Song of the Day: I’ll Be Waiting by Adele
Two of the many overlapping symptoms of Bipolar Disorder (BD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are:
High Interpersonal Sensitivity
High Emotional Reactivity
Of the literature I have read on BD and BPD there is very little coverage of either trait, which I find rather frustrating as both symptoms have featured prominently throughout my life so far (and the lives of others I would suspect). The differences between each symptom are not particularly clear, but the way I understand them are as follows:
1. Interpersonal Sensitivity
When interacting socially with friends/colleagues etc. we are extremely aware of what is being communicated, whether through body language, tone of voice or what is said. We are able to pick up any tiny cues which might suggest a slight towards us, or feel when someone else is annoyed or happy with us.
I think for me this trait is particularly about how I FEEL around others, their energy is very distinct to me whether it is harsh and dense from anger, light and playful from laughter or that horrible feeling when you walk into a tense room where people are burying feelings of annoyance towards each other- it feels tight and strained. This is something that stays with me all the time, not just when I’m experiencing an episode. The difference between when I am feeling well and when I am not, is experienced much more, for me, through the following:
2. Emotional Reactivity
I see this as the way we react to the highly sensitive information we process through Interpersonal Sensitivity, or to everyday occurrences and events.
For example, if I feel someone is verbally attacking me or treating me unfairly the following could occur:
During Normal Mood: feelings of anger will be of a lower intensity and I am able rationalize that perhaps the person is having a bad day/has a headache etc. The feelings are manageable. This, to me, equates with low emotional reactivity.
During a Bipolar Episode: anger will stream extremely rapidly throughout my body and I will react by snapping or even behave aggressively in some cases (needless to say this has got me in trouble with work colleagues on a few occasions, and is extremely out of character for me). This suggests that I am experiencing high emotional reactivity.
For those with BPD I imagine this reactivity is a constant throughout their life. Of course during mania and hypomania, the reactivity could also swing the other way- if something particularly good happens or I experience an extremely positive social encounter, my excitement and euphoria can go through the roof! This may lead to overeating, overspending, feeling I am invincible and that I am incapable of making a bad judgement, or of negative consequences to my actions.
Even without BD or BPD there are many sensitive and emotional people out there and there are some very helpful books which can aid seeing these traits as positive rather than negative, and offer suggestions in how to protect yourself from overstimulation. My favourite is:
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron