When Being Alone Is Lovely

I love this candid because it shows how content this madame is, alone on the metro.

Recently, someone asked me what tips I would recommend for a newly diagnosed BPD sufferer. After adding the disclaimer that nobody is ever “cured” of BPD, I responded that starting my blog nearly three years ago was one of the best ideas I ever had. I wrote that many of the stones that paved my way to “recovery” were the posts, the comments, and the community of readers who gave me their tacit support. One of the most difficult aspects of BPD is the lack of a clear sense of self — we often drift through life, changing so quickly from one interaction to the next that we have no idea who we truly are. It’s difficult enough to figure out our immediate wants and needs. If you ask us to determine our personality traits or character, we will stare at you blankly. But…that depends on the number of hours I slept last night and whether or not my boyfriend texted back. 

The dominant feeling of BPD is emptiness.

Not empty the way you feel when you’re hungry or you’re unfulfilled or you’re desperate for a warm hug. But empty like a vacuum, like you simply do not exist. After all, when you have no idea who you are, you are no more than a shell. You are no more than a reflective surface that shines when the sun’s out, but disappears when the darkness comes.

Needless to say, BPDers hate being alone. We hate it not because it makes us feel lonely; we hate it because it makes us feel like we’re no longer part of this world. And that is a scary feeling. I still find it incredibly difficult to stay home for an entire day. Even if I only leave to go to the barn or study in a coffee shop, I need the sounds of human activity around me to pull me back into the universe, similarly to the way cutters drag blades along their wrists to be reminded that they are alive. I find it hard to get out of bed in the morning when I don’t have an immediate place to be. Why would I want to wake up and spend time with myself? What purpose is there to life? I feel guilty for having these thoughts when I know that there is so much to live for, that I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

Ironically, I’ve always loved traveling alone. I enjoyed all the minutiae involved — printing off my boarding pass, tossing my boots on the conveyer belt, pinpointing the exact moment the wheels left the asphalt. When I’ve traveled with friends or family members, I found that they intruded on my experience and I almost resented them for it. Perhaps I enjoy flying alone because I’m always surrounded by people. Perhaps I’m okay with it because there’s a built-in safety net: people who love me waiting on the other side. Perhaps I love it because it forces me to be the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be — independent, empowered, confident.

This past weekend, though, I was met with the biggest challenge since I flew alone to Paris as a naïve, terrified 20-year-old. I had been selected for an interview with Princeton in Asia, which I’ve mentioned here a few times, and is pretty much my dream program. The interview was Saturday morning in Chicago, and all the plans were in place. I repeated to myself in the form of a mantra: Friday evening flight, Enterprise rental car, Best Western single, continental breakfast, interview, return rental, Saturday evening flight. It sounded relatively simple and I was determined to bulldoze my way through all of it before my crippling fear could catch up with me. The familiar fear of being alone.

When I finally made it to the hotel, after taking the wrong highway, waiting 15 goddamned minutes for drive-through McDonald’s, and parking in the wrong lot, I was so exhausted I couldn’t have told you what city I was in (Evanston). Once, in the middle of the night, I got up to use the restroom and was so disoriented I walked into the closet. There it was, the moment I’d been waiting for. I was utterly alone in a strange place, I was completely sleep deprived, and my boyfriend was at the Neko Case concert I’d waited months to attend. This was it — I was supposed to wallow in self-pity, cry pools of tears, walk aimlessly through the halls looking for company.

But I didn’t. Why? Because I was okay. I was more than okay; I was happy. The truth was that I enjoyed every bite of that Quarter Pounder, I shamelessly watched an episode of Girls, and I ate mango-yogurt flavored gummies until I felt sick. Even when I spent the night struggling with the air conditioner (too hot, too cold, not enough oxygen) and only slept a few hours, I took myself to continental breakfast with a smile on my face. Eating alone had never felt so comfortable and, well, preferable. I watched the powdery snow fall outside the window and smiled some more. On the way back to my room, as the elevator climbed to the eighth floor, that was the only time my demons paid me a visit. For a brief moment, I dissociated from my body, losing touch with reality. There was the familiar panic — shit, I’ve been alone too long. Then, I packed up my belongings, left my room key on the table, and drove to Northwestern’s career center.

This was one of the best weekends of my life, and I have no idea why. If you wanted my advice, I would have nothing to give you. I have no idea how I went from the girl who wrote this a mere four months ago to me now. Again, I am astonished by how quickly I’ve changed. My instinctive reaction is to be ashamed. Wow, I used to be like that? I proceed to judge myself and this process makes me feel like an entirely different person. But you know what? Maybe I should be okay with that. We all wake up different each and every day, and that doesn’t have to mean we’re completely disconnected from the people we used to be. Though we may even dislike the people we once were, that doesn’t mean we have to cut them out of our history. Let’s have a little sympathy for our past selves, shall we? To Rebecca, who was terrified to be alone, I say this: you’re good company, and someday you’ll see it.

Are you afraid to be alone?

Au revoir,



6 thoughts on “When Being Alone Is Lovely

  1. Did a doctor tell you that you have BPD? Imo, it’s alright to feel empty. It’s alright to feel negative emotions. The problem with society is that it’s telling that we should always be happy and that it should only be our goal, our general default position. But how can we feel happiness when we don’t know what it feels like on the other side? It’s normal to feel empty, sad, or what not. It is part of life; it makes life complete, it makes us complete.

    Being alone is okay too. I enjoy it. I allows us for self-reflection, or for any kind of reflection.

    • Yes, my therapist diagnosed me. And I completely agree that it’s okay to feel negative emotions, that they contribute to a full experience of life. But it’s not okay to lack a self-identity. It’s also not okay to be governed by negative emotions to the point where you are unable to feel positive ones.

      Being alone is great. I am getting better at enjoying it.

      • I guess I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I was very much introverted but as I get older, I seek and enjoy the company of people more. 🙂

        Good luck with your condition. I’m sure a smart young woman like you will cope well with it.

  2. Pingback: Valentine’s Day Ruminations on Love | Rebecca Cao

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