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5 Stigmas I've Encountered as Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

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When I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), initially, I was not aware of the stigma faced by those in the community. But as I began reading around my mental illness, I realized how much of the literature and discourse around BPD tends to seem rather prejudiced against those who struggle with it. It can be disheartening to come across resources that appear to regard borderlines as all being inherently “manipulative” and “calculating” individuals.

BPD is a complex disorder comprised of nine symptomatic traits, and in order to be diagnosed, one must show long-standing signs of five of these traits. Therefore, one person with BPD can present very differently from another, and we cannot all be reduced to one stereotype. There are many ways I have come to understand the stigmatization of BPD, and these are just a few of the prejudices I have come across.

1. The “crazy ex-girlfriend” trope.

On forums for loved ones of those with BPD, I have many times seen ex-girlfriends referred to as “crazy borderlines,” as if that is the sum of their personality and the only reason for the relationship breakdown. I find it very upsetting to see ex-girlfriends with BPD reduced to their mental illness and made to seem evil and “crazy” because of it. The word “crazy” in itself can hurt and invalidate those with mental illnesses, and so this stereotype of borderline exes can be very damaging.

2. “All borderlines are manipulative and cruel.”

As previously stated, not everyone with BPD presents in the same way, and some may behave inadvertently in emotionally manipulative ways, but it is unfair to lump everyone who struggles with this disorder into the same stereotype. Those who live with BPD are all individuals who behave as such, and to paint us all with the same brush is therefore illogical. It can also be harmful to our self-esteem to be seen so often in this negative light, and people should not judge us by this harmful stereotype.

3. “Borderlines don’t want help, they’re just attention-seekers.”

Because a key trait of those with BPD is impulsive behavior, often when we are hurt or feeling painful emotion very intensively, we may sometimes lash out or hurt ourselves in ways that may seem to be aimed at garnering attention. Alongside this, impulsive suicide attempts can also be common amongst borderlines, and acts such as these may appear emotionally manipulative. However, people with BPD can lack the ability to control their impulses, and they therefore sometimes act out in this way as a result of intense emotional hurt. We are not attention-seekers, and to dismiss self-harm and suicide attempts as such means that perhaps we will be less likely to reach out for help if it happens again. I would also add that attention-seeking behavior is not always manipulative or even necessarily a bad thing — sometimes it is just a subtler way of asking for help and support.

4. “Dealing with BPD loved ones.”

Many of us have looked online for resources on how we can best live with BPD, and though there are some fantastic aids out there, I’ve found there is also a wealth of information that instead advises others on how to “deal with us.” Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and loved ones of those with BPD do need help and support, too, a lot of this advice seems to play into the idea that every behavior presented by people with BPD is determined by their disorder, and that every borderline is inherently “calculating” and “emotionally manipulative.” It can be very discouraging to be searching for recovery tools, only to find the advice seems to suggest borderlines are just bad people. I feel this stigma around BPD — and other personality disorders — only serves to deter people from seeking help for fear of vilification.

5. “People with BPD are nymphos!”

Another way people with BPD experience impulsive activity is through sexual behavior, and unfortunately, there is a huge stigma against people, especially women, who engage in hypersexual activity. Those with BPD may do this for a plethora of reasons, these generally being very personal to them, but whatever the reason they do engage in “promiscuous” activity, it is not a valid cause for the harmful stigma they consequently face.

Every form of prejudice we face as borderlines can be distressing at best and damaging to recovery at worst, as it all can chip away at our self-esteem and make us feel as if we are all bad to the core, just sums of a disorder that makes us inherently “manipulative” and “cruel.” But in fact, many people I know with BPD have a wealth of empathy and would do anything to avoid causing hurt to someone else.

Debunking myths about BPD, such as the aforementioned, is imperative in it becoming widely accepted by others and in accessing vital resources for help and recovery. It is important to remember BPD does not define us — we define us. And though the stigma we face can be painful, we must continue to have open conversations about what this disorder truly is so we can destroy these harmful stereotypes.

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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A Love Letter to All the Queer and Trans People of Color With Borderline Personality Disorder

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Dear all the fab Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) with borderline personality disorder (BPD),

I do not know what brought you here or what your story is. The truth of the matter is I love you and I am proud of your efforts. The efforts of getting out of bed every morning. The times you avoid your reflection in the mirror because you no longer recognize the face that follows your body.

I applaud and praise the glory of how you fumble through seeking your phone to avoid discovering the lack of text messages or invites to parties. I uplift your courage in trying to be OK and eating what can suffice your hunger. I am in love with how you handled that awkward situation last week with those people who made you feel insecure for whatever unknown reasons.

For every moment you do something to take care of yourself (whether that be emotionally, mentally, physically or spiritually) is a victory. It may not seem like a grand victory, but I tell you what, it truly is. I know things are difficult right now (especially given the election results, the fear of walking alone, the lack of support, the loss of friends, the fear of losing friends and so much more). Those feelings are valid. At the same time, you are loved. There are people fighting every day to make sure you are safe and that our quality of life increases.

When the emotions become too much and it is starting to become difficult to feel, do something on your behalf of your well-being. Write it out. Draw it out. Show it out. Work it out. Sleep it out. In all these things you do, it is amazing because you did it!

I am proud you are here and you are truly loved. Our ancestors have made efforts to survive and may they bless your journey of figuring this stuff out. I am proud that we are trans and/or queer. I am proud we are people of color. I am proud you are here. We deserve to be here.

If you’re feeling suicidal, or just needs a safe place to talk, you can call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386.

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My Tenuous Relationship With the Desire to Live

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Suicidal thoughts. They have plagued me for years. I have tried to kill myself a number of times. Once, I literally almost did and had to be resuscitated. I look at my future and often wonder if, or when, there are going to be any attempts in the future. When I was a teenager, I was adamant to myself I would not live past 23. That was the year it made sense to me to die. I was so sure of it.

Now, I sit here on the cusp of my 25th birthday living a life I never thought I would. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t see past the anguish and the pain. I couldn’t see through the haze the depression, anxiety and mood swings from an undiagnosed personality disorder were putting me through. Every day was a hell I had to get through, when each step felt like I was wading through treacle.

Everyone has an event in their lives that splits it, an event where there is a distinct “before” and “after,” an event that changed them completely. Mine happened in 2012 when I, accidentally or not, took an overdose of medication I was on at the time and my heart stopped.

It was a lot worse for my family than it was for me. I just remember waking up. They had to go through the days of me in a coma, doctors telling them they were unsure if I was going to wake up and if I did wake up, whether or not I would be permanently effected from what had happened.

I woke up. It was a while before I understood what had happened, that I had died and come back to life. I didn’t know what to do with this information. I slowly came back to myself, and I learned who I was again.

I healed. It took months for me to get back to myself, and even then, the me who emerged was not the same me from before. Dying can do that to a person.

I live a life where my family is ready to say goodbye to me. Once my sister told me she was ready for the call that I wasn’t alive anymore. She has mentally prepared herself for that moment because it’s happened so many times.

Since I found that out I’ve tried to kill myself once, I have a tenuous and fragile relationship with my desire to live. I don’t know how I am going to feel in six months time or six years time. I don’t know if I’m going to attempt to kill myself in the future, and I don’t know if I’m going to die. I do know that right now, I have never felt more stable in myself. I have never felt more in control of my mental health. Finally, I have a name for my disorder. I am going for therapy. I am here.

I take my medication every day. I hold down a stable job and get to do a bit of writing on the side. I’m going back to university to finish my degree. I have a solid friend circle. My life is not marked by the highs and lows it previously has been. It’s not filled with arguments and outbursts from the borderline personality disorder (BPD) that I can’t contain.

Don’t get me wrong. It can still happen, but I recognize these symptoms and am able to move past them now. BPD, my self-harm, my suicide attempts are a small part of me, but they are not all of 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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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To Those With Borderline Personality Disorder Who Were Told Your Diagnosis Is Hopeless

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The man who diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder (BPD) in 2013 was one of only two psychiatrists working in the psychiatric unit where I was staying. He had a harsh bedside manner and a broad, looming frame. After smugly delivering my diagnosis, he shouted at me until I fled his office. Like an unfortunate number of other professionals, he refused to treat BPD patients and had no patience for our symptoms.

Mirroring the experience of many other BPD mental health consumers, I was told by a case manager employed by the same hospital that my diagnosis was a hopeless one and the faults in my wiring were too deep and too warped to ever be improved upon. In a tone slightly more quiet but no less condescending than the doctor’s, she explained how my condition would leave me an isolated, miserable and unwanted part of my community that no therapist worth their education would dare to treat.

As soon as I was able, I placed a phone call to the psychiatrist and therapist who I was already seeing on an outpatient basis. Thankfully, they were incredibly accepting and have done wonders working with me in progressing toward a healthier mode of thinking. The sad reality is my experience is a positive one comparatively. There are countless others struggling with BPD who were told by mental health specialists that not only is their condition their own fault, but because they are so deeply defective, treatment is futile and adamantly refused.

I’m here to say it’s not all your fault, and while you may have some unhealthy habits to work on, you are not a defective human being. You don’t belong stranded on the Island of Misfit Toys. (Bonus points if you’re familiar with the old “Rudolph” movie and caught that reference.)

Let my recovery be evidence of hope to you in the face of BPD. After fully and honestly participating in treatment, I no longer even meet the diagnostic criteria for BPD. My marriage isn’t without hills and valleys, but it’s healthy and full of deep, consistent love. I successfully and healthily play each role I’ve been given. In general, my life is one of emotional stability, and even in moments when that stability has been threatened, stable behavior comes through.

No, this isn’t evidence that the condition can be cured, even if clients like myself no longer meet the diagnostic criteria. There will always be “borderline moments,” chronic struggles those without BPD don’t typically experience. Yet, have no doubt — this isn’t the bottomless pit so many of us have been wrongfully led to believe it is. BPD isn’t a invincible, man-eating beast that brings a lifetime of struggle and then certain doom. It’s possible to cope, to breathe and to experience freedom.

You aren’t a lost cause just because you struggle to have your needs met. You haven’t lost your value just because of a diagnosis. Go forth and take gentle care. You can slay this beast.

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My Goals for the New Year as Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

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If there’s one thing that scares me more than my past, it’s the future. And how better to observe time moving on than to watch a brand new year come into being?

I’m terrified of New Year’s resolutions. They bring with them glimpses of hope, which is so dear to me on the darkest of days. But sooner rather than later, my resolutions are broken and it only gets easier to hate myself.

In light of the new year, I’ve decided to make myself a list of personal goals. Making lists is one of my favorite ways to calm down, and I know how I treasure the dreams I work towards. Rather than make resolutions and swear to keep them, I want a list I can look back at in the upcoming years, especially when life seems aimless.

1. Put yourself first.

Say no when you’re hurting too much to be there for your friend.

When you don’t want to go to a social gathering, say what’s really on your mind.

Ask for help even at the cost of sounding like a burden.

If someone’s actions bother you, let them know. You don’t need to keep making excuses for their behavior.

Stop thinking about what people want to hear while you’re tearing yourself up from the inside.

2. Tick things off your bucket list. 

Your bucket list is not a guarantor against pain.

Your bucket list is not for the distant future.

Your bucket list doesn’t need to be “earned.”

You can’t use your bucket list to bargain with yourself every time you consider suicide.

Your bucket list is the only list of successes that society will never be able to measure.

Place your bucket list in the present. If you are able to, start building up the accomplishments that are meaningful for you.

3. Tell people what it’s like inside your head. (They won’t know otherwise.)

Don’t make a random excuse in front of your friends when you know you’re only trying to avoid a potential trigger. You’ll never know who the fair-weather friends are if you never let them see your storms.

Don’t try to write off your mental health days as migraines. Tell your professors about the days the borderline personality disorder is worse than the chronic pain.

Write blog posts and share them publicly.

Talk about the fear and talk about the stigma. That’s the only way we’ll break the taboo.

I am hopeful this list will enable me to reinforce my identity and to recall the things that are most important to me.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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The Emotional Intensity of Borderline Personality Disorder

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I pinch the bridge of my nose as I try to get my pounding headache under control. With the other hand I grasp the desk so tightly my knuckles turn white. My chest is clamped in a phantom vice, making every breath like a thousand icy shards piercing my lungs. The lump in my throat won’t disappear, and I fear if I take one more breath my whole body will explode – or the tears I’ve been holding back will flow uncontrollably, and I don’t want that.

I sit in this rigid position, waiting for the moment to pass. To anyone watching me, they would think I was having some excruciating migraine, or an asthma attack, or trying not to be sick (although the latter is marginally true). Truth is, I’m just trying to cope with the intensity of my emotions – which at this moment in time are shame and sadness.

To the average person, these emotions would be uncomfortable at best. You might feel your face burn with shame, or a “hot, prickly” feeling creep up your back. But you can probably rationalize these for what they are, and soon enough may yourself laughing about whatever it was which made you feel that way. For me, however, these emotions are so strong, so intense, that it is like being burned by a fire over and over again. The wounds never heal, and each time a strong emotion overcomes you, the wound is reopened and scratched raw again.

Whatever pain I feel in my head is magnified tenfold throughout my entire body. Every strong emotion I feel radiates throughout my whole being, burning bright – if I were a lightbulb I would be at my brightest setting. The emotional becomes physical, and the physical becomes visible. People see me contort in pain, they watch my knuckles turn white as I squeeze the nearest solid object with all my might in an attempt to divert the pain from my head. They see me breathe a sigh of relief when the intensity finally passes, they watch me crumple in my chair as exhaustion takes over.

A common characteristics of borderline personality disorder is self-harm. I have come to realize  this is because the emotional pain we feel is so intense, that we will do anything to divert it or distract from it. I would do anything than sit for a minute with the thoughts and pain in my head. And the emotional pain always comes back – what do you do then? That’s not a question I have found the answer to yet.

Dealing with these complex emotions and the pain derived from them is a full-time occupation in itself. I constantly try to protect myself from criticism and comments from other people because even the slightest remark that someone else might brush off can trigger a downward spiral of pain for me, which could last minutes, hours or even days. I watch for situations where I might get hurt and wrap myself up in cotton wool to prevent that from happening. Unfortunately this makes functioning in everyday life extremely difficult. Keeping down a job and accepting criticism and trying to take things at face value rather than let them prick at me over and over again is near impossible on top of keeping everything else in check. It makes my life chaotic, and I can’t always keep a handle on my emotions, which is when the spiraling starts.

Learning to cope with my illness has made me better at dealing with the intense emotions, but there are still times – not infrequently – where I simply cannot cope. I become a child navigating an adult’s world, I need someone to pick me up and take the pain away because I can’t do it myself. One day I might learn how to be an adult and function normally, but for now, I’m taking it one small step at a time.

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