a woman lying on what looks like a lake in the mountains

The Intensity of Living With Borderline Personality Disorder

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


How to Love Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

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.

How to Love Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

Google results for borderline personality disorder

What Google Won't Tell You About Borderline Personality Disorder

What is borderline personality disorder (BPD)? If you ask Google, you can find answers like “it’s not real,” “it’s fake,” and a series of questions like, “Is borderline personality disorder actually real?” You’ll find out that BPD is a serious mental health disorder categorized as an Axis 2 illness. That it falls under Cluster B personality disorders. BPD is marked by instability in emotion, identity and oftentimes relationships. There is also a noted existence of impulsivity, which may be linked to the instability of emotion and identity.

But unless you talk to someone with borderline personality disorder, it’s hard to understand what it’s really like.

BPD is a serious mental health disorder. It permeates the mind, grasping at every interaction, twisting neutrality to something more sinister and creating a fearful and angry response. It forces you to stare at the mirror, trying to figure out if you’re human or something else entirely. It forces you to reinvent yourself every month, at minimum.

It touches every happy memory, every positive interaction and turns the dial up, overloading your senses. It makes you giddy when someone acknowledges and validates you, but makes you horrifically depressed and suicidal when they don’t. It makes you care too strongly and too deeply about your friends.

It then flicks a switch. You can’t feel that strength anymore. You feel hatred. You push them away. You question every positive interaction, exhibiting a paranoid ideation. “Did they really mean that, or were they manipulating me?” Questioning, questioning and questioning. People with BPD are categorized as manipulative, but perhaps that’s just an effect of our brains manipulating our world.

BPD is like someone has put an octopus in your brain and given it the key to your emotional responses. Multiple switches flicking constantly. BPD is feeling like your body is not your own, and you don’t need to take care of it. It’s not something you asked for, and sometimes, you can feel your essence pushing its way out of the body.

Other times, you can still feel the octopus flicking switches. There’s a broken wire, and your emotional response and thought patterns aren’t linked. There’s no emotional response to thought patterns. Occasionally, the octopus tries to fix it, but it gets the wires crossed. Now, you have the wrong emotional response to thought patterns.

Sometimes, the octopus falls asleep on one of the switches. You become chronically depressed, angry or elevated. There are a variety of ways the octopus manipulates the links between thought processes and emotional responses. You may feel any number of emotions, a single emotion or none.

BPD is a serious illness and desperately needs to be regarded as such. It’s not simply a label health care workers can place on someone who is “behaviorally difficult.” It is a personality disorder which can infect your interactions and sense of self. It is something that is incredibly difficult to understand if you don’t experience it yourself.

So stop and listen. Listen to people with personality disorders. We need to tell our own stories. It can be incredibly useful to us. It may help us conceptualize our thoughts and consequent emotions and behaviors. This can help us can get better. Help us find out more about ourselves. Help us to help other people with personality disorders.

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

Fiona Kennedy

When I Had to Crowdfund Therapy

Eight years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Two years ago, I was given a further diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD). I remember so clearly the day the BPD label landed in my life. At this point, I’d spent years in the public mental health service, and years trying and failing to come to grips with my extremes of emotion. We were dealing with the depression as best as we could (medication and ongoing therapy), but for every step forward I took, there seemed to be three backwards.

When BPD was finally mentioned, it made so much sense. I remember coming home and reading up about it. I was relieved to finally know what I was dealing with. Yet, I was horrified at the implications, how difficult it is to treat and to manage and how it had impacted my behavior for most of my life.

I struggled on for another year with my therapist doing the best she could to support me. Yet, it was becoming increasingly clear I needed more help than she could give (particularly as I found it more and more challenging to respect the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship).

The turning point came last May. It wasn’t a spectacular, “everything is better now” turning point, but rather one that made everything so much worse. I had an overdose. While I thankfully did no lasting damage, it was the nail in the coffin for my relationship with my therapist. She knew I needed a different intervention, and my psychiatrist had started talking about dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), so we agreed to finish. I went on the waiting list in my local adult mental health service.

All good, right? Wrong. It was decided I needed a break of at least six months between therapies. So my DBT start date was pushed out to March.

During those six months, with no emotional support of any kind, depression came back with a vengeance. By November of last year, I was signed out of work on sick leave (I’m yet to go back). We, my husband, family, friends and I, were hanging on by our fingernails. The promise of DBT was the only thing keeping me going. I was suicidal, self-harming, severely depressed and functioning at a bare minimum level. As I have two young kids, this was incredibly difficult. My general lack of ability to cope was starting to take a toll on my family.

Then, at the last minute, my treatment was pulled. Not only was I not going to get a place, it was not going to happen at all. (Mental health services in Ireland are in severe crisis and have seen significant cuts to already paltry funding over the last few years.)

I probably don’t need to describe how I reacted, how utterly devastated we were. There was something quite uniquely horrifying about being told my last available option had just been taken away from me. It felt like drowning, watching the lifeboat get closer and closer all the while struggling and losing strength. It was like watching them change their minds at the last minute and sail away, leaving me to fend for myself. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, we had been expecting this.

I’ve been let down by our mental health services so many times over the years I had never fully believed they would come through for me with something as huge as DBT. We spent a couple of days in shock, then started to consider alternatives. Private treatment wasn’t an option. It’s prohibitively expensive and we just do not have the means, particularly as I’m currently on unpaid sick leave. The more we looked, the more we realized there was no alternative. We would have to find a way to make private therapy work.

This next bit was really, really hard to do. I’ve been blogging for years about the various aspects of my mental health drama. I have a decent following, people who’ve been incredibly supportive of me and were very aware of just how badly I’d been let down by the HSE (our national health service).

I needed to raise €5,000 to fund a year of therapy (about $5,581). So I decided to try crowdfunding. It felt horrible. What right did I have to ask for money? Why did I deserve to get help above any of the other people who’d been let down just as much as me? We thought long and hard about it, but eventually decided we had been left with no choice. There was literally no other way for me to make this happen, and a future without treatment would quickly have become no future at all.

The response was just staggering. In less than 24 hours, I’d been donated enough to provide me with a year of sessions with a private clinical psychologist, one who specializes in personality disorders. I started with her a couple of months ago, and am quite literally astounded at the difference the proper treatment is already making to my life. She’s explaining so much to me about how our brains work, how our bodies react, how inextricably linked the two are and how they constantly feed into each other. Most importantly, she’s helping me to see none of this is my fault.

I have a lot of work left to do, but I’m doing better now than I have done in years, possibly ever. I’m aware I’m fairly limited in what I can take on right now and I have to work hard to keep myself well. I need to keep things as simple as I can, avoid stress and watch my diet, my sleep, my exercise and the demands I put on myself. I also need to be able to function as a parent. With all of this, going back to work just isn’t on the cards for the immediate future. Right now, it would be a push too far, a push that would take energy away from everything else that has to happen.

With the help of my new therapist, I’m in a far better place to accept that. I’m not jumping ahead to what’s going to come next or what could be around the corner. I am where I am, and that’s the absolute best I can do. I’m just so incredibly grateful to the people who made this possible for me. They have quite literally saved my life.

This post originally appeared on Healing From BPD.

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. 


woman sitting along with light shining through a window

The Quote I Found When Borderline Personality Disorder Was Bringing Me Down

I had what I would like to call a roller coaster day. Because I have borderline personality disorder (BPD), my emotions are intense, my perception is often warped and I am very, very impulsive. Usually, since I started dialectical behavioral therapy, I am able to cope pretty well, look at the facts in a situation and then respond accordingly, without overreacting.

Not today.

Today I felt lonely. With this feeling came thoughts: “I always feel lonely. I have no friends. Everyone has somebody but me. Nobody loves me. Nobody really cares.” These thoughts triggered more feelings, such as anger. Which in turn triggered more thoughts. “I can’t believe no one called me to hang out today. I’m always there for them. I need new friends. And where’s my family when I need them? Oh, wait they are never there. Remember? Oh, and they are so judgmental! No one understands me. No one loves me. No one cares!”

Quickly, my mind went on a downward spiral. I was obsessing over my emotions and in a deep state of self-centeredness. As always, it didn’t end there. With my anger always comes guilt and worthlessness. “I shouldn’t think this way. My parents did the best they could. My friends are probably busy. I’m such a bad person for getting mad at them. I’m so useless and worthless. I can’t even take care of myself. I wish I could escape. I wish I could die… should I die? How could I think that. I would hurt my family. They would be mad at me. There I go again, making everything about me. I don’t know what to do.”

I broke down, cried and as always I went to Facebook for an update. There on my newsfeed, someone posted a quote. In big bright letters, it was as if it was demanding my attention:

“Are you being led by your spirit or your wound?”

Wow — just wow! It hit me loud and clear. These feelings and thoughts were the product of my past wounds. The abuse, rejection, abandonment and lack of security, but they are not a reality of who I am now. Today I was being led by my wounds. They trapped me. My wounds, they want me to hurt. To self-destruct. To cut. To get high. To push people away. My wounds want to lead me in dark places.

But my spirit, my spirit is kind and loves and enjoys being loved. My spirit knows I am worthy and cared for and able to do great things. My spirit leads me to happiness and gratefulness. My spirit wants me to live!

Next time I start to feel intensely and my thoughts get out of control, I know exactly how to fight it. I will ask myself: am I being led by my spirit or my wounds?

woman with her hand on her shoulder, looking back

To Those Who Want to Understand Borderline Personality Disorder

I cannot tell you how much I want the people in my life to understand my disorder. I wish those who are close to me would understand. This letter is for those of you who want to understand, from the viewpoint of someone who walks this uphill battle every day.

I am sitting here at the computer. Not knowing what I want to say, but knowing how I feel. I’m not able to put it into words, as if butterflies are fluttering in my stomach and I can’t catch one. It’s almost an empty feeling. You’re not sure exactly what’s going on inside of you, you just know it doesn’t feel good. This is what it feels like to have borderline personality disorder (BPD).

My thoughts seem to jump in a million different places during the day. One minute, I think you’re the nicest, best person in the world. Do something small, like look at my message and not respond, it seems like the end of the world. Automatically, you become my worst enemy. I feel very sad and think you hate me and you’re going to abandon me. Then, I do all I can to prevent you from doing what I fear most.

Sometimes I get paranoid. It is like this because I’ve been controlled my whole life. I was the puppet whose strings were controlled by the abuser. In my head, I think someone’s out to get me. All of the sudden, I don’t feel safe. I feel like I am being watched, and my thoughts can be heard. At this point, I get scared and whip my head in every direction, looking for those I think want to hurt me.

My emotions are scattered everywhere. It is hard to put into words how I feel in my daily life. All I know is I feel. Sometimes it is a good feeling. Other times, it is bad. All I know is it is all of the sudden. One minute, I can feel great! Minutes later, I can feel very depressed. Sometimes it’s triggered by something, and at other times it’s spontaneous.

This is where my actions kick in. To you, someone getting mad at you may feel terrible. Then, it blows over eventually and it doesn’t bother you anymore. To me, someone yelling at me is the end of the world for a few minutes to a few hours. I jump from a one to a 10 on the emotional scale.

The difference is my thoughts take over. “I’m stupid,” “It’s all my fault,” “I should have never been born. It would be better that way.”  Then, I do something drastic that could bring serious harm to myself, and sometimes even to others. Visits to the emergency room may be necessary, if it means keeping yourself in a place where you won’t do anything fatal.

Relationships seem hard. There are some of us who think we’ll never be in love or ever form lasting friendships. We fear being abandoned. Sometimes we expect people to walk away or hurt us, and we grab on tighter and try to do everything in our power to prevent abandonment. Sometimes we don’t trust, and it makes it hard to come out of our shells. It is easy to put up borders. Those who will love us are those who will work with us. Those who understand us and who are committed to being by our side.

Understand, you can’t see BPD. We look like everyday people. We’re not freaks. We just have a hard time controlling our emotions. We have a hard time with our thoughts. We have a hard time not acting on our impulsive behaviors. We are capable of everything you are capable of. Sometimes we may have to work a little harder.

You can have a true relationship with us. You just have to be committed to being there for us. We’re afraid of getting hurt, yes, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from learning more about our struggle. This shouldn’t stop anyone from finding good ways to be a helping hand in times of great battle.

This letter is for you who want to understand what BPD is like. Maybe you have friends who have this disorder and have a hard time, like many of us do, putting how we feel into words. Maybe you are someone who has this disorder. I hope this helps make it a little easier to explain to your friends how you feel.

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