man choosing between two different paths

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.

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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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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!

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