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'Don't Tell Anyone You Have Borderline Personality Disorder'

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“Don’t tell anyone you have borderline personality disorder. It would be wise to keep it to yourself.”

That was the first statement my psychiatrist made upon diagnosing me with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Instead of taking his advice, I went public with my diagnosis.

I knew BPD was a heavily stigmatized illness. Courtney Love, Amy Winehouse, and Lindsey Lohan are a few celebrities who have had public struggles with mental illness. Their actions during difficult moments were erratic and quite frightening. I knew with my past as a public figure and beauty queen I may be viewed differently. I knew, but that did not stop me. I felt I had to say it.

I had been battling mental illness for over a decade. I had been in and out of psychiatric wards during my adolescence with diagnosis’s of anorexia nervosa, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), major depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

I have been honest with my childhood struggle of anorexia nervosa in the past and even published a book about it. But I tried so hard to portray mental illness as my past, and was not open about the fact that I still struggle with it… and will likely always struggle with it to some degree.

Admitting to myself  that at 24 years old I was still struggling was the most difficult part of this process. I really wanted to convince myself that all of my issues were a thing of the past. But the truth is, I was having debilitating panic attacks, suicidal ideation, disassociation, and mood swings that varied within minutes to hours. Sometimes I even self-harmed. I was isolating myself from family and friends, and I did not want to go out. The most worrisome element of this illness was that I wanted to give up. Even scarier than that was that no one outside of my home could tell.

Being able to speak up about my current state of mind made me feel in control when I had felt so powerless before. There was an immense amount of freedom in declaring, “No I am really not OK. My life is not perfect!”

I was fortunate to receive so much support in response to my truthfulness. But I wish I could say that is all I experienced. My truthfulness was also met with judgment and discrimination. If ever I was hurt, the response was, “your illness is making you hurt,” “It’s all in your head,”  or “Your illness is distorting reality.” These remarks made me feel as if none of my feelings were real even though BPD actually means you experience your feeling stronger than the average person. My feelings are always very much real.

The most stressful of all was the way my workplace changed once it was known had a mental illness and had been placed on anti-psychotics. This was distressing to me because I was still the same person I always was. The only thing that changed was that they now knew something about me they did not know before. The only true difference was that previously my illness went undiagnosed, and now I was diagnosed and receiving treatment. And I was actually getting better.

I was judged. At times, subconsciously. At other times, consciously. This can be the reality of living openly with mental illness. Yes, people will undoubtably express support and love for you. But they may also meet you with discrimination, misunderstandings, and even cruelty. Even with this reality, I could still see no other way to progress in my life. I would feel like I was not really living had I tried to hide it.

How would I even improve with dishonesty? How can those who care for me be mindful of my condition if they are unaware I have a condition? What about when I have bad days and I need support, but don’t want to talk? How would they know?

Despite the misunderstandings and struggles I faced in being honest about my BPD diagnosis, I would do it all over again. Even though my doctor told me not to.

I have only improved with being honest. I will continue to be straight forward about BPD, even with all of the ugly it brings.

How else can we triumph over the fear and stigma against mental illness if we are repeatedly told it is something we should be ashamed of? I am not ashamed, and I am not afraid.

Follow this journey on Skating on Thin Ice: BPD and 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.

Image via Thinkstock. 

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When Borderline Personality Disorder Makes You a Walking Apology

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This morning I apologized for breathing.

I have fallen prey to a cold, and I was breathing funny while talking. So I apologized. I’m sick and my breathing, the thing I have to do in order to live, was making me talk weird. Yet, there I was saying sorry.

I once tried to make it through an entire day without saying sorry, and I failed three hours in. I stubbed my toe in the office and yelped. I apologized because I had a reaction to hurting myself. I was in physical pain, and there I was apologizing again.

Living with borderline personality disorder (BPD), my brain often loves to lead me to the worst conclusions, which has lead to my awful habit of apologizing for stuff that isn’t my fault. Such as being sick, hurting myself or simply existing.

A guy who I like hasn’t messaged me back, but he’s read all of my messages. I better apologize for bothering him because I’m sure that’s what I did. I didn’t bother him. He was busy, but I better say sorry because I need him to like me.

People are looking at me funny at work today. I better apologize extra because I don’t want anyone to think badly of me because surely I must have done something to them that I have no idea about.

I even look like a walking apology. I cross my legs when I walk, slouched over with my arms as inward as possible. I don’t want to be in anyone’s way because then I would have to be sorry for that too.

What’s funny is that I pride myself in being a confident person. I like who I am, and I manage my BPD fairly well with medication and therapy. I didn’t realize I apologized so much until a good friend pointed it out. Then, I started noticing just how much I do it and worse, the reason why.

So now that I am aware of how much I apologize for things I cannot control, for existing, I am going to try to take a moment, breathe and think, “Should I really be sorry?”

Should you really be sorry? Unless you honestly screwed up, then the answer is no. This world is hard enough without us thinking we should be apologizing just for being alive. So today I ain’t sorry and you shouldn’t be either.

Image via Thinkstock.

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What You Don't Know When I Tell You I Have Borderline Personality Disorder

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“I have borderline personality disorder (BPD).”

When I say this, most (not all) people fall into one of two categories.

Category A, (the easier to deal with), have never heard of BPD.

It is complicated to explain. (What even is a personality disorder?) Yet, I’d rather have a blank page and be able to form an idea in that person’s mind than them be in the second category.

Category B believes I am manipulative, promiscuous and attention-seeking.

There are nine symptoms of BPD (according to the DSM). You have to have five to be diagnosed. This means there are huge variations in what one person with BPD has compared to another person with BPD. Even within those nine symptoms, there are more variations. Here’s an example: Impulsive behavior can be spending too much money, driving too fast, gambling, drinking too much or promiscuity, amongst other things.

See what I’m getting at? Let’s say it’s an even spread of people that have each symptom. So five out of nine people who have BPD are impulsive. Well, then let’s say each of those people is only impulsive in one way of the ways I’ve mentioned above. So of the five people who have BPD and are impulsive, only one out of six of those are promiscuous. So of each person that has BPD, potentially only five out of 54, are promiscuous. That is around 9 percent.

Now, this is incredibly simplified and uses a lot of assumptions. However, it seems unfair to tar all people with BPD with the same, promiscuous, brush. I wonder what percentage of the general population are promiscuous? I do not know. I doubt there is an answer, as promiscuity is such a subjective thing, but it’s not zero.

For me, BPD manifests itself as insecurities in my friendships, fear of abandonment, vast mood swings, a bad temper, not having a strong sense of who I am, a constant feeling of loneliness, impulsive spending, self-harm and suicidal ideation. These symptoms can then bring on depression and anxiety for me.

I tick eight out of the nine symptoms at some points. However, it is perfectly possible for two people both to be correctly diagnosed with BPD, and only share a single symptom. One person with BPD may have never self-harmed in their life, while another may not have mood swings.

The point is, you don’t know. Just as much as two people may react to the flu differently, two people with BPD cannot be put neatly into one box.

Image via Thinkstock.

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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To My Family: My Mental Illness Is Not Your Fault

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To my family,

No, I am not ill because of you.

I have borderline personality disorder (BPD). I deal with addiction. I struggle a lot.

Please believe me when I say — this isn’t about you.

I face addiction because I abused drugs and got hooked. Not because you were a bad parent.

I have BPD because of childhood trauma, and because I didn’t have enough resources to deal with it. Also, not because you were a bad parent.

My relapses, suicidal tendencies… they are a result of my illness. There is nothing you have done to trigger this. You are not a bad sister, you are not a bad brother. This is not on you.

Please, stop blaming yourself. This is not about you. You did the best you knew how. I’m an adult now and I need to own up to my illness, my decisions, my mistakes, my life and recovery.

I need you to love me through it, but not carry me through it. To push me to do better. I need you to be there for me without blaming yourself.

You hurt enough watching me struggle, don’t carry this shame on your shoulders. Let it go, and know you did the very best you could.

This is on me.

My illnesses. My responsibility. My recovery.

I own this.

I love you.

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When People Find Your Symptoms 'Scary'

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This is something I talk about with many of my friends; there’s something different about living with symptoms and illnesses others perceive as “scary.”

I show symptoms of both borderline personality disorder (BPD) and depersonalization-derealization disorder (DPDR disorder), which means I have unstable emotions, suicidal ideation, psychotic symptoms and severe episodes of both depersonalization and derealization outside of stressful events.

There’s an ongoing sense of “I can’t talk about this,” and “I can’t trust my own mind.” When you can’t trust your own mind, you need to seek reassurance, but there’s always a battle of “who can I trust?” Speaking as someone with quite strong paranoid ideation, this is an uphill battle. You find solace in people who are like you; who experience the world through the same tinted glass. When you talk to people who don’t experience these symptoms, you’re often greeted with fear and disdain, which can feel incredibly demoralizing and dehumanizing.

When people find out I have BPD and DPDR disorder, there’s always a change in their behavior, especially when I discuss what that means for me; paranoia, visual disturbances, tactile disturbances, auditory disturbances, identity crises, rapidly changing emotions, impulsive behaviors and an overwhelming level of executive dysfunction/disorganization. This behavior change is rarely a positive — “Oh, that makes sense, at least you’ll be able to manage it now!” It’s usually a fearful — “You shouldn’t talk about that;” “You’re not that bad;” or an ill-informed, “No, you don’t have those, you’re not that manipulative.”

Then, there’s the media; news portrayals of “psychotic goes on rampage” and the ever present slogans in fashion, “I put the hot in psychotic”/”cute but psycho.”

It’s an ongoing, uphill battle dealing with the uncertainty of your own mind and external influences at the same time. I hope more people learn about the proper ways to talk to/about us. Most importantly, I hope everyone with psychosis, BPD and other “scary” illnesses and symptoms are able to find at least one person they can talk to who won’t shut them down, and who will support them. I hope the healthcare system follows, and we get the respect we deserve.

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When Living With Borderline Personality Disorder Is Exhausting

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Living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is exhausting. It’s like living on an emotional roller coaster 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You just don’t know how you will wake up or what triggers you’ll have to face during the day — these can be anything from words to sights to thoughts. Emotions fly into your head fast, and before you even really think about it, you’ve totally catastrophized whatever started the thought in the first place.

Or on the other side of the scale, you feel absolutely nothing at all, just emptiness.

The thing with BPD is the constant change of emotions. One minute you’re fine, then the tornado hits. You’re angry, upset or want to hurt yourself (just to name a few). A lot of the time you just don’t know why, let alone when these outbursts will happen. The scary thing is that it only takes the tiniest thing to trigger it all off. Just keeping up with these changes, especially on bad days, drains you of all your energy. Life with BPD is constantly questioning every move you make or thing you say.

You text someone and don’t hear back as soon as you would like to, and then you start thinking: They don’t like me. They don’t want to see me. What have I done wrong? I must be a terrible. What is wrong with me? Are they avoiding me? Why? Why? Why?  Now, I sometimes just don’t text people for fear of rejection, making the world both lonely and exhausting.

Plans being cancelled also triggers off these same questions and feelings. I often feel they’ve found someone they would rather hang out with, or something better to do. Once again, I am not good enough.

Another thing I do is keep everything to myself. I really don’t share what’s going on in my life with anyone except family. Until I was diagnosed I did not realize why. Bottling everything up all the time and hiding behind a mask is hard work. You also don’t want to share too much because you don’t want to let people get too close — you’re so afraid of abandonment it feels safer to keep everyone at arm’s length. Abandonment is a huge issue for me.

Imagine keeping up with these constant feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness — it is sometimes too much to bear and you just want to shut off.

Impulsiveness is another thing you have to look out for, though often thoughts come in so quickly it can be difficult to notice. For me, it’s the struggle of self-harming. Sometimes out of nowhere I get this unbearable, stomach-churning urge to hurt myself, just to relieve the heightened painful emotions I feel. (Now I have coping strategies in place to help beat these feelings.) For other people, these urges can be to drink, do drugs, act on suicidal thoughts, go on spending sprees or binge eat, to name a few.

The best way to describe living with borderline personality disorder is that it’s like walking on eggshells — for both you and those around you (as they don’t know how you will be from one moment to the next).

However exhausting living with BPD is, it comes with a vast amount of empathy, sensitivity and compassion for others. So as exhausting as it is to live with, it’s also not all bad.

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.

Image via Thinkstock.

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