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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With borderline personality disorder (BPD), no two people with the mental illness are alike. Some even describe it as a spectrum. I find myself on the higher functioning side. I live by myself, keep track of my appointments and have a few stable relationships. However, there’s a lot to my BPD that people don’t see from the outside looking in.
1. While I live alone, I’m still afraid of being alone.
It’s a struggle. When I’m at home, my TV or radio is always on because hearing other people eases my fears. I also sing to myself and rely heavily on the fact that my cat is always around. I find pets make it a lot easier. Even with all that, deep down, I’m deathly afraid of being alone. It seems like no matter what I do, I’ll always be afraid.
2. Even though I may look polished, my apartment is constantly a disaster zone.
I can’t focus on cleaning for the life of me. It feels like I’m constantly trying to do six things at once, and nothing gets done. It gets especially worse if I’m depressed. I have a full-size bed. Yet, I currently sleep on the edge because the rest of my bed is covered in things and trash. I want to be one of those people who’s really organized, but it’s hard to be when you have trouble finishing things.
3. While I’m outwardly outgoing, social situations in groups are challenging.
Trying to keep up in a group of five or more people is near impossible. Everyone is firing off their own emotions and following the conversation can be hard. Taking in everyone’s information and trying to process it before I say something just creates a delay. Most of the the time in these situations, I simply just stay quiet. Even with my family, it’s hard for me to engage.
4. I look a lot better on the outside than I feel inside.
I took up makeup as a coping skill, and as a result, most people think I feel better than I actually do. Makeup or no makeup, I have a lot of underlying anxiety and depression. I wish people would stop assuming I’m fine just because I look good. I, most of the time, look good because I feel bad and need something else to focus on. Even if I look like a million bucks, ask me how I am.
5. I spend most of my time in a dissociative state.
You can’t outwardly see that I’m not all there. I like to call that the autopilot effect. I may answer your questions. I will make decisions, but I’m not taking in any information. It makes me forgetful. While I try my best to be in the moment, sometimes, there’s not much I can do but ride it out. I lose complete days to dissociation. So please, don’t get mad at me if I don’t remember what happened, what day I’m supposed to do something or what you said. I’m trying my best.
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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!
Image via Thinkstock.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.