The Friendship My Borderline Personalty Disorder Told Me I’d Never Have

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When I was first diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), I did what anyone in this internet age would do, I Googled it. I didn’t like everything I read, but a lot of it made sense, except for one thing. Everything I read said those suffering from BPD sometimes go without having real and lasting relationships.

This scared me, and I worried for the new friends I’d made in the BPD community. Then, I remembered I have one of the best friends to ever grace my personal planet. My best friend holds me accountable for my actions. She doesn’t let me get away with things because of my mental illness. Not to say she doesn’t cut me slack on some things. She cuts me more then I give myself sometimes. She asks questions to gain understanding. She Googles. She reads.

Yes, she is a psych major, but she has never treated me as a “test subject.” Everything my best friend does, she does to make my life easier and better. She lets me fall back on her in moments when I’m flailing. She lets me go solo when she knows I need to learn to do certain things on my own.

Without me ever having to ask for help, she has done things for me I cry just thinking about. She’s filled my gas tank when I was unemployed and dangling on a tightrope. She’s started conversations with new people for me and slowly built my confidence. She’s gotten me over debilitating aspects of my illness a little at a time, like my crippling panic when I was even a minute late (I still like being early, but I don’t hyperventilate when I’m five minutes late).

This beautiful woman has, without me realizing it, jump started my recovery even before I got my official diagnosis. She was actually the first one I called, tears in my eyes because I finally knew what it was.

“I have borderline personality disorder.”

I hadn’t even left the parking lot of my psychiatrist’s office. I dialed her number on the way to my car. She didn’t miss a beat. She didn’t judge me. She just asked how I felt about it. She asked what this meant for me.

I cried. I had never felt so relieved in my life. I wasn’t relieved she hadn’t judged me. It never crossed my mind that she would. I was relieved to know what it was I had been fighting since I was 14. I know without a doubt she’ll be there for me like she always has been.

I have had a lot of friends in the past, some were great and more were not. I have never had a friend like this. I never thought I would be able to have a real, without a doubt in my mind, best friend. My disorder has convinced me in the past in order to keep people around, I needed to lie and manipulate. All that does is make me feel worse and exhaust the people around me. I have cost myself countless relationships and friendships because I felt like I couldn’t trust them or myself with them. I constantly pushed them away and then pulled them close, only to push them away again.

My friend has taught me I can be 100 percent myself and she’ll still love me. I don’t have to prove anything or work to the point of anxiety to impress her, in order to keep her around. She is the strongest, most patient and passionate person I know. I am lucky to know her. I know in the future she will change a lot of people’s lives because I know she’s changed mine.

selfie of the author and her friend outside
Hannah and her friend.
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A Borderline Identity

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In high school, I desperately wanted to be known as a rebel. I clung to every label I could and wore it with pride. Why, yes, I stood up for animal rights with my vegetarianism! I wore long, flowy pants in lieu of jeans and called myself a hippie. I hung up the signs I got from a peace protest and a bisexual pride flag.

It was nothing more than a quest for an identity. I needed to prove to everyone I belonged. With borderline personality disorder, the abstract idea of identity is something we have difficulty comprehending. To me, it was all about finding a label and sticking it to myself, crying out, “This is who I am!”

However, who I was (and am) continuously changed. I find myself, even now, grasping for anything that would hint at who I am. I wanted to fit in a box, snug and safe.

According to the DSM-5, one of the criteria for BPD is “identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self image or sense of self.” I didn’t know it at the time, but this was one box that fit like a glove. BPD has many other criteria, but what people don’t see is how it can trap mental health professionals and patients alike.

To doctors, we’re puzzles consistent enough to be solved with a diagnosis. Across the years, I’ve been diagnosed with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), depression, bipolar disorder II, and BPD. The amount of medication I’ve been on over the past eight years is pretty impressive. With each new diagnosis, I kept thinking, “Aha! This is who I am. This is what’s wrong with me.”

But you know what? In the end, it doesn’t matter what my label or diagnosis is. I am mentally ill; this much I know as a fact. I recognize the different parts of each disorder in me, from the desperation of BPD to the unbearable depression to the wild hypomania. I may not fit each diagnosis to a T. I may never have a label that fits me perfectly.

Because ultimately, my only identity is Margaret.

Image via Thinkstock.

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21 Things People With Borderline Personality Disorder Wish Their Friends Understood

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The very nature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) can make relationships difficult to manage. Symptoms include unstable personal relationships and efforts to avoid being abandoned, coupled with a distorted self-image and impulsive behavior.

But that doesn’t mean people with BPD are unable to make friends, and it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t form deep relationships. In fact, the opposite can be true. To get some insight from those affected, we asked people in our mental health community to share one thing they wish their friends knew about living with borderline personality disorder.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Even the slightest sign of rejection destroys my world. Things like not answering texts, not picking up the phone or canceling a date on short notice leaves me devastated, thinking my friend hates me and doesn’t want to be with me anymore. Fears of abandonment are hard to deal with.”

2. “I’m crap at keeping in touch; I don’t mean to be. I love all the people in my life, I just don’t want my illness to affect them. I also carry shame from the times it has, making it hard to face people.”

3. “I wish friends knew how sensitive I truly am. I feel so deeply in every emotion. Bear with me, and don’t walk away. BPD really shows you how many of your friends are true. Stay strong, fellow BPDers.”

4. “I don’t mean to be annoying, but fear of abandonment and rejection makes me feel like I need constant validation.”

5. “I keep absolutely everything to myself to avoid the embarrassment, rejection and the anxiety I go through trying to get out what’s inside.”

6. “I always feel like a burden on my friends. Or like I’m just in the way. I’m scared I annoy everyone around me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to show my friends how much I love and appreciate them.”

7. “I don’t cope with cancelled plans very well, especially if they’re last minute. I feel as if they have found something better to do and don’t want to see me — even if that’s not the case.”

8. “That person who comes out sometimes isn’t me. I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I’m stuck in this tiny corner of my mind, watching as I lash out at people, inwardly screaming to stop. Afterwards I’m so ashamed and embarrassed I feel like I don’t deserve to live. The people who stay with me despite Jekyll are my heroes. I couldn’t make it through this without you. I love you all, and thank you for not abandoning me.”

9. “I wish other people could know the pain I feel inside. It feels like I’m internally bleeding the vast majority of the time, and if I don’t feel scarred and raw, I feel numb. Overall, I feel like a wandering, vacant hole who needs constant affirmation that I exist. Sometimes I struggle and wonder if I am real. I feel like a tremendous burden to everyone, especially my boyfriend and therapist. I feel constant shame about the way I behave, and my therapist usually gets the brunt of my “love-hate” cycles. Most of the time I can hide my symptoms from others, but they can spill out. Sometimes I want to disappear. I work in the world of mental health, and frankly, people with BPD are often treated like lepers. I’ve seen ‘difficult’ people labeled as ‘borderline’ if others can’t understand what’s going on. Even my therapist gets frustrated at me at times, and it makes me feel like I’m too much, like I’m damaged goods.”

10. “No matter how great our friendship may be, no matter how much fun we have and laughs we share, if I’m having one of those days it doesn’t matter what you say or do: I just constantly think my friends hate me. I feel like I’m not as good as them. I feel they must not really like me because I don’t like myself, so how could they? No matter what I try, whether it’s trying positive thoughts like: ‘Would they be with me if they didn’t like me?’– it doesn’t matter. I will always feel I’m not good enough for anyone — friends or family.”

11. “People with BPD have tremendous compassion and empathy. We can feel with people in a way others often can’t. We have a lot of strengths even though we feel fragile.”

12. “If I had any friends, I’d ask them to understand my extreme emotional sensitivity. I’m sorry I can’t watch ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Walking Dead.’ The violence stays with me. I can actually feel the fear, the sadness, the horror the victim experiences.”

13. “When I have an upswing, I forget myself and just go on impulse. Sometimes that means endless reposts on Facebook, to the annoyance of some. But it’s just my way of working things out in a less dangerous way than I could be.”

14. “I put on a very hard confident shell every day, but it’s not real. Not in the slightest.”

15. “When I flake out on plans all the time, it’s not that I don’t want to spend time with you, it’s that I’m afraid if I spend too much time with you, you will discover I’m as horrible as I think I am.”

16. “My emotions are extreme, and I can’t control how I feel. I feel things so over the top, and it’s hard to come back to baseline. The abandonment feeling happens if it’s just an acquaintance, never mind if it’s someone I’m close too. And yes. I cry in response to my feelings. And no, I’m not acting childish. It’s just how I’m wired.”

17. “It’s not the easiest thing to explain. And when I finally do find the words to explain it, their first reaction is self-diagnosing themselves with it or saying everyone has that.”

18. “I don’t even understand BPD myself, so be patient with me.”

19. “I don’t seek attention. And every single day I get up and force myself to keep going and function is a huge accomplishment.”

20. “I am not a lost cause.”

21. “It’s incredibly lonely to have a disorder that affects how you handle interpersonal relationships. We wear loneliness like a cloak, weighted down with insecurity and doubt. We love our friends and families. Even when we pull away, even when our emotions are out of control, even when fear keeps us from demonstrating or saying the words, we still love you. We are not perfect. No one is. But we are worthy of your trust and your love.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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When I Realized My Depression Wasn't Just Situational

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I am a survivor, above all else. That is really all I know.

Life doesn’t always turn out as we planned, start out how we wanted or follow the course we wish it had. Our only choice is to continue onward, and so we trod down the winding road, following the twists and turns, doing our best to navigate. Along the way, life will throw in some unexpected speed bumps, but somehow you manage to maneuver over those, too. My curves and bumps included surviving a traumatic childhood including four foster homes before the age of 18 months, domestic abuse, long-term sexual abuse, watching and trying to protect my mom from physical abuse, followed by six long years watching her die slowly and painfully of cancer all before I turned 19.

It is astonishing to know how debilitating depression or any mental illness can be. How it can affect your every thought with a negative impact or render you unable to make even the most simple of decisions. How it can envelop you in an unimaginably heavy blanket of sadness and sorrow. How it can diminish your sleep, eating habits and even your sex life. How it drains you of your interest in activities and hobbies you once enjoyed. Depression can convince you that you are not only worthless, but helpless to do anything about it. How it can impose a cloud so dismal the thoughts of suicide occur and on occasion prevail. How it can cause not only a lack of motivation and daily exhaustion but a multitude of physical ailments. How it can cause you the inability to focus or remember details often making it difficult to maintain a job. How it will cause you to withdraw from your friends and family because you feel unworthy of their love and affections. How it can bring about an acute fear of being judged; of the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

I had no idea until my late teens that most people did not feel sad or want to die by suicide on a regular basis. For me that was all I knew, and consequently, I blamed these negative emotions on all the traumatic situations I had experienced. Of course I am indignant; I was sexually assaulted as a child thereby creating my own reasons for my actions. I had seen numerous therapists over the years, from social workers to $200 an hour psychiatrists, whom all seemed to hold the same opinion that I was sad and depressed because of the things that were happening and had occurred, which nowadays I believe they would call situational depression. The answers back then were highly limited to a diverse array of talk therapies, which I was not fond of, so I quickly learned to say what was needing to be heard, thereby being “cured” or “fixed” numerous times, the proof being the giant bill I was saddled with which collaborates their statements.

January of this year, I finally broke down enough to warrant a day trip to the hospital, where I finally had access to a psychiatrist without a nine month waiting list. One hour with her and many of the questions I had pondered over the years finally had an answer…borderline personality disorder (BPD), dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder), accompanied by bouts of major depressive disorder and the cherry on the top being the chronic suicidal ideations. Turns out not everyone wants to end their life, and that my depth of sadness and distress was not only situational but in fact, an actual illness. It now had a label, which provided some type of answer for not only me, but for those around me who had dealt with the periods of my mental un-healthiness. I felt no anger or concern that I had been diagnosed with a mental health problem, instead a felt a sense of relief. For the first time in my life, my emotions were both recognized and validated. My actions, although not excusable, were not entirely random and without cause.

So my battle against BPD and depression officially started and I succumbed to my doctors wishes to try medication. Now at this point, I would love to tell you that the first medicine I tried gave me no side effects and worked wonders and that I am taking cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy classes which have given me all the tools I need to lead a productive and fulfilled life.

However, that would be complete and utter bullshit. The cold hard truth is I went through four antidepressants, two antipsychotics (which are commonly prescribed for BPD), two seizures from the SSRI’s and experienced multiple side effects, from nausea and headaches to blurry vision and the infamous brain zaps, and everything in between. After five months of riding a roller coaster that I desperately wanted to jump off, I think I may have found a combination of meds that are showing some promise.

Fighting whatever challenge you have is going to take most of your emotional and physical energy, especially at the beginning. You may be prescribed meds or you might be better off with some type of therapy, or perhaps a combination of the two. Each case is so individual my only advice would be to do your best to ride out the side effects, be informed and don’t be afraid to tell your doctor if it is not working so you can try something else. It truly is a game of hit and miss. You will have ups, you will have downs, but after some time you may notice a glimmer of light, something that has been so foreign to you for so long, you may not even recognize it when it first appears. Never stop looking…. it is there for all of us.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
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What Happened After I Told My Co-Workers About My Mental Illness and Addiction

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In a moment of what could of been self destruction, a few years back, I decided to tell my work peers about my mental illness and addiction problems. I have BPD (borderline personality disorder). I also work in the mental health field.

Here is what happened.

1. They asked me questions.

Of course they would. The natural thing to do when someone reveals such a huge truth about themselves is to ask questions. “When did you get diagnosed?” “Do you still struggle with it?” “How do you cope at work?” and many, many more…

The question that surprised me most was “How can I help?”

2. They shared their own stories.

Everyone on the planet has either experienced or knows someone who has experienced mental illness or addiction problems. But we don’t all talk about it. My small but courageous act of honesty helped us all push through the shame and fear of rejection. After all, we are supposed to be the helpers, not the ones being helped, right? (No. We can be both.)

3. They offered support (when needed).

I’ve missed a lot of therapist and doctor appointments in the past because I didn’t want to explain to my boss and co-workers why I have so many. Now that the truth is out there, I am able to take care of me! I can go to my appointments, go to my recovery meetings or even pull someone aside at work and let them know, “Hey, I’m struggling today… can I vent to you for a minute” with no judgments. It’s great! With this extra self-care, I am able to 100 percent concentrate on my work and effectively handle any situation that arises.

4. They encouraged me.

I wont lie. Even though I work in the mental health field and believe no one should feel ashamed about their struggles, I felt shame. (I know, it’s just how my brain works!) So in this moment of vulnerability, my peers at work encouraged me. Emphasizing that the reason I am good at my job, and that I am so passionate about what I do, is because I can relate. I can truly lead by example, and I’m living proof that with hard work, we (people who have a mental illness or addiction) can still live our lives to the fullest. Turning our struggles into strengths and new capabilities!

And most importantly…

5. They loved me anyway.

I can’t explain the fear I felt when the truth escaped my mouth. Will I lose my job? Will they judge me? How will they ever trust me to help people, knowing I still struggle sometimes? Because of the BPD, my brain overdramatizes things, and I instantly thought, what did I do? My career and life is over!

What I got was the complete opposite. They loved me anyway. No less than they had before. If anything, the trust I worked to build with my work peers had grown stronger than before. It was a learning experience and growing experience for all of us.

Note: This was my experience. I consider myself lucky; I know not everyone would get the same response because there is still such as huge stigma surrounding mental illness. I suggest weighing out all possible options and being fully prepared for any adverse reactions if you intend on sharing such personal things with your work mates. Sadly, not everyone will respond with such love, understanding and respect.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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The Borderline Personality Disorder Blame Game

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Whether you are someone who lives with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or someone who loves someone with BPD, you would certainly know something about the Blame Game. It can be a one-player game of self-blame or have a number of players: the person who does the blaming and those who get blamed.

The truth about this horrible game is it can be played, intentionally and unintentionally, by both those who have BPD and those without. It always ends up in heartbreak. No one can ever really win. As someone with BPD, I have been the only player in a game of self-blame, I have been the instigator, and I have been the victim.

This is my story.

There are many myths associated with the stigma of BPD. One is that people with BPD never take responsibility for themselves. When I hear people say this it upsets me because when it comes to the self-blame game I am the leader… no, the champion… no actually the grand champion! In fact, I am the undisputed, undefeated international and universal champion! Over the years I have blamed myself for everything and anything — the abuse I received, the neglect, my parents’ divorce, the deaths of loved ones, lost friendships, factors out of my control. I take responsibility for everything.

My little game of self-blame is a complicated one, to say the least. It perpetuates a continual game of self-hate, which keeps me locked in a downward spiral of guilt and shame. There is a meme that says, “One of the hardest things about BPD is knowing the fact you are responsible for your actions and behavior but not always being in control of them.” That’s me. When I have an episode and project (this is where I seemingly blame others for my pain when in fact I am trying, although undeniably unsuccessfully, to explain my pain) or I split (a common BPD trait where everything is black and white, so for example, a person is “good” or “evil”), afterwards I play a seriously intense game of self-blame. I generally cannot verbalize my shame and guilt, and sometimes I can’t even find the courage to verbally apologize due to the involvement in my own game of self-blame – I hate myself so much that all I want to do is crumble and hide.

So yes, for most of my childhood I blamed myself for all that had happened, and as the feelings of resentment built up, they boiled over and spilt out into my everyday life. Then I became obsessed with finding someone else to blame and hold responsible. I mean, I didn’t ask for this horrible condition bestowed upon me, and I certainly didn’t cause it. I wanted someone to blame for the fact I had been abused, neglected, been made to feel like I was nothing, worth nothing and would never amount to anything. I wanted to stop feeling all the self-blame, turmoil and anger, and I wanted those who “did this to me,” those who were to blame, to feel it instead.

At one point, well-meaning people around me started to say things like, “get over it,” “move on,” “leave the past in the past,” only to, in my eyes, become part of the opposing team.

How could I do that? How could people say that to me? Didn’t they understand I had been hurt and mistreated? Didn’t they understand there were reasons I have ended up where I am or reasons I react and behave the way I do? I have every right to be angry! Didn’t they know I was once a happy, talkative child? I wasn’t always like this!

The truth is, there are many factors (and people) that have contributed to who I am and my challenges; however I have reached a point where I realize playing the blame game is not going to get me what I need to go on my journey to recovery. Thankfully, through therapy I’ve learned radical acceptance and about the difference between blame and accountability.

When you play the blame game, you attribute feelings of disapproval, failure, deficiency and guilt to those you hold responsible (this may be yourself). Feelings lead to emotions, and emotions are powerful. On the other hand, to hold someone accountable means you just accept they are responsible – no emotion, you just accept it. It doesn’t mean you agree with or condone the action, but you accept the situation as it is. Radical acceptance is a hard skill to master; it is hard to just accept something as it is.

In my enlightenment about the difference between playing the blame game and holding someone accountable, I have noticed how the world around me also seems to be obsessed with blame. I think it’s important to acknowledge that a lot of the time the blame game many people without BPD play is often unintentional, and many don’t even realize they are doing it. It is caused by a lack of understanding of BPD.

Here are some examples of where I have been the victim of the unintentional blame game:

If you believe in the science of BPD, you would know those who live with it struggle as they face the task of rewiring their brains. Your brain is hardwired a certain way as you grow and develop, and people with BPD have a different kind of hardwiring. So when you tell me I’m “not trying hard enough,” it upsets me because you are telling me it is my fault I have difficulty controlling my brain, which has had 37 years to develop and become hardwired the way it is. Trying to change that is hard. Am I trying? Yes, but sometimes I get tired and overwhelmed cause it’s bloody hard work. My BPD was not my fault, but I am taking responsibility and trying to do something about it.

When the news about the sexual abuse I had endured as a child surfaced, one of the questions I was repeatedly asked by well-intentioned family members was, “Why didn’t you tell anyone? You could have told me, and I could have helped you.” This (unintentionally) redirected the blame back to me and further perpetuated my own game of self-blame and reinforced the belief it was my fault.

I recently had a discussion with my husband after our marriage broke down (please note, I write about this conversation with his full permission and knowledge). At the time he was understandably hurt and angry and went about highlighting every time I’d had an episode, said or done something hurtful. As I mentioned above, I am no longer interested in blame, and my response was simple but effective. I told him I am willing to accept responsibility for anything I have intentionally or unintentionally said and done that has hurt him, and then I posed a simple question: “Can you tell me you have never, ever done anything out of anger and frustration to intentionally or unintentionally hurt me?” His face went ashen grey, his eyes showed an honest sadness I had not seen before and the conversation shifted from blame to both of us accepting the roles we had both played. It
also allowed us to move forward, away from both our blame games, and while the relationship is still tender, the lines of communication are at least open.

Sadly, there are also those who intentionally play and perpetuate the blame game against those of us who live with BPD. These are people who feel wronged from a loved one with BPD. Some even loudly and proudly share their completely uneducated and archaic ideas about BPD, sprouting lies like, “all people with BPD are narcissists and have no empathy.”

These people once angered me and triggered a response of defense, but I have realized the three C’s, which has helped me rationalize and accept other people’s behavior, lack of education and negative attitudes.

I didn’t Cause my BPD, and I am not to blame.

I can’t Control other people or their need to paint people with BPD as unloveable.

But…

I can Contribute to my own recovery by rising above the stigma, speaking out and educating those who want to learn.

After all, you can lead someone to knowledge but you can’t make them think.

Stay safe, stay well.

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