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How to Be a Friend to Someone Who Has Borderline Personality Disorder

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I believe borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a misnomer; it’s a bad name. I feel it’s an inaccurate description of something that’s closer to massive insecurity in relationships.

I struggle with my borderline personality disorder traits. I’m just now coming to recognize them and understand how they cause me to act and how they shape the way I see the world. When I see the world through that perspective, the world becomes very unsafe in the sense that I don’t trust people, or I’m expecting them to fail me or hurt me. Once this is happening, I push boundaries to see if these things will happen. It’s pretty easy to see how this often ends up.

People with borderline personality disorder aren’t “insane,” they’re just people who can have a hard time trusting themselves and others. We are wired in a way that can make stable friendships difficult, because we often test friends. We are wired in a way that can make keeping a job hard, because you have to maintain healthy relationships. It can make dating a strange process, because we may not know how to trust without oversharing, we may not know how to connect in a healthy way, so it can be easier to trust someone fully or not at all. “Kind of” trusting someone is a weird concept to me, so I push boundaries to see what happens.

If you have a friend with borderline personality disorder, be patient with them. They may be struggling inside just with day-to-day life. Set boundaries, because they may push them and keep resetting them as needed. Don’t give into someone’s impulsive needs, because if you do you aren’t helping them. If they hate you for doing that, that’s OK. Some people with BPD may seek validation, so they might keep doing a behavior you may not like because it can allow them to feel more secure. And they often do it until you ask them to stop, and they may get mad at you, and that’s OK. Please, if you have a friend with BPD, set boundaries and be clear with them. I’ve found people with BPD don’t tend to do well with ambiguity; we can tend to see life in yes or no, black and white, OK or not. Understanding life in-between those lines can be hard for us, so help your friend out. Let them know what is and is not OK for your friendship.

Living with borderline personality disorder can be a struggle. I evaluate friendships daily, and I make quick decisions about people. I’m working so hard daily not to do these things; I’m working so hard daily to be a good friend and a good student.

If you have a friend with borderline personality disorder, be patient, set boundaries, maintain those boundaries, and if they act out, don’t take it personally. Your friend is likely very insecure and doesn’t know how to feel secure. Allow them to feel that, and don’t try to fix their problems.

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The Cost of Having Borderline Personality Disorder

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When I talk about the cost of being borderline, I don’t mean metaphorically; I mean, “How much does it cost to have borderline personality disorder (BPD)?” Often when discussing mental illness we talk about how emotions affect a person or their family and friends, but rarely is money discussed when it comes to being mentally ill.

At the moment I’m struggling with my mental illness so badly that I’m unable to keep a job. The reality of this means I’m not in receipt of a decent living income. I live month to month with money, which can be difficult for the average person never mind someone with a mental illness like BPD.

My impulsivity regularly causes me to spend money I don’t have on things I don’t need. It doesn’t feel that way in the moment. I often feel like I have to buy these things to ensure my happiness. This is not an uncommon reality. Many people with BPD struggle with compulsive spending. Not only this, but they may have a range of costly addictions from alcohol and drugs to food. There are also extra costs associated with these addictions you may not realize. For example, food addiction may cause health problems or a need to buy better fitting clothes. These addictions can mean having to spend money on private treatments because, depending on where you live, your government may not cover it.

Often self-destructive coping mechanisms like binge-spending can be triggered by emotional pain. Someone who is usually frugal with money may max out a credit card after an argument with a loved one. Even though we might be aware of the fact that it is going to have a negative impact on us in the long term, it is difficult for us to get past the comfort it provides in the moment.

BPD itself may require treatments and medications that the government doesn’t always cover. At the moment, although I’m not working, I’m still paying for one-on-one therapy, which the NHS doesn’t cover for me. People like me often have to rely on charities to help with treatment because the NHS can’t keep up with the demand for our treatments. It also can be quite expensive having to attend these appointments with little income. It is costly running a car so having to rely on alternatives is a necessity. It can also be daunting to use public transport. For example, because of anxiety, I often have to rely on expensive taxis to get me to appointments, which is difficult to afford on a low income.

One symptom of BPD, according to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), can be to have an unstable sense of self. This, for me, often means almost changing my style completely on a regular basis. This means new clothes, new shoes, new accessories, new makeup, new hairstyles. This all costs money, and depending on what style I choose can end up being pricey. It also means new hobbies. I’m constantly flitting from one hobby to another. Some are free and easy to do, such as meditation, but then there are things such as candle making, which can end up being quite expensive.

The biggest cost, though, is someone’s life. According to LiveScience, a human life is worth approximately $5 million. One in 10 people with BPD die by suicide, so when your loved one with BPD asks for help, please listen.

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

Follow this journey on Moon Wink.

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Inside My Mind During a 45-Minute Therapy Session

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The waiting room is small with simple chairs and a plant I think might be fake. I sit there, waiting, nervous for the next 45 minutes. I don’t know why I’m nervous; I do this every week. But without fail, every week I am nervous.

The second hand on my watch keeps ticking. It’s 6:14 p.m. One more minute and she’ll come and get me. Just 60 more seconds. One more minute. Finally the clock strikes 6:15, and all my senses are heightened. Do I hear the creak of the door as she opens it, or is that my imagination? Is the scent of the hand soap from her bathroom really that strong, or am I just overthinking it? Is my heart actually pounding so hard I hear it, or is that just a sound from the next room over?

The door opens. She pokes her head out and tells me to come in. Sometimes it’s awkward because there may be others waiting as well, but it’s OK. I walk into the room and throw my coat on the floor because I’m just so classy. I plug my phone into the outlet next to the big chair, and with a sigh, I finally sit down. I proceed to complain about how terrible public transportation is — that the subway was delayed and I panicked thinking I’d be late. She chuckles. She asks me how I am. I say something like, “delightful” or “wonderful” because how else am I supposed to answer such a big question?

Then we get into the important stuff. The reason I’m there. It’s hard — digging so deep into your mind that even you aren’t sure who you’re talking about. I stare at the floor. Usually I stare at this treasure chest kind of thing that sits next to my chair. It has elephants on it, and I used to stare at a specific elephant, one with its trunk way up in the air. A few weeks ago she got rid of that treasure chest. I don’t know why, but now instead of the elephant I’ve come to know, I stare at the fading carpet. After all, looking people straight in the eye while discussing these kinds of things just makes it all even more real.

Every few minutes I look at my watch. I think I do it secretly, pretending to play with the ponytail holder that sits on my wrist. But really I’m checking how much time we have left. It’s 6:30. OK, I still have a good half hour. But then slowly but surely, the clock creeps closer and closer to the time I dread — 7:00 p.m. At 6:55 she starts to wrap things up. She knows it’s hard for me to leave, so we don’t wait until the last second to end things. She eases towards the edge of her chair and says something like, “This is a much larger conversation, and we’ll have to continue talking about it next week. Same time?” Those words make my heart drop. It means I have to go back out into the real world — one where I pretend my emotions do not exist.

My whole body feels heavy. My legs feel glued to the floor, and the pounding of my heart is so loud that I just want to scream at it and tell it to shut up so I can pay attention to what I’m doing. At this point she is standing next to me, telling me to have a good night and to get home safely. But I can’t move. I try, but I can’t. I cover my face and keep repeating, out loud, “Get up. You need to go now. Don’t do this.” I stand up slowly. I know I need to go. Staying there will not only reinforce the dependence I have on her, but it also may hinder our relationship because it would be pushing boundaries, as I have done so often in the past. Walking to the door feels like a chore, even though it’s pretty much right next to me.

Before I leave I look at her and she says, “Take care of yourself.” Then I walk out. I don’t go straight back to the subway. I go to her bathroom first. I stare at myself in the mirror, at the girl who just went through an emotionally draining 45 minutes. My whole chest has broken out in a rash because that happens when I’m anxious. I wash my face then wash my hands and smell the soap that reminds me so much of this office.

This office. My safe haven. My therapy.

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I Am More Than Just Borderline Personality Disorder

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I am a living, breathing human being.

I am a person, a person who feels emotions deeply.

I am a fighter: an overcomer. I face my borderline personality disorder day in and day out.

I am a Christian, and fighting a mental disorder doesn’t make me less of one.

I’m just trying to get myself through this thing called life, one day at a time.

I live with depression and anxiety.

Every morning I have to push myself out of bed. Some mornings harder than others. I cry myself to sleep, praying, “God, where are you?”

Fear has become my best friend. I live in fear of not being good enough. I live in fear that people will walk away. I ask this question every day: If people really knew me, the broken parts of me, would they still love me? Would they choose to still stick around?

“Angie I can’t be your friend anymore.” These words, they break me. These words are words I’ve heard so often, and yet I would rather hear these words and hurt and feel than for people to all of a sudden just stop talking to me, ignoring me as though I never existed.

I would rather feel the hurt of the words than be given the silent treatment, than to all of a sudden be treated as though I am not human.

What’s it like to live day by day with my disorders?

Let me tell you, it’s not easy, but it’s these disorders that make me want to help a world of people who are like me.

I know what it’s like to walk in the foot steps of someone with a mental disorder.

I know what it’s like to be treated like just another statistic.

Yet there is something beautiful about living with these mental illnesses. There is something beautiful about feeling emotions so deeply.

Because I live with BPD, I am able to love those around me so deeply, and I believe that is a beautiful thing.

And yes, there are times I hurt those closest to me, but that is when grace comes in and shows me there is beauty in the breakdown.

There is beauty in the person I was created to be, there is beauty in the person God intends for me to be. I am more than just my BPD, and that right there, is a beautiful thing.

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What You Can’t See About Living With Borderline Personality Disorder

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Having a personality disorder isn’t like a lot of other conditions. It isn’t a visible illness. There is no way to look at someone and see they have struggled with a constant fight inside their own head. Having a mental illness is frustrating and discouraging for the person with the illness, much less the people around them who love them.

There are so many things you cannot see about living with borderline personality disorder. You cannot see the fight that rages internally, the constant search for who I am. The constant fear of being abandoned. The fight against the compulsion to spend recklessly in the highs, the fight to not harm myself in my lows or to numb the pain with drugs or alcohol.

There is a part of me that every time I become attached to someone, I’m wondering when they’re going to get tired of the rages, the breakdowns, the constant overwhelming sorrow. When will they walk away? When will they grow frustrated and give up?

Even with the friendships that have stood the test of time and the fight against myself, I still live in fear I will be too much. That the sheer intensity of how I respond to everything in my life.

Other people cannot see not just the war inside my head, but they also can’t see when I’m happy. When everything feels like it’s perfect. When I love so deeply that person becomes a part of my soul. Not just lovers, but also friends. It’s part of why I cling so desperately to those friends who have stood by me at my worst.

What people cannot see is that for a person with borderline personality disorder, every day is a battlefield in our heads, a war against ourselves, our illness, and living. We fight for every inch we can give ourselves, and it is exhausting.

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22 'Survival Tips' for Anyone Newly Diagnosed With Borderline Personality Disorder

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While getting any mental illness diagnosis can feel scary, getting a borderline personality disorder diagnosis (BPD) can be especially daunting. There’s a lot of misinformation and unfair representation of BPD, and it can make you feel like the diagnosis is hopeless. But there is hope for people living with BPD.

It’s important to remember that dialectical behavior therapy, a common way to treat BPD, wasn’t developed until the late 1980s. This means a lot of information about BPD online is outdated, and people living with the disorder need to speak out and redefine what it can mean to have BPD.

For people newly diagnosed, we asked our mental health community to share one “survival tip” they’ve learned on their BPD journey.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Read about BPD — mainly symptoms and articles by others who have BPD. Understanding the disorder and how it affects you can help a lot. Also look into Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT was designed to help those with BPD, suicidal ideation, self harm… or if you can’t get into an actual therapist for it, there are plenty of things online to help you learn skills yourself! It has already helped me greatly in just the three months I’ve been in it.” — Rachel H.

2. “Figure out what BPD is for you. People forget that everything exists on a spectrum, including BPD, and often articles and books portray the “worst” of cases. You are still an individual person, and BPD will present itself in you in its own way. You are still your own person, and you will make it through!” — Brenna B.

3. “Think through all your decisions relationship-wise. I made a lot of quick decisions and lost a lot of good friends. Also, people don’t hate you if they don’t answer right away. They also have lives!” — Gabrielle L.

4. “Don’t be afraid, embrace it and learn from it. After I was diagnosed is when I really started to grow as a person. I knew why my past was the way it was and finally understood my actions.” — Jodie J.

5. “Get a notebook or a sketchbook you can use to keep your mind busy. It helps to redirect your attention and focus on something else. This has been something that has helped me many times.” — Rayelyn N.

6. “Don’t hide your illness. Share it with people you love, and help them understand what BPD is to you because it can be so freeing.” — Christine H.

7. “It’s not your fault. It explains you; it doesn’t define you. You can do anything and be any way you want.” — Lilith G.

8. “Read about BPD, but don’t focus too much on the diagnosis and let it consume you. I really beat myself up about it for a week or so telling myself I was selfish and manipulative, and that’s not true. I’m kind and compassionate. I can be those things at times, so it’s important to be aware, but remember it is the disorder taking ahold of you — not you yourself. You are not a hopeless case, I promise you that! I am living proof!” — Kristen K.

9. “Get your family to learn about borderline personality disorders and ask them to learn about it so they can understand what it is and why you behave/react to things the way you do. My biggest challenge is trying to get my family to understand how the BPD affects me and my behavior.” — Pam M.

10. “Relax. You will be scared, but it’s not the end of the world. Don’t be afraid to open up to your family and friends. Build up a great support system. Everything will be OK. You’re OK.” — Julissa S.

11. “Don’t let it define who you are. It does not control you… You got this. Don’t let the emotional river drown you. Always keep your head above the water.” — Destiny B.

12. “Keep in mind BPD is different for everyone because I don’t have problems with self-appreciation/low self-esteem as some may or may not. I like to say I have all the personalities, but doesn’t everyone express their selves in different ways throughout their life? That’s what it means to be human, and we are all human.” — Philip M.

13. “My ‘survival tip’ goes across the board for all mental illnesses. You are not your illness. Your diagnosis is merely the label for the cluster of symptoms you experience. You are still you, and although it may seem like you don’t exist in your body, you do. If people try and assume you are a terrible person from the label of diagnosis, they are the ones who need help to understand. Prove them wrong, and do what helps you.” — Chloe S.

14. “Find a friend you really trust who isn’t scared of talking about suicide, will check in on you regularly, just listen… and send you reminders that they care, they want you alive and that you matter in their life.” — Jason S.

15. “I learned how to differentiate the state of mind in which I was thinking. Is this rational, is this emotional am I using my wise mind?” — Mackenzie C.

16. “Don’t listen to anyone – even professionals – who tell you there is no recovery from this. There is life after a diagnosis of BPD.” — Rachel L.

17. “Learn as much as you can about it, and also create your own safe space. On a bad day the safe space can save you. If you can, surround yourself with people you know will be there for you.” — Sparkles M.

18. “Find the strength in others who have BPD. It’s hard to understand and cope with, so finding others who have done so makes things easier to handle.” — Christina C.

19.Read about it on blogs. It makes you feel a thousand times less alone and reminds you the feelings won’t stay forever. It also helps you understand what to expect.” — Aislinn G.

20. “There are two things that have helped me the most when it comes to my BPD. One is a DBT skill called “check the facts” when in distress or experiencing extreme anxiety… take a second to understand what you’re feeling and why. First identify your emotion. Then, see if that emotion is justified by checking the facts surrounding the emotion. (It goes into much further detail), but this skill has helped me enormously when anxious thoughts are involved. Also, hearing others stories about people’s struggles have helped me. Knowing I’m not alone, other people feel this way too! I read a book called “Beyond Borderline: True Stories of Recovery From Borderline Personality Disorder” and it gave me more hope than anything.” — Ilana C.

21. “Writing became my best friend. I could get my thoughts and ideas out of my head for some time. It makes it a little less overwhelming sometimes.” — Marybeth R.

22. “This is just a name to what you’ve been experiencing. You’re still you. You’re still allowed to feel how you do. It’s not wrong. You’re still human.” — Diana A.

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.

 22 'Survival Tips' for Anyone Newly Diagnosed With Borderline Personality Disorder

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