14/05/2021

Being The Crazy-Ex Girlfriend: Break-ups, Boundaries & Borderline Personality Disorder

This piece is part of a series of paid commissioned opinion and personal essay pieces by Disabled writers. Disabled people are constantly asked to work for free, to give their opinion for free and to educate people for free, and so I have created this space to not only give Disabled people writers the opportunity to write and speak, but to gain income as well. You can expect to hear from a variety of Disabled, Deaf and hard of hearing people, Neurodivergent people and those living with chronic and mental illness. This is entirely fundraised for, so if you can spare anything at all to help fund this then I would be so grateful if you donated to the PayPal Pool.

Being the crazy-ex girlfriend: break-ups, boundaries & borderline personality disorder

C.N: Suicide, Suicidal ideation, Self Harm, Trauma

It's 9:15pm. A day of emotional dysregulation has drained me of all of the energy I have. I contemplate getting into my pyjamas and brushing my teeth, but both tasks feel pretty insurmountable. I collapse into bed fully clothed and begin to fall asleep, but just as I'm drifting off, my hand fumbles beneath the cover for where the small of your back should be. It's not there. Upon this realisation, I curl into a ball to try to soothe the knot in my stomach. I sob. I remind myself to breathe. And I hope that tomorrow might just be a tiny bit easier. Break ups are rough. A break up on top of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD/EUPD) is something else entirely.

I feel a real sense of impending doom whenever I see a woman on screen begin to behave erratically after a break up. How far are the writers going to take this... will she go on a wild escapade to fix things, invent a new beau, and ultimately remain the butt of the joke? Or will she burn down a house? Threaten to kill herself to manipulate her way back into a relationship? Most importantly: will a balding, middle aged man in a white coat tell her 'victim' that it isn't their fault, and that their psychotic ex's behaviour can be excused on the account of her 'Borderline' or 'Emotionally Unstable' Personality?

An aerial shot of a white woman sitting on a grey sofa typing on a laptop. She is wearing a gingham orange shirt.

What is BPD/EUPD?

Borderline Personality Disorder is also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD), or Emotional Dysregulation Disorder. Diagnosis relies on a complex matrix of nine symptoms, of which a sufferer must display at least five: 

1. Fear Of Abandonment - This is the big'un. People with EUPD are often terrified that the people they love will leave them. This is part of the reason that break ups sting so hard: that thing that you've been dreading for years? Yep, it's happened.

2. Unstable Relationships - People with EUPD tend to have very intense and short-lived relationships. I've definitely had a stormy dalliance or two in my time - and it took a lot of work and self-reflection to be in a stable and healthy one.

3. Unclear or Shifting Self-Image - I either think I am THE SHIT or the worst person on earth. Sometimes simultaneously. There is no middle ground.

4. Impulsive Behaviour - People with EUPD may indulge in harmful, sensation-seeking behaviours, especially when they're upset: this could be binge eating, spending impulsively drinking to excess or maybe just cutting yourself an offensive full-fringe during lockdown just to feel something.

5. Extreme Emotional Swings - I can go from suicidal to horny in 15 seconds. It's exhausting.

6. Explosive Anger - This is a symptom that I don't suffer from. This is just one example of how EUPD can look different dependent upon the individual. Some people deal with their overwhelming emotions by acting outwardly and getting angry, some people (read: me) deal with them by acting inwardly and crying into their cat.

7. Chronic Feelings Of Emptiness - People with EUPD often talk about feeling empty, or like there's a kind of void inside them: they'll try to satisfy themselves by filling that void with things like food, drugs, sex. Just call me Angelica Schuyler, because I will never be satisfied. 

8. Feeling Out Of Touch With Reality - When under a lot of emotional stress, people with EUPD may lose touch with reality or even dissociate completely. I sometimes get so emotional that I fully forget how to speak for about 30 seconds: it's not what I would call a pleasant experience. 

9. Self Harm/Suicide - A really common symptom of EUPD is self-harm, and 1 in 10 people diagnosed with EUPD die as a result of suicide. Not a joke, just a fact.

Despite seeming somewhat disorganised, all of these symptoms stem from the same place: individuals with EUPD feel the same emotions as anyone else, but the volume is cranked up to eleven. Both pain and joy exist on an unexplainable and often unimaginable level. I like to use the analogy of when you accidentally leave your caps lock on, and all your typing seems UNNECESSARILY INTENSE.

So... what about Crazy-Ex's?

A very common coping mechanism for dealing with the pain that goes along with this intensity is finding a 'favourite person'. Someone who you know won't abandon you. Someone to stabilise that unstable self-image, keep you in touch with reality, and help you to feel less empty. This is often, though not necessarily always, a romantic partner. And that is where the 'crazy-ex girlfriend' narrative takes root. During a borderline break-up, the loss of your 'favourite person', combined with intense symptoms of emotional dysregulation is a cocktail bound to result in a 'crazy' ex.

I've just come out of a loving 2-year relationship with the woman I thought I was going to marry. The relationship ended mutually, with enormous amounts of love, respect and compassion on both sides, and it was the right decision for both of us.

And yet, I'm still feeling pain like I have never experienced before. Thinking of her with someone else tears me up from the inside out. Despite busying myself with activism and creative projects, my mind cycles back to her, us and everything I could have done differently. Imagine the pain, confusion and desperation that everyone goes through after heartbreak, and then multiply it by 10: that's where I'm at. Sometimes I'm fine. But then the smallest thing breaks me, and it takes hours to recover from the ensuing spiral.

I see a recipe I want to cook for you. I break.

I see that book we'd been talking about for months. I break.

I watch a film that I know your grandad would have loved. I break.

My back hurts and I don't know why. Then I remember it's because you're not here to remind me to sit on my chair properly. I break.

I try to book a holiday, and remember all of the trips that we'll never get to go on. All of the adventures we'll never to get to have together. I break. 

I'm working unbelievably hard to manage these feelings in a boundaried, and healthy way. I'm keeping my distance from my ex, giving myself time to grieve, and investing these feelings in creative pursuits. And honestly, it's exhausting. I feel drained. The longer I cope with this intensity of emotion, the more I understand the other people with my condition who haven't been empowered to cope in the same way. The more I understand the lengths that people with EUPD would go to in order to stop the pain: whether that's inventing new partners, or burning down houses. And the angrier I get that these 'Crazy-Ex Gf's' aren't getting the help, compassion and respect that they so clearly need, and deserve. 


Lucy Jane Dickson is a queer 25 year old performer, writer and charity fundraiser with Borderline Personality Disorder. She is a passionate activist who frequently writes about her experiences of the intersections of queerness, fatness and disability. She is also one half of Queerly Productions: a production company dedicated to creating Musical Theatre work for Queer women and Trans performers. You can follow Lucy and Queerly Productions on Twitter.

30/04/2021

5 Books To Read By Disabled Authors #3

It's now been over 7 months since I first wrote my '5 Books To Read By Disabled Authors' post in attempt to not only diversify my bookshelf, but yours too. I realised last year that despite being disabled myself, my book collection was severely lacking in representation of disabled people, including Deaf and neurodivergent authors, and ever since then I've been working to search out the best fiction and non-fiction books out there written by disabled people. My last post was a little heavy on the non-fiction side of things but I'm so happy to share more fiction reads with you this time around. So, here's 5 more recommendations of books by disabled authors!

A stack of 4 books are in front of a white background. From top to bottom they are: Harriet versus the galaxy by Samantha Baines, Get a life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert, A kind of spark by Elle McNicoll and University and chronic illness a survival guide by Pippa Stacey.

Being Heumann by Judith Heumann with Kristen Joiner

Now, you'll spot that this book isn't in the photos for this post, and that's because I listened to it as an audiobook, and I'm so glad I did! The audiobook version is narrated by Ali Stroker, an incredible disabled actress who was the first disabled person to win a Tony award. Being Heumann is the memoir of the iconic US disability rights activist, Judy Heumann. Ashamedly I only became aware of her and her campaigning history when the documentary Crip Camp came out on Netflix, if you haven't watched it I strongly suggest you do. This book gave me an insight into how her life led her to the moment of the 504 sit-in in 1977, where she and countless other disabled people protested for their rights, kickstarting a movement that has led to the rights we have today. This truly was the most interesting read, as a disabled woman myself I finished the book with a renewed fire and energy within me to keep on fighting.

Harriet Versus The Galaxy by Samantha Baines

Whenever I find children's book by disabled authors, with disabled characters in, I just absolutely beam. Educating people on disability starts in childhood, and I find children are much better than understanding disability than adulthoods. I came across Samantha Baines through the theatre industry, as she was hosting Magic Mike Live in London at the time, and I've been wanting to pick up her children's book ever since. Samantha wears hearing aids and the book follows Harriet, also a hearing aid wearer, as she goes on an intergalactic adventure! Not only does this book show empowering representation for Deaf children, there is also a character who is non-binary. The recommended reading age is 7+ so if you have any small humans in your life around that age, I can't recommend this book enough! 

A stack of 4 books are in front of a white background. From top to bottom they are: Harriet versus the galaxy by Samantha Baines, Get a life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert, A kind of spark by Elle McNicoll and University and chronic illness a survival guide by Pippa Stacey.

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Talia Hibbert has been on my radar ever since I started this series, her name pops up again and again when discussing great representation of disabled characters by disabled authors. I'm usually not a romance reader but I was absolutely captured by this love story! The book follows Chloe Brown as she attempts to work her way through a list of things to 'get a life', whilst living with chronic illness. Disability is so rarely represented, and within that I don't think I've ever seen any good representation of chronic illness so to finally find it in the form of this book was just wonderful. I lit up when I read that Chloe takes the same obscure pain medication as me, it's the little things sometimes. Thankfully Talia has written a whole series of books following these characters, and I can't wait to make my way through them!

A Kind Of Spark by Elle McNicoll

Another book that has been sat on my TBR list for a while is a young adult novel by Elle McNicoll, this is another one that has been recommended to me time and time again. Whilst I'm not neurodivergent myself, and so can't comment on how good a representation this is, I've seen countless tweets and reviews from neurodivergent people who felt seen by this book. It delves into what it means to be different in such a clever way, it felt really quite powerful. The story celebrates being neurodivergent, and we absolutely need more representation like that in the world!

University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide by Pippa Stacey

With the end of the school year approaching fast there will once again be a new set of eager young people heading to university, and some of them will have chronic illnesses. Pippa's survival guide provides advice and guidance in a detail that I've never seen before, this might seem like a niche topic but tackling university when you're chronically ill or disabled can be like climbing a mountain due to a lack of support out there. Pippa tackles everything from choosing a degree and university, to freshers week and social events and day to day living and studying. If I was heading off to university, this is one book I'd be packing in my suitcase.

As always, I really recommend you add at least one of these books to your wishlist or TBR list. Not only will you be supporting disabled authors, but I guarantee you will grow in your understanding of disability as well. If possible as well, always try and shop with independent bookshops too! 

08/04/2021

AD | My Dream Accessible Bathroom

 AD | I was recently commissioned by Mobility Plus to give my thoughts on accessible bathroom design. They specialise in the installation of bathrooms that combine practicality and style for customers with mobility needs.

An image of an accessible bathroom. There is a large walk in shower with a fold down seat and grab handles. A toilet is also visible.

If I could only renovate one room of my home to make it more accessible, without a doubt it would be the bathroom. Accessible bathroom design might not sound like the most exciting topic to most, but like many disabled people, I dream of what my ideal accessible bathroom might look like. Currently, I use daily living aids and tools like a bath board to aid with showering and a toilet surround to help me get on and off the toilet. These aren't the most pretty looking things, like many disability aids they look like they've come straight out of a hospital. Sure, they get the job done, but my dream accessible bathroom would have accessibility features that blend right in.

For a long time I'd always imagined a wet room with only a shower, but my girlfriend loves baths and I would absolutely love to be able to get in and out a bath again. I've not had the strength and ability to have a bath since my spinal fusion surgery when I was 16, so to be able to buy a bath bomb again and lay back and relax would be amazing! A walk-in bath with support handles and non-slip surfaces would be perfect to suit both my needs and my girlfriends. I'd always thought that when we move in together we'd have to compromise, but now she doesn't need to give up her baths, and I can finally experience them again too!

An image of an accessible bathroom. There is a toilet and a large bath that is a walk-in bath, with a small door for access and grab handles.

Alongside this, having a walk-in shower with a permanent seat in it, and plenty of storage, would just complete my dream! Having to keep moving a shower seat or bath board in and out of the bathroom when it's not in use can be a real pain, and that's without even considering the need to store such items when you're not using them. So, having a built in or fold down seat, would mean anyone could use the shower at any time, without needing to consider these bulky extra items. For me, having an accessible bathroom not only means it's the best design for me, but that it's also a design that allows everyone else to use it with ease. 

So often as a disabled person I must sacrifice style for function, but I know that when me and my girlfriend move out together, that's not a sacrifice I want to make anymore. Accessibility can look good! I think mobility and daily living aids looking very medical often puts people off accessing the tools that will help them. I know for me I've fought against such aids that could help me because of that reason, so knowing that there are stylish options out there makes me more likely to invest in the everyday things that make my life easier. 

Whether you love a bath or a shower, need help with using the toilet or generally struggle with your mobility, there really are options out there for everyone. I can't wait for the day where all of my accessibility needs will be solved with permanent solutions in my home, rather than relying on medical looking temporary aids! 

What would your dream accessible bathroom look like?

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