To Anyone Who Thinks Borderline Personality Disorder Is a Life Sentence

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To the person with borderline personality disorder (BPD),

First of all, know you are not alone. There are men and women from all walks of life who can identify with those three letters, and though they may not always be people you would choose to have in your life, they are your allies and your kin. We walk these paths together; and as lonely as it can be, because of that we are never truly alone.

Know that when you research your condition, you will come across websites that call you evil; you will come across websites that claim you are narcissistic and lacking in empathy. Know that being diagnosed with BPD does not equate to these things. Being diagnosed BPD means many things, but know that it does not make you a bad person. No website calling all people with BPD “evil,” “manipulative” or “narcissistic,” or calling for extreme avoidance of all those diagnosed is an automatic reflection of you.

Know that your future is not assured. BPD can be not “cured,” but it can be treated — it is not a life sentence. Life can get better. If you’ve done dialectal behavior therapy and found it unhelpful, know there is more than one option out there. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all treatment for BPD, no matter what anyone tells you.

Know that your feelings, as strong as they are, will dissipate if you allow them to. Your anger will fade; your sorrow will ease. Nothing lasts forever, and your feelings are not the exception to the rule. You are the emotional equivalent of a third degree burn victim, but you have the ability to graft yourself with thicker skin. You can get through this.

Know that you can learn to control your behavior. What you do in impulse now, you can learn to contain. Your angry outbursts, your uncontrolled spending, even your self-harm can all become more controlled and can even be overcome. It will take time and it will take a great deal of hard work, but it can be done.

Know that the world is not as black and white as you’d like it to be, but you can learn to be OK with that. Know that your instinct to cast people or events into categories on the extremes can be worked with. You will learn, in time, that nobody is all good or all bad, and that is OK.

Know that you will learn to know yourself, gradually. Maybe you will start with your favorite color, or you’ll choose an animal to love. Maybe you’ll discover you like your eggs scrambled, or you dislike jelly.

Know that sometimes people will leave, but it doesn’t mean you are being abandoned. Life is full of change; people move on, or are taken from us suddenly. Not everyone was meant to be a permanent fixture in our lives; some people will stay for a heartbeat, others will fill our hearts for years. Know that you can learn to be OK with the changing landscapes of friendships and loved ones, despite the pain.

Know, most of all, that there is hope. BPD is not a negative reflection on your personality and life can get better.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a love letter to another person with your disability, disease or mental illness. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Taming the Inner Child That Is My Borderline Personality Disorder

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I have a inner child. She is needy, demanding, temperamental and she can throw tantrums worthy of an Oscar. She has needed parenting for many years while I was dominated by her, unable to tame her and overtaken by her. This parenting came in the form of services; emergency departments, home treatment team, respite care, psychiatrists, psychologists and police.

I was ill-equipped to cope with the ever-changing emotions of her, often unaware of what had triggered the latest eruption. Overwhelmed and crippled by emotionally-fueled chaos, I would lean on services to help support me through these distressing times. I became a revolving door patient, desperately dragging myself before professionals each time it became unbearable, and hoping for answers to put an end to the stream of bitter arguments between myself and the inner child.

The inner child who was terrified of people leaving her, who had no sense of who she was, and who behaved impulsively and recklessly. She had rapid mood swings and outbursts of anger, hated her appearance and had such so low self-esteem. The little girl who hated herself and felt so empty she wanted to resort to self-harm to cope with these feelings. The relationship I had between myself and my inner child spilt out and affected all aspects of my life: work, parenting, education, relationships, housing and finances.

After 10 long years, I entered a day therapeutic community. Initially, this was extremely difficult. It challenged everything my inner child had believed. Beliefs that she was alone, that she didn’t belong, that authority was uncaring and neglecting, that she was unlovable, change was impossible and that everybody would leave in the end, so it was better for her not to make attachments. Over time the program helped with boundaries, expectations, belonging, identity and coping mechanisms.

I left therapeutic community 18 months ago, and haven’t needed “parenting” from services since. I have been given the tools to care for myself affectively, but my inner child still very much exists. I can see her rearing her head in situations often, at times when I’ve overthought a situation, feel rejected or feel like I may be abandoned. Now, I offer her my hand, coax her out and embrace her in my arms. I give her a cuddle, care for her, listen to what she is telling me. I have a past that has left a mark on me, and sometimes I need to be kinder and more considerate to myself, offering the same support and kindness I would be willing to offer others. Once I have done that, I can lay my inner child back to rest and begin to use my own mind to think about whatever it is that has upset me. I have slowed the process down, not reacted in the emotional, distressed state and cared for myself instead, giving myself the time for those feelings to pass. I have learned to live in harmony with my inner child.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What I Remind Myself When I Feel Unlovable With a Mental Illness

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I recently finished an intensive outpatient therapy program and became close to many of the other members of the group. When it was my last day, everyone expressed how much I had helped them and many exchanged numbers with me, wanting to hang out outside of the group. 

I felt such overwhelming love and compassion, but I couldn’t accept it. It felt like balls being thrown at a glass wall — it looks like they could go through, but they bounce right back. I just couldn’t accept any part of me was worth loving.

I went on a trip back to my old college town and met with friends who knew me from before my mental illness. The same thing happened: They expressed love and compassion — I just couldn’t receive it. How could people love me? They don’t really know me. They are just being nice. If they knew the real love me they wouldn’t love me.

Then I realized, they’ve known me for a long time and seen me through my darkest times. They know me minus the mental illness; these people do really know me. They know the parts of me that aren’t my mental illness. The real me shining like the sun through the dark clouds.

It was difficult, but I finally started to accept there are some parts of me are worth loving. This is not easy to do — I still felt unworthy of love — but I’ve learned to accept there are qualities of myself and my personality that are worth loving. A big part of mental illness is that it lies to you and takes over, claiming to be all that you are. You begin to be unable to separate the illness from yourself.

But that’s where it is: I believe you have to recognize your illness isn’t all of you. There are parts of you that are uniquely you. You might not feel like the person you were outside of your illness, but you still are. That is the real you and it is worth loving.

It’s still hard for me to accept love; when someone says a compliment or something nice about me I still want to say, “That’s not true” or “You’re just being nice.” But then I reach down and look deep inside myself, past the lies of the disease, and realize there are parts of me that are worth loving.

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When Borderline Personality Disorder Is a Game of Tug of War

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Push and pull. It’s like the classic children’s game tug of war; a rope being pulled in both directions and at any time it could go one way or another. Unfortunately it’s not a game — it’s my illness. BPD…borderline personality disorder. The words themselves fill your mind with uncertainty. Visualize standing at a border somewhere with one foot on either side, knowing that at the drop of a dime you could be pulled either way.

Attachment. The need to have it… incessant. The need to keep it afar innate. Something that seems to come so naturally to others yet feels unattainable. There are no 50 shades of grey. It is black and white. You either form an attachment or you don’t. You are either behind our walls or on the outside. There is no middle ground.

Abandonment. The fear of it as intense as being set on fire. Whether consciously or not, we pull people in because we don’t want to be alone and with the next breath we  push you away. We try to leave you before you can leave us. It is the only control we feel we have, and somehow we’ve convinced ourselves it will hurt less this way. We so desperately need to feel attached to someone who loves and cares for us, yet the fear of losing them, in itself, is the thing that stops us from obtaining it.

Triggers. They range from sights and scents to noises and words. Subconsciously or otherwise, they pull us back to a place where we feel unsafe. Those emotions flood us like a tidal wave, our minds full of anxiety and fear, our bodies suddenly tense. Rationally we know at that exact moment we are safe, but our mind is no longer in the present moment. It has regressed to a time of trauma, hurt and pain. Our reactions can be extreme and inappropriate, sometimes echoing our destructive patterns of the past.

Relationships. I have difficulty maintaining them, whether you are family, friends or co-workers. We love you, we need you, we pull you close and hold on tight, and with the snap of the fingers, we hate you, we don’t need you and we push you away. We might delete your emails and texts. We might block you on social media. We react in a way you can not comprehend, simply because you do not have this illness. The fingers snap again and we are back to loving you and needing you.

BPD is an invisible illness. We do not choose this any more than someone chooses to become physically ill. I lash out when I shouldn’t. I react unsuitably to situations or comments that would not affect you. Sometimes I know why, other times the reason is still trapped in the darkness of my mind, not yet ready to come into the light. I’ll pull you in like I’m reeling in a fish from the river, and in an instant I’ll push you away, casting an empty line back into the water. I walk on eggshells. I’m so eager to please you and earn your acceptance because that is what my childhood taught me.

Our illness did not come out of the blue. I did not just wake up one day suddenly full of anxiety, pain and emptiness. This has built up over years or perhaps decades, and is a result of one or numerous traumatic incidents that occurred in my childhood. I coped the best I knew how at the time, and whether there is a physical scar or not, the emotional wounds that were inflicted during my developmental years have left me with a battle to fight. I struggle to quiet the voice in my head that replays the negative thoughts that were ingrained in me.

The best thing you can do for us is to remain. Simply put, don’t leave. We hope you will at least be at the same park, while we are riding the roller coaster that is BPD.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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4 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Didn’t Have the Right Mental Illness Diagnosis

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I always new I was a little different. A little more emotional than most people. But I didn’t start seeking help for my depression until I was 22 years old. At first it just started with various medications prescribed by my doctor. Finally I decided I needed more help, so I made an appointment with a psychiatrist. Again, it was trial and error with medications — my emotions were still a roller coaster. In June of 2015, I lost my job, my boyfriend and I was moving to a new city. I kept everyone in the dark about what was going on in my life and kept it bottled up.

In August, I attempted suicide. While in a 24-hour psych hold at the behavior unit in a hospital, one doctor finally told me what I should have known all along: “Have you heard of borderline personality disorder (BPD)?” I replied I had not. I finally went to my parents house, researched BPD and ding ding ding! We had a winner!

I’ve learned a lot from my journey, but here are five things I wish I had known back when I wasn’t sure I had the right diagnosis:

1. It’s OK to get a different doctor.

I stayed with the same general doctor for the longest time who didn’t have a background in psychological disorders. I should have seen a specialist sooner.

2. There’s nothing wrong with telling others what’s going on.

In the ER, my father told me he was so scared when he thought I was gone. He said that while he knew it was difficult, I should have opened up to him sooner.

3. Ignore the stigma.

For the longest time I kept my feelings to myself because of the bad reputation mental illness receives. I didn’t want people to think of me differently. 

4. Never give up.

It took me three doctors, eight different medications, two therapists and a trip to the behavioral unit to find out exactly what was going on. I didn’t think there was hope for me, but that’s what depression and borderline personality do. They convince you you’re not worth it and that everyone would be happier with you gone, but that’s a lie.

It’s been a little over six months since my borderline personality diagnosis. I’ve become an advocate for depression, borderline personality disorder and suicide prevention. I tell my story to help other people who’ve been what I’ve been thorough. It’s been tough and a little scary, but to finally know the diagnosis, even if it’s not something that can be magically treated or cured, has been worth it. I live happily by myself, have a fabulous full-time job working with people with disabilities and great a support system of friends and family.

You’re worth living. Never give up.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Why I’m Not Ashamed of Identifying as ‘Mentally Ill’

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I’ve heard lots of people say I shouldn’t make my mental illness part of my personality, or let it define me. That I should focus on other things. Even more often I see people frustrated with my insistence on labels. “You’re more than the diagnosis,” or “one word can’t define you,” or my favorite “why are you letting people box you in?” It seems like a lot of people think that embracing your mental illness means living in negativity.

I don’t think it would surprise many people to know one of the things I identify most strongly as is mentally ill. I bristle when people tell me this means I’m limiting myself, being negative or letting the mental illness “win” in some fashion. Here’s the truth; accepting and paying attention to an important fact about myself is not negative or limiting. My mental illness has a big impact on my life. To say that it isn’t an important and integral part of who I am is to lie.

But more than that, mental illness is not exclusively negative. Yeah, depression and anxiety have screwed me over more than once, but my anxiety makes me a truly badass worker. My depression makes me compassionate and my borderline personality disorder makes me empathetic. Taking away those elements of my personality doesn’t just take away things that hurt me, but also irreparably changes me and the awesome person I am. This is a basic tenet of neurodiversity, and I strongly stand by the fact that if my brain wasn’t the weird place it is, I would not be depressed, but I also wouldn’t be as badass as I am.

Beyond all of the philosophical stuff, there’s also the idea that in terms of things I have to pay attention to, my mental illness is bigger than any other element of me. Just as I would with any other chronic illness, I have to take my meds, pay attention for changes, see my doctor periodically and continually take care of myself with exercise, self-care, socialization and writing to keep my mood up and my brain in a place of rationality and stability. If there was another element of my personality that took up hours every day of my life, then maybe I would identify more strongly with that. But there isn’t, so mental illness it is because in reality it’s what affects me.

Understanding that a huge part of who I am involves the care I have to take with my own mind isn’t negative. It’s not giving in to anything. It’s not ignoring or downplaying the great things I do. It’s recognition of reality. Mental illness is a huge part of my life. It affects everything from how I dress (thanks eating disorder) to how I eat (seriously, thanks eating disorder) to how I exercise (once again, eating disorder) to how I think (at least this one’s depression and anxiety) and how I feel (woohoo BPD!). It affects my relationships, it affects what I consider fun and it affects how I socialize. How is that not important? Why should I feel ashamed of an aspect of myself because it happens to be something that oftentimes is a challenge? I cannot think of a single other identity that affects all the elements of my self so strongly.

So yes, I will continue putting “mentally ill” at the top of my list of self-identifiers, along with nerd, writer and social justice warrior, because these are the things I pay attention to each and every day. It is healthy and important for me to include my mental illness on that list. If I don’t pay attention to it, then there’s every likelihood I will end up in the nasty depressed place that’s truly dangerous. But more than that, I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t incredibly important because it’s supposedly negative, or involves stigma. That is letting the mental illness win.

My bio will continue to read Olivia, crying-face depressed sometimes, writer extraordinaire, weirdo. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

Follow this journey on We Got So Far to Go.

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