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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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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 This means a lot of information about BPD online is outdated, and people living with the disorder need to speak out and redefine what it can mean to have BPD.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

I have managed to survive my illnesses and walk in a straighter line towards a healthier life, but people tend to forget that mental symptoms can’t be seen. I wish they could understand what it feels like to deal with being “OK.”

1. Both bipolar and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are treatable, but recovery is not a linear path.

Even though I am able to control many symptoms with daily pills, weekly individual therapy and group DBT therapy (also weekly), there are many days when I can only manage to control the weakest symptoms and the strongest “sneak” out.

Mostly during weekends and vacations, when my brain is “at rest,” anger, loneliness and reckless urges get the best of me. I may seem overreacting, bitchy, temperamental, sensitive, or (the word I hate the most) melodramatic. But, hey! Anyone can get triggered by certain environments, discussions or actions. 

2. If you don’t understand, I get it, but don’t patronize me.

Even with all my research and treatment, I still can’t understand the lengths of my co-morbid illnesses. Each disorder has its own characteristics, so having them together and trying to control them is no day at the park.

When I am open about it people usually say, “You look so normal!” What does normal even mean? What I say may sound rude, but it is not. I know you want to understand, but you have never walked in my shoes, or better stated, you have never been in my head — and I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to be there.

3. Being functional doesn’t mean being cured.  

I have family, some friends and a dog to fulfill my need to take care of someone after my children reached their teens.

I have a master’s degree and a good job. I’ve been a teacher for 14 years. I’ve taught in elementary and middle school, but I truly love high school and I discovered I’m good at it. Maybe my illnesses help me with the empathetic part and some people can’t understand how I do it (because of my conditions), but I love my job. I have an illness, but I’ve gotten to a place where I am highly functional (but that is another story). 

4. Don’t forget who I am.

I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a cousin, a coworker, a teacher… I am a woman, who seems to be weak or strong, depending on your point of view. I know it’s difficult to remember my (invisible) condition. I am like everyone else, I just have to focus in my responsibilities to get away from the twister in my head and invalidating my feelings or emotions hurts like a punch to my face.

Even if I look better, I still have BPD and bipolar disorder. So, please remember I’m trying as hard as I can, if I mess up or I’m the mess, it will pass, and I will have to start all over again.

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Life with mental illness looks different for every person. I was recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and I think most people living with BPD would agree it is the emotional equivalent of a nonstop, never-ending, unpredictable rollercoaster we never wanted to ride in the first place.

Borderline personality disorder brings a lot of highs and a lot of lows. Some mornings, I wake up feeling powerful, confident and ready to face the day. Within hours, I might experience a brutal panic attack, a fit of ugly crying, extreme nausea or vomiting, an overwhelming sense of joy or euphoria, paralyzing emptiness or sadness brought on by five minutes of reading the news, loneliness or pure gratitude. We all feel these things to an extent and these emotions deserve our attention and care. However, there are moments, days and weeks when I feel these things to such an extreme, it is nearly unbearable.

In the last year, I spent a lot of time in emergency rooms, found myself alone in a psych ward, started and failed to complete multiple projects, dropped out of grad school, fell back into drugs and alcohol, experienced loss, pain, panic and heartache and I attempted suicide.

It can be frustrating and disheartening when it seems like others are waltzing through day-to-day life with ease. On one of these days — when I felt particularly hopeless and burdensome to those around me — I pulled out one of my poetry books and turned to the following poem by Clementine von Radics:

You are on the floor crying,

and you

have been on the floor crying

for days.

And this is you being brave.

That is you

getting through this as best

you know how.

No one else gets to tell you

what your tough looks like.

Though we may live in a culture that says depression is weak, taking time off work is lazy and mental illness is insignificant, it’s important to recognize you aren’t alone. Mental illness affects millions of people in a variety of ways and your experiences are just as valid as anyone else’s. Not only that, but it is healthy to take time for ourselves. It is necessary in order for us to do our best work for others.

I have to believe even when the most I can do in a day is get out of bed and get coffee, I am not weak. I am strong for being here and surviving. The fact no one else can see my demons does not mean they are not there and that I am not a warrior for living from one day to the next. I am a warrior and so are you.

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.

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

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Almost two years ago, I sat in a psychiatrist’s office and looked at him disbelievingly as he offhandedly told me that I had borderline personality disorder (BPD). It seemed like such a weighty diagnosis, a personality disorder. I immediately began to question myself, wondering if I was somehow inherently flawed in my character, a bad person, if I was to be diagnosed as having a disorder personality.

The very words “personality disorder” carry so many implications and I feel that this is improper terminology for what BPD is. It is a mental illness that prevents people
from effectively regulating their own emotions, meaning that the feelings they experience tend to be very intense highs and lows, marked by consequent impulsivity, black-and-white thinking, and self-harming behaviors amongst other symptomatic traits. It is not defined through a flawed personality or bad character; it is a disorder that people can control, before treatment, as much as they can control the weather.

It took me a while to come to terms with my diagnosis. I felt for a long time that my disorder defined my personhood, that I was the sum of the symptoms of my mental illness and nothing else. BPD is a highly stigmatizing diagnosis for this reason; there is an implication that someone with this disorder must ultimately be defined through
it and that all people with BPD are one and the same, when in fact any two people with BPD can experience it in completely polarizing ways. BPD is comprised of nine symptomatic traits of which one must experience five to be diagnosed. Therefore, every person experiences their mental illness differently. We cannot all be defined merely as “borderlines” if we have such differing experiences of it.

When I found online communities of other people with BPD, I was able to reach out to them, pore through forums of discussions about this diagnosis, and I began to undo some of the problematic thoughts I was having about my BPD. I had been so secretive
about it, only telling a select few close to me that I had been diagnosed with such a serious disorder. Finding such wonderful, kind, and interesting individuals amongst these communities made me realize that a personality disorder cannot be indicative of a bad personality if I had come to find so many good-hearted people amongst those diagnosed as such. I was able to break my own stigmas about my mental illness and accept myself for who I am, not the sum of my disorder.

I have BPD, but it does not define me. What defines me is my love of writing, the degree I am studying for, my passion for music, my interests in fashion and body modification, my love of animals. I am a whole person that will not cease to exist when I am “recovered,” however that may look, because I am not the sum of a mental
illness, nor am I a bad person for being labeled with such a diagnosis.

I have been so quiet about my struggles and internalized them for so long that eventually they bubbled over the surface and exploded, and I found myself in the mental health treatment services, sitting aghast in front of a nonchalant psychiatrist who handed me a life-altering diagnosis. I suffered in silence, told next to no one, and remained that way even when I knew it would be best to be open and honest about something that affects my life is so many meaningful ways. Until I found these communities, I had no voice about my mental illness. Now, I refuse to be quiet.

I write about my BPD and how it affects me because I must, because I have to communicate and use my voice to help break down the stigmas that even I had internalized. I must use my voice to make my own life better by expressing my needs and struggles to the people who love me. I must use my voice because I did not overcome so much to stay silent.

To the people who helped me find my voice; thank you. I promise that I will speak up about BPD and everything that we understand to come along with such a diagnosis. I will try to fight the stigmatization of it wherever I can, and I will be a sympathetic
voice to those who find themselves where I was almost two years ago. I will not be silent anymore; I deserve authenticity and honesty and this year, that is what I will give to myself. I will use my voice, speak up, and encourage others to do the same.

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