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A Guide to Self-Forgiveness for People With Borderline Personality Disorder

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We all make mistakes. It’s a given. It doesn’t help if you’re too hard on yourself; something every borderline challenger can relate to.

There are plenty of times I’ve reacted before I could rationalize. As I grow and develop myself each day, the frequency of this reduces, but it rears its ugly head once in a while nonetheless. I’ve learned one of the hardest things to do is to love myself, particularly when I’ve screwed up. Here are some ways I try to look beyond the situation, and consider it as a growth opportunity. A quick word of advice though: Begin to do this when you have totally removed yourself from the situation. Sometimes that may be days or weeks after (you’ll know when you longer feel seething anger or uncontrollable tears and instead these are replaced by guilt and self-pity/self-deprecation).

1. Accept: Part of the reason we sometimes fail to forgive ourselves is that we don’t want to accept we messed up. Instead, we go straight to self-deprecation and punishing ourselves. This isn’t helpful, simply because it prevents you from looking beyond the incident.

First, say out loud what you did. And then follow it with a statement affirming that you accept the fact that it happened, and that you fully embrace the consequences.

2. Acknowledge: Here you acknowledge the emotions you felt then which caused you to react the way you did. For example: Your significant other said something to upset you before you headed out to work, and you carried that with you, acting out through reckless driving. Acknowledge you felt uncontrollable anger at that point, and could not see a way to calm down.

3. Watch: Now that you know what the emotion you felt was, it’s time to watch yourself. Try to replay the incident in your mind; this time as an outsider. Imagine you’re watching yourself drive angrily, and yet you know exactly what’s going through your mind. This is important because it helps you gain perspective on how your actions affect others, despite the action having little-to-no relation with the incident that provoked it.

4. Let go and forgive (this is the most important step): The previous three steps are to help you fully experience the emotions, so that you can finally do away with them (in the context of that situation). Now, you choose to let go and forgive yourself. I’ll admit it — this step isn’t easy even for people who can control their emotions. I realize it might be much much harder for you, given the roller coaster you’re probably always on. That’s why I initially advised doing this days or weeks after the actual incident. But do this, you must. Trust me: harboring the regret and guilt will not help you in your journey to challenge the heck out of borderline personality disorder (BPD). At this point, you once again vocalize the fact that you’re letting go of the incident and associated emotions. Then follow it up by saying you forgive yourself for your actions.

5. Commit to change: They say the best apology is changed behavior. Here you aren’t apologizing to anyone but yourself. (Chances are, you’ve probably beaten yourself up enough about the incident and don’t know how to begin to apologize to the affected people in your life. Or even better, you probably have already apologized to them multiple times). Either way, I recommend forgiving and apologizing to yourself is a pre-requisite in order to work towards the best apology your loved ones could ever get: a fully aware BPD challenger who makes sure his/her life is not dominated by the illness. This is the point where you list out alternate reactions to the same incident and commit them to memory (once again, not an easy task, but something that feels fulfilling when you do it!). In this step, you are planning for a future, which is less governed by your emotions and more ruled by you!

6. Tackle life head on: No explanation needed here. You’ve accepted, acknowledged, embraced, watched, let go, forgiven, committed to change. Now all that’s left is go out with your head held high. Like every BPD challenger should.

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How I Learned to Live With My Mental Illness by Letting It Go

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You are not your illness.

It’s always nice to have a name for what you’re struggling with. It’s true that people want to know what it is that’s taking over their life. “What is my diagnosis?” However, the true challenge is ultimately to find the name… and then let it go. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) at 15 years old. I held onto that diagnosis for five years. It fit me perfectly. If people asked what I deal with because of BPD, I would list off the all the symptoms and challenges from the National Institute of Mental Health.

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family, friends and loved ones, often swinging from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
  • Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self
  • Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving and binge eating
  • Recurring suicidal behaviors or threats or self-harming behavior, such as cutting
  • Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger
  • Having stress-related paranoid thoughts
  • Having severe dissociative symptoms, such as feeling cut off from oneself, observing oneself from outside the body, or losing touch with reality

It was easy to tell people about these symptoms because personally, I dealt with all of them… plus more. However, this disorder began to define me. It told me what to do in the morning, day and night. It told me who I was and how I should feel. I became my illness. I got comfortable in that space. I would tell myself I’m suffering… but it will end. I can end it anytime I want. I was right about that point. I could end it at any point I wanted, but not in the way you would think. I’ve attempted suicide twice and it was extreme. Both of these instances I was saved by police or a civilian. During both instances I would realize at one point that I didn’t want to die — I wanted the pain to end.

I didn’t want to be healthy. I didn’t “deserve” it. I didn’t want it. I was the sick person in the family, at school and at work. I got special treatment, I got attention. I liked getting those things, but most of all, I liked being sick. It was my identity and I didn’t know who I was without the title of borderline personality disorder. If I wasn’t institutionalized, what was I going to do with my life? With my days? It was boring, and everyone who knows someone with borderline personality disorder knows that when we struggle, it’s certainly not boring! I was living life on the edge when really all I wanted was to step back and find out who I am.

I grew older and went through drug addiction, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide, abuse, financial problems and more. I knew it was time. I moved out of my parents house and into my own apartment in downtown Toronto. I started my own little organization, a non-profit for LGBTQ mental health and it has begun to grow into something incredible. I started attending Ryerson University. I was out of all abusive relationships. I had friends, family and a girlfriend by my side. In those three months, I found out who I am truly as a person. I found out that I am Zee. I love running my organization. I take the time to take homeless people to Tim Hortons, buy gatorade and feed the homeless dogs biscuits.

I know this all sounds like a quick turnaround and truly — it was quick. As if I blinked and my whole life changed. You see, I was hospitalized at a private institution. In this institution you never got stripped checked, you got to wear your own clothes, have electronics, there was even a shopping center in the middle of the facility and restraints were only used if you were put into a different unit. I wasn’t used to this. I was used to having no privacy. I was used to having cameras everywhere, getting patted down and I was not allowed anything but one brown crayon with a sheet of paper. For therapy in the hospital, I would look out my window, or sleep. For therapy at this private institution, I would sit in massage chairs, work out, go swimming, tennis, learn to play the ukulele, meet people who have been through a lot at a different level. I didn’t stay long. I left after 10 days.

Those 10 days changed my life. I got to see the difference in care between the well-insured and the non-insured. The difference is incredible. That’s when I found my purpose. I opened Revolving of Doors (ROD) because of two people who were revolving door patients just like me. We used to joke around and say “see you next month” when one of us got discharged — but it wasn’t a joke, it was true — we always did see each other at least a month later. I dedicated my life to bettering the mental health system. If you go back to one of my dangerous suicide attempts, I was saved by a police officer. How? He asked me what I wanted in life — I was 16 and I said I wanted to be a mental health advocate. At 20 years old, after going through 33 hospitalizations, one group home, one crisis house, three institutions, and three consecutive years in a hospital bed — I learned who I was in 10 days. I am an advocate. I go to peer support groups, shop at thrift shops and live off potatoes and diet coke. However, I am well educated, I have a university education. I was a scholar in high school, I have won multiple awards such as Scotiabank Game Changers, Accessibility Award, EA2014, Special Achievement Award and more. I’m grounded, I know what it’s like to be scared every time I close my eyes and I also know what it’s like to walk on stage and tell my story — fearless.

I said earlier “I can end it anytime I want… not in the way you would think” my point is when I was in a dark place I could have ended my life, but I grew stronger every day and I ended my major suffering in a different way. I ended it by coping. I no longer went to the hospital to avoid coping. I only went when I absolutely needed it. I spend an hour every day on “vacation” from electronics, I read, write, color, knit, anything. I just want to be with me and that’s enough. I cope on a regular basis, not just when I am in crisis. Growing up with borderline personality disorder gave me the chance to blame everyone, especially myself. But, I no longer hate myself. I know people love me and I love them. I know that I have a purpose. I know that even if nothing is happening in my life and it’s “boring,” I can enjoy my own company.

What helped me survive was coping by myself on a regular basis. I used to hate the word “coping” and now I use it regularly. I’m not saying you have to see the world to understand and find yourself. I’m saying you need to take that time for you and only you. Get to know what you like, hobbies…anything. With borderline personality disorder, when I had nothing to do, I would go to something unhealthy — I have changed that to healthy and I’ve never been as content. Don’t get me wrong… I still struggle. I’m anxious every time I leave the house, sometimes I just stay in bed all day because my migraines are incredible and I’m heavily medicated. I have help at school to get through it without exploding from stress… but, not all my days are bad now. I have “OK” days, good days and sometimes even great days.

BPD is known as the “hopeless” diagnosis. Doctors to this day don’t know how to diagnose or treat the disorder properly. But to everyone with BPD, I want you to know you are special, you have a strong purpose, you feel everything so deeply and no one except you and other who have it will understand that. However, please know your journey isn’t to be as sick as you can, but to find your purpose and live it to your full potential while still receiving help. We feel emotions so intensely and that means we are extremely passionate about everything in our life — imagine finding that one thing you are passionate about. That is your purpose. It could be as small as smiling in the mirror at yourself every day to being Prime Minister. That is the purpose. I know you are struggling, I know it’s hard, I know you think no one understands, I know you feel hopeless, I know some doctors give you attitude because of your title, but I know you can get through this. I know that you were blessed with a curse and that you can overcome anything. You are strong. You are willing. You can do this if you try. I promise.  Remember that you are not your illness. Use it.

Following this journey on Revolving of Doors.

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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The 'Addiction' Borderline Personality Disorder Gave Me

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The part I struggle with most is the addiction.

I’ve read many accounts of people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) who rely on drugs or alcohol to cope, and I understand as much as anyone how easy it is to fall victim to such an extreme coping method. But my addiction was never in the form of a substance. Instead, I was a people addict.

Not everyone satisfied my desire for connection. It was always someone who was guaranteed to hurt me in one way or another. It was self-sabotage and a cry for help.

If I was friends with someone, the addiction would never manifest itself with that person. But the moment they displayed any interest in something more than friendship, any and all sense of my self-preservation and caution just flew out the window. Even though I was aware of my problem, I couldn’t stop myself.

The scariest part was the significant amount of power these people had over me and over my life. Sometimes it would seem like they were distant or growing bored of me, and I would shut myself away and cry because that’s how much it hurt. For days, even weeks, I was so depressed I couldn’t bring myself to do anything except lie in bed.

Nothing could distract me. Not my friends, not movies, not books, not even my job. I couldn’t force myself to study or do anything productive. And my mom would ask everyday why I was getting nowhere with my online studies, why I wasn’t making any progress. She would get angry and say I was mopey or lazy or in a bad mood.

I wasn’t always like this though. If the object of my addiction was displaying interest or affection, then I’d feel good about myself and even occasionally happy. But a life spent basing your own self-worth on the opinion of others is not a life at all. At least not one I would want.

For months now I’ve been trying hard to distance myself from the wrong people and surround myself with the right ones. It’s a lot easier said than done and sometimes I still make bad decisions. But I am convinced I can manage this problem. It’s only as powerful as I allow it to be.

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Coping With Bipolar Disorder When You Have Borderline Personality Disorder

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Along with borderline personality disorder, I am also diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. The difference between the two is so subtle that they are often misdiagnosed as each other. Most of the time it’s impossible to tell whether my symptoms are caused by bipolar or BPD. But if you look closely, there are some key differences between the two disorders. Understanding these differences is important in making sure I get the correct treatment.

Bipolar disorder primarily affects my mood and energy levels, whereas BPD affects my personality and interpersonal relationships. Bipolar episodes are a departure from my typical baseline personality and aren’t characteristic of what I would normally do. On the other hand, BPD symptoms are always present and are a part of who I am, no matter whether I’m having a bipolar episode or not.

I’ll address depression first. Depression can be particularly severe in both bipolar II and BPD; I will lose interest and motivation to do things I used to enjoy doing, replacing them with suicidal thoughts instead. This can be triggered by either a traumatic event or seemingly nothing at all. If it lasts hours, I usually attribute it to BPD. If it lasts for weeks or months, however, that’s more indicative of bipolar disorder. The negative voice of BPD feeds upon my depression, though, and will tell me awful things like “everyone hates you,” “people are just going to leave you,” “you’re ugly and worthless,” etc. Hypomania is dramatically different from a regular good mood with BPD, so here’s how I differentiate between the two:

Sleep:

I usually get about six or seven hours of sleep a night, but when I start staying up all night researching new ideas and feeling fine the next day without any tiredness, I know I’m on the brink of hypomania.

Energy:

Normally, my energy level is about average, with a few sluggish days here and there. When I’m hypomanic, however, my energy level goes way up and I feel extremely restless and “wired.” I become a lot more active than usual and begin to talk so fast about different things that people find it hard to keep up. Sometimes, I will feel irritable and snap at people if they get in the way of what I want to do. I become goal-oriented.

Self-Esteem:

Generally, my self-esteem is average at best, fluctuating between very low and normal when I’m not hypomanic. During hypomania, however, it will inflate to the extreme and I will feel exceptionally confident and have grandiose thoughts about how special I am. This might seem like a good thing on the surface, but looking back after an episode, the entitlement and conceitedness that goes along with a false sense of high self-esteem is less than flattering.

Impulsiveness:

This is a prominent symptom for me in both disorders, which makes it even more challenging to deal with since it is consistently ongoing, not just within an episode. Gambling, reckless driving, unsafe sex, spending sprees, binge eating, drug and/or alcohol abuse, or sabotaging success by suddenly quitting a good job or ending a positive relationship are all impulsive and risky behaviors I’ve had major problems with currently or in the past. I’m relatively impulsive by nature, but during a hypomanic episode, it’s like my impulsiveness is on overdrive with absolutely no regard for consequences.

Hypersexuality:

This is a rather taboo symptom that tends to be swept under the rug, but it’s extremely common in bipolar disorder, and when my sex drive skyrockets from its average level, it’s one of the main signs I’m becoming hypomanic. Mix this symptom with impulsiveness and an inflated sense of confidence and you have a recipe for disaster. Sexual indiscretions can also be a symptom of BPD, so this area has been a struggle for me to say the least.

Making big plans:

When I’m hypomanic, I have an intense urge to completely overbook myself and/or make outrageous, unattainable plans I would never rationally make. I know I’m in the midst of a hypomanic episode when I suddenly want to drop everything and go to Vegas or commit to joining a band. I will also take up several random hobbies that I’ve taken a sudden interest in, only to drop them not long after, leaving half-completed projects laying around the house.

Bipolar disorder is commonly treated with medication, so now that I have those symptoms under control, I’m left with my BPD symptoms, for which I’m in therapy. Because those traits are so ingrained in my personality, such as fear of abandonment and an unstable sense of identity, it’s difficult to manage, but I’m definitely making a lot of progress, so I’m proud of how far I’ve come.

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

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The People You Leave Behind in Borderline Personality Disorder Recovery

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One of the first things you’re told to do when you’re someone with an addiction entering rehab is to cut ties with the people who encourage your unhelpful behavior. These are the people you have formed this special relationship with. People who “get it” and know how to help you through a bad trip. People who encourage you to use again and again because that is entirely the purpose of your relationship. It’s how you bonded and it became the expected dynamic.

The main thing I’ve learned since going into remission for my mental health works along the same lines. It feels like you’ve carried on walking forward slowly but surely, taking each day as it comes. Until, one day, you turn around to check on the people who you have these “special relationships” with and you see them standing where you were what seems like moments before. You don’t want to look down on them or the way they’re behaving because they’re not bad people. They’re just not recovering.

You hear your friends talk about how much they want to hurt themselves, how much they want to die and you can’t relate to that anymore. Do you know the hardest part? You don’t want to. The people you love become people you can’t be around.

So you keep walking forward and away from the person you used to be. It’s not because you don’t love the people who supported you when you needed it. Instead, it’s because you can’t bear to be that person anymore. You can’t even remember how to be that person anymore.

It’s hard.

The only real saving grace is being surrounded by people on the same journey as you. People you meet in group sessions. Peers who are also on the road to recovery. People whose track records would put your old friends to shame.

Yet, when you tell your story they seem just as shocked by it. You inspire them just as much as they inspire you, and it becomes a cycle of pulling each other up by backs of your trousers, keeping on keeping on. You encourage each other into recovery because looking back the way you came just seems so dark and dangerous. You begin to wonder how on earth you used to be that person.

One in 10 people with borderline personality disorder die by suicide. You have more than 10 friends with the diagnosis. It feels like a matter of time until somebody else takes a bow and steps off their mortal coil, becoming yet another number of casualties in a war that seeks to destroy.

You want to help. You want to help those who seem to be drowning under the weight of their disorder, being pulled under by the love/hate dynamic of the drama that seems to revolve around them. You get that too because you used to define yourself by your disorder before you started walking away.

But much like someone with an addiction, sometimes you need to loosen ties with the people who encourage that unhelpful behavior. You understand that. You can’t help them any more than somebody could have helped you when you were still walking by their side, oblivious to any way out of your hellish existence.

So all you can do is get further and further away from the people who used to define you and hold on tightly to the people who pull you and keep you “in recovery.” You hope against all hope, that someday soon, when they’re ready, the people you love and left behind will gradually make their way back to you.

Then, you can walk side by side, once again, into recovery.

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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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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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