How I've Learned to Manage Conflict in Life With Borderline Personality Disorder

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Fighting with your partner or loved one is hard enough without a mental illness to contend with. Nobody enjoys conflict. Yet, arguments can occur in even the healthiest of relationships as we explore the things weighing on our minds and express challenging emotions. However, when a mental health problem is thrown into the mix, it can make these tensions even harder to navigate, particularly when it affects our emotional regulation, our ability to control the manifestation and intensity of our feelings.

As a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD), conflict resolution can be difficult. What can initially begin as a peaceful discussion regarding a problem that has arisen can end with me hysterically sobbing or screaming vitriol at the top of my lungs. I don’t ever want to get to that point, but sometimes, it feels near impossible to control my mind. Some perceived slight by the person I’m fighting with can lead me to just snap.

This does not happen as often as it once did. Before I understood some of the maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms manifested by my BPD, all I knew was I had a hot temper and a short fuse. After my diagnosis, I was able to access the right kinds of resources to help me cope with my illness, but that doesn’t mean I get it right 100 percent of the time.

My partner tends to bear the brunt of my anger, taking over from the role my parents once fulfilled. A wrong tone or a mistaken comment can send me into a paranoid rage, shouting things that I would never say in a more stable frame of mind. I hate the person I become. I hate that I have it in me to say such hurtful things to the people I love and care for. I hate that it is an inescapable part of who I am and that this hateful anger is inside me. Sometimes, I hate that I have to work to constantly keep that in check.

Regulating your emotions is hard with BPD, period. Regulating anger can be even harder. The insults and nasty words sit at the tip of your tongue, begging to be heard, and because this is arguably one of the uglier symptoms of BPD, it is discussed less frequently than other traits. This means there are less resources and information on regulating it. It takes constant work to control that fury and practice self-restraint, especially when BPD tells you that you don’t want to constrain your feelings.

Nonetheless, with work, it can be done. The thing that I have found to be most helpful is to simply force myself to step out of the situation for 10 minutes. Physically removing myself from a situation affords me the space to gain some perspective, and lets me reflect on my emotions to assess whether an argument is really worth having. Sometimes, this is all it takes to get out of that head-space, just a few minutes alone to cool off and consider if my interpretation of things is actually true to reality.

I have also been able to apply this to other issues relating to my BPD, such as impulsive behavior. Telling myself that if I still feel the same in 10 minutes, then I can act on it allows me to sit with the feeling. I, then, can allow it to pass without taking any action, and therefore, there are no negative consequences.

Although, as I said, this doesn’t work every single time. However, by allowing myself to take a breather and gain a better perspective on things, I have found I am more in control of my BPD than I have ever been before. Sometimes, all we need is a little time to sit with our feelings and allow them to pass, getting back into a more stable, calmer frame of mind.

When this doesn’t work and sometimes the emotions are just too intense to sit and cope with, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you have failed, and feelings of shame and guilt that may surface consequently are not fair to yourself when you work so hard to regulate your disorder. Don’t berate yourself for the times you have struggled. Congratulate yourself for all the progress you have made.

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The One Person Who Didn’t Walk Past Me When I Was Contemplating Suicide

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In the few days running up to this act of kindness, I’d been lower than low. I was currently in a psychiatric hospital, my fourth admission this year. I just couldn’t handle the intense emotions that come with borderline personality disorder (BPD). I’d been feeling so overwhelmingly sad. No matter how many people told me, “It’ll get better,” I just couldn’t see any other way out.

So when I asked a support worker if I could go out for a walk, I had no intention of coming back. It was 8:15 by the time I got to where I was going to end my life. All the way there, I had felt this calmness wash over me. I felt at peace knowing that I wouldn’t have to deal with having BPD anymore.

I sat on a wall overlooking a river for what felt like an eternity. As I made my way closer to the edge, I became scared. Scared that I was going to survive. I cried until I felt like there were no more tears left in me. Not one person stopped to ask if I was OK, until one young man came along.

“Are you OK?”

I was scared, tired, suicidal and shocked. Why had he stopped to talk to me? Everyone else had just walked past me without a care in the world. He stood and talked to me for more than half an hour about everything. He made me feel calm and at ease.

I asked him why he had stopped to talk to me.

His reply was, “I know nothing about mental illness, but I couldn’t have it on my conscious knowing I’d walked past someone who wanted to take their own life.”

This man saved my life. Before he came along, I was edging closer and closer to the edge of that wall, and I was gathering the courage to jump. I often think about that man and how if he hadn’t stopped, I might not be here right now.

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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The Unpredictability of Borderline Personality Disorder

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I used to wonder why it is called borderline personality disorder (BPD). That is until my symptoms got worse, and I had to find the answer the worst possible way.

It literally feels like you’re standing on the borderline of emotional and mental instability. Some days, you struggle to make sure you’re still “sane.” Other days, it feels like you’re not, like you barely have control anymore. Then, you get better for a few days and think that maybe you were just over-analyzing it before. Soon enough, you’re back to your nightly sanity checks.

Living with BPD can feel like a nightmare because how you feel about everything — friends, school, life, even yourself — is just so unstable.

You find it so hard to trust completely. You’re always needled by the thought that people would only befriend you if they needed something. You often wonder if your closest friends keep up with you because they actually like you or because they see you as an investment for when they’ll be needing help. You try to kill this mistrusting side of you, but you just can’t help slipping back. So you shut people out, even friends, until you realize over and over that you actually need them more.

It’s as if you’re wired to look at people in black and white. The worst part is that you have moments when you doubt even yourself. You think that maybe this is why you feel lonely, even when you have a lot of friends. You feel like you don’t have the kind of connection you see in other friendships. You used to think there was something about you that kept people away.

It turns out, you were right, except you were actually the one who kept them away. You hid behind a glass wall, and you weren’t even aware of it. Now, you realize the wall was in fact a sealed cage and you’re suffocating. Yet, you still can’t break the glass. Maybe you like it this way. Maybe you like tormenting yourself with the loneliness.

However, tormenting yourself is nothing new. You’ve done far worse. You have hideous scars on your forearm, a dozen rusting blades hidden somewhere in your room, crumpled papers that should have been your farewell note to the world.

Yet, the funny thing about living with BPD is that you keep surprising yourself. It’s like one day you despise yourself and you feel so inadequate. You think you’re ready to end it all tonight because there’s no point in continuing.

Then, something inside you changes, like a switch was turned off. You look in the mirror and regret ever thinking of hurting yourself because the best person you know is right in front of you. You’re wasting all your potential and future.

Living with BPD is like turning the switch on and off at such an unpredictable pace. No, it’s not intentional. No, it’s not something you can control or choose. No, it’s not just you’re making up a lame excuse for being mean and stubborn.

No, this was not your choice. No, you cannot just tell yourself to stop the random switching and be “normal.” No, you don’t feel “normal.” No, you don’t want their pity. You want them to understand. You just want them to be a little more patient.

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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How Hanukkah Helps Me See the Lightness and Darkness of My BPD

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There are distinct feelings one can get at the holidays. It can be the warm flutter of your heart as you are surrounded by family or the cold frost of being alone and numb to the world. To have borderline personality disorder is to be both at once. The addicting pull of the warmth and attention you receive and the stone cold feeling of being separate from everyone, different.

The miracle of Hanukkah and the symbolic light is almost a life vest to me. The reminder of miracles in the small things and the light that never goes out. I hold dearly to these comforts as if they are what keeps my heart beating. However, at the same time I have to acknowledge the flip side of things. No matter how beautiful the lights upon the menorah are, there is still darkness contained within me. Where there is light, there is the darkness that surrounds. We see light and darkness and marvel where they intertwine.

We know from experience light is warm and dark is cold. Fire brings warmth and night is when the cold can take hold.

Being borderline means you have to see these differences and live the differences at once where others only have to feel one thing at a time in a moment.

Being borderline may not be something I chose for my life. Being borderline may be a challenge and may be a burden, but being borderline can also be a blessing. You see both side of the coin at once and see the beauty in each. The feelings that dwell within you may be conflicting, but they may also help you empathize with others.

This Hanukkah, I’ll marvel at both light and darkness and how I can contain both at once. I’ll again marvel at the miracle of my borderline.

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5 Holiday Questions I'd Rather Not Be Asked as a Person With BPD

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Christmastime freaks me out!

When you know someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD), it is very important that you know a few things about that person’s illness and some of the things he or she doesn’t want to hear during the holidays.

Borderline is not the same for everyone, and if it is co-morbid with another mental illness, it is likely that our behavior will affect people differently, especially during this overly happy time.

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be a “Grinch” during this season? Well, it could be that you are either trying too much or not trying at all.

For me personally, these questions can be very triggering:

1. Where is your Christmas spirit?

My Christmas spirit is there, but sometimes it is very hard to find it. It is difficult for me to look happy and joyful when my mind is trying to stay on the right path to recovery and I am still getting used to enjoy small things again.

Christmas is all about appearances, how to behave in parties, how the house is decorated, how big the Christmas tree is, and how much weight I’ve lost to fit in the perfect dress for the occasion. Maybe this is not what other people think, but that is the first thing that comes to my mind when Christmas is approaching.

Another thing that clouds my Christmas spirit is shopping. Overspending has been a huge problem for me and some of the people I have met who share my condition. For people like me, going out for gifts is all about self-control and not necessarily as fun as people might think it is. After Christmas shopping there can be a lot of regret for not buying the “perfect gift” for a loved one or for buying unnecessary things. So, yes, we have Christmas spirit, but it may not be the one people are used to seeing.

2. What will you wear for the party?

Even though BPD is not always treated with pills, many of us have co-morbid disorders, in my case bipolar disorder. Being social has never been my strength, and my bipolar meds have the common side effect of weight gain, so when people ask me what I will wear to any party I’m invited to, most of the time I will just skip it. It’s hard enough to think I have to socialize, to add a worry about how I will look to others when I get there. Even though people tell me I look good, I just never manage to see that when I look at myself in the mirror.

3. Are you allowed to drink?

When I started my treatment, doctors thought it was obvious for me that I could not drink; for me it wasn’t. My family has a love for drinking that became normal to me. I had always equated weekends, parties, vacations, and holidays with drinking.

Alcohol is a depressive. People lose inhibitions while drinking, which may make anyone with a mental health condition more vulnerable to engage in risky behavior. In the past, I was reckless and irresponsible enough to let myself or my friends drive under the effects of drugs or alcohol. I had to quit alcohol completely, and it took me an inpatient hospitalization to get clean and on my feet again. So please, if you know about the condition, don’t ask.

4. What do you want for Christmas?

If you are not ready to actually listen and act on it, don’t ask. Most of the time, material things will fulfill a short-term need and what I really want is more complex than going shopping and choosing colors or sizes. I want understanding, empathy, a shoulder to cry on, a silent ear, non-judgmental advice. I want a day when I can choose what I want to do without thinking that someone is going to be hurt because I did not visit or I had nothing to give them. I want to spend the day with anyone I want or just by myself. I want to have at least a few minutes of quietness in my head. I want to be able to not think ahead. I want to live, just live.

5. What is your New Year’s resolution?

Resolutions are very optimistic and in most cases unreal for me. They usually have to do with sacrifice (weight-loss, quit smoking or drinking, make more money, exercise, etc.). I battle every day with small things like waking up, bathing, and dragging myself to work, so don’t expect me to answer that question right away (if I answer it). This would add a lot of weight to my to-do list and will raise my anxiety levels to the point where I’ve been trying to recover from. In the past, I’ve made so many resolutions that I can’t remember, and they were as silly as writing on my journal every day, to harder things like accepting myself. None of them have been reached or done entirely, and it makes me feel like a failure to myself and others. So, my New Year’s resolution is, none.

It is not easy to identify triggers, but if you do, talk about them.

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3 Ways I Enjoy the Holidays as a 'BPD Challenger'

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I write this sitting in an airport lounge with people passing me by in swarms, the holiday rush visibly apparent in their strides. Yet there’s a certain peace about it. Holiday seasons can be extremely tough on those who struggle to feel “normal” in the conventional sense. But there’s also definitely something positive about it, which I want to let everyone in on.

1. As people with borderline personality disorder, or as I call us “BPD challengers,” one of the greatest issues we face is how to handle the variety of people/situations/emotions the holidays usher in. However, it also brings with it an excitement we probably couldn’t feel otherwise. Perhaps it’s because it’s something new, fresh, exciting, different. Perhaps because it’s simply a reason to celebrate. Whatever it is, it’s an occasion to feel. Something I really struggle with. Only this time I get to feel amazing. Feel holiday cheer. Feel joyful. It’s really rare, so let’s cherish the moments!

2. People tend to rush around a lot. They’re always in a hurry. Buying gifts, putting up decorations, organizing social gatherings, meeting expectations. It doesn’t have to be that way. Think of it instead as a season to accomplish a lot of things. Use the month of December particularly to revisit and renew ties that might have been neglected in the midst of daily mundane routines. To challenge ourselves to really think about those who are near and dear (even if we may be currently splitting and hence “hating” them ) and truly appreciate them instead. Perhaps replace expensive gifts with a personal letter. And not just an email. Those good ole handwritten ones that seem almost too good to be true nowadays! Instead of buying decorations, choose to spend evenings when you feel unloved and alone by occupying your mind and heart. A good example could be making festive ornaments out of used items. And then making more to gift others. (Below is a picture of Christmas tree I’ve made out of recycled newspapers! Method courtesy Stephania blog).

paper christmas tree

It’s a great cathartic outlet and keeps idle hands (and minds) busy. There’s no expectations when it’s one of a kind and it’s made with our own hands! And it doesn’t have to be limited to crafts. If you can’t craft, you can sing or read a book out loud and record yourself. Or make a play list. Or a slideshow. Or write a story/poem/letter. Or volunteer to help others who have much less than we have. The possibilities are endless!

3. Family gatherings are inevitable. And they often tend to get a bit too emotionally draining. However, they also present opportunities for growth. It’s the same people each year. We know them inside out and what to expect from them. If we set aside some time to prepare ourselves for what we know that uncle is going to say or what that cousin twice removed will do to get on our nerves, then it’s really not unexpected, isn’t it? Rationalizing their thoughts and actions well in advance removes a lot of the emotional strain on that particular day. And what better season than the festive season to practice self-awareness and depersonalization? The best part? We get to pat ourselves on the back for getting an early start on our new years resolutions!

There are tons more where these came from. As BPD challengers, we often find it difficult to see the good in what we have. It’s just too much emotionally. Or we just can’t. But we can. You can! And I’d love to hear from you on all the other ways in which the holiday season is really positive and wonderful for you!

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