Bipolar/Borderline Personality & Loss of Identity

Song of the Day: Flightless Bird, American Mouth by Iron & Wine

The term “loss of identity” is one of the prerequisite symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. Although diagnosed as Bipolar, I frequently find myself identifying with this concept of a lack of sense of self.

So what is meant by a loss of identity? Well, to me, it occurred as a feeling of emptiness; I felt hollow as if I had no essence or substance as a human being.  I felt completely lost. If someone described my characteristics to me I wouldn’t recognise that impression of myself. I didn’t know what I liked anymore, what my preferences were. I didn’t enjoy anything I used to- a usual symptom of depression. I felt everything I used to be had gone and was lost to bipolar depression. University was near-on impossible, I couldn’t hold down a job, all my friends had moved on to other universities, I missed sixth form days like mad. I felt I’d lost everything, every tiny part of who I was ripped away from me. I’d always identified myself as an academically high-achiever, musician (orchestra/band/choirs/ensembles), artist, very together kind-of person. But without school/sixth form- life, I completely crumbled. So maybe in a sense I really over-identified with myself as a student and an achiever. I found it very difficult to see myself in any other way than doing and achieving. Without these things there was nothing left of me. I really do think I felt enormous grief for my old-self.

If I looked in the mirror I would have a surreal experience of non-recognition- is that really me? Quite often I was such a pained, emotional wreck inside that the sight of a seemingly “normal-looking” human being staring back was virtually inconceivable. I expected to see a horribly scarred, ugly, pained face- to reflect what was going on inside me. My full, clear-skinned, pretty-ish features felt so wrong. I couldn’t identify with the image.

As a severely depressed young adult who was unable to participate in all those things she once loved, I was nothing. My eating became uncontrollable, something which scared me seriously, as I used to be extremely controlled about my eating habits. Suddenly all I wanted to do was eat to fill this void of emptiness. It was a huge compulsion. I felt wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from those binges, I felt pulled to binge with such intense force that I couldn’t get the food down quick enough. The emptiness was always soothed by this process, but only temporarily. My new identity was as a lazy depressive, living off benefits, purposeless, eating disordered-loser. (Thankfully I no longer see it that way at all).  My suicide attempt resulted. An act which sealed my rejection of this new self. I saw it as completely unacceptable to be this person. I was despicable, disgusting, there was no way in hell I could live like this- so I was refusing to. Fortunately God had other ideas. But I think that the rejection of the new me, in the midst of newly-diagnosed bipolar, is when I became empty and lost my identity. In essence, I rejected myself.

Even after 12 years I’m still in the process of recovering myself, but I think I’m over half-way there. I guess the hardest part was accepting the long-term diagnosis, subsequent limitations and learning to perceive myself in a more loving way: as a person that is no longer harshly judgemental of herself, but compassionate and supportive. I’m getting there.


7 thoughts on “Bipolar/Borderline Personality & Loss of Identity

  1. Sandy Sue

    Goodness, Rachel, this really speaks to me.
    I’m still in the process of grieving the old life and the old me, though at least now I see some hope in building a new and different life. Every day I seem to test the boundaries of what I am now in contrast to what I was. It’s all new territory.

    And the part about looking in the mirror was shocking to me. Who was that fat, haggard, old woman? Surely not me! She looked like someone completely worn down by life and/or disaster. Did other people see me like that? What a disconnect.

    I do have one question—what is “sixth form”?

  2. rachelmiller1511 Post author

    Thanks Sandy Sue. The mental health professionals never prepare you for dealing with a completely different life once you’ve been diagnosed. It must be similar with many long term illnesses, when people realise life is not gonna be as you’ve planned I suppose.

    Sixth form is the higher two years of high school when you’re 17-18. Only have to go to school until you’re 16 in UK, so sixth form is usually much smaller. Also, some students choose to go to a larger college rather than sixth form where there are usually more courses to choose from.

    Hope all is going well with you.


  3. Hannah

    Hi Rachel, hope you’re ok… I just wanted to drop you a quick note to ask if you’d be willing to do a little guest post on my blog please – I want to set up a page with people’s stories of Mental Illness, to let others know that they’re not alone, and hopefully create a friendly place where people feel comfortable to share and support each other… Drop me a note on my blog if you’re interested, and I’ll send you my email address… Take Care xx

  4. Pingback: From Overcare for Other’s Opinions, to Self Discovery. « My Bipolar Life

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