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Although borderline personality disorder (BPD) seems to be becoming a more commonly diagnosed mental illness, it continues to be misunderstood. Perhaps its increasing diagnostic frequency is due to the wide range of symptoms it can present. At some point in time in many people’s lives, I am sure they have exhibited a trait or two off the list of BPD criteria. I have all but one, and the symptoms and mannerisms are not once in a while but every minute I am awake. So in an effort to enlighten as many people as possible, I am going to share some of my personal experiences related to the recognized symptoms of BPD.

1. Impulsive and risky behavior

Borderline personality disorder often means a life of extremes where we bounce from happiness to sadness, each emotion felt at a level of great intensity. Impulsivity is the tendency to act with little regard for restraint and without considering the consequences. For many people affected by BPD, these bouts of impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors tend to go along with the periods when we are at the extreme top end of the scale. The BPD symptoms of impulsivity can present in many ways, but some of the most common are:

I have an addictive personality by nature and genetics. I have been through a gamut of both recreational and prescription drugs, becoming addicted to a few different things along the way. My drug addictions were all short-term, and I was able to “control” them by replacing the heavier substance with a lighter one until I was weaned off one and addicted to a lighter drug — the supposed premise being that I replace the more damaging substance with something less harmful. In many cases, however, until the source of the addictive behavior itself is identified and dealt with, the addiction will linger.

I also struggle with self-harm and suicidal thoughts and have done so for the majority of my life. My body tells a story with its scars; each one tells a tale, and I wish I could tell you I remember what they all represent and why they are there, but those memories are limited to only a few. The common denominator, though, is the instigation factor: rejection. Whether it is evident or perceived, it feels completely real to me. The suicidal thoughts become so heavy I feel like I am anchored to the bottom of the ocean floor, dark and drowning. I have learned to allow myself to have those thoughts and feel the corresponding emotions, as fighting them only seems to increase the urge. I will say although I may not have control over these thoughts, I have learned to make sure they stay thoughts and do not turn into actions.

2. Unstable and poorly regulated emotions

BPD can feel like having your emotions on constant sensory overload, or like being in the eye of an emotional hurricane. Regardless of which emotion, the intensity can present at a level that is almost indescribable. The best comparison I can think of is… imagine your most devastating moment of grief, pain, or anger, double it and live with it daily. My feelings can get so intense I feel like the only way to deal with them without physically hurting myself or verbally abusing others is to shut down emotionally or dissociate from those feelings. It has been a safety method I have resorted to since before I can remember and a skill I have yet to let go of.

Adding to the intensity and instability of my emotions is the frequency with which they occur. On a good day, I am lucky to have only three or four mood swings, ranging from anger to tears, lasting maybe 15 minutes to an hour each time. On a bad day, I can expect at least double that amount and the length of time varying so much it is too difficult to keep track of. It is like living in a state of hypo- or hyper-arousal every single day, which on paper might look like the ups and downs of an unstable heart on a heart monitor. The lines go way up then drop way down with no real predictable pattern.

So now I am rampant with intense emotions, bouncing from feeling OK to being severely depressed — emotions I can barely understand, and yet I am expected to have complete control over them. I am working through therapy to try and get a grasp on them, and I will admit my defeats far outnumber my victories in this category.

3. A pattern of unstable relationships

Given what has already been mentioned above, there is probably no surprise that people with BPD can tend to have great difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships. My relationships may be very intense, unstable, and alternate between the extremes of over-idealizing and undervaluing people who are important to me. It stems from fear of rejection and abandonment and encompasses a whole lot of push and pull and testing — almost like a child would test a parent, to see if he/she is just another person who will leave. I lost a lot of friends due to this aspect of my illness, as it can be difficult to understand why one day I am their best friend and the next I’m pushing them away, simply to see if they will come back. If you do this enough times, many people don’t come back, as they simply can’t handle the emotional whirlwind. For me, it makes perfect sense. I have to test over and over, and if you come back, I am able to build trust. I guess this is why I have very few friends and trust very few people.

This pattern of unstable relationships is not only confined to friends, but affects family, co-workers and just about anyone I come into contact with for any extended period of time. I am always so afraid people will leave that in order to maintain some control, it is easier if I make them leave and they don’t do it on their own accord. It makes socializing with friends and family terribly difficult and establishing relations with co-workers just as hard. As my resume would indicate, I have a hard time holding a job for more than a few years as the random emotional outbursts are generally not welcomed in a workplace.

Being social and wanting to have people to love and who love you is a part of human nature. It is something I desperately crave, yet at the same time, doing so leaves me vulnerable, which usually ends in me getting hurt. It feels like the proverbial being stuck “between a rock and a hard place” and simply not yet having the skills or tools to dig myself out.

I continue to try a bit more each day. I try to be conscious of my push and pull and attempt to lessen the number of times it occurs. I try different techniques so my anger does not unleash its fury instantly. I try to limit the amount of time I allow myself to feel suicidal, not that it always works, but the effort is there. BPD is a constant learning experience, and it’s a good thing I am up to the challenge.

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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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I was first diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) during a hospital stay in 2013. I was 20 years old, horrified to my bones, and distrustful not just of myself, but of every person in my life. Wearing only paper and chewing my nails to the point of drawing blood, receiving the diagnosis felt to me like being tossed into a nearly frozen lake.

Albeit sometimes fragile, I’ve worked hard since then to gain a bit more stability, some elbow room and freedom from my illness — but the sense of mistrust hasn’t faded. Driven by a fear of my own wild emotions, an earmark of the condition, this tendency to sniff out (and when I can’t do that, simply create) signs of dishonesty has been an exhausting and destructive habit.

Only yesterday did I learn many people strive to trust others. The ability to trust a friend, family member, religious influence, or anyone else is often considered a rewarding achievement. In contrast, I actually very easily trust anyone and everyone, but I strive not to. Trust is a liability, something that too often in my life has led to abuse, scarring, or otherwise damaging consequences. It isn’t that I’ve lost the ability to trust. It’s simply too difficult to let myself do it very often anymore. It would be like tossing myself into that ice cold body of water.

If you love someone with borderline personality disorder, please understand your loved one can trust you. It’s their personality disorder that may not, that may whisper to them warped “logistics” that can breed intense paranoia.

You see, I care for my loved ones even more deeply than my words could explain. My desire to trust them, to see them as a safe place, is actually overwhelming. Both out of true, healthy love and the paradoxical, unhealthy symptoms of my illness, the urge to see their innocence and warmth is central to my fantasies.

Sometimes, it can be hard to control it. After all, it’s spent years controlling me. To some extent, the personality disorder was always seen as the part of my mind that kept my heart safe, even if that meant keeping my heart alone or in fear. Many of us may still be figuring out where the borderline ends and we begin. We may get it wrong sometimes, and that can hurt you. Please understand that I am — we are — sorry.

To my BPD brothers and sisters, as I always say, please remember you aren’t as alone as your illness can make you feel. You aren’t an empty, hollow person in a world of overflowing monsters. Put on a warm life jacket, take that icy plunge, and remember to take gentle care.

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To be frank, when I was told I would have to attend “group therapy,” I was pessimistic.

It sent my anxiety into overdrive. The idea of sharing my personal experiences with strangers was petrifying. I was told if I refused to attend these sessions, I would be taken off the pathway and wouldn’t be able to see my therapist anymore. I thought it was ridiculous to be threatened like that, but I really was given no choice and had to go.

The first few weeks were awkward and difficult as you can probably imagine. Once people started to come out of their carefully constructed shells, we ended up being able to have a laugh. It became easier and easier to share my experiences, and other people did the same. The best thing about being in a room with people with the same disorder as you is that for the first time ever, I felt like I wasn’t struggling alone.

Don’t get me wrong. We may all have the same diagnosis, but we are all different. For example, I’m a bugger for impulsive spending, but others don’t have that problem.

Sharing my personal experiences with people who have the same disorder relieves so much stress for me. Some of the people there are like, “OMG, I know exactly how you feel.”

Do you know how wonderful it is to hear that? To talk to people who relate to you like only people with BPD can is an amazing feeling. We laugh, joke and sometimes we’re sad. Yet, we are getting through this therapy. We are getting better. We are recovering.

I’m 20 sessions in now. I can honestly say I enjoy the time I spend at group. I won’t go as far as to say I look forward to it each week because group means I have to get out of bed. Ugh! Yet, it is totally tolerable.

The most valuable thing I’ve learned so far is therapy isn’t meant to change our personalities. Our personalities are totally fab. Therapy is giving us the skills we need to get through life. It is teaching us to be strong.

I can, hand on my heart, say that without the skills I have learned from group therapy, I wouldn’t still be here. It has taught me how to get through hard times. It’s taught me how to have better relationships with people. It’s taught me my personality isn’t bad or broken. It’s taught me I’m totally freaking awesome.

My advice to anyone with BPD is to get involved in any sort of group sessions available to you. It’s really scary at first, but it becomes so rewarding.

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I know it can seem annoying or like I am pushing information at you, but I really just want you to understand. I keep hoping to find articles I can relate to that can describe more eloquently than I can what it is I live with every day.

You see, I love you, and I want you to know why it is I cancel plans with what looks like no good reason, or why I decline to do something that seems simple to anyone else but causes panic attacks in me. I want you to know on the days I seem to be out of control or so wildly emotional that it’s not me just being melodramatic. I have a brain that is wired incorrectly from trauma. I have to live every day with that brain, and it will never recover.

Yes, I go to therapy, and I learn tools to put in my toolbox of coping mechanisms. Yes, I have medication to help with the depression and anxiety that comes along with my diagnosis. However, I often feel so uncomfortable or judged when I try and talk about it from my perspective that most of the time all I can do is share the articles that ring with truth to me — the articles I feel describe what I am dealing with every day.

Having a personality disorder that undermines my own self-confidence at every turn means that much of the time I feel like I am nothing but a burden on those I love. I’m sharing articles to my social media in a quiet attempt to help you understand.

So when you pass by a new article I’ve posted, take a moment to read it and try to understand what I am conveying by sharing it. Don’t be afraid to ask me questions. I won’t offer information otherwise due to my own inherent fear of being rejected for the challenges I face. I am trying to be more open about who I am and what I am facing. I hope you can do the same.

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A lot of people will come across someone who has borderline personality disorder (BPD). These same people are often unsure what to do when it comes to wanting to help someone with BPD if they are struggling or even undiagnosed.

I hate the term “dealing” because saying you are “dealing” with a person with BPD can make it sound like they are a burden, which isn’t the case at all. I think everyone around the person with BPD could practice a few steps of their own without automatically thinking their loved one needs more medication, a hospital visit or a doctor. It’s important to remember that even when a loved one is in therapy, a lot of traumatizing stuff will come up after some sessions. So it’s always good to be considerate of that instead of suggesting a person isn’t helping themselves when in fact they really are trying to.

I wish I could say an average person usually thinks with logic, but this hasn’t always been the case with people I have come across in my life. From time to time, humans will react on emotions regardless of the situation. I think what people with BPD long for is someone who can validate their emotions, regardless of how little or big your judgment may think it is. I know the complex and stubbornness someone with BPD can display in certain situations of hurt. But this is where people can practice certain skills to help calm them down. First, remind them you love them. Then ask them what specific thing has upset them. Listen to them, and do not tell them how they should be feeling/acting. Just sit with them through it and remind them their feelings are valid and you are there to support them.

Following up is essential to reminding the person with BPD that you are here for them. The next day send them a message suggesting to see them and invite them places. When someone with BPD is sick, the last thing they need is to be isolated and discriminated against. Obviously make time for yourself, too. But if you’re out with friends, tell your friend with BPD you want them there and make them feel loved. As soon as you isolate someone with BPD, he or she may start to stress from anxiety and feelings of abandonment. Even if they turn down your offer, keep suggesting small things and just listening to them.

Allowing the person struggling to be themselves. For a person with BPD to really want to improve, they need a positive environment and patience. You cannot rush someone’s recovery, as it can stunt their growth. You are valid to be angry at them if they hurt your feelings, but this is where so many loved ones get it wrong. You have to try to view the behaviors they’re working on as an illness, not a choice.

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Someone said something hurtful today or something I perceived as hurtful. Now, I am afraid. They told me they forgot we had plans today and would need to reschedule. Something else came up. Something more important than me, I guess.

They really don’t want to see me, and they really don’t want to spend time with me. Now I’m crying. Look what they did! People who love you don’t do this! They don’t like me and that’s fine because now I hate them. Yes, I loved them yesterday, but I hate them today. They never liked me anyway.

This is why I don’t have friends. This is why I can’t have friends. Friends hurt. Relationships hurt. I’m too scared to try again. It is much easier being alone.

Something as simple as cancelled plans can send someone, like me, into isolation. Before my diagnosis, I was unaware that what I was doing was isolating. I just knew there were periods where I was terrified to be around people. If someone said something I perceived as hurtful, then my relationship with them could change in an instant. We could go from speaking every day, to hardly speaking at all.

The only thing I felt was everlasting was the fear of the intentions and words of others. That is still true today. Having borderline personality disorder (BPD) means perpetual misunderstandings. Misunderstandings on both your end and on the end of the person you are communicating with.

Communication is a never-ending problem for me, affecting my ability to develop and maintain interpersonal relationships. I have an aching, nagging desire to interact with people on a personal level, but that fearful, irrational voice in my head wins me over every time with “what ifs.”

“What if this person is just trying to get something from you?”

“What if he/she is just pretending to be your friend?”

“What did they really mean when they said (insert said dialogue)?”

I manage well in passing interactions like, “Hi, how are you?” I can respond, “Good, and yourself,” and continue on with my day with little to no interaction with that person again. However, creating personal relationships is unbelievably difficult. Wanting to create relationships while having BPD is like being pulled in two directions.

Imagine a weak person is pulling on your left arm, and a strong person is pulling on your right arm. You are swaying from left to right, and both your arms are becoming stressed. You may start to panic, wanting someone to let go. The stronger person will end up winning, but both of your arms will be exhausted. The weak person is my “rational” thoughts, and the strong person is my “irrational” thoughts. My irrational thoughts about forming relationships always win because my fear is stronger than my courage. As much as I want the “weak person” (my rational thoughts) to win, it hardly ever happens.

Isolation with BPD is not wanting to be alone, but not wanting to be around people either. This is extremely conflicting and creates a lot of anxiety. I cling to just one person, and when that one person is busy, I will stay at home by myself no matter how much I want to interact. I can also become hostile towards them because I will feel as if they have abandoned me if they have other obligations.

Because I cannot trust anyone else, I would rather be alone for days on end waiting for one person than take a chance and spend time with someone new. The lack of support around me causes me to develop a lot of feelings of emptiness, depression and boredom.

Here are some things to know about the isolation BPD causes:

1. Isolation causes an inevitable sense of paranoia.

Since I am too afraid to spend time with people, I can go days without too much social interaction. Because I am lost in my own mind and alone during these times, I become paranoid. I become even more paranoid people are saying things behind my back or are planning things that could hurt me. This becomes an unbreakable cycle of delusions that is problematic because it only causes me to isolate myself even more.

2. Isolation also causes panic attacks prior to arranged interactions.

Being in isolation also worsens the anxiety I feel before social gatherings or interactions, causing me to have panic attacks. The idea of having to communicate builds up so much uneasiness that I become exhausted even hours before interacting. If I can avoid it, then I will. If I cannot, then it causes panic to the point of crying and hyperventilation. If I do have a high level of anxiety/panic, then I will disassociate.

This feels as if I am watching myself in a movie or as if I am out of my body. Since I had been in my own head for so long, it almost feels like I have forgotten how to have normal communication. I develop poor eye contact and look at my feet a lot. I will then resort to a corner or isolated area of the gathering to avoid social interactions.

3. The isolation in BPD can cause you to lash out.

Part of having BPD is extreme emotional reactions, even aggressive ones, to simple situations. If I have isolated myself for quite some time, then I will become irritable as a result of all of the racing thoughts I have failed to manage on my own. I may scream, slam doors or throw objects. I have never (and will never) hurt anyone; however, I have turned my anger onto myself with self-mutilation.

4. When I am being social, I can only pretend for so long.

I have BPD, but I am also a public speaker and Miss Maryland 2015 for the Miss World Organization, which puts me in social situations on a regular basis. I was able to manage social situations over short periods by making myself feel beautiful and glamourous. It was a lot like playing dress-up and make believe. I loved partaking in pageants because it allowed me to embody a confident, outgoing woman when I often felt unsure and nervous, with an unstable self-image. While I “pretended” to be much more confident and outgoing than I was in reality, it also gave me the courage to show parts of my personality while feeling safe in a physical image I felt was more acceptable to society. I still struggle with feeling “safe” in being myself.

Eventually, it became exhausting to keep my true feelings and changing identity a secret. Part of having BPD is having an unstable identity. One minute I want short hair and dark clothes. The next minute I would want to pretend to be Barbie. Being in pageantry required me to have self-confidence and knowledge about myself that I truly did not have and am still struggling to find. I could only pretend for so long. The same is true for having social interactions. It becomes exhausting and difficult for me to manage.

BPD is a serious, complex mental illness, with isolation as one of its primary symptoms. It is an illness that is often difficult for the public to understand as people with BPD struggle with “back and forth” thinking — we want relationships but also push people away. We want you to understand our intentions are not to hurt you, and we really do not want to hurt ourselves. All we want is understanding and love.

With patience and a commitment to helping loved ones struggling with BPD, they can get to a place where isolation from others can be an occurrence which happens less often. All we need is your support.

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.

Image via Thinkstock

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