When You Don’t Fit the ‘Black and White’ Definition of Borderline Personality Disorder

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In the beginning of summer, when everything started to blossom, it had gotten warmer and brighter and a scent of sunscreen was in the air, and I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). I had been seeking help battling my good old enemy, depression. Depression sat next to me in my office chair, cuddled up in my bed, walked by my side and left me nowhere to hide. Eventually, razorblades found their way back into my life as well. After five sessions of counseling, my therapist carefully dropped the three words that changed everything: borderline personality disorder.

Depression is like having a carousel constantly spinning in my mind, giving me no break from anxiety and self-loathing. It makes it impossible to rest or even find peaceful sleep. However, after years, depression finally felt like something I could measure and learn how to deal with. I had developed strategies to avoid irrational thinking. I was practicing mindfulness and positive thinking. I started taking antidepressants, which helped me fall asleep.

After hearing my problems do not only go by the name depression, but have an older, bigger sister who pulls the strings, everything I had learned and practiced felt useless. I felt defeated and crushed by something way out of my control. I felt like I would never ever get better because BPD is said to be incurable. Even my depression became speechless for a few days. I felt empty and hopeless.

On the outside, I seem to have it all together. I am a scholarship student with a job, a loving boyfriend, a caring family, a great flat and the means to travel the world. How could I achieve all of this while my diagnosis implies that my personality is disordered, not fully developed or even broken? I did not want to accept my diagnosis because admitting it felt like I would eventually end up losing everything I gained.

I assumed with BPD, I would never have a normal and healthy relationship with myself and with my boyfriend. Everything I read about BPD made it sound like I could only learn how to stop hurting myself, but never be able to escape my extreme emotions and mood changes. My life has always been me battling against myself. I have my own worst enemy right inside my head, undermining my logical thinking and manipulating my emotions. I am constantly stumbling from one side to another, from love to hate and back again. I feel helplessly lost in the between, forever locked in the vice grip of conflict. My life is extreme. I feel extreme.

My diagnosis could explain my experiences, but I refused to believe it fits me. It actually made me really angry being labeled because a lot of the things people tell you about BPD sounded like insults to me. The internet is full of people claiming to know how those affected by BPD function. These people rage about how selfish and dramatic people with BPD, people like me, are. They talk about how they manipulate others to get what they want, how they hurt themselves to get attention and how they destroy everybody naïve enough to get involved with them.

I did not feel like I was reading about myself while researching BPD, and I could not relate to what is called “black and white” thinking. I thought it reduces my whole being into a two-dimensional space. However, I learned my BPD diagnosis does not define or change who I am. The diagnosis is an instrument that makes it easier to get well-approved treatment in the areas I struggle with.

Furthermore, BPD is a spectrum, not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. There are more than a hundred possible combinations of all the criteria for a BPD diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. There are all different kinds of unique people with different personalities but the same diagnosis. Most of us do not fit the image painted by these self-proclaimed “experts.”

We are not all selfish or self-obsessed. We care a lot about how we affect others. We do not hurt ourselves for attention. We hurt ourselves when we no longer can stand the melting pot of feelings seething inside of us. We do not all see the world in black and white, good and bad.

For us too, it is love and hate, black and white and everything in between. It is the rollercoaster between the extremes that makes our feelings so hard to bear. We can go from soothingly calm to extremely angry or hateful within minutes. In intimate relationships we switch from idealizing love to venomous distaste, but it is not only black and white. It is also all the other million of colors.

We feel a lot more than just the extremes. Everything in life strongly affects us emotionally. We experience plenty more mood swings than people not affected by BPD. We struggle to keep rational thinking on board, while being tossed around by the waves. Sometimes, it feels like feeling too much.

The stigma around BPD made my feel terminally ill and irreparably broken, but my personality is not broken. My personality is not fragmented and I am not two-dimensional. I am so much more than black and white.

My personality is bent, not broken, and at times when I am stressed out or scared, it bends so much it brings me to my knees. At times, trauma breaks the surface, and I act like a little child crying for help and raging in despair.

However, these things do not make me broken. If anything, it makes me, and all the other people affected by BPD, strong. Strong because we inhabit feelings most people never need to feel, feelings so overwhelming it make us hurt ourselves to get rid of them. Yet, we live with these emotions every day.

We experience relationships, which can come along with outraging despair, but we learn to handle that. We bravely face the storm and the waves a normal day can bring to us. We are strong while seeking help and strong while enduring being stuck in our own minds.

I hope you do not listen to the stigma around mental illness. I hope you can see BPD not as a defeat or a flaw but as a chance. A chance to feel life to the fullest, to go from deep blue to bright yellow. A chance to feel utterly devastated and head over heels in love and everything in between. A chance to be passionate and exceptionally compassionate. And a chance to be overly-sensitive to your surroundings so you can appreciate all the little good things in life. I hope you will learn to deal with all your emotions in a creative way without hurting yourself. It is OK if you feel like you feel too much. I do too.

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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A Day in My Life With Borderline Personality Disorder

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Quite often people have asked me what it is like living with my borderline personality disorder (BPD). They really have very little idea in regards to what it actually means. They are under the impression I am “borderline,” so I am “sort of” in the middle of having a personality disorder. Not a full blown disorder, but not quite “normal” either. I don’t fault any of them for thinking this way, as society has historically mystified, shamed and driven any talk of mental illness into the deepest, darkest depths. Out of sight… out of mind.

In truth, I am not trying to be flippant or judgmental. Not at all. This is the stigma surrounding mental health. Nevertheless, I am quite happy to say I do believe the tide is turning. There is a movement afoot to end the stigma and support those who have been shunned in the past. In an effort to support such a movement I have recorded what a typical day in my life has been like living with BPD. My hope is of course to bring heightened awareness… not scorn or pity. This is a typical day in a “down” period. I am undergoing recovery now so I am happy to say my downs are more balanced with better times. Just a warning, what I’ve written below could be triggering for people.

I wake up after a fitful night’s sleep. Actually, to call it sleep would be an oxymoron. I have awakened more tired than when I first put my head on the pillow. I am exhausted and sweating. My mind has been in turmoil all night long. I may have gotten some sleep, but there was no rest. I look out the cracked window in my room and see the people below scurrying around like ants. They all seem to have somewhere to go, someone to see… a purpose. I turn and look down at the scars on my wrists and thighs. I sigh heavily; it is another day. I choke back my meds with a glass of warm water and thus begin the daily routine.

On my way to class I have this overwhelming feeling of dark oppression combined with uncontrollable dancing butterflies in my stomach. I feel nauseous. My legs feel as if they are just going to give way. I stop and sit down on the curb for a minute to try and catch my breath. A group of young people walk by looking down at me. I am sure they are laughing at me. What’s their problem? I look at my anchor tattoo. It somehow gives me a feeling of momentary peace. I struggle up and start walking towards my class again. The peace does not last long. As I am walking I have no idea why everyone is staring at me… but it is really starting to get irritating. A rage begins to swell inside me. Every noise on the street reverberates through my head like a runaway locomotive. Head pounding, palms sweating, stomach churning. I feel a floating sensation and no longer really have any idea of where I am going. The voices are talking to me again… telling me I am worthless and useless and that is the reason nobody ever stays with me. I sit down again holding my aching head in my hands.

After a while I manage to recollect myself. I have driven the voices away for now. However, there is simply no way I will be attending class today. Waves of exhaustion have overtaken me. I manage to find my way back to my apartment. I flop down onto the bed totally disgusted with myself. I rise and go over to the refrigerator and grab a bag of ice to hold tightly. I need the distraction. I go over to the sink and splash cold water on my face… then again. I want to call my parents to let them know I did not make it to class again, but I realize that won’t end well. They will get angry with me. I can almost hear it now: You were fine yesterday! Why can’t you hold it together for more than one day at least?” This conversation will inevitably end with me screaming, crying and hanging the phone up. No need to bother with that… too tired anyways. I glance over at pictures of some of my friends on the wall. I don’t see most of them anymore. They have pretty much left me. Who could blame them? I lie down again and drift to sleep.

I wake up after a few hours, covered in sweat again. I feel some hunger but really don’t know for what. If I eat something there is no chance I will keep it down. I am starting to wonder if I need to go back to the hospital. However, I already know what they will say. “You have to work through this. There is nothing that we can do for you anymore.” That is usually accompanied by a roll of the eyes and a wave of the hand. A true outcast. I reach for my bottle of vodka and light a cigarette. Tomorrow is another day.

My message to society would be to never judge that person on the street; you really don’t know anything about them or the battles they may have fought to get as far as that curb on the road.

Follow this journey on Revolving of Doors.

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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Finding Purpose in My Borderline Personality Disorder

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Sometimes, I find it quite astonishing I’m here today, sitting in my room and looking back all the things I accomplished when I didn’t think I was going to be alive. Living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is like that. You are constantly waiting on edge for another thing to just throw you off balance.

Friends say you are up and down. Work managers use a “wave” hand gesture to describe your emotions. Partners don’t want to talk to you as you are too emotionally-draining from the scenarios you are assuming will happen and making up in your head.

I was first diagnosed when I was 17 years old. I had no understanding of BPD and what the term meant. All I knew at that stage was I wanted to end my life, as the emotional pain I was experiencing was unbearable. I felt like I couldn’t stabilize anything, whether it was work, sports, family and friends. I felt isolated and like no one wanted me around. That is the first time I knew I was experiencing chronic emptiness.

As I got older, I learned how to present this happy, go lucky mask so people would want me around and wouldn’t have to worry about me all the time. What people don’t know is that this mask eventually comes off and I crumble, which will end with the frequent-self mutilating episodes and suicide ideation.

When I let people in, I would push them away, even though it was the closeness I craved. I wanted them to just understand me instead of always questioning and judging my behaviors. People would label me and define me because they couldn’t psychically see the emotional pain I was in. It seems when people don’t see it, they don’t believe it.

While people get other bad news and will go about their day, I will receive bad news I’ll carry for weeks or months. It depends not on the depth of care and love I had for this person or thing. I can’t shut the feelings out as it results in me becoming numb, and when I become numb I want to feel something. When I become numb, I often seek for that thing to make me feel again. There is no in between.

Relationships come and go with me. I am lucky enough to be highly emotionally intelligent, where I can talk things out and see another perspective. I also can feel what my partner is feeling at the time, and I will take on their pain too. In the past, I have entered relationships where I know I wasn’t respected and where I was viewed as the issue, even though logically I knew I wasn’t. Due to the voice in my head, which often tells me I am worthless and hopeless, I will start to believe in that again.

It’s an exhausting way to live. In my old relationships, the partner has always viewed my suicide ideation as a way to get them to stay. This isn’t the case. Being highly sensitive to the treatment I received is what made me feel that way, as well as my past abuse. Putting all this aside, this year I found out a reason to stay here. I was always so scared to open up until I realized the only thing that was going to save me was opening up to people. I started a blog to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding BPD. I also work for organizations such as Suicide Prevention Australia and Borderline Personality Disorder Foundation as a lived experience talker.

What made me survive was meeting people who have had similar experiences. I have listened to parents talk about the pain and grief that came from losing a child to suicide. When I heard that, I knew I had to stay alive so I can help these types of people. They made me feel like I had a purpose for once in my life. For once in my life, I realized I am living proof it does get better, even in near death situations. I still ride the wave of the emotional tsunami my life throws at me.

I think I have the resilience, knowledge and awareness to know when I am OK and when I am not. Some days, I still pretend I am OK but that always results in an episode. So when I have a reason to be upset, I will show people and explain to them why I am. The right people in my life who love and care about me understand and accept why I am. I am still learning to ignore the people who are ignorant and who really don’t understand the dangers that come with living with BPD.

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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When People Treat You Differently Because of Your Mental Illness

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Yes, I have a mental illness, but I am a person first.

I came across a post on Facebook that someone from The Mighty had written about borderline personality disorder (BPD). One of the comments was, “I think once people know you have a mental illness, they see everything you do as a symptom.” Someone asked the person who left the comment to explain. And I was motivated to write here instead.

I know what it’s like to have BPD, as it is one of my illnesses. I know what it’s like for people to know you have a mental illness and then see everything as a symptom. This is spelled out in the following way. Say you have a mental illness and people around you know this. Someone says something to you or something occurs in your life that makes you angry. You have a right to experience anger, as everyone does. It is a normal emotion. You tell the people around you that you are angry or they notice it.

Now add the mental illness onto the fact you are justifiably angry. You might be asked by the people around you if you have taken your meds today. You might be told you are being unreasonable and maybe you are too angry, they say.

Maybe one of the symptoms of your mental illness is people with your condition are “prone to anger.” This makes people question you and feel justified for doing so. They may tell you that you are overreacting and dismiss your anger as seeking attention or just a symptom of your illness. You are just making things up, they say. There’s nothing to be upset about, they say. You are just being “crazy,” they say, even though you are expressing a normal human emotion. All they can see is your illness and scoff at you for being too sensitive.

As a person with several mental illnesses, and I know my friends will agree, all we are looking for is a little compassion. We are hoping you will see us, and understand when we have a justifiable emotion or opinion. We have regular emotions like every other person, and we would like to be able to express them without being treated like we are just being “too emotional” or dismissed simply because we struggle with a brain illness. We are human and we just want to be treated that way.

So, if you know someone who has a mental illness, and they express a normal human emotion, instead of asking if they took their meds today or dismissing them as “crazy,” try a little compassion. Talk with them about what they’re feeling. Listen. Validate what they are feeling and try to help. This is what you would do for a friend or loved one. So do it for us, too.

Image via Thinkstock.

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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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