BPD: Suspended Animation

Broken Down Car

Like a helium balloon I hang, connected by a single thread to all that’s solid and real. I’ve been like this all week. And last week. And the week before that.

Reality looks like a film set, staged but cozy, the rubric and muddle of connection evident all around in belongings, responsibilities; bits and pieces of a life I’m disengaged from, that belongs to someone else. The same detachment I feel when I catch a glimpse of my face in the mirror and wonder, “Who is she… really?” It’s as much a mystery to me as the next person. I’m outside myself. Outside of everything.

Every so often the accusing weight of those sidelined responsibilities looms large in my consciousness, whether I’m disappearing under a rising tide or suffocating under the weight pressing down – makes no difference, either way they overwhelm. They make the accusations – lazy, not good enough, what’s-wrong-with-you – and I provide the character reference assassination, plead guilty to the charges.

It all looks so far away, Life, viewed dispassionately from above. I want to be in it, part of the picture, but something keeps tugging me, keeping me in mid-air, off-kilter, unstable. Will the string break and I’ll float away into oblivion?

Don’t for one minute think this numbness is comfortable, enjoyable – it’s like the comedown from a chemical high; edgy and flat at the same time, like a fish out of water slapping maniacally against concrete, all the while holding that fixed, glass-eyed stare.

The tension in the thread of the balloon is tremulous and distracting, like a car alarm in a neighboring street. I want to ignore it but can’t. I walk around, head pulsing with excess synapses, like wires singing before a train pulls into a station, too unsettled to write, to read. Sometimes I think I need a catastrophe, a disaster of epic proportions to pull me out of this – then I worry in case the universe is listening.

Words and thoughts travel through a tunnel, losing their relevance before reaching the end so the connections I thought I’d made no longer add up and I’m left bemused and blinking in the stark fluorescent striplight of scrutiny, meaningless sentences slipping into the shadows on either side of the beam, OR, the sentence you just uttered reaches me after a vacuous video-conference delay.

Even my movement is distorted, I’m jerky and awkward, knocking things over, crashing and careening off things like a drunken parkour enthusiast. I hold my hand horizontally in front of my face, but the tremor is more felt than seen – just like everything else about mental illness, invisible to the unafflicted but all-encompassing to the sufferer.

Sounds, light, movement are magnified a thousandfold, far in excess of what my senses can endure. Conversation, clatter and chaos pressing in, each demanding attention and drowning the other out so that the only way I can stymie the rising panic is to shut it all out, go inside. To understand the world at all sometimes I have to just focus on a tiny bit of it – look very hard at what’s close to hand and make it stand in for the whole.

With a bit of luck and patience the rest will fade back into view sometime soon.


Author’s note, June 2014: Since the time of writing I’ve been re-diagnosed with Aspergers and Bipolar II. I no longer meet the criteria for BPD and given the existing cases of Aspergers and bipolar in my direct family I have to admit this re-diagnosis seems a more accurate explanation for my symptoms. Oh, the beauty of hindsight… 


By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Hi Aisha,
    You’ve triggered so many emotions for me with this post but it’s difficult to know how to respond. You’ve described your angst so clearly… the similes and metaphors bringing me right along with you. I can only wish for you that the writing helps and you’ve successfully navigated the ‘system’ to find the support that you need and that you’ll be able to surface soon.

    Sending lots of prayers and healing energy your way…

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