful thing if you let it happen...and it rubs off on other people. Sure you'll always have insecurities, but here's a news flash: that's everyone....don't fool yourself into believing people that appear confident don't have insecurities...the difference is they're putting their foot forward regardless of them (if that makes sense). And you'll need to eventually do the same, until it comes naturally.

As far as that needy/clingy self image, you need to evict it. Sounds like a cheap self-help one liner, but its really good advice if you think of it in that manner. Give it a written letter...and get it out the door ASAP. It may come back wanting to crash on your couch at times, or might call just wanting "to talk"...just do what you'd normally do to anything free loading on your psyche, evict it...get a restraining order...and block its number! :)

You're young, and have LOTS of time, so enjoy it well spent. Don't rush yourself into becoming more social, rather approach everything in your life genuinely and with honesty. Take better care of your self image and body, work your home possibly first then at a gym...that will also help create those "happy endorphins" people that exercise always talk about. Get a Facebook or Myspace account (which is where a lot of similarly aged peers will be)...and simply accept that your ex may want to just be a friend, let the past go and just be friendly...but move on and don't expect ANYTHING to come of it. Also don't raise unrealistic expectations with anyone you meet...rather find something to do when times are quiet...these lulls are normal for anyone, so don't think they're particular to you.

I'm not a psychiatrist, but from your above post I'd definitely say you're at a point of self realization where you don't need to regress back into taking meds or seek additional psychological help. You know whats bothering you, and you don't need to pay money to midly suppress these're ready to *address them*...these inner demons at your core and become a better person inside as well as outward. Just remember, don't set goals...rather focus on changing your outlook, and appreciate what you have. (perhaps attend your local church as well, even if you're not'd be amazed at how intelligently most religions address personal struggles, and how welcoming others will be to your attendance) I hope this was helpful...and I wish you the best of luck as you begin your won't end up being what you expect, it'll be better :)
posted by samsara at 9:38 AM on January 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

As a first step, start going to the gym, every night, just to physically be around other people. I know you said you have body issues, but seriously, the gym is the perfect place to just BE around other people. I guarantee you they will not be laughing at you, they will be thinking "Wow, it takes a lot of strength to go to the gym if you're not in shape. Good for him for trying." Whenever possible, try to make eye contact with people and say Hi, as Solomon (rightly) advises you to do. If it takes a month to make eye contact with the clerk, no big deal, at 23, you've got plenty of time. Try out every freaking machine they have. Watch an entire basketball game on TV while riding the bike. Anything, just don't go home until bedtime. In the morning, get up early and have your morning coffee at Starbucks, while reading a book. Any book, it doesn't matter. Again, this will get you used to being around other people. Plus, the morning is beautiful, don't sleep in, all depressed, get outside and greet the day. Then go to work (I don't know what your job is, or if you have one, but let's assume you do.) After work, again, go straight to the gym. Once you're comfortable, sign up for a class, like swimming, karate, or ballet, it doesn't fucking matter what it is. When the class is nearly over, ask the people who you see all the time if they'd like to get together outside of class, perhaps to practice that activity, or do a different one. You could go to the pub and watch the game together, or check out the new exhibit at the museum and drink coffee, or bike to a nearby town for ice cream, something like that. Keep it relaxed and simple. Read up on the game or exhibit beforehand so you'll have something to talk about. It will be hard at first to have a conversation, or to make eye contact, especially one on one. You will fall flat on your face and get rejected. But as you gain experience, and as you keep branching out, it will get easier. And then you will find that you have a full life, with lots of stuff going on, and people to meet, every night of the week. You will have built up a life for yourself. And that's a pretty fucking big accomplishment. With that under your belt, a lot of your insecurity problems will go away.
posted by metastability at 10:02 AM on January 10, 2009 [11 favorites]

ps I just saw that you do not have a job. Get one ASAP. Working a cash-register would actually be perfect for you. Who cares if it doesn't look good on your resume? Just get out of the house from 8 from 5 and be around other people.
posted by metastability at 10:13 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

A job may help, particularly a service job that forces you to interact with people. Someone suggested cashier -- that's a good idea. Also, how about waiting tables? It's active work so you'll get some exercise while doing it, you'll work with generally young and friendly people, and it'll teach you how to react to people in stressful situations. There are always jobs available, and lack of experience isn't a hindrance. Plus, you'll have some spending money in your pocket after every shift. Plus, food. Sweet!

Also, waiting tables builds camaraderie, and it's not unusual for restaurant staff to hang out after work, so it's easy to find a group of people casually getting together for a beer on a regular basis.

And if you hate it, you can quit. Happens every day in restaurants, and isn't that big of a deal.

One good thing about waiting tables is that before you have to interact with strangers, you actually have a script to follow. You want to tell them about the specials that day, answer their questions about the menu, etc. It's a routine you'll repeat with every table, and you'll have been trained for it. It's much easier to make conversation with strangers if you're confident about what you're going to say. Waiting tables makes this easy, and it encourages a kind of sociability that can apply to every other conversation you might fall into.

There are also immediate rewards and instant feedback. The first time you get a great tip and one of your tables leaves happy, asks your name so they can sit in your section the next time they come back, you'll be smiling with money in your pocket -- proof that you just completed a successful social interaction.

And the shifts are relatively short (well, sometimes). You'll hafta be "on" for about three hours at a time. The rest of your shift will be doing busywork like rolling silverware or sweeping up or polishing fixtures. It's a good combination of rote work, socializing, stress, and fun.

Good luck!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:46 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

My feeling after reading your post is that you may be focusing too much on your mental health unnecessarily as it really doesn't sound like you're all that bad off. The main thing is that you sound self-aware, and that you're developing your confidence more and more. I think the easiest way for you to put yourself out there in a limited way would be to take an evening class on a topic that interests you and where you might find people you'd have intellectual pursuits in common with. Just show up week after week and practice talking to people before and after class. Hopefully you'll strike up a friendship with someone, but even if you haven't you'll at least have taken another step towards coming out of your shell.

Also, the couple that you invited over definitely didn't think you were weird - otherwise they wouldn't have wanted to continue the evening by going clubbing! It's also totally ok that you didn't go, in case you were wondering about that, too. But all this stuff will come much easier and be much less anxiety-producing the more experience you get being around people. It sounds like you're moving in the right direction but be patient with yourself and I really think you'll get there.
posted by hazyjane at 11:24 AM on January 10, 2009

One of the things that struck me about your post, Anon, is how much thoughtfulness, insight, and clarity you have at such a relatively young age, and how your wish to connect with people is about wishing to connect with them well -- that is, for your mutual benefit, not just your own. I bring this up because I want you to be aware (and to remain aware) of these and the doubtless other good qualities you already possess that make you a valuable person, and will make you a valued friend as you go back out there in the world to connect with others. (Itself a process that takes some bravery under the circumstances you're in.)

I agree with others that a job -- or even volunteering -- seems like a crucial part of the puzzle here. Since income doesn't appear to be an issue, this allows you to try a lot of various options, just to see how they feel (see it as the need to earn social/mental income, if you like). I think cashiering or waiting tables are good suggestions; other work or volunteer ideas that spring to mind as possible good fits for you might be working in a bookstore, volunteering at a library or animal shelter or food bank (etc.), or being an orderly at a hospital. (For a great story of how working as an orderly in a hospital wound up being surprisingly valuable for one guy around your age, check out "The Moth" storytelling podcast on iTunes -- the Dec. 22 episode with Jon Levin.)

In any case, I think getting out there and doing something on a regular basis will allow you to feel useful and will also allow you to make some of the natural connections that comes from having a group of coworkers who share a common purpose, workspace, etc. Be good to yourself while trying not to be too fearful for yourself; I think it's always important to be aware of our own fragilities, while at the same time being careful not to label ourselves based on those fragilities, which can sometimes cause us to place unnecessary limits on what we're willing to try.

Good luck to you!
posted by scody at 11:52 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

the kama sutra lays out the steps for a man to take in his life: BUSINESS, then PLEASURE, then GOD. In other words, God doesn't want quality women don't like poor men under ordinary circumstances (my interpretation, not my values). I don't know whether it's possible to control one's own destiny. But forget the philosophical drivel. The advice of people here - get a job and go to the gym - sounds great.
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 2:20 PM on January 10, 2009

Speaking as a fellow introverted, shy woman who had a few episodes of suicide attempts and explosive/breakdown moods:

In addition to all the above advice, get into social networking like Facebook and Twitter. I don't really like MySpace, but you can try that out too.

Call an old friend up and ask to hang out, just chill and catch up on the years. Like everyone else said, don't think about yourself, your problems, your past, while chilling. The most important thing is that offer to meet up again some time later, maybe make the hangout a regular thing. Your friend might get more people to join, and that way you can meet them. Don't be afraid of surprising the old friend with your first call; I'll bet s/he will like it, in fact.

The main thing is: DON'T think about yourself all the time. Don't think about how you come out to be. Don't think about how bad your past was. The past is the past. Do something that will make you look forward to the future. Do something that will make you forget about your problems and your troubles, and instead fill you with happiness and hope.

Last and not least, you got your fellow MeFites! As mentioned in the first comment, find a local meetup.

Hang in there, and good luck. I know these terrible feelings of inadequacy, guilt and loneliness all too well, and my biggest regret is that I can't give any more advice (I'm young just like you, younger actually). You can MeFi-mail me if you wish.
posted by curagea at 3:35 PM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I do a lot of work with dogs who are afraid of things, and one piece of advice I give their owners might work for you - baby steps! If something is scary for you, break it into smaller parts, and conquer those smaller parts one by one. Choose short interactions rather than longer ones.

Acquiring good social skills is a learning process. Instead of jumping right in and saying, "I'm going to meet people and make friends," or, "I'm going to engage someone in a conversation," start with a smaller goal. That goal might be having nice, short interactions with people, but with no intention of selling yourself or getting to know them better. You might experiment with smiling, and asking, "How's it going?" to the checkout person at the grocery, or smiling and saying, "Lovely day!" to someone you pass on the street. How does that person's face change? Do they smile and/or say something back? If they do, you just got positively reinforced (rewarded) for that little baby step, and you might even feel braver next time. If they don't, shrug it off and chalk it up to their being in a bad mood. If you join a class, or volunteer, aim similarly low at first. Practice saying hi or smiling.

A good second step would be engaging people with whom you've already made positive contact in short exchanges. Talking about the weather is a cliche, but that, or another relatively trivial and universal subject, can be a good place to start. "Did you run into traffic on the way here?" type conversations are neutral, easy to start, and pretty self-limiting. After all, you can only talk about the weather for thirty seconds or so. Then, you can either continue with what you were doing, or say, "Well, see you next week" or whatever. If the conversation goes well, again, you've just rewarded yourself! If not, they might be shy too, or in a bad mood.

Don't rush yourself. If the other person initiates a longer conversation, by all means go for it, but at this stage in the game, aim for a lot of very brief, positive interactions. Just as I would do for a scared dog, or myself if something was difficult for me, set yourself up for small successes.

Negative social interactions are punishing to you, and you've had a lot of them. Any behavior that gets punished is going to happen less often, so it's no wonder you don't seek out a whole lot of social interaction! It doesn't mean that you're broken or weird. What it does mean, in dog trainer jargon, is that the behavior of reaching out to other people has had a pretty extensive history of bad reinforcement.

So in short, one thing you could do is to change the balance of that reinforcement history to mostly positive. Successful trials of social interaction will also help disprove two beliefs you might hold about yourself: "I am ugly/weird/crazy," and "Most people, upon meeting me, will dislike me."

Lastly, try choosing people with really *good* social skills to practice on. Talking to another shy person might lead to a bad outcome. Talking to someone who is friendly and outgoing and a talented conversationalist might lead to a more rewarding trial, and you might be able to learn from them.

Don't push yourself too much to move on until you've mastered the baby steps. When you have, *then* you can start thinking longer-term.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 4:17 PM on January 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

In terms of social skills, I agree with the people who recommend that you start slowly - going to a coffee shop or gym where you can be with people without having to interact is a good first step. If you are not ready to handle a real job, you may find a volunteer position for a few a hours a week is good first step. Again, something with a scripted social interaction would probably be a good fit.

However, I think that other posters missed how seriously your mental illness has impacted your life. ... stupid shit like suicide attempts and terrible rages and blaming people for all my problems. ... there's no denying that my actions and inability to cope with powerful emotions have caused deep pain to people, and I would guess, deep pain to yourself as well. Where are you in terms of being able to manage your emotions? Being around other people might trigger problems that you have been able to avoid by hiding in your house. I think it is great that you are ready to start moving forward but I wish you had some support.

Have you ever worked with a therapist that specializes in people with a borderline diagnosis? 10-15 years ago, therapists had no idea what they were doing and dismissed the patient as being "incurable". Then Marsha Linehan developed an approach called Dialectic Behavioral Therapy and proved that therapy could help. Since then, there are other approaches although DBT has the most research showing that it actually helps. I know some people seem to be able to figure out how to cope on their own but for most people, having an experienced guide is helpful. In terms of medication, there is no medication specifically for BPD, just treating the related problems like depression and anxiety. The person with borderline problems in my family does much better with meds but I know of others who seem to do better without them.

I know that therapy didn't work for you before but I also know that the right therapy does work for many people. There are therapists who do have a prejudice against people with a borderline diagnosis (nothing worse than a therapist who just labels you as a problem) and many others simply don't understand the illness well enough to help but there are also professionals with the experience and empathy to help you learn how to manage your emotions and live the life you want for yourself. I encourage you to try therapy again and this time make sure you have someone with a track record of success in dealing with your problem.
posted by metahawk at 5:46 PM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I remember your last question. It sounds like you've managed to start dealing with your antisocial/borderline issues, which is good. I still think that your best option is to go to uni, along with continuing therapy. It sounds like you are interested in learning, and uni (UQ, anyway) is certainly full of opportunities to meet other young people interested in left-wing politics. Just apply for an Arts degree and take whatever classes sound interesting, if you don't have a particular desire to do anything, or you could just enrol in one class at a time through the Community Access Program.

One benefit of going to uni (one class at a time would be a good start) is that you don't have to talk to anyone, but you do have to be around people. And you also get some experience in meeting other people's expectations and deadlines, in a much lower pressure environment than a job.
posted by jacalata at 6:17 AM on January 11, 2009

Some timely reading for you. Seconding metahawk. All therapies and treatments for BPD are not the same. TIME Magazine had an article this past week about dialectical behavioral therapy as a successful treatment for BPD. Read it.

I congratulate you on spending time with your old friend. That shows pluck.

First, the bad news. It is often difficult for even outgoing people to find intelligent, like-minded people to discuss politics and science with. You should look for a schedule of public events being held at a local university. Most will have talks on subjects that interest you and some will have discussion groups. You can also try an adult education course.

Before you start diving in, you should ask yourself if you now have sufficient control over your reactions to allow you to leave a situation quietly if you feel yourself about to rage or panic. Could you have an argument with someone at a politics seminar, face being proven wrong in front of five or twenty others or in front of a girl you admire, and handle it appropriately? Could you handle that even if the other person was an idiot? Start your new social life on a level where you can achieve some small successes immediately. You may need to adjust your expectations for the time being.

I speak from experience. You are young. Two to five years is not too much time to spend gradually learning how to be a social being.

You must start exercising. You do not have to go to the gym to exercise, but you have the money to pay for a gym membership or classes, and both are a good way for you to spend some time being exposed to other people. If nothing else, you should start taking a 10-minute brisk walk outside every morning in the sunshine.

In general, do not tell people you are crazy. Avoid bringing up that you feel needy, insecure, or weird. If someone clearly seems to think you're odd, or if you feel very uncomfortable, you can say "I'm sorry if I seem a little awkward, I've been ill/had a medical condition for many years and I'm just now starting to get back out into society. It's been a while." Smile as you say it. Leave it at that. Do not continue apologizing. You have been honest and you have eased their mind. If they ask what condition you had, tell them "oh, you know, I'm so happy to be getting out again that I'd rather not go into it." In almost all cases you will encounter for the next year, the right thing to do is to politely and persistently decline to talk about it, and then to bring up a change of subject.

Resist the urge to reveal too much to new acquaintances too fast. If you find someone you feel you can really depend on, you can gently, gradually probe to see how comfortable they are with mental illness. Do not overdramatize anything you choose to mention. Always indicate that you know you were wrong if you bring up an event from when you reacted badly. If you can leave the past in the past for now, do it.
posted by jeeves at 4:41 PM on January 11, 2009

By the way. It's perfectly fine to fake a moderate enthusiasm you do not feel when asking someone how their day is going or agreeing that the most recent episode of Dumb TV Show was terrible. Everyone does this.

What YOU need to sort out is where the borderline (!) is between A. totally submerging your own identity/opinions to keep them reacting positively, and B. keeping your own identity, allowing yourself to agree/disagree with them on a subject that interests you, but still politely expressing interest in their lives and ideas. B is healthy. A is unhealthy.

You need to rehearse these scenarios ahead of time, whether in your head or with a therapist. Think of plausible dialogues and write them out. Plan. Action and behavior come first. Reasonable emotions will follow.

A girlfriend is not your goal until you are capable of recognizing in the moment that you are disproportionately upset about something most people would see as a small issue, and acting appropriately despite your upset. I'm not telling you to push some girl away if it turns out things really click two months from now. But you must absolutely recognize that you have to be able to say "I really like you, but I'm not ready for a serious relationship right now" if you find yourself getting too bound up in her and seasick with love and hate. You know it's not her job to manage your seasickness, and you owe it to your future girlfriend not to go sailing with her until you're capable of keeping your gorge down.
posted by jeeves at 5:19 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sometimes the people that experience the most intense darkness and negativity are the same people with the greatest capacity for light and creativity.
posted by sadgreeneyes at 6:21 PM on February 24, 2009

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