Portrait of the bright beautiful emotional woman with art make-up

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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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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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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I have borderline personality disorder (BPD). It is incurable, but it is treatable with counseling, therapy and medication. It’s scary, and every day I have to fight to keep control of my own mind. Some days I win, some days I lose. I would like to walk you through one day I did not win.

I get up in the morning, and I’m normal. Calm and under control. I get dressed, do my hair, put on makeup. I’m ready to run some errands. I feel good. My makeup looks great, and I feel confident in my outfit.

Then I have a meltdown known as “splitting.” I split over something that most people wouldn’t even bat an eye over. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s usually something stupid. Something random that triggers me. Sometimes a trigger I didn’t even know I had. A word spoken in the wrong tone. An action I feel is dismissive. Usually, whomever I feel has hurt me doesn’t even realize they’ve done it.

I cry, I scream. I can’t control myself. I hate myself. I hate everyone else. I hate BPD. I can’t think. I can only cry or scream, or curl up in a ball. I’ve undone all the work I put into getting ready. Why did I bother? What was the point of pretending to be “normal?” I should know that my BPD controls me. My actions convey the exact opposite of what I want, what I need. I push everyone away, but inside my head I’m begging, please, don’t leave me. Please, hold me. Love me.

I can’t run errands, I’m exhausted to the point of almost being catatonic. It takes so much out of me. Physical touch calms me down faster than anything else, but I can’t figure out how to ask for it. It’s not that I’m too proud, too angry, too stubborn to ask for help. I simply can’t. I’ve forgotten how.

I disassociate. My boyfriend hugs me, pulls me into him, kisses me. He tries to comfort me. My body is like a rag doll. I’m not in there anymore. I can’t get out of my head and I’m barely aware of what’s going on around me.

Eventually I come back. I’m embarrassed, ashamed. I feel terrible for the way I acted, for who I hurt. I’m scared. I’m scared out of my mind every time this happens, that my boyfriend, my Favorite Person, will leave me. He will eventually have enough of it. Who wouldn’t?

The rest of the day is a chore to get through. I’ve ruined the day again. For myself, there is little chance I will be in a good mood at all for the rest of the day.  I’ve ruined the day of everyone around me, and I can’t fix it. It’s all my fault.

My body so heavy, it’s so hard to move. My shoulders are slumped over. I don’t have the energy for this. I can’t even run a simple errand. It’s depressing that this disorder has such a hold on me.

Most days are good, with medication, counseling and support. But some days are a war with myself. A bloody battle that no one wins.

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Recovery is a long process, much longer than I ever anticipated when I began treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD) earlier in the year. It’s been incredibly tough at times; however, the rewards have, so far, outweighed the challenges. I can finally say I am on my way to overcoming my disorder.

However, there are a number of things I wish my loved ones really understood about my recovery. Mental health cannot be reduced simply to being sick and being recovered. There is a huge gray area between those two points, and most of us will fall somewhere within that gray bit. Moving into the new year, these are the five things I would like my loved ones to understand about my BPD recovery.

1. My moods are still intense.

I’m learning to regulate the intensity of quickly-shifting moods, but I don’t always have it completely under control. Sometimes, I may still be irritable, sad or angry for reasons that perhaps even I don’t understand.

2. I have trouble concentrating.

Medications for mental health problems can affect levels of concentration, and I still have trouble staying focused. If I seem like I’m drifting off mid-conversation, then feel free to gently let me know. Usually, I don’t even know I’m doing it.

3. It’s OK to ask me questions.

A big part of recovery, for myself, has been learning to open up and talk about my diagnoses. If there’s something you don’t understand or would like to know more about, then please, ask me. Communication is a two-way street, and if you ask me something I’d rather not discuss, then I promise I will let you know.

4. Trust me.

I know I haven’t always given you reasons to think I can make healthy choices for myself. Yet, part of my recovering from this disorder will come from those around me trusting me enough to make my own decisions. You can feel free to ask me about these decisions, but ultimately, only I can guide my recovery.

5. Sometimes, I just need space.

I know I’m not good at communicating when I’m overwhelmed, but I’m trying to be better. There are times when things are just too much for me. I need to recharge because social situations can be draining. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, but sometimes, I just need a few quiet minutes on my own.

The biggest tool I have been utilizing in my recovery has been communication. A lack of communication between myself and those who care for me has always been a major obstacle, not only in my journey to wellness, but also in my relationships. In expressing what I need them to understand throughout this holiday period, I hope to better communicate the needs of my disorder and gain more control over my life with BPD.

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Stacy Pershall is an author and mental health advocate who lives with borderline personality disorder. She’s part of the Active Minds, Inc. Speakers Bureau

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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