To me, borderline personality disorder (BPD) is one of the most misunderstood and maligned diagnoses out there. Openly identifying yourself as having BPD and talking about what it’s like takes incredible vulnerability. So I was feeling both proud of myself and somewhat afraid when I took the stage along with four other panelists at a large conference this summer to talk about mental health and our experiences with therapy.

The talk went well, we had some great questions and I finished the hour feeling like it was worth it, as I do most times when I speak out about my experiences with BPD. I even managed to introduce some basic ideas of neurodiversity, saying “I don’t hate my BPD. There are good elements to it.”

That all turned sour when one man came up to chat with us after the panel was finished. I was busy trying to help a young woman figure out how to find a therapist who would meet her needs, when I overheard him:

“No real borderline would say that. They all hate borderline and would do anything to get rid of it.”

I felt a flood of cold anger. I was angry at the misconceptions about borderline. I was angry at a society that finds it acceptable to diagnose a complete stranger. But mostly, I was angry I felt like I couldn’t do anything to change this man’s mind, to show him BPD is not a monolith of miserable, malicious people.

But what I can do is tell my story here, to as many people as possible. I can say what it’s like for me to live with BPD.

It seems most people think BPD is just a disorder that makes people angry, manipulative and abusive. When asked to imagine someone with BPD they might think of “Girl, Interrupted,” or picture someone who hurts themselves for attention, yells and screams at the slightest provocation or has impossible rules and expectations. 

This is not my experience with BPD.

There are a few hallmark characteristics of the disorder that show up for most people who have it, and these are usually the most misunderstood. While many people are aware of the intense anger that often comes with the disorder, there are some other traits that look very different. Here are the ones that are most prevalent in my life, and the ways they can be positive.

1. Emotional dysregulation

Perhaps the most iconic element of BPD is what’s called emotional dysregulation, but I like to think of it as living without an emotional skin. Compared to nearly everyone else I know, I feel my emotions more. Everything is intense for me. Small things feel overwhelming, big things can leave me so stimulated I shut down entirely and sometimes I get big emotions for no particular reason. That means I react a lot. I cry a lot. Sometimes when plans change at the last minute I can’t follow through because my emotions are too busy flipping out. It’s not an easy way to live, but it’s also not an attempt to be manipulative. Having strong emotions most certainly isn’t abusive. It’s simply different, and it can be managed with good support and resources.

2. Lack of identity

Many people with BPD have a hard time forming a solid sense of identity. I have this problem and often try to make up for it by throwing myself into activities, relationships, jobs and school. I try form my identity by being good at something. I can never entirely tell for myself what my character traits are or what my values and priorities should be. That means I have a very hard time with change and sometimes will hold on to relationships for too long. It can also lead to serious shifts of opinion once I start to see the bad in something.

From the outside it might seem like I am flighty or have serious difficulties with relationships, but internally it feels completely different. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out whether I’m being reasonable or whether a friend or partner is behaving in a mean or unacceptable way. I try extremely hard to see good and commit to my relationships, so when I’ve decided someone shouldn’t be in my life anymore I have many, many reasons. While the shift may seem sudden from the outside, internally I’ve likely overthought things for a long time. This is also not a problem that is impossible to solve. Careful consideration of my values and motivations has given me a much better sense of what I want out of my life and how to pursue it in a healthy manner.

3. Self harm and impulse control

It’s also incredibly common for people with BPD to have impulse issues, including problems with self-harm. After spending more time in therapy, I have better coping skills, which means I’ve been self-harm free for a year. BPD is not a life sentence of self-harm.

4. Chronic emptiness

Chronic emptiness is one of the experiences of BPD that’s hard to explain. Much of the time I feel numb. I don’t have those strong emotions, or I don’t see the point in trying to manage my life. I can have a hard time socializing because it feels as if my whole body is heavy and weak, my mind is dulled with depression and other people don’t understand. To be real, this is one of the symptoms I can’t find any positives in, but one of the ways I combat it is by going back to my strong emotions and accepting these elements of myself. Hating my BPD will only make the pointlessness and despair worse.

5. Dissociation

It seems like people have never heard this word, but most people have experienced at least mild dissociation at some point in their life. If you’ve ever driven home and then realized you can’t entirely remember how you got there, you’ve dissociated. It’s the experience of disconnecting from your body or immediate surroundings. When I’m having a particularly bad episode, I feel as if I can’t move my body. I have a hard time speaking because my mouth doesn’t feel like it belongs to me. But, none of this means I’m ignoring anyone or being manipulative or hating the world. It’s my mind’s way of dealing with intense stress, and sometimes it’s very helpful. I’ve learned ways to bring myself back to reality.

After so much lived experience, when someone tries to tell me what a real person with borderline looks like, I can’t help but laugh. BPD is a widely varied disorder. I want to tell that man who questioned my diagnosis there are times when having BPD is actually really cool. Most of the time I like my life.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some absolutely awful times. But in the last 20 years the treatment for BPD has improved hugely, and remission is possible. That means I can manage most of the negative symptoms and appreciate the positive. I don’t just feel bad emotions intensely, but happy ones too. I have passions stronger than most people I know, and have almost beautiful reactions to plays, music and media. My strong emotions help me to feel empathy, and because I have some fears of abandonment, I work incredibly hard to be a kind and caring person.

It’s entirely inappropriate to ever tell another person how they should feel about their own mental health, and even worse to say you must be miserable if your brain is different. My brain is not entirely typical, but that doesn’t mean I hate myself. I want to combat that stigma by openly embracing my own mind.

Follow this journey on We Got So Far to Go.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


The world doesn’t need another website,” declares the homepage of The World Needs More Love Letters. “It doesn’t need another app or a network. What it needs is really basic. Simple. Bare-boned and often forgotten in the race to get followers, likes and status.”

According to The World Needs More Love Letters founder Hannah Brencher, what the world needs is more love.

When Brencher moved to New York City after graduating from college, she thought her dream life was about to begin. Instead, she found herself facing a different beast: depression.

I found myself grappling with depression, unable to tell my family and friends because I was so ashamed,” she says on her website. “Depression is a scary thing. Depression, when you make yourself journey through it alone, is terrifying.”

So, she wrote. First, it was just in her notebook. Then notes became letters, and she started leaving them around New York City. After blogging about her experience, she posed the question: “Do you need someone to write you a love letter today? Just ask.”

11895284_866613140086288_9164701538203723418_o According to her site, she spent the next year writing letters to people from all over the world.

Now, her personal path to grappling with depression has become The World Needs More Love Letter, a community of volunteers who write anonymous love letters to those who need them most. On her website, you can nominate anyone (even yourself) to receive handwritten love notes. A handful of those nominees are featured on the site, with a backstory and address.

Andre, a 16-year-old from Australia who, according to the The World Needs More Love Letters Facebook page, needed a reminder he is worthy of love, received 201 letters. He was nominated by his mother, who wrote to More Love Letter:

We are completely lost for words. We in no way expected to receive such an out pouring of heartfelt support, love, compassion and inspiration from so many truly remarkable people from across the globe. Letters came flooding in from right across the USA and from every corner of the world including Canada, Vietnam, Singapore, Romania, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland, Uk, Scotland and of-course our treasured home country Australia.

Mary's letter request was featured back in May, and she has now received her bundle of letters! Read through the amazing...

Posted by The World Needs More Love Letters on Friday, 21 August 2015


The movement hasn’t lost its roots. Members of the The World Needs More Love Letters community are still encouraged to leave love letters in public places. Letters have been found in Chicago, Toronto and Nashville, and even as far as Norway. It’s proof that while depression is a global phenomena, love is too.

Maybe you need the reminder today. Keep fighting. You deserve good things for your life,” a letter reads in an Upworthy video (below). “It sounds too simple, but it is amazing the number of people who believe that for other people, but not themselves. You deserve them too. All the good things. Don’t settle. Don’t give in. This world needs you. Don’t quit.”

 Watch the original Upworthy video: 

Living with a mental illness — especially a misunderstood one — can make relationships a little tough. But sometimes, the opposite is true: When a person with a mental illness finds a partner he or she can be vulnerable around, it can make for a stronger bond. Like any relationship, there are ups and there are downs.

To highlight this, we asked our Mighty readers living with mental illness what message they would send to their significant other.

If you’re unsure of how to help your loved one with a mental illness, or if sometimes you just don’t know what to say, these might help:

1. “Needing alone time and a quiet zone isn’t rejection — it’s recharging.” — Michelle Skigen

A quote by Michelle Skigen that says, "Needing alone time and a quiet zone isn't rejection — it's recharging."

2. “Thank you for coming to appointments with me, for learning about my illness, my meds and what it would take for me to climb back up out of the abyss… Together, we can slay the beast.” Patti Petz Gray

3. “I just need to know if I have a bad day  if I yell and scream and cry — you will still love me at the end of it.” — Bekah Paskett

4. “Sometimes I just want you to listen to me. No matter how irrational I sound.” — Jessica Bowers

5. “Turn off the television and just breathe with me for a little while.” — Kathleen O’Brien Casey

A quote from Kathleen O'Brien Casey that says, "Turn off the television and just breathe with me for a little while."

6. “When I’m numb or lost in the deepest and darkest hole, it’s not because you’ve done something wrong.”  Maritza Estrada Wedum

7. “Sometimes it is not enough to listen once, not enough to talk once, not enough to believe once. Sometimes it needs to be the same conversation a hundred times.” — Reanne Stayner

8. “You are my motivation to push through.” — Ashley Cardinal

A quote from Ashley Cardinal that says, "You are my motivation to push through."

9. “Don’t forget I’m still me when I’m in a down swing. I’m still me. I still love you. I’ll be back soon.” — Tristian Henderson

10. “I don’t need you to understand exactly what I’m going through, I just need you to accept me the way I am, stick with me and love me through it.” — Kerri Symes

11. “I love you even when I don’t love me.” — Jordann Chitty

A quote from Jordann Chitty that says, "I love you even when I don't love me."

12. “Sometimes you don’t need you to say anything. I just need you to hold me. Actions can be louder than words.”  Allyson White

13. “It’s OK not to understand how I feel. I would rather hear questions than silence.” — Jennifer Thompson

A quote from Jennifer Thompson that says, "It's OK not to understand how I feel. I would rather hear questions than silence."

14. “The days when I don’t have a specific reason for feeling depressed are the days I need you to love me ‘louder.’”  Chelsea Geren

15. “Thank you for being so very kind. Thank you for being so patient. Thank you for telling me I really wasn’t that bad to be around, even when we both know I was.” — Carol Stewart

16. “‘I’m doing the best I can right now’ isn’t a cop out. Sometimes it really takes all I have to do just the minimum.” — Amanda Talma

17. “Please don’t feel like you have to ‘fix’ things. Just be there for me.” — Lindsay-Sarah Czitron

A quote from Lindsay-Sarah Czitron that says, "Please don't feel like you have to 'fix' things. Just be there for me."

*Some answers have been edited for clarity and brevity. 

If you’re living with a mental illness, what is something you want your significant other to know? Tell us in the comments below.

17 Things People With Mental Illness Want Their Significant Others to Know

The time leading up to school can bring on a sense of despair and stress for parents of children with mental illness. It can be tough to make sure they get everything they need. A lot of general educators do not receive training in mental health disorders and the only resources they have, if they chose to utilize them, are the special educators, counselors and school psychologists. This can be scary to any parent.

From someone who works with students with emotional and behavioral disorders, here are some tips that could make the transition to school a little easier.

1. Know your rights as a parent.

If your child requires an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), teachers are required to follow specific goals that have been written by and agreed on by you and your child’s team. Teachers need to respect these goals. If you don’t believe your child’s new teacher is following the IEP., you can call an IEP meeting at anytime. That is your right as a parent. Every year, you should also be given a booklet that explains all of your rights and your child’s rights regarding special education as directed not by the school, but the federal government. If you do not receive a right’s booklet, advocate for yourself and ask for one. Arm yourself with the knowledge needed to support your child throughout their academic career. 

2. Meet up with your child’s teacher.

Your new teacher may not be like the last teacher your child had, so the transition from last year to this year can definitely be stressful. Make sure you meet with your child’s teacher before school starts or set up a time to speak with them one-on-one. Communication is key during the school year for your child’s success. Any information you can provide to your child’s teacher is going to be helpful. If your child needs certain items to keep them calm, inform his or her teacher. If you want daily communication, let the teacher know. Something to keep in mind is that a teacher is potentially getting up to 30 new students, so any information you can provide will help the teacher be proactive when addressing your child’s needs.

3. Do not assume your child’s teacher knows everything. 

If your child is in regular education, do not assume the teacher knows everything about your child’s disorder. While giving too much information could offend a veteran teacher, you do want to bring some information specific to your child’s disorder. Knowledge is everything. Even if the teacher has access to the child’s IEP plan prior to the school year, giving the teacher an overview will be beneficial to your nerves, and will help the teacher prepare. 

4. For the first couple of weeks, be patient. 

Each teacher is individual just like each student is individual, and most want to do what’s best for your child. Be patient with the teacher for the first couple of weeks. If you still don’t believe your child’s needs are being met, make an appointment to address the situation right away. If the problems still exist, ask to sit in on a class to see how your child is acting. 

While special education teachers should be better equipped to address your child’s needs in the classroom, general education teachers may need some extra guidance. Don’t be afraid to talk to any staff who have direct contact with your child to ensure your child’s needs are being met. You are the best advocate for your child, so feel empowered. There is nothing to be ashamed of when talking about mental illness. It’s a part of life, and doesn’t mean your child is less valuable than a typical peer. Push for your rights. Know your rights. Ask questions. The key to advocacy is to show your child they are worth the fight.

On August 25 in Washington, D.C., for the first time in U.S. history, mental health groups and individuals from across the country joined forces to march for the dignity of those who live with mental illness.

The event was organized by Destination Dignity, a collaborative project spearheaded by groups like The Campbell Center, The Center for Dignity, Recovery and Empowerment, Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery, Mental Health America and the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. The driving idea behind the event: mental health is as a basic right, and those who experience mental health issues deserve to be treated with dignity.

photo: Collin Schuster

At a rally at the National Mall, speakers addressed issues like high levels of unemployment, incarceration and homelessness among those with mental illness. Destination Dignity hopes to bring attention to issues like underfunded mental health services, negative portrayals of mental illness in the media and a fragmented mental health system that often requires a person to be in crisis to access help.

For those who attended the event, it was a chance to be part of the first national movement of its kind for an issue that historically has been left in shadows. The Mighty spoke to some supporters about why they were there to support this cause.

1. “I’m here to show we’re people just like everyone else.” — Stephanie Sikora, from Pennsylvania.

photo: Collin Schuster

2. “I’m a person with mental health challenges who was institutionalized for on and off for 17 years before escaping to live on the streets. I believe we need to overcome the stigma of mental health, see all people as people with abilities and all people as active community citizens.” — Gina Calhoun (right) with her husband Scott Heller (left), from Pennsylvania.

photo: Collin Schuster

3. “There’s strength in numbers. We’re proud to be a part of this movement, to demand dignity. I’ve been living this cause for 40 years now and finally there’s a group to join to be a part of it. The one thing I think needs to change is we the people, and then the government will follow.” — Lee Shuer (right) with his wife Becka Shuer (left), from Massachusetts

voices 6
photo: Collin Schuster

4. “I was technically homeless myself for a year and half. I want to speak out for people and help them. I want people to know there’s hope.” — Terry Wasnick (left), from Minnesota.

5. “I came today to support people with mental illness. To show support for friends, family members, coworkers and let them to know it’s OK to be ill. It’s OK, and there are people around you who can support you.” — Sherin Elsait (right), from Pennsylvania.

photo: Collin Schuster

6. “I think this is one of the civil rights issue for a whole host of reasons hasn’t made it to the forefront. People are being discriminated against and being dehumanized for conditions that are no fault of their own. I think it’s long overdue that people recognize we are all people first.” — Aiden Altenor, former Director of Hospital Services in Pennsylvania.

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photo: Collin Schuster

7. “I’m here today because there’s a crisis in this country. People in our culture understand the importance of physical wellness, but our mental and emotional wellness is treated only after people have hit poverty, lost support or have reached a breaking point. You can’t heal by separating (people with mental illness) from their communities. The best way to help people recover is to see their dignity, see their personhood and work with their community.” — Matthew Federici, executive director of the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery

photo: Collin Schuster

8. “Growing up, before I was diagnosed in 2012, people wanted to say I had a problem. I was dramatic. There was something wrong with me. And when I was finally diagnosed I realized I don’t have a problem, I just have an illness, and I began my road to recovery. That’s why I’m here today.” — Latesha Higgs (left) with her friend Laquisha Hall (right), from Baltimore.

photo: Sarah Schuster

9. “People matter. Why is it that suicide is so compelling? Why do we have to wait for someone to kill themselves for it to be a story worth talking about? What happens when someone becomes homeless and all of the sudden they don’t matter anymore? People are people.” -Theresa Nguyen (left), from Mental Health America.

10. “People who have mental health issues are people and deserve the same dignity and respect as everybody else. Having a mental health issue is not a crime.” — Iden Campbell Mccollum (right), executive director and founder of The Campbell Center.

photo: Sarah Schuster

11. “Mental illness is a issue that’s usually hidden. It’s important to make the noise and bring attention to it.” — Natasha West, from Stamp Out Stigma.

photo: Sarah Schuster

12. “We’re here to rally for anti-stigma, equal access for housing, fair and nondiscriminatory practices. In one word: equality.” — Patrick Martin (left), from New Jersey

13. “Equality. We should treat everyone the same.” — Brandon James, from Delaware

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 9.42.50 AM

photo: Sarah Schuster

14. “Recovery is possible. There’s a lot of people who see it as out of reach, and we need to let them know it is in reach. It does happen. We need to spread hope.” — Milton Schladorn (left) with Travis Lundwall (right), from New York

photo: Sarah Schuster

15. “I want to feel empowered. I want to gain my dignity back that I lost years ago. I suffered from a serious mental illness for many years and I’m recovering now. I’m becoming an even better more productive member of society. I want to show how strong I am.” — Emily Turner, from New York

photo: Collin Schuster

16. “I’m coming out of my shell, so to speak. I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My son was diagnosed with a mood disorder this past year, too. It’s really important for him to be here too. We can do amazing things with our lives, and we do.” — Julie Erdman with her son Eamon, from New York

photo: Collin Schuster
photo: Collin Schuster

To hear more voices from the event, follow the hashtag #MHDignityMarch.

I used to be one of the many people with dystonia who experience panic attacks, and it felt like torture. One of my former triggers was driving, even around my own town. Forget long distances. I used to panic if I wasn’t the first car at a red light and didn’t have a way to turn off the road. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack or pass out. My heart would pound and my hands would sweat. I was claustrophobic and felt weak, with my legs trembling and my breathing shallow.

After a few years, I had to do something about it. I couldn’t live like that anymore. If I wanted to deal with the anxiety and live a fuller life outside my home, I knew I had to face my fears head on.

For the next couple of weeks, I put myself in situations that created anxiety and panic. While previously I would actually turn off the road and make a U-turn to avoid a red light, I now purposely drove in congested areas of town during afternoon rush hour so I would get caught at red lights and slow moving traffic. 

Within two weeks of exposing myself to heavy traffic and red lights, my panic attacks ended. It was a process, but I managed to overcome them in a shorter period of time than I expected. I overcame something in two weeks I lived with for years! What a relief!

Then, it was time to tackle my fear of bridges. I decided to start with a bridge in my town I had avoided it for years, even as a passenger.

The first few times I drove over the bridge by myself I was dizzy, my hands were sopping wet and my body was trembling. I felt like I was floating on top of my seat and had white knuckles from gripping the steering wheel so hard.

I did my best to focus on the music, but a minute trip over the bridge seemed like 20.

Worrying about the return trip, I missed my turn-around exit. I found myself on a highway travelling at speeds I hadn’t driven in 10 years. My anxiety skyrocketed trying to keep up with other cars. I finally came to the next exit and had to park for a little while to calm down before I got back on the road.

Anxiety crept back in when I got back on the highway and onto the bridge again. When I got across safely I wanted to get home immediately. Instead, I stopped myself, did some slow, rhythmic breathing, turned around and drove back over the bridge again.

I did this every day for the next week.

Each time I was on the bridge and the highway I had anxiety, but it became less and less every day. My confidence grew, which gradually reduced my anxiety. After about a dozen times over a period of a week, I no longer had anxiety driving on this bridge or any other bridge. Nor did I have anxiety being on the highway.

The more significant part of this experience was the boost of confidence. My world opened up, and I began doing other things I had been avoiding. Life seemed exciting and interesting again. Instead of worrying about all the bad things that might happen before I did an activity, I started to look forward to them. A huge burden was lifted. In this way, I felt I could start living again. 

Editor’s note: This story is based on one person’s experiences and shouldn’t be taken as professional advice. To learn more information about overcoming anxiety and panic attacks, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America or consult your doctor. 

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