man sitting on medical exam table

In the past few months since being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), I have had new and unique challenges that I have not had to face before. At the same time, though, with the diagnosis has come treatment in the way of weekly therapy sessions and building a strong connection to being mindful.

“Lean into the emotion,” they say.

“Let it wash over you,” they say.

“Once you have accepted the emotion, let it go!”

OK, that is all fine and good, but there are times when that emotion you are feeling will not just let go. Last week, I was off to one of my many doctor’s appointments (this time to have my brain scanned) and I was truly terrified. My BPD reared its ugly head and left a multitude of thoughts in my brain that were difficult to just let go of. I was scared they would find a tumor or something else that would explain the headaches and seizure-like symptoms that prompted me to seek help.

I was forced to go through this inner battle alone that day.

Being 44 years old, I was faced with an incredible sense of loneliness that accompanied the fear. In the past four months, I had lost my mother to cancer, and my fiancée and I had just recently ended our relationship (again) — and with college applications for my daughter coming back to us, I was faced with losing my only remaining connection to sanity. It was then I realized there can be moments when sheer will is not enough to get through these times alone.

But alone I was. I don’t have any friends (other than my ex) I can reach out to, my family is too far away and doesn’t understand what I am going through, and as supportive as my daughter is, I don’t feel it is her place to hold me up.

I was afraid of any diagnosis I might receive.

I was afraid the ongoing changes in my life would compound even further.

I was afraid my current living situation would become untenable as my employer would not let me continue to work from home during this period in my life.

You see, when I get scared, I see dangers at every corner.

I see the monsters under the bed.

I see the creepy crawlies that cover every surface.

I feel the pit in my stomach growing and the nausea that comes with that feeling.

I took all of this emotion in. I let it wash over me, and as I accepted the fear and worked really hard at validating the facts, I made the choice to do the opposite of what I wanted to do (which was crawl back into bed and skip the appointment). I fought through the turmoil, and while it hurt every fiber of my being to be in that moment (which in reality was more like six hours), I moved forward. I went to the appointment, had a clear scan and a great results appointment with the neurologist who is caring for me.

My fear, while very real (in the moment), was over-amplified. By taking time to really look at everything I was going through, I was able to let it go.

So I say again, lean into the emotion, let it wash over you… and then let it go!

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I can imagine that having a friend with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be quite frustrating at times, but I hope to help explain to everyone why some of us may act the way we do and help end the confusion others may have about BPD.

1. Having BPD can mean waking up every day with persistent insecurities.

It can be anything from my weight and appearance to opinions and thoughts or personal mannerisms. I’m afraid that everything I am will be judged negatively, and I believe this even when my logic tries to tell me otherwise. You can tell me I’m beautiful or intelligent a hundred times, but chances are I won’t believe you; my mind won’t let me. Because of this, as a friend, please don’t give up on me. If you feed into those insecurities, it can continue to solidify them.

2. Rejection is my number one fear, and I’ll do anything to avoid it.

I’ve found this is where people get the most upset with me: “Ny, he’s not abandoning you, he just needs to go.” What you may not understand is I think I’ve done something wrong, that I made that person not want to be around me anymore. Too annoying, too ugly, too persistent, too clingy. I think of any and everything I could have done wrong, and I believe all of it. And because of that, I’m embarrassed. I’m upset with myself for being so silly, angry at myself for being so uninviting, angry at that person for leaving me. The problem is I can’t let them leave; I need them to be here so I can be safe, so I can be whole. Whatever they need, I’ll do it. Please understand I don’t want to be so needy. I wish I could accept short-term departures, but those hours feel like days, and those days feel like months. Please be patient with me.

3. I self-harm a lot.

I started at 8, and now at 16 it’s a full-blown addiction. I know the bruises, cuts, tears and burns may scare you, but sometimes it feels like I need them to feel OK. Please understand that, as a friend, I understand it can make you feel helpless, but it makes me feel helpless, too. And my self-injury has nothing to do with you, it has to do with my own self-hatred and impulsivity. Understand that I want to stop just as badly as you want me to stop, but sometimes emotions can overtake your logic, and there’s nothing anyone can do. Just be there when those mess-ups happen. The worst part is being alone.

4. I have a dominant inner child I regress to.

This can be hard for a lot of people to grasp, but I need reassurance when it occurs. When I get scared or sometimes too happy, I revert back to a younger age, and I need to be loved as if I was that age. Sometimes it involves using a bottle or surrounding myself with stuffed animals. Anything to take me back to childhood feelings of safety. In these times, I need the person with me to go along with this. Being in this mindset feels like the safest place I can be, and I understand it may seem strange, but it’s exactly what I need.

5. Last but not least, I can experience severe anxiety.

It can be extreme to the point of screaming, crying, tearing hair out, yelling, regressing, shutting down, falling apart. I’m fully aware this can be embarrassing as a friend, but this is the time you’re needed most because I’m the most vulnerable. Vulnerability is terrifying, especially on top of experiencing a panic attack. This can be the hardest part of a friendship, but I believe it’s also the most important. Protecting the one you love when they need it.

Now, I know what I’m asking can be quite emotionally investing, but it’s what I need to be successful, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for a little bit of help, especially from a friend. So now, I hope you know, and I hope you understand what someone with borderline personality disorder might need from you.

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If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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The very nature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) — the splitting, mood shifts and fear of abandonment — can affect how people with the disorder relate to others and the world around them. And because their behaviors can directly affect relationships, if you don’t know much about BPD, it can be hard to understand why a person is acting the way they are.

To try to get a better understanding, we asked people in our mental health community who have borderline personality disorder to share with us one thing people don’t realize they’re doing because they have BPD.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “Always overanalyzing everything, from something as simple as taking longer than usual to reply to a text message to saying ‘hello’ instead of ‘hey.’ It’s exhausting.” — Grace D.

2. “Losing my temper. At times I have actually scared/worried the person I’m with because my anger is so bad. I shout, cry, swear and afterwards cry even more because of the amount of embarrassment and shame I feel for being so vile. It feels uncontrollable at the time, and yet when you reflect, you feel like you should have been able to stop it. It’s frustrating.” — Claire G.

3. “Sleeping. People don’t understand how often I have to ‘recharge.’ Simple things are exhausting, especially when there’s social interaction. Even my family gives me a hard time about sleeping 12-plus hours, but what they don’t realize is I’m not sleeping the whole time. Even with medication it takes forever for my brain to shut off. I’m not being lazy when I sleep all day. My body and brain clearly need a break.” — Ashleigh T.

4. “I pick little fights to test you and see if you will leave me.” — Leigh D.

5. “I ask a lot of questions I know the answer to because of my fear of failure.” — Aislinn G.

6. “People don’t realize I don’t ask for help when I really need it due to the anxieties around rejection and abandonment.” — Charlotte S.

7. “I can’t be alone at home. I last maybe 15 minutes, then I get in the car. Even if I’m driving around for an hour till someone replies to hang out or someone is home. Otherwise my feelings of loneliness are overwhelming and I can’t move.” — Becky L.

8. “Neutral and mundane words, situations and facial expressions are often distorted in my perception and interpreted as threats of abandonment and rejection. The smallest real or perceived slight can send me into panic or desperation. It’s hard to simply have a conversation sometimes or go home at night and fight off the constant anger or panic. It hurts so bad and can last a long time. This then leads to other difficulties like impulsiveness and insecure attachment patterns. It is exhausting.” — Kellyann N.

9. “Because of my fear of abandonment and rejection, I often overreact when I feel like someone has slighted me. You didn’t reply to my message? You texted me without a smiley face? You walked by me in the hallway without saying hi? You cancel plans we had? I immediately assume you’re mad at me, that you’re avoiding or ignoring me. And my reaction to that is to go into defensive mode. I’m angry at you because you’re ‘obviously’ angry at me and I don’t know why (although I run through a thousand possibilities in my mind). I shut down. I avoid you so I don’t have to face you outright rejecting me. I get unreasonably upset. And then people don’t understand why I’m upset because as far as they know they didn’t do anything wrong. I wish there was a way I could make people understand how my mind and my emotions work and that I can’t help overreacting to something that seems irrelevant to them.” — Mikal P.

10. “I self-sabotage everything. Things could be going well, but I find a way to destroy it.” — Andrea C.

11. “Being tired all the time — most people think I choose to stay up all night and sleep most of the day. I don’t, I’m just always really tired from having to deal with life and my head.” — Isobel T.

12.Apologizing a lot.” — Clincie B.

13. “I’m constantly holding back my feelings because they change so often that I never know how I actually feel about something until way later. They are influenced by everything around me. I can love you one second and I hate you in an hour. That is why I can never commit to an emotion because I don’t trust that it won’t change.” — Marie D.

14. “I change the subject of the conversation immediately if the subject is unpleasant and causing a reaction — anger, sadness, fear, etc. I avoid those and so I change the subject so often that not only my friends, but I also, get lost in the conversation.” — Lenka W.

15. “Sending a long text, ending it with “you don’t have to answer” because I don’t want to be a burden, and then getting mad when they don’t answer because even though I said it was OK, I think if they really cared they would have responded.” — Cheryl D.

16. “When I’m quiet, it’s not because I have nothing to say. I’d rather let the emotions storm inside me than say the wrong thing and hurt you.” — Ali R.

17. “Asking people if they are mad at me.” — Angela J.

18. “My emotions, good and bad, are amplified, and often times, my reactions can seem like they’re an overreaction. In reality, I feel everything too intensely and react accordingly.” — Tiffany I.

18 Things People Don't Realize You're Doing Because of Your Borderline Personality Disorder

I am a 20-year-old college student with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and severe co-morbid depression. College with these disorders is not an easy task, regardless of how much I love learning about my areas of study and passions.

BPD is a highly misunderstood and stigmatized mental illness, both in society and by many individuals working in mental health care. This disorder is characterized by hypersensitive emotions, intense emotional reactivity and a slow return to emotional baseline. These components lead to and are accompanied by unstable relationships, perceptions, and an unstable sense of self. Impulsiveness, acting on the spur of the moment in response to this stimuli, and extreme reactions and preoccupations toward real or perceived abandonment and rejection, are two other hallmarks of the disorder.

The hypersensitivity of BPD is better explained as my natural mood baseline, as opposed to periods of worry or stress. For example, mundane and everyday occurrences can trigger intense panic, anger, self-harm impulses, or even extreme euphoria at times of real or perceived passion, success, and care. Instances that would typically evoke sadness and embarrassment in someone, instead rise straight to intense depression and humiliation. The emotions are on and off, up and down, black-and-white, and the thought patterns follow. Minor day-to-day comments and occurrences can be perceived as threats and signs of abandonment. One moment, someone is idealized, and the next, I might fear them or feel rejected and hated.

One day in college with BPD can leave me utterly fatigued, stressed and panicked, ready to escape. This is why there are accommodations protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act for students who need them. I currently have a 4.0 GPA and have been determined to peruse psychology graduate school to further the treatment, study, and awareness of personality disorders. Before this, I graduated high school when I was 16 with a 3.9 GPA. Because of my grades, I often struggle with denial of how it actually affects me in school. I resisted any sort of assistance from my college disability services, until recently.

I feel like two opposites and two extremes. On one side, there is a functioning student and individual. On the other, there is my BPD. The symptoms drain me and greatly affect my emotions, thoughts, and perceptions. It is exhausting and strenuous to screen out emotional reactivity and environmental stimuli. Every semester, I have left each class at least once to cry. Other times, I have remained in the classroom with my head low, and I pretend to be invested in my notes, while I cry silently.

My thoughts of suicide and paranoia, suspicions that those I care about have a motive to humiliate, berate and abandon me, have often distracted me in class. I have found it near impossible to focus. Instead, my mind dissociates in an attempt to lessen the pain and impulses.

My intense emotions have induced severe headaches, nausea or trembling. The emotional intensities feel like a shock and throbs throughout my body. Anything can set it off, including my perception, a change or disruption in the environment, or the simple sounds of feet walking and pencils writing. To calm myself, I have had to leave the classroom or use all my strength to avoid extreme panic and anger.

I have had difficulty understanding and correctly interpreting criticism, which is a main symptom of BPD. Real or perceived public, negative criticisms and slights have provoked me to humiliation and anger for up to a month. This symptom particularly makes me feel ashamed, for it makes me feel closed-minded and immature. I highly value learning, constructive criticism, and any feedback to improve. I find this uplifts my mood. Yet, my symptoms are highly reactive to possible rejection or negative criticism, compared to constructive criticism. Some rather directive teachers or ineffective teaching styles have angered me to the point that it may have been quite noticeable what I was trying to hold back. One teacher eventually made a mocking comment to me in front of the class about it.

Indeed, research has shown a heightened response to negative words in BPD. Neutral faces can be perceived as anger as well, which contributes to feeling threatened, rejected or criticized. During times of heightened stress or anger, my mind entirely mixes up the order and meaning of words and reality, both in the text and in the lecture. My perception only clears up once my emotions pass. I have been distracted and distraught throughout entire lectures because of this issue. My past is filled with abusive or rigid experiences from teachers and authority figures, which contributes to the fear and pain.

You see, I am like a shapeshifter that shapes and reacts to anything and everything that is happening around me, and these descriptions are just a small glimpse of it. I have had immense difficulty spelling simple words like “the” and “when” on my paper during tests or simple in-class assignments because of this distraction, panic and anger. I have had to rush through tests, sometimes unable to finish them. Above all, I have hardly been able to function the week or so before and after a test. My mood has noticeably fluctuated, my self-harm has always increased during these periods, and so have suicide considerations.

Evidently, my disorder has greatly affected multiple areas, including my ability to concentrate, to block out my emotions and stimuli, and to adapt and manage stresses. My distress was becoming more and more apparent. Multiple college friends who are familiar with the college disability services encouraged me to seek out my doctor’s signature for some suitable accommodations.

Based on my symptoms and disorders, I would have the option to use extended testing time for processing and focusing issues, as well as the option to take tests in the disability center’s distraction reduced room. Teachers would be notified that I may remove myself from the classroom for a few minutes to calm down and/or go to talk to a counselor should my symptoms get to that point.

Finally, I brought up the issue to one of my many psychologists, expecting to receive help and feel relief. Instead, my stomach dropped, and my body surged in surprise. My now former psychologist immediately followed with a long explanation of why I do not need help.

“Well, you have good grades. How can you be struggling? You’re just gonna have to get used to it,” she exclaimed about the difficulties I detailed, before continuing on about how I cannot just come in and request I receive a diagnosis of a learning disability.

I did not, however, mention accommodations for a learning disability. I explained the accommodations are for emotional/psychological difficulties, which has its own accommodations on the form. After all, that is why I was in therapy with her. Her comment suggested good grades are evidence that someone is neither struggling nor disabled, which struck a nerve.

I was furious. The doctor trained to recognize my struggles, denied that they even occur. Her response showed that she assumed I was trying to manipulate her into helping me take advantage of a service when I truly needed it. I felt ashamed.

“That’s just the way it is,” she continued. She refused to put my disorder down on a piece of paper. She explained it as “too long” of a process and did not really provide a clear reason that she would not fill it out. I knew stigma had something to do with it, for anyone familiar with BPD knows it is a highly stigmatized disorder.

According to international experts John G. Gunderson MD and Perry D. Hoffman PhD., in the book “Beyond Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder,” this disorder and its symptoms are surrounded by so much stigma that it has been called the “leprosy of mental illness.” Particularly, we may be written off and labeled as people who are manipulative or “fake problems.” Admittedly, this stigma I am aware of is another reason it took me so long to seek out accommodations. This doctor did not seem to take me seriously from the start of my therapy.

Finally, she put her attention to her phone and began scrolling through it, inattentively saying, “OK, uh-huh,” every now and then in response to my pleas for help. I felt like I was drowning alone in my symptoms and disorder. My doctor had the ability to send out a buoy to help, but she would not. She was just watching me, telling me to stand up on my own, but I could not touch the bottom. All she looked at was the surface, but she refused to look deeper. This invalidation and minimization is especially painful with my symptoms.

I later explained what happened to my psychiatrist, who then helped me set up an appointment with a psychologist he was positive would help me. After this process, I am thankful to say I have received the accommodations I need. They have helped reduce my symptoms of panic, rage and distractibility in a number of situations.

There is comfort in itself knowing I do not have to deal with this disorder alone. This stigma toward BPD almost allowed another patient to go without the appropriate available services. No one should ever feel trapped and forced to hide their struggles, and that includes those of us with BPD.

Someone’s success does not prove it came easily. My 4.0 GPA does not mean I did not study or spend countless nights seriously contemplating suicide over small five-question quizzes, even in something like an art or food class. It does not mean I did not hyperventilate during tests, dissociate when trying to perform day-to-day tasks, or experience severe paranoia and anger that affected my performance.

To anyone reading this, whether it is a current or future doctor, teacher, or anyone at all, I urge you to remember anyone can struggle beyond what is on the surface. Do not be the one who refuses to help us when our strength and ability feels drowned out by our symptoms.

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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While many would say having borderline personality disorder is a curse, from my perspective neurodivergence is a blessing. It’s taken me a long time to look at it this way. It wasn’t always easy. My sense of self was in constant flux. I could begin the day on top of the world, thinking I could accomplish anything. I would often end the day in tears, gripping my pillow, hoping the world will end. I still do sometimes.

Marsha Linehan says, “People with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.”

There’s so much truth to this. I experienced a type of hypersensitivity that made me feel everything that happened in the world around me. A person could walk past me on the street and it would feel as if they would move toward and through me. Everything was blaring. Loud. The wind creeping through my coat, the ground under my feet, and the steady rhythm of runner’s boots as they glided through the park would all affect me, for better or for worse. Some days all I knew was turmoil and I felt hemmed in on all sides. I felt like I was drowning. One story gave me hope.

In Greek mythology, there’s a figure called Charon whose job is to ferry souls across the River Styx. According to the myth, you can only enter the Underworld by going across the River. The journey across the Styx is terribly dark and filled with the cries of those in their own personal hells. However, because Charon is used to the Underworld he knows exactly how to get the newly deceased on the other side. I like to think of people who have neurodivergence as uniquely gifted. Because we understand darkness intimately, we’re more than qualified to help people get through their darkest hour, much like Charon.

Our darkness allows us to see the preciousness of the human experience and it’s diversity. To be depressed is to experience a profound empathy that won’t let you sit idly by when you see suffering. To wrestle with anxiety necessitates that you protect the weak and fearful. To experience mania or psychosis, even at it’s scariest moments, is to appreciate the creative genius in the world around you. Mental illness can be life-threatening, but the way you choose to perceive it can be a game-changer. Will you help others across the River? I know it hurts. I also know you are a light in the dark. You are a wounded healer. Act like it. We need you.

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April 2016 my whole world was turned upside down. I had fallen in love. I know everyone falls in love, but imagine falling in love with a disorder as intense as borderline personality disorder (BPD). A love where you feel like you cannot function without this person in your life. A love where you become so emotionally attached that the only way to be detached from the person is to push them away, even though deep down you want them to stay.

I never felt attached in previous relationships. That is one BPD symptom I had little understanding of. I had fear of abandonment, just any person can experience. Yet this time, this time the fear was one of the most paranoid fears I had ever experienced. I had fallen in love, and I felt like I couldn’t escape the feeling this person was giving me.

I learned of the betrayal of this person. My stomach flipped. Some people would not act on their feelings and would have simply walked away. For me, this seemed almost impossible. They say you can die from a broken heart, and I nearly did.

The symptoms started to intensify when I found out the person I loved the most had really hurt me. People tend to think people with BPD “overreact” to painful situations. I felt my whole body shut down. I couldn’t leave my bed. I started to self-harm because of the excruciating amounts of pain I was feeling. I pushed everyone away, and I dissociated to the point where I didn’t even realize I was hurting myself until afterward.

The pain of people who are living with BPD is already at a heightened and intense level. So add being in love on top of that, and you might begin to understand the utter devastation we feel when someone really hurts us. I felt like I was suffocating in a big pool of quicksand, and I couldn’t come up for air. Trust issues played a big part in my life already. So to find out someone you loved more than anything consciously hurt you was a big kick to the curb.

As I write this, it’s early January. I sit here in disbelief sometimes. I also wonder how I got through the most emotional intense period of my life. I learned so much about my symptoms and how to cope/manage them without resorting to self-harm or ideation. I learned who my true friends were, whom I possibly took for granted, and I sought comfort in them.

I moved out of my comfort zone and met people who normalized my feelings and validated how I felt. I know there were parts of my mending where I wanted to shut the feelings out and become completely numb because I felt like I was “overreacting.” I have now learned feelings of hurt are valid regardless of how big or little they may seem to other people. If someone hurts you and you loved them, then you have every reason to feel upset, angry and in pain.

If I can survive that emotional intense period of my life, then I am capable of surviving anything. It’s sad how I have to survive in order to live with this illness, but that is what makes anyone with a mental illness special. They get to experience everything a lot differently than someone without a mental illness. I just want anyone who has been in my position to know, despite your intense reactions, your pain is valid after being hurt. Don’t let anyone else tell you differently.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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

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