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.
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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