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.

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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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To Someone Just Diagnosed With Borderline Personality Disorder

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To someone who was just diagnosed with borderline personality disorder,

I’ve been there. Hell, I am there, and I know there are about seven billion different emotions happening that may seem impossible to sort out. These three letters just hit you like a brick wall. I’m here to tell you this feeling you have right now — the feeling you can’t quite put your finger on because it’s composed of so many different emotions — won’t last forever. It will come in waves for a little while as different trains of thought, each conducted by a different emotion. Try to take the lead.

You might feel relieved at first. I did. Having a partial answer to the question that is you. Knowing so many of your behaviors and issues were simply symptoms of a real, concrete, documented illness that was out of your control. The relief of  those three letters and being able to stop wondering (and Googling) what was wrong with you. Because you knew all along it wasn’t just “a phase” or “hormones” or “asking for attention.” You weren’t asking for attention. You were asking for help. This isn’t your fault. Let that sink in for a minute. This isn’t your fault. 

Relief is beautiful, but often brief. After the initial shock wears off, your brain might start running down endless rabbit trails once again. Each with a different treasure chest of emotions at the end. It’s possible you’ll experience phases similar to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

It’s OK to be scared. Illness can be scary. Especially this illness, with its negative-sounding diagnosis. You may fear the unknown future that lies ahead. Your mind might wander, as it usually does. It will probably convince you that, somehow, this is your fault, and you may as well send back the college acceptance letters or turn down the new job offer because you’re headed for nowhere anyway. You have to make the conscious effort to shut this down ASAP. Listen to music, go for a walk and memorize a poem, read a book, do a puzzle. Do something that keeps your brain working hard so it doesn’t have the opportunity to stray. This is a tough phase, but you’ll get through it.

A piece of advice: don’t do too much research. I’m all for being informed, but in reality you’ll probably just end up scarred and scared at the statistics that truly don’t apply to you. Those numbers aren’t you. You are OK. You are here, now, reading this. You are breathing. You are OK. Numbers don’t mean anything. You are not a number. You are not a statistic.

The details of BPD may knock the wind out of you for a minute. You feel like you must be a lot worse off than you thought because all of these descriptions are, with overwhelming accuracy, describing you. I’ll tell you a secret: they were describing me, too. Along with millions of other individuals living with BPD. In a way, you just gained a family of semi-stable people who understand you in ways you don’t understand yourself yet. You are not alone. (Let that sink in.) You are a beautiful and unique puzzle. Each piece fits differently and connects in ways that are totally individual to you. This diagnosis is not the whole puzzle. Just a piece. But it’s a piece that gives you the opportunity to connect with other people’s unique puzzles. That’s such a gift.

All these words are nice, but the choice lies on your shoulders. It’s a choice that needs to be consciously made. You have been given three letters. Three little letters. You choose what you’re going to do with them. You can let them grow far bigger than they deserve to be. You can let them weigh you down and overwhelm your puzzle. Or, you can let them light a fire under you to send yourself running in the direction of perseverance, support and success. Borderline personality does not define you, change your intelligence or smother your ability to kick ass in this life.

Listen, I know that today isn’t your day. I might not even be your year.  But I also know you will get there. I know you are so much bigger than three little letters and a prescription. You have BPD, yes. But BPD doesn’t have to have you.

Love,

A Fellow Puzzle

The Mighty is asking the following: Give advice to someone who has just been diagnosed with your mental illness. What do you wish someone had told you? 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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99 Lessons From My Recovery Journey

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1. My passion for mental health.

2. Mental illness doesn’t define us.

3. Self-reliance.

4. It’s OK to not be OK.

5. There are no good or bad emotions, but there are good and bad ways of expressing emotions.

6. Resiliency.

7. Self-compassion is a priority.

8. Self-awareness is key.

9. Coping skills that best work for me.

10. We don’t owe anyone an explanation for self-care.

11. Beauty lives in our differences.

12. The benefits of therapy.

13. Mindfulness.

14. The more I loved myself – the more I fell in love with my kids.

15. To not feel guilty for self-care.

16. Patience and understanding for others

17. Recovery comes first

18. How to stand up for myself and fight against stigma.

19. Things will always work out – do not give up.

20. We are not broken, weak or worthless.

21. It’s never too late to become the person you want to be.

22. The present moment is all you ever have.

23. Who my true friends are.

24. My story has helped make a difference.

25. Internal vs. external locus of control.

26. How to be at peace.

27. I am brave.

28. I’m an introvert and value my alone time

29. To let go of my past mistakes; they do not define me

30. I am emotionally intelligent.

31. I gained more self-esteem.

32. Judgments are a confession of character.

33. Happiness is found within.

34. Self-Confidence is the best outfit; own it.

35. Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of.

36. Self-love is the most important love.

37. I am a stronger and healthier mother to my two kids.

38. Without the dark and stormy days, we can’t learn to appreciate the good days.

39. The minds like ours are beautiful

40. Our feelings are valid; don’t justify them or seek approval – they are your feelings.

41. Our behavior is driven by our emotions.

42. Helping others makes me feel good – we rise by lifting others.

43. Your worth is not defined by someone loving or not loving you.

44. My worst days in recovery are by far better than the best days in my manic episodes.

45. A bad day doesn’t equal a bad life.

46. The words, “f*ck it” do come in handy every once in a while.

47. You are not a burden.

48. You have to learn to love yourself before you can fully love someone else.

49. Do not be afraid to walk away from toxic relationships/friendships.

50. It’s OK to sometimes embrace the sadness.

51. It’s OK to be different.

52. Be patient with yourself.

53. Recovery isn’t strictly about being “happy,” it’s about learning to become whole.

54. The bad things people say about you are actually reflections of what they think of themselves, not you.

55. I am unique

56. Ultimately it’s only your opinion of yourself that matters. Do what makes you happy.

57. The art of meaningful conversations.

58. Stigma’s three components are: stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination

59. When you can, be your own advocate.

60. Step outside your comfort zone – you might actually have fun.

61. You are worth much more than you think.

62. It all starts with willingness.

63. I am a fighter, survivor and a warrior – so are you.

64. Be acutely aware of your thoughts.

65. No, we can’t just “get over it.”

66. Good things take time.

67. Expect nothing – appreciate everything.

68. How beautiful it is to be alive.

69. How to live less out of habit and more out of intent.

70. We are the directors of our own mindset.

71. Strength.

72. Life’s a bitch sometimes.

73. Mental illness is not a choice.

74. If you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone.

75. I no longer want to compete with anyone but myself – I hope we all make it.

76. Hold on to hope.

77. Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.

78. How not to lose myself in the process of loving someone else.

79. How to magnify your strengths, not your weaknesses.

80. We can’t fix ourselves by breaking someone else.

81. My appreciation for music.

82. We are exactly where we need to be

83. Breathe! 

84. Protect yourself with the Americans with Disabilities Act

85. How to maintain a balanced life – parenting, career and education.

86. I am emotionally sensitive — my emotions are more intense than the average person and that’s OK.

87. Face your fears – It’s liberating!

88. Be gentle with yourself.

89. Your time is important – spend it on things you’re passionate about.

90. Make time for yourself.

91. The part you play is sacred – you are priceless.

92. How to manage impulsiveness.

93. The value in our stories.

94. Trust your intuition.

95. Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle; start a conversation.

96. Your speed in recovery doesn’t matter; forward is forward.

97. Life gives you challenges that you can overcome; be strong.

98. Emotional awareness means recognizing, respecting and accepting your feelings as they happen.

99. How to discover who I truly am.

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5 Things I Wish Others Knew as a Parent With Borderline Personality Disorder

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I was officially diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) when I was 19 years old. My mom and doctors had a pretty good hunch the signs weren’t just “typical teenage behavior” the closer I got to 18, but it wasn’t until I began seeing a psychiatrist on my own at the age of 19 that I was officially diagnosed.

In junction with my BPD, I’m also diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Fast forward five years and here I am. I’m a mother to a 3-year-old boy, and I’ve spent the past three years trying to get parenting “right” in spite of my BPD tendencies. Between my impulsive spending habits, anger that seems to stem from some dark place deep inside and the black and white thinking I can’t seem to get under control, it’s been the most challenging and emotionally trying three years of my life so far. I spent a lot of time researching how to successfully parent while living with BPD. Much to my dismay, the majority of the articles and pages I’ve found were not supportive of parents who live with BPD. Instead, I found numerous websites and articles devoted to support of the children damaged by a parent with BPD, articles that warned others about the abuse a child with a parent with BPD is likely to experience and tips on how to ensure a child is safe emotionally and physically while being parented by someone living with BPD.

This got me thinking: If I could say anything as a parent who lives with BPD, what would I say?

These five things are what I came up with:

1. I love my son.

And not in the sense of BPD-typical black and white thinking where one day I love him and the next I can’t feel it. The one thing that is consistent, no matter what, is that I love my son more than I ever thought was possible. Even on my bad days, he is the one light I can find in all the dark.

2. I’ve learned to manage my anger. 

In spite of my issues with anger, I’ve never abused my son physically or verbally. I used to be a very explosively angry person, irrationally so. It is a daily battle to keep my temper in check, but I’m living proof that a parent who lives with BPD can successfully manage their anger. I’ve found that giving myself a “parental time out” when I feel close to just losing it has helped immensely.

3. My ability to be a good mother isn’t defined by my diagnosis.

In spite of the articles I’ve read that basically say children of parents with BPD are doomed to be miserable and damaged, I’m determined to prove I can and will be a good mother to my son. I work ten times harder to get being a mother “right” because of my BPD. My son means the world to men and I refuse to let the stereotypical idea of mom with BPD influence who I am as a parent.

4. I know parenting with BPD is hard.

I don’t need to be reminded that things are going to be harder for me as a parent because I live with BPD. I’ve had several people say to me, “You do understand things aren’t going to get easier, right? It’s always going to be harder for you.” Yes, I do understand that. I also understand that fighting harder every day to manage my impulses, anger, self-destructive thoughts and black and white thinking is worth it. My son is worth it.

5. We’re going to be OK.

My son is going to always have a roof over his head, food to eat, clothes to wear and a mom who loves him. We have our good days, and we have our days where handling my “issues” is more difficult, but I know in my heart we will be OK. I’m not alone in my battle to raise my son while managing my BPD. I have an amazing support system, and I have the determination to beat the stigma that revolves around being a parent with BPD.

Andria and her son.
Andria and her son.

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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