Girl watching the sunset/sunrise over sea.

Sea, Sand, Sun and Sadness: The Challenges of BPD in the Summer

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It’s summer again! Sun, sea, cheery children and happy families all over Facebook and everywhere you look. It is also a time when my borderline personality disorder (BPD) rages and rants like a snubbed toddler. It is when the full extent of my “damage” shows itself in glorious technicolor, to anyone who happens to be looking.

I’ve spent the majority of my 43 years watching others on the beach, in the street, on the news and now, in this digital age, on the internet. Sunblushed children, “yummy mummys,” giggly “date nights,” gangs of extended family and friends in tow. It all looks so right. It looks so normal, so great. Yet, it is all utterly foreign to me.

My brain illness sets me apart and colors me in grey. With a concerted, exhaustive effort I can just about act like I fit in, for maybe half a day. I can wear the right cosmetics (but never the bikini) and “blend” in with a group of friendly strangers who don’t notice or mind me photobombing their lives for an hour or two. Truthfully, life doesn’t work that way for me, and I can’t see how it ever could.

I can’t go to the beach with my kids. Well, not without wearing jeans, trainers and a button up coat. I can’t bear the physical exposure, the perceived judgments. I give myself so many limitations. I feel so inadequate amongst those “other mothers.” Where they seem so warm, open and filled, I judge myself to be cold, distant, frightened and empty. They are at ease enough to “have a drink,” to lower their inhibitions and necklines with admirable abandon. They are au naturel, with no desire to make up their faces when the bright and friendly sun is happy to bring out their natural glow. They are comfortable with their imperfect bodies, letting go of constraints so effortlessly or so it seems.

How increasingly envious I feel seeing this through the safe and anonymous eyes of Facebook, all my deepest horrors rise to the surface. My misconceptions, which are common amongst people with BPD, mean I assume everyone else is happy. I catastrophize everything, waiting for the walls to come crashing in, as surely they must. (A tsunami in Cornwall? Rare, but still!)

I feel ruined. Worst of all, my children miss out. They can’t have those fun-filled, carefree beach days, not with me. My social reasoning is so impaired. I dissociate further and the instability of my self-image leads me down into the darkness of self-loathing (with a hefty double side order of guilt.)

I am capable of losing myself on the internet in a positive way sometimes, mainly during the other three “safer” seasons. I like looking for support groups. I have a thirst for information, a need to find answers and a quest to locate “fun.” I look at beautiful, dark architecture, multi-colored clowns and elderly rescued Labradors, and I like it. Yet, as the weather gets warmer and the good and the sane jet away to further shores, documenting it all gleefully on Facebook, my paranoia starts to kick back in. I have the suspicion that all my (so-called) FB friends are doing it just to spite me. Irrational, right? Well that’s the name of the game.

My symptoms start to rumble and flicker, then spring to life in all their jangled toxicity. They hadn’t gone. They were just in hibernation. I can’t afford to take my children away, even if I could stand to. My marriage has failed. I’m trapped. The kids must hate me. I’m confused, sad and lonely and on and on and on.

Watching these seemingly easy family holidays transpiring via sparkling satellite racks me with regret about every element of my life. It is hard to live with. My kids never see me barefaced or barefooted. My self-doubt and prickling anxiety forbids it. This leads to anger, anger at myself, at those healthy, wonderful “other mothers,” and at God himself for having cursed me with this illness.

The impotence of this self-hate becomes too much. All too often, walls get secretly punched. The sudden and immediate pain extinguishes my overstimulated senses, but only for a while. Then, the tears arrive. Tears of grief at the notion of a better life denied to me by genes, early experiences and rotten luck. I grieve the life we could have had if this illness not had been written through my core, like the words through a stick of seaside rock.

So this year, as the planes fill up with trios, quartets, droves of fun seekers, eager to dance their easy dances on beaches, in restaurants and in theme parks everywhere, I will find a way to ride my own wave. This year, I have a better reason than ever to try harder. My kids are growing up. They are more aware and more observant. Hiding my pain behind this mask of normalcy won’t fool them for much longer.

So off the laptop will go, as well as the internet and TV. Instead of yearning for a slice of someone else’s easiness,  I will work with what I have, and I do have quite a lot, an inquiring mind, a tenacity born of desperation, a much loved big brother and four fabulous children.

Tomorrow, I will be with my (no longer so little) babies, hearing and seeing them, not just nodding and smiling at them through the smeared and confusing partition of guilt that has traditionally obscured our view of each other. They can visit the beach with their father, then they come home to me. I will hear their tales of adventures with my own two ears, consciously unfiltered by the old, ruinous feelings of uselessness.

Because I’m not (totally) useless. I may not (yet) have found a way to wear a pretty, yellow maxi dress and frolic with abandon on the sand. Yet, I refuse to waste another summer yearning for another life, a life that may just remain but is too far out of reach.

Image via Thinkstock.

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A Journey With Borderline Personality Disorder

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My Childhood

“We were born to be real, not perfect.”

The author as a small child

I was always very shy and timid growing up. I never did drugs, I never ran away, I never drank or broke the law, I never self-harmed. I didn’t have a lot of friends and was often bullied or made fun of for my appearance. I tried to participate in sports but never made the cut. The lack of validation and inclusion took a toll on my self-esteem. I often felt I wasn’t “good enough” for anyone or anything. I didn’t have a sense of self for years and this resulted in being a “follower” and only being interested in the things my small social circle was interested in.

Overall, at home and at school, I didn’t have the best childhood or teenage years. I felt trapped and worthless. Although I didn’t believe it at the time — I know now I was a good kid. The moment I could, I tried to escape the pain. I graduated high school early and started working full-time immediately. I fell in love, got pregnant and married at 18 and bought a brand new house by the age of 20. Everything happened so quickly. Then, what felt like “out of the blue,” I found myself with intense emotions that were out of control. I felt clueless, lost and completely alone surrounded by everything I could have ever dreamed of having around the age of 22.

Cry for Help

“Not all wounds are visible.”

screaming-1

Although I wore a cheerful facade and kept my life busy, eventually I started behaving in ways I didn’t understand. I wasn’t myself and I began reacting to certain situations and people in ways I never thought I would. I started seeking out attention, being angry often, found myself crying immensely, cared less for others and didn’t appreciate anything around me. I was crumbling on the inside. My husband at the time didn’t understand what was going on or how to handle it. He had me on a pedestal and it still wasn’t “enough” for me. I was lacking the emotional support in my life. “It’s just hormones.” or “It’s just post-partum. You’ll get over it” or “PMS’ing again I see.” I knew it was more than that but instead of seeking help, I continued to act out — quietly. My facade came crashing down after my illness took me hostage. Not long after, I left my marriage and house behind and wanted to live alone and free to do whatever I wanted. I behaved selfishly and was self-destructive in a lot of ways. I tried escaping the pain yet again by leaving. It didn’t work. That’s when I was introduced to Rock Bottom.

My Diagnosis

“We are survivors from the moment of diagnosis.”

buddha

It’s been four years since my diagnosis. I can remember the day vividly; being handed a pamphlet from my psychologist titled “borderline personality disorder” (BPD). I was relieved and scared. I finally had answers to my years of suffering, but I didn’t know where to begin to recover. The word that stood out to me most that session was “recoverable”.

My psychologist immediately advised I should be on a mood stabilizer and considered me an “at risk” patient. A few painful months later, I decided to take the medication, albeit reluctantly, due to my own ambivalence. I did so to help ease the intensity of my emotions in order for me to learn how to cope in a healthier more positive way, for myself and my two kids.

My Research: 

“Research is formalized curiosity.”

The writer holding a book

According to the DSM, an individual must meet five of the nine symptoms to be diagnosed with BPD. At the time of my diagnosis, I had seven of the nine symptoms: avoided real or imagined abandonment, unstable interpersonal relationships, identity disturbance, impulsivity, emotional instability, chronic feelings of emptiness and intense anger. The two other symptoms I never experienced were suicidal behavior and dissociation. One thing I learned was that everyone experiences every condition differently. Some have more severe symptoms than others.

After reading, I learned that I was a “high-functioning and introverted borderline.” In other words, just about anyone and everyone in my life didn’t know I had a mental health condition because I have always been self-reliant and capable of meeting all of my basic necessities. I have always held a steady job and maintained a good work ethic all my life. Although I acted out, many people didn’t see it or recognize there was a problem aside from my husband. I was suffering quietly inside and was afraid to show my intense emotions to friends and family members for at that time and growing up I believed that emotions were “wrong” or “bad.”

Help Is Out There

“Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it.”

dont-give-up

Once I committed to recovery and changing my whole lifestyle, I discovered how much help was actually out there. I initially created mindslikeours.org to jot down my thoughts, feelings and emotions regarding mental illness. I wanted to track my recovery and record everything I learned on my journey. That’s when I found this amazing mental health community online. I had no idea how many people out there that struggled as much as I did. E-mails, comments and Facebook messages came pouring in from people all over the world thanking me for sharing my story and how much it helped them to recover. These beautiful people I barely knew offered love, support and admiration and it made a profound impact on me. Their loving energy I felt from them and my therapist gave me a sense of empowerment and the realization I didn’t have to hide or fight this battle on my own. Since, I have become close with several people all over the world that I met through blogging. I am truly grateful for each and every one of my supporters!

Recovery

“Recovery isn’t something you do; it’s a lifestyle.”

a author standing, with the text: Recovery isn't something you do, it's a lifestyle

This is the part where you find out who you really are. This is where I found my true self, my passion, my true friends and my strength to overcome just about anything. Recovery starts with willingness. It’s a long road but I assure you — it’s worth it.

As of June 2014, I got out of my unhealthy relationship of three years and decided to make a change in my life; focus on recovery, self-care and overall life-improvement. Aside from my two beautiful children, these have been my top priorities. I was terrified to leave my relationship and face my fears, I was scared to face them alone but I knew I had to. My lifestyle needed to change — I needed a healthier social circle, I needed away from home-brewing beer with the gang, I needed less drama and an overall better support system.

So it began — I moved in with my parents to pay off debt and build up a savings plan again, spent more time with family members, joined a women’s group, stopped drinking so much, focused more of my attention on the kids, finished my associates degree, joined the Recovery International community group, mentored teenagers who have my illness, started my bachelors program in psychology, focused on dialectical behavior therapy, and made therapy a weekly visit rather than a whenever-I-have-an-episode visit. I faced a lot of fears, traveled alone and attended mental health conferences in my free time. It took a lot of courage and strength to take these steps ,but I was determined to be healthy and happy, and now I am.

It’s easy to lose sight of self-care. Life gets busy being a single mom, working full-time and attending school, but it’s important to stay focused on your road to recovery, even if you’re doing OK for the moment.

Two years into my recovery, I was/am considered a recovered borderline. Today, I don’t meet the number of criteria in the DSM for borderline personality disorder. I do, however, still struggle with my emotions. I will always be an emotionally sensitive person but with my DBT therapy, skills and high emotional intelligence, I am capable of handling my emotions in a healthy and positive way. Recovery has led me to new clarity and a deep appreciation for life.

Outcome

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”

The author walking on train tracks. Text reads: It's a long road but it's worth it.

Recovery is possible! I am living proof. This is truly the happiest I have ever been in my life. The experience has lit a fire in my soul. From that moment forward, I have been inspired to seek out new avenues to nurture my inner self. I still continue therapy twice a month for overall personal development. I am passionate about learning and becoming a better person every single day. Recovery has become my lifestyle and I can’t imagine ever going back to any other lifestyle. I still have many things I want to work on in my life and I’m aware that nothing is perfect, there will be bumps in the road, but I am stronger than I ever have been before and I know I can handle any challenge that comes my way.

I often get asked, “If you could go back and change things (past mistakes, my illness, suffering, and overall life path) – would you?” My answer is no. I have no regrets and everything I have done and been through has made me the person I am today — and I am proud of the person I am now. I wouldn’t be here or learned everything I have learned if I didn’t go through the past pain, mistakes and sufferings. I am wiser and more intelligent because of it all. I firmly believe everything happens for a reason. It all plays out the way it’s supposed to. I own my story.

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4 Ways Borderline Personality Disorder Affects My Life

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I am diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It affects four main areas of my life:

1. Emotional irregularity.

BPD is exhausting and confusing to live with. I’m never sure whether to trust my emotions, if they’re justified or if I’m just overreacting. My moods are mostly always triggered by something in my environment, but if something good happens five minutes later I’ll immediately feel euphoric.

Every emotion I feel is amplified. They can change at the drop of a hat and can last only minutes or hours. When I am in a severe crisis, where I am experiencing intense emotions, I will sometimes dissociate to deal with it. It will feel as if the situation isn’t actually real and I’m watching myself from outside of my body.

I have had difficulty controlling my anger and have often succumbed to attacks of extreme rage, throwing things, screaming or crying. It is usually very inappropriate for the situation and I can be very sarcastic and bitter. It is during these episodes of rage I am most likely to intentionally hurt myself. I am much more in control of this symptom now with the help of medication, but I still have my moments. I also usually feel very internally restless, like something is missing. I get bored extremely easily and sometimes feel like a hollow shell. I never have a sense of fulfillment.

2. Unstable relationships.

I am very sensitive to what I perceive as rejection. I’m convinced people hate me and/or are just going to leave me eventually. I will do whatever it takes to stop people from leaving me. I will even unintentionally manipulate the person without being aware I’m doing it. I also alternate between idealizing people relatively quickly, and then devaluing them just as fast because of a perceived slight.

I take everything personally, so my relationships with others are usually very strained. I can also get paranoid and suspicious in close relationships with people. I will subconsciously try to sabotage my relationships because I am terrified people will hurt me. I will reject people before they can reject me, or even test them to see how much they care about me.

Obviously this behavior will drive some people away. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, I don’t actually want to end things, but I literally cannot cope with being hurt. So I’m trying to protect myself at all costs. Everything I do is protecting myself somehow. I know you have to let yourself be vulnerable in a relationship, but I can’t afford to do that. The risk is too great.

3. Impulsive behavior.

Because of my dual diagnosis of ADHD, my impulsivity is through the roof. I don’t think before I speak or act, and I will engage in dangerous behaviors like driving recklessly, spending more than I can afford, alcohol abuse and sabotaging success, especially when I’m upset. This kind of behavior has gotten me arrested twice. I struggle a lot with this area. I will sometimes impulsively make suicidal gestures and threats in response to perceived rejection or abandonment.

4. Identity disturbance.

I’m not sure who I am or who I should be. BPD tells me constantly I’m worthless, unlovable and my friends and family secretly hate me. Even though I rationally know this is not true, the voice is so loud and convincing. My self-esteem is very fluctuating and I can yo-yo back and forth between being very confident to feeling inferior. I am a chameleon and usually take on the personalities of those I am around. People with BPD look to others to provide things they find difficult to supply for themselves, such as self-esteem, approval and a sense of identity.

Another aspect of BPD that affects me is perfectionism. I am extremely hard on myself and hold myself to unattainable expectations, accepting nothing less than what I deem as perfection. If I don’t succeed in reaching these obnoxiously high standards, I will fly into a flurry of anxiety, rage at myself, depression and frustration. People with BPD desperately seek validation and approval from others because it determines our self-worth. If we are “perfect” in all dimensions, only then will we have unequivocal evidence we are worth something.

Despite all of the above setbacks, I still believe I am a good person with many positive traits. I am passionate, spontaneous, empathetic, devoted, loyal, creative, determined, flexible, brave, charming, intelligent and resilient. I am much more than my illness, and I refuse to let it control me.

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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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10 Things I Needed to Hear the Day I Was Diagnosed With Borderline Personality Disorder

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After seven-plus years of waiting, wondering, hopelessness and confusion, I was finally diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Although I have several other mental illnesses that coincide with BPD, I identify most with this unpredictable illness.

Here are 10 things I needed to hear the day I vividly remember hearing the life-changing words, “You have borderline personality disorder.”

1. This is not a death sentence. You will have to make adjustments and they will be hard, but you can make it through this…I promise.

2. It will be a long journey to find the right combination of meds and therapy. Don’t give up. There are thousands of medications and many therapies out there. Stick with it, no matter how bad the meds make you feel.

3. Speaking of therapy, it may not “work” at first. You will have to find a therapist you feel comfortable with and trust or it won’t work. This is a crucial piece of the puzzle that is BPD.

4. This diagnosis can feel like both a blessing and a curse at times. You feel all emotions intensely, including the good ones. You will face depression, anxiety and all the negative feelings with excruciating intensity. But you will love with passion, experience euphoric happiness and care deeply for others.

5. There will be hard days — very hard days. You will feel lower than dirt, but hold on. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Your body and mind are temples; treat them as such. Take time to play, get away and do things that fill your soul. Yes, you are worth it — yes, you deserve it — and yes, this is crucial to staying alive. There will be days where all you can do is eat and breathe. Even those are victories.

6. You may need to take time off work, or you may not be able to work during especially difficult periods. Embrace this time as part of your self-care and refuse to feel guilty or less than for needing the break.

7. You may lose some friends and family. They may come back, but some may not. This will hurt profoundly. However, if they truly love you, you will learn and grow together. Your relationships with them will strengthen, and things about you they did not understand before will begin to make sense. Cut ties with those who choose not to believe you or treat you with the love and respect you deserve.

8. This amazing thing will eventually happen if you can find the courage to keep an open heart. The right people will come into your life and fill the voids left by those you lost. These people will form your support system, and together you will fight, love and celebrate. They will speak truths over you, hold you and cry with you. They will say things you don’t like and probably will make you do things you don’t want to do (like taking showers and leaving the house), but this team will save your life again and again, literally.

9. Most likely you will hear many insensitive remarks like, “You’re so dramatic” and “You take everything so personally.” Work on your reactions to these negative words and learn how to “practice the pause” — pause to breathe, to think, to bring to mind those truths you have learned from experience and your team, and then pause again before deciding if the comment even warrants a reply.

10. It is OK. You will be OK. Your story is beautiful and meaningful. Hang in there, you amazing warrior, you.

Fighting and surviving for almost 10 years — I am living proof.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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The Intensity of Living With Borderline Personality Disorder

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I’d like to say living with a mental illness is easy peasy, except I would be lying. And I strive to not do exactly that. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a sort of slithering madness that creeps up into my thoughts constantly. It eats away at my carefully, jealously guarded sanity with the not-so-silent whispers of worthlessness. It brings the thoughts of being better off dead and of how everyone around me doesn’t actually care about me. If they did, I wouldn’t be in so much pain all the time. At least, that’s what my BPD tells me at least once a day (on a good day it’s only once.)

Living with BPD is a practice in trying to control the spiraling downs and the soaring highs I experience anywhere from several times a day to dozens of times throughout the span of a week. One moment, I can be filled with joy at something as simple as getting a phone call or text from someone I care about. The next moment I am far into the dark I’m fighting the impulse to press a razor to my skin. This is coupled with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). On a good day, it’s just barely manageable. On a bad day, it’s crippling.

I have to be consciously aware of every emotion I experience, of what is causing it and where it is coming from. It’s this exhaustive awareness that others never see. This is what the people in my daily life don’t have to witness, the struggle of trying to figure out if my reaction to every little thing is an appropriate one or if I’m just letting my BPD get the better of me.

I feel with an intensity that few others share. When I am happy, the world is perfect and I am over the moon. When I am angry, I see red. There is little anyone can do but let me blow off steam and get myself under control. When I am sad, it is horrifyingly scary and I want to die. I plan on how to do it. Suicidal ideation is a part of my daily thoughts. Fighting it is a war I will be in for the rest of my life.

The upside to this intensity of emotions is that when I love, I love with everything in me, with every fiber of my being. When I am happy, it consumes me. Joy is pure in my world, unsullied and beautiful. Empathy is much more a boon than a detriment. If I am around someone who is happy, who is filled with joy, then I can’t help but be as well. If they are happy, then I am too. This intensity is a large part of what has blown apart relationship after relationship with me. The intensity of my emotions is scary to those who don’t feel with the depth I do.

I have tried explaining it using the mantis shrimp and its ability to see a vastly broader range of color than humans or other animals (The Oatmeal has a great article on the Mantis Shrimp, and it adds a little levity during a hard discussion.) I have tried using the academic approach and providing them with as much scientific and academic information available. I try to give them something that is some semblance of what it is like to be in my head.

Unfortunately, unless you have a disorder that causes the same sort of depth of feeling, there is no way to truly prepare someone for loving a person with it. We “borderlines” can be a handful. At the same time, we are a whirlwind of new experiences and excitement. Be prepared for a wild ride.

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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How to Love Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

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The way to love anyone is to love them truly and with your whole heart. In order to truly love someone, you have to accept them for who they are. You have to accept their shortcomings, their successes, their bad habits and their humor.

When loving someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD), acceptance is one of the most important things about that love. 

Accepting a person and their BPD diagnosis can sometimes be a difficult tast. I’ve found these people have to possess three qualities: patience, compassion and perseverance. Having these qualities won’t make loving someone with BPD a flawless experience, but it will make it possible, and easier than it would be if those qualities weren’t in hand. 

My BPD causes a variety of symptoms that not only affect my life, but the lives of those I love. Some of these symptoms, like mood swings, irritability and hypersexuality, can be difficult for our loved ones, which is where having patience comes in.

Having patience with someone who has BPD can be challenging. It’s hard to have patience when the same symptoms continue to surface over and over. But in my experience, in order to effectively and truly love someone with BPD, patience is required. Having patience means having the ability to accept someone’s symptoms without becoming angry or upset. Anger can fuel certain symptoms of BPD, while patience puts the fire out.

My symptoms sometimes cause me to treat myself and others poorly, which is why it’s important for those who love me to have compassionate hearts. 

Compassion means having sympathy and empathy for the suffering of others. In the case of loving someone with BPD, having compassion means showing and experiencing genuine concern and empathy for how their illness makes them feel. Being compassionate when loving someone with BPD will mean so much to that person, because compassion is not easy to find when you have an illness that affects how you treat other people. When loving someone with BPD, compassion is key. It’s important because it assures your loved one you are trying to understand the complications of their illness. 

Loving someone means that you commit to every party of them. Loving someone with BPD means you are committed to loving them despite their illness and their symptoms, and that commitment takes perseverance. 

I don’t give up on the people I love. Whatever battle I’m thrown in, we fight it together. When loving someone with BPD, the battle is fought together against our symptoms. Persevering through the tough parts is necessary in order to arrive at the end of it. Perseverance will have to happen daily, because the battle against BPD happens all day, every day. It will get tough when the person with BPD is depressed or irritable, but there is no giving up on them. Love them, persevere with them and win the battle together every day. 

Loving someone with BPD is so worth it. We experience strong emotions, and love fiercely. What we need in return is genuine love, patience, compassion and perseverance. We need and deserve love just like anyone else.


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