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What 'Emotional Blackouts' Are Like With My Borderline Personality Disorder

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Here today, gone tomorrow. Out of sight, out of mind. Absence makes the heart grow (less) fonder.

Many people who live with borderline personalist disorder (BPD) know very well the meaning of these phrases. I’d like to share my story so those without BPD can understand us, too.

BPD can involve a lot of emotional “mis-wiring.” I’ve struggled with the absence of “normal” emotional responses for as long as I can remember. For me, it more often than not manifests as a lack of emotion. I know it may sound strange, considering many with BPD are often considered overly sensitive and/or over-emotional. And I am. Yet it’s not like I’m a permanent bomb waiting to explode, or an incessant source of waterworks. Those odd, over-the-top bursts of (often unexpected and uncontrollable) emotion are the culmination of days, weeks, possibly even months of feeling nothing. Absolutely nothing. Zip. Nada.

It’s hard to explain this lack of feeling. I could experience the pits of despair or summits of elation one moment, and then entirely forget the feeling ever existed. I call it an “emotional blackout.” I know, in theory, that in the past I’ve endured pain, sadness, hopelessness, and enjoyed moments of joy, pride, achievement. I’ve gone on fantastic holidays where memories were created and the spirit in me was moved. I’ve loved with all my heart and felt mountains move. I’ve had my heart crushed. But then I’ve forgotten. Everything. It’s like it never happened. And try as I might, I just can’t remember the feeling.

I feel it’s worse when you know you can’t remember. You often know you’re causing those around you pain in some way. And there’s not a thing you can do about it. I’ve learnt to cope by pretending I remember, acting extraordinaire! Loved ones often would like you to multiply their joys and divide their sorrows. But when you can’t feel anything, let alone empathize with them, I’ve found it’s all I can do to just sit there and hope they don’t notice I’m pretending.

I’ve hated myself for it. I wish I could apologize to them for the umpteen times it seemed like I didn’t care. I really want to be there for them. I just cannot practically bring out the correct emotional response (even when I know what it should be).

What worries me is the thought of being in any relationship. I know I’ll likely forget all the good times if I don’t keep reminding myself of them and forcing myself to feel something. Because if I let time pass and remain for too long in the comfort zone of not feeling, even a small, not-so-good incident (something as silly as forgetting to buy something from the grocery store) could instantly propel my loved one straight into the “I hate you” zone. And then it’s a whole lot of effort to start all over again.

A lot of my relationships have been ruined over this. But I’ll keep working at it. Some people understand. Some don’t. Relationships that could stand the test of BPD do. Those that don’t may have at the very least helped both parties become stronger. Yet there is hope. I refuse to give up. I know there’s more to this than meets the eye. And I know there’s hope for all of us with BPD. Our loved ones want to help us and be with us. We just have to work harder to reach there. We will.

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The Thoughts That Followed My Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis

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Upon my initial diagnosis of having borderline personality disorder (BPD), I was overcome with two very conflicting emotions: relief, but also fear.

I was relieved there was finally something that accurately described how I’ve been feeling for so long. This diagnosis meant there was an explanation for my unstable relationships, my rapid cycling of emotions, my overwhelming rage at moments, and the moments when I felt so horrible I just wanted to end it all. All the moments when I would feel 10 different emotions all within the span of an hour, feeling so out of control and detached from reality. When I was so overwhelmed and scared of myself that, eventually, I would reach such a low point my only answer was to harm myself in any way I could think of in hopes of relieving the intense pain I was in.

I was also extremely afraid. Just the term “personality disorder” seemed to confirm my worst fears — that everyone did in fact hate me, and it was my fault because I am a “horrible person.” I began to rerun every single moment in my life I thought was significant and wonder if it was real or not. As if I didn’t already feel like I didn’t know myself at all, I felt my whole life had been a complete lie. What emotions were real and what emotions were just an effect of my BPD? Would I ever be able to have a stable relationship, a true friend? Would I be able to get married or have a family? Would I ever be able to have a stable job and life?

These first few weeks were especially rough dealing with all those fearful thoughts, in combination with all of my medications being altered. I felt like there wasn’t a moment in my life that wasn’t plagued with deep regret for my actions and my reactions to my emotions. I felt like my life was completely out of my control, and there was no possibility of reeling it back in.

I regretted hurting so many people in my life, saying things I didn’t mean, doing things I didn’t want to do just because I was in so much pain. I was ashamed of all the times my fear of abandonment and my inability to trust anyone had affected others. I’m still scared nobody will ever be able to understand me, to sympathize with me, or to realize that sometimes I’m in so much pain I may lash out through unjust means. It doesn’t make it right, but I also think about all the times I wished someone would have helped me instead of just walking away.

Of all the things I cannot change, I am beginning to realize I don’t have to let my BPD have complete control over me. It is never going to be something I can change or something I won’t have, but I can change what I do from here on out. Taking care of myself needs to be my top priority. I need to take ownership of my experience. I realize this may come along with a lot of hurt, but I need to have faith that those who care about me will stick with me through the good and the bad. Saying that as someone with BPD means a lot, as I’ve struggled to feel as though anyone has been there for me. But I guess this is my time to prove myself and my BPD wrong!

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Secrets of People Who Live With Borderline Personality Disorder

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21 Tattoos Inspired by Life With Borderline Personality Disorder

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) sometimes experience an unstable sense of self, often coupled with heightened emotions and black and white thinking. And while it’s sometimes easy for those with BPD to feel misunderstood, they want to be seen and heard like anyone else. Whether it’s a reminder to the world or for themselves, tattoos are often a beautiful way to tell these stories.

We asked our mental health community to share their tattoos inspired by borderline personality disorder (BPD) and the stories behind them.

Here is what they shared with us:

1.

A semi-colon tattoo on a man's wrist

“My semicolon tattoo. I’m not supposed to have tattoos in my line of work, but this is my symbol of fighting. The fact that I made it to where I am now. It’s my favorite thing.” — Kennedy W.

2.

A woman shows off her forearm with the word "Love" with the "o" replaced by a semicolon

“I got this one last year after a few hard years with BPD and suicidal phases. Now I want to live and fight for my dreams and health. The tattoo is in a Disney design to remind me of my inner child who I want to protect and take care of. Stay strong everybody and fight.” — Kim K.

3.

A tattoo of the word "ingragilis"

Latin for unbreakable. A constant reminder that when I feel like I’m breaking I’m actually getting stronger.” –Ashleigh T.

4.

A tattoo of small symbols on a woman's upper torso.

I adore reading, and these runes are taken from my favorite books — they mean heal, strength, angelic power, fearless and love. To help me through the bad times.” – Courtney S.

5.

A tattoo on a woman's shoulder of an X-ray of a tattoo

Things are not always as they seem. This is my flower X-ray to symbolize that things may look good on the outside, but the inside is where the struggle lies.” — Amy K.

6.

A woman shows off her tattoo of a key with the word "happiness" written on along the side of the key

“Through my struggles over the last seven years, I have always tried to ‘get back to happy.’ Got this tattoo last year as a reminder to keep going and to keep working on getting back to happy.” — Alison T.

7.

A tattoo of a deer, an arrow and flowers around its antlers

A stag to represent strength and courage. It’s half skull because of the times I wanted to give up. The flowers wrapped around its antlers symbolizes ‘a wound to heal.’ The arrow means no matter how much life pulls you back, you will go further in life. It’s not everyone’s taste, but I love the tattoo I designed for myself. It keeps me going through my battles.” — Chloe H.

8.

A tattoo of a compass

My daughter’s compass to keep her heading in the right direction! She also has footprints on her other wrist to keep her moving forward.” — Emma B.

9.

A tattoo with text that says, "the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant."

This is a quote from ‘Doctor Who.’” –Milo M.

10.

A tattoo that says, "Never give up."

Diagnosed with BPD at 19 and got this two years after. It’s kept me going at times.” –Anna L.

11.

Two images of a woman's forearms side by side. The first of a tattoo that says, "Stop bleeding." The second that says, "Start breathing."

“Got it about two years ago! When I look down at it in times of struggle, it reminds me to take a moment and breath!” — Beckie-Louise C.

12.

A butterfly tattoo with a semicolon as its body

Semicolon butterfly. Small but with meaning.” — Kate M.

13.

A tattoo of an eye on leaves on a shoulder

Tears water the fallen leaves and in time the tree will regrow.” — Linzi D.

14.

A tattoo that says, "Destroy what destroys you."

Keep fighting.” — Marie D.

15.

A tattoo that says, "Fall down 7 times ; stand up 8."

Fall down seven times; stand up eight.” — Lana J.

16.

LauraA.

17.

A tattoo that says, "I myself, am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions."

I myself, am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” — Mary D.

18.

A tattoo of an orange ribbon and text that says, "You are more."

The orange ribbon represents self-injury awareness. The phrase is from a song my sister sent to me while I was in treatment. More than anything, at that time I needed to hear that I was more than my injury, more than my past and more than my diagnosis. This was five years ago. I am now married, graduating graduate school in May and a homeowner. I am more than what I spent years telling myself I was.” — Darbi H.

19.

A sketch of a tattoo design with a flower

I’m getting this done next month — a blue rose to represent my irrational choice of hair during my hardest period and a celtic to represent Boudicca because my mum has always called me her warrior queen.” –Isobel T.

20.

A tattoo that says, "Love is the movement."

I got this before I was diagnosed. This tattoo is inspired by a charity, To Write Love on Her Arms, which helps support victims of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Love is the movement.” — Ashleigh B.

21.

A tattoo of a feather and a heartbeat

The arrow represents that I’m always moving forward and the heartbeat reminds me to ‘choose life.’” — Wendy E.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via our Mental Health on The Mighty page.

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Managing a Relationship When You Have BPD and Your Partner Is Your 'Favorite Person'

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A large part of borderline personality disorder (BPD) for many of us is what we refer to as a “Favorite Person” or FP. For us, an FP goes miles beyond what most people would refer to as a best friend. This is a person we attach ourselves to completely, and often it is beyond our control. However, there is very little information on this specific aspect of BPD. I suppose that’s because it’s not technically considered an official “symptom.”

Although a Favorite Person can be anyone, for me it is my significant other. I rely on him completely, and if I’m being honest, I would be happy to spend every second of every day with him. But for him, this is taxing. He needs alone time, like most people. I don’t. He needs time with his friends. I don’t. He needs to go out once in a while. I don’t. You see the problem? I’m so grateful that he is so understanding of BPD because if not, I think I would have pushed him away by now.

Because I want (need) to spend all of my time with him, when we are apart, I panic. If he is gone five minutes later than he says he will be, my anxiety skyrockets. If I can’t reach him, I have a panic attack. If he calls to tell me his plans changed and he will be gone for a few more hours, I’m crying on the floor. I am completely aware of what a gross overreaction that is and how unfair it is of me to put that on him. But at the time, I can’t stop myself. It’s hard on both of us because there are times when he (justifiably) feels like I’m smothering him, and at that same moment he feels smothered, I feel that we spend barely any time together at all.

Another aspect of having a FP for me is that he bears the brunt of my anxiety, my anger, my meltdowns and panic attacks. He’s seen me at my worst. It’s a lot of work for him. I pick fights with him when I’m depressed for no reason. All of my feelings for and about him are magnified 1000 times. When I’m mad at him, I am raging. I forget that he loves me or that I love him. I feel only intense, all-consuming anger. I convince myself he doesn’t want to be with me anymore, and I fall into a depression.

The beautiful part of BPD, however, is that the good feelings are also magnified. The love I feel for this man is overwhelming. More than I will ever be able to express to him. I see his good qualities and bad qualities and love them all. I want to take care of him when he’s hurt or sad. I want to do anything I can to make him happy because he makes me so happy. It’s true, there are times when I fail miserably at that. But the love is there.

boyfriend and girlfriend

I try to be completely open and honest with him about my thoughts and feelings. I try to help him understand, even though I barely understand myself. I figure as long as he still loves me at the end of the day, I’m doing OK.

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The Stigma of Borderline Personality Disorder

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I had to fight for years to get a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, and everyone I met along the way kept asking me why I wanted to be diagnosed with “such a thing.” Doctors, nurses, friends and strangers alike all asked me if I was aware of the huge stigma BPD carried, of the judgments and prejudices from society and mainstream media. In my quest to be diagnosed, I learned a lot about BPD through the eyes of others, and every single word uttered was horrifying to me, but most shocking of all was the conclusion that people with BPD are “manipulative.”

I spent months reading books and blogs, watching YouTube videos and talking to people in the hopes of educating myself about the disorder. I saw myself in almost every symptom, making me a “classic, quiet borderline.” Some books and websites were compassionate, reassuring and validating, but the majority made me feel like I was some super villain and that I ought to be avoided or even exiled for my… personality.

When I finally got my diagnosis, after a tidal wave of emotions was witnessed firsthand by a crisis team, and after my second suicide attempt in a matter of weeks, I was fully ready to hand back the diagnosis with a not-so-polite “f**k you!”

For months on end, nurses came into my house and upon looking at my history, made their mind up about me in an instant. All of a sudden, I wasn’t Samantha, a 31-year-old with a mental health issue. I was… Samantha, a 31-year-old woman who acts like a child to get what she wants. Samantha, a burden to everyone around her. Samantha, manipulative and deceitful. Samantha, who might not actually be suicidal at all but uses it because she knows it’ll get her the help she thinks she needs.

I heard firsthand how my behaviors were manipulative or attention-seeking, and I stopped reading books on BPD because almost all of them told me I should be avoided. My self-esteem and self-worth plummeted to an even lower level than I thought possible, so much so that I even bought books for my partner on “how to live with a borderline.” Naturally, he was disgusted by this book and threw it straight in the trash. Naturally, he saw how offensive and harmful these books were to anybody with BPD.

One night at a friend’s house, I came across a website for men who were “in recovery” from their relationships with “a borderline.” We all laughed and joked at how ridiculous such a site was. Then we found an article called “How to Train Your Borderline,” and once again, we laughed and joked at the absurdity of such a piece. But months later, I still look back at that article and I can’t help but think – is this how the world really views us?

I didn’t want to be diagnosed with BPD for any other reason than I wanted targeted treatment. After years and years of my doctor sending me away because he didn’t know how to deal with a person in crisis, I wanted to finally be understood by medical staff. Instead what I got was a “one size fits all label” that branded me as untrustworthy, aggressive and manipulative. I couldn’t help but notice that since my diagnosis, nurses would no longer be sent to my home by themselves but instead in sets of two. I know I have a particularly paranoid mind, but that spoke volumes to me about how I couldn’t be trusted. Since my diagnosis, any self-harm or suicidal thoughts have been brushed off as cries for help or mere symptoms of my disorder.

I spent years asking doctors what was wrong with me, why I was so emotional, why my mind instantly turned to suicide if something even slightly scary happened in my life. When I was tired of searching for answers about myself, I turned to other people who I believed could “save me.” I was in a string of unstable, abusive relationships because I needed to feel loved, despite the violence or the abuse I received. I turned to alcohol and gambling. Little did I realize that everything I turned to was actually a symptom of my BPD. I fought for years to get this diagnosis so I could access correct treatment and targeted medication, and while my medication has changed to suit my disorder, the treatment I have received by medical professionals has left me feeling more broken and more abandoned then ever.

I recognize that BPD is one of the most difficult disorders to treat for a number of reasons. We tend to engage in fast and fleeting relationships, be it romantic, therapeutic, or friendship. We may experience “black or white” thinking, meaning we “spilt” on people very easily, putting them in a mental box labelled either “good” or “bad.” At our worst, we may “test” people to see if they will abandon us. Without even recognizing it until afterwards, I test people on a daily basis because I am so scared of them leaving me. My previous therapist cut our sessions short because I told her I was suicidal, to which she replied: “I will not waste my time treating someone who doesn’t want to be here.”

I do understand why my diagnosis makes me a harder case to treat, but don’t I deserve the same treatment, the same level of compassion and understanding as any other person with a mental illness? There are many therapists out there who flat-out refuse to treat people with BPD because we are considered to be manipulative and mentally draining. None of my actions are manipulative by choice, and everything I’ve ever said or done is out of an uncontrollable fear of abandonment or desperation. I also do not intend to be so intense or mentally draining, even though I can clearly see that’s how I am being perceived. And believe me, as much as you might loathe me, I can assure you I hate myself than you can even imagine. I already feel like society’s castaway and the most unworthy and unbearable of people. So when you dedicate yourself to the profession of psychology, try to be aware that not all of your patients will be a “quick fix.” You chose this field because you want to help people. That should mean all of us.

If we are in therapy with you, it’s because we want to be helped, so please allow us that chance.

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

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Ingram Publishing

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