Colorful chameleon on a tree.

Borderline Personality Disorder Makes Me a Social 'Chameleon'

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For me, living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is like living the life of a chameleon. I feel like I have no identity of my own. In any given situation, I am both consciously and unconsciously trying to be someone I think others will accept. Trying to “fit in.”

For example, I would say I like a diverse genre of music. Mainly because if I am around you and you like country music, I will then listen to country music. If you like alternative rock, then I listen to alternative rock. And so on and so on.

Sure this makes me flexible and adaptive in many environments, but it also means I don’t know what I like. There is a sense of panic and a wrenching in my stomach when you ask me what I like. The honest answer is really I don’t know. The fear of abandonment with BPD is so strong, it feels like I am constantly drowning and I have to use whatever means necessary to stay afloat. Even if it means putting your needs before my own.

In time, it becomes automatic without forethought. The pain of abandonment is excruciating. It feels like in the blink of an eye, everything I love and hold dear to my heart is ripped away. In that moment, I cannot think rationally and I think the way I feel right then is going to last forever. I spiral into the “nobody loves me and I am all alone” trap. Depression kicks in. I panic. I feel worthless. I feel I am a burden and the world is better off without me. I am sure from the outside, it looks like I am being overly dramatic. I assure you, I am not. I am merely responding based on the sheer intensity of my thoughts and emotions.

If you care about someone with BPD, I hope you can understand why we would do anything to prevent this from happening. It truly does feel like our world is crashing down on us.

And if you ask “What do you want to eat?” and the person with BPD says, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care,” they might be a chameleon like me and they are doing their best to adapt to the current environment they are in. Please have patience. We are doing the best we can.

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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Thinkstock photo via indianeza.

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To My Loved Ones Constantly Trying to 'Cure' My Mental Illness

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Dear friends,

I know you mean well. I know you want the best for me. I appreciate more than you know that you are standing by, wanting to help and to give advice. The fact that you have stuck with me this far speaks volumes to me, and I am not about to discount that.

However, there is one thing I’d like to get straight. These illnesses I have — bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD) — are often lifelong battles. I’m not trying to be dismal, just honest. There is nothing that I can take that will guarantee the symptoms will forever disappear. I am on medication and it is good, but it isn’t always 100 percent effective at keeping the bad feelings, the downward spirals, the depression and anxiety at bay.

Sometimes I will go downhill. Sometimes I will get depressed. Sometimes I will rage against the things that make me scared and sad.

When this happens, I know it makes you sad, too. I understand it makes you desperate to help.

However, when it seems like you’re frantically casting about for an instant “cure” it only makes me feel worse. If you suggest that I call my psychiatrist so that she can put me on yet another medication, it makes me feel like you just want me “fixed.” Like who I am right now is unacceptable.

Instead, maybe just listen. Maybe just sit with me. Maybe just hold my hand. Maybe just love me through it and don’t frantically look for a cure. The spirals and rages do pass, eventually. If you sit beside me and help me to “ride them out,” if you help me to remember that hope lies just on the other side of the storm, then it will be very good medicine indeed.

I want to feel safe with you, to let you see the darkness in me, bare all my flaws and foibles, and know that this illness is not going to scare you away. This is what I need, most of all.

Thank you for your steadfast love,

Me.

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The Subtle Signs of a 'High-Functioning' Mental Illness

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Let me explain.

I’m not that different than anyone else. In fact, most people I meet have no idea I have any struggle whatsoever. But underneath the layers of makeup and smiles, past the bubbly laugh and light step, it’s not so hard to see I’m hurting inside.

I have depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder (BPD), but most of the time I seem perfectly normal. Since I am not crying in front of the world, the assumption is made I am perfectly fine or nothing is wrong. Well, this is not the case. There are many things people struggling with the same or similar illnesses do on a day-to-day basis that give insight into how they’re actually feeling. But these things are often overlooked or deemed annoying, but “normal” personality traits.

Depression:

1. Sleeping all day.

Back home, my mother would drag me out of bed each morning, preventing me from doing this, but immediately upon entering college, it became a practically unbreakable habit. When you have depression, you are faced with unending exhaustion, so the moment sleep becomes a possibility, you take it, often missing important events and appointments in your life. Although this is a frequently acknowledged symptom of depression, it is often brushed off by friends and family and thought of as just “laziness.”

2. “Zoning out.”

When I’m at my lowest, my thoughts retreat to the back of my mind and are replaced with a gray emptiness that separates me from the rest of the world. I seem a little less “there.” This particular symptom is often referred to as depersonalization and often feels as though you are watching your life as if it is a movie, rather than living it yourself. This, though it may look like fatigue or distraction, is actually a major symptom of depression. So when you have to wave your hand repeatedly in front of my eyes or knock on my head yelling “hello!” it’s probably a sign I’m struggling.

3. Avoiding new people.

The thing about depression is sometimes there are these little internal voices speaking to you, telling you people don’t like you, you’re pathetic, you look ugly or sound stupid. Meeting new people — or worse — trying to befriend new people, is absolutely terrifying and exhausting to someone struggling with depression. So to all of the people in my classes, it isn’t because I don’t like you! It’s because I’m tired and terrified.

4. Not talking about it.

I like to think this particular habit is one I’ve broken. Since leaving home, I’ve opened up a lot about my depression and (for the most part) it’s helped. See, it’s incredibly difficult to talk about depression because often people take it in two ways. Either they nod their head and say they’re sorry for you, but don’t actually care and obviously don’t really believe you (terrible) or they become totally rattled and believe at any second you will try to kill yourself in some grotesque and violent way (even worse). Because of these reactions (both of which I have seen on multiple occasions), people are very hesitant and scared to admit they are struggling with these problems.

Anxiety:

1. Asking repeated questions.

This one probably isn’t surprising, although I’ve only recently realized this was something I did because of my anxiety. All through high school, I’d ask my best guy friend “would you still be my friend if…” followed by something totally ridiculous like “I had the voice of the Allstate guy” or “I had a third arm.” I’d always ask as a joke, but would be constantly looking for some kind of confirmation he would still be my friend no matter what. I was so concerned he’d leave me or that our friendship was conditional and he’d just up and leave at any given moment (this is also a symptom of BPD).

2. Bailing at the last minute.

Sometimes the idea of going out, seeing people and again, making new friends, is too much. There have been so many instances where I’ve agreed to something and after a day of prepping, worrying, sweating and plucking my eyelashes out over it, I’ve cancelled at the last minute. Sometimes trying to explain your way out of it — though anxiety inducing as well — is much better than actually going to the event.

3. Not being able to fall asleep at night.

This is a symptom most of your friends probably won’t see, but will surely have heard you state time and time again. When you have anxiety, you’re constantly replaying things that happened or may happen in the future over and over in your head. Your heart rate rises and your palms begin to sweat and sleep becomes an impossibility. Fun, right?

4. Speaking rapidly or pacing.

Sometimes, when my anxiety gets going, all of the nervous energy resting in my chest wants to make its way out, so I will start speaking louder or faster and often start moving around restlessly, in an attempt to rid myself of some of the unwanted energy. When you see this, it’s not because I’ve had too much coffee. It’s because the anxiety that’s pressing on my lungs is about as strong as a bump of caffeine and there’s nothing I can do about it. And trust me, if I could “chill,” I would.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):

1. Extreme emotional volatility.

When I was in the seventh grade, my friends had this joke about me being so “emotional.” The boys would just say it over and over until it became a point of major embarrassment for me, though I doubt they knew this. My dad recently told me I’d been the same way since I was a baby, with sudden and unexplainable outbursts and fits that were nearly impossible to resolve. It’s been something incredibly humiliating throughout my life. Meltdowns in public places, drastic reactions to little events that make people look at me like I’m absolutely “insane” and even physical violence on a few occasions. The thing is I don’t mean to overreact and in the moment, I truly don’t believe I am. Every emotion someone with BPD feels is so severe and in tense situations, they will act according to them, which usually means a major reaction. If this is you, don’t feel ashamed. There are a lot of us struggling with the same thing.

2. “Are you mad at me?”

Oh. My. God. If I had a dime for every time I’ve asked this question, I swear I’d be Warren Buffett. With BPD comes a huge fear of abandonment. For me, it manifests in my friendships. If I’m not getting enough time or attention from my friends, I will often lash out in small ways, which I know makes them mad (even if they tell me it doesn’t). I feel incredibly guilty afterwards, and ask “are you mad?” repeatedly until I’m satisfied they’re not going to peace out at any moment.

3. Depending too much on your loved ones.

Do you have a friend who always kind of seems to be causing problems? That friend who is always jealous of your other friends, is way too protective over you or who is always angry or upset and you don’t really know why, but for some reason you still love them? Yup. That’s me. I hesitate to write this one, because I worry people will see me as being some awful creature. The truth is I’m not, but I think it’s important to mention because it seems to be one of the biggest missed signs of BPD. I wish it were different. And thanks to my friends for loving me despite it.

If you are struggling, know you are not alone and there are so many people out there going through the same thing. You just have to look for them.

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.

Thinkstock photo via Archv.

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When You Have an 'Unpopular' Mental Illness

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At age 23, after several years of experience with high anxiety, major depression, trichotillomania, disordered eating and a long list of issues I didn’t yet understand, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). This may seem like the cherry on top of an already difficult situation – especially considering the stigma associated with personality disorders. In reality, I was overwhelmed with much needed validation and relief. I finally had an explanation and I wasn’t alone. Once I stepped out into the real world, however, I felt silenced.

When I was able to share my diagnosis out loud, I noticed an entirely different response than when I previously shared my experiences with depression and anxiety. The term “personality disorder” itself often seems to be enough to scare people away from the entire conversation. It became clear early on a lot of people don’t want to hear about it, much less learn about BPD in order to advocate and support those who are affected. I assume this comes from a place of fear and intimidation, largely due to the lack of public knowledge and the destructive images and ideas we’ve learned to associate with personality disorders.

People with BPD or other personality disorders are assumed to be violent, abusive or helpless. However, many people with BPD actually tend to be notably empathetic, passionate, loyal and perceptive. We also just happen to experience extreme and often overwhelming emotions, mood swings, impulses, fear of abandonment and identity instability. Additionally, these symptoms tend to arise without a moment’s notice, hitting us like a tidal wave. Sometimes BPD looks like panic attacks, emotional meltdowns, self-harm, dissociation, impulsive decision-making and euphoric highs – all in one day. Other days, we live and exist just like anybody else. The unpredictability of BPD means we never really know what each day will bring.

While mental health awareness and advocacy do seem to be on the rise, the stigma surrounding mental illness is still strong. I’ve noticed an increase in people willing to seek help and disclose information about their mental health, particularly with anxiety – the most common mental illness in the United States – and depression. While this is to be celebrated and anxiety and depression are serious mental health concerns, mental health care and awareness cannot end there.

There have been countless times that friends and peers – even people who consider themselves advocates and allies to people living with mental health issues – have dismissed or invalidated my mental illness the moment I show symptoms. The same people who take to social media to preach respect and compassion for those battling depression are – in my own experience – often the same people who choose to remain ignorant to other, more stigmatized mental illnesses. Not only is this problematic for obvious reasons, but it can be incredibly isolating for people who don’t fall in those more widely understood categories of mental illness.

In reality, borderline personality disorder is not all that uncommon. BPD affects between two and six percent of the population (mostly young women) and is believed to be more common than both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Although a lot of information about BPD is still unknown, there are many popular misconceptions about and even therapists known to turn away patients affected by BPD. The fact is people living with BPD, schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder (DID) and other highly stigmatized mental illnesses should have access to the treatment and health care they need to live stable, happy lives. We can each either choose to remain ignorant to the prevalence and reality of the broad spectrum of health or we can recognize people all around us are battling these monsters – even if we can’t see it – and acknowledge they deserve to be heard, validated and loved.

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Thinkstock photo via Archv.

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Being 'High-Functioning' Makes Me Question the Validity of My BPD

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While I was seeing my former psychiatrist, she once referred to my situation as “high-functioning” borderline. I identify with this label in a sense because while I do have the diagnosis and experience the symptoms and the consequences of them, at the same time I do get up and get my shit done nonetheless. I went to school. I graduated. Now I get up at 6:30 a.m. and go to work. I am, as people say, a functioning member of society. Which is great I guess.

But then I feel like it makes others question the validity of my disorder. I mean, it even makes me question my own situation. It’s like, come on, you’re not bedridden so stop saying you have a mental illness. Come on, you’re up during the day, stop saying you’re a mess.

Struggle does not necessarily have to be outward. To so many around me, I am the picture of emotional stability. But inside, deep down, I am hurting. I am hurting so damn much.

I guess my point is, no matter how “high-functioning” you consider yourself to be, never think you have to defend your diagnosis. Never think your illness is invalid.

Because it is valid.

And so are you.

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When You Don't Fit the 'Classic' Definition of Borderline Personality Disorder

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

The “quiet” borderline. It’s not something most people are familiar with, the perception of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is one who acts out. That’s the “classical” definition, but like every disorder, the condition manifests itself in different ways. BPD is one of the most misunderstood and I believe one of the most stigmatized disorders. Well most personality disorders seem to be. The perception of a typical borderline is someone who is violent, manipulative, aggressive, hostile and in essence… a bad person. While these things can be present in the disorder, most people with BPD are not violent people and are some of the most loving and caring people you will ever meet. We just have great trouble in regulating our emotions. It escapes me now but it was once said people with BPD are like people covered in third degree burns all over their body.

So we all know the “classic” borderline as someone who acts out. So what does being the “quiet” borderline mean? “Quiet” BPD is acting in, rather than acting out, but internalizing all the emotions they feel. The fears of abandonment, mood swings, anxiety, self-injurious behaviors, impulsiveness and even suicidal tendencies and black and white thinking (splitting) are all part of being a quiet borderline. But those emotions are typically acted against ourselves. We feel disconnected from the world, isolated, spending time rationalizing and internalizing emotions, which leads to self-destructive behaviors and suicidal gestures, including self-harm. One moment we have all the confidence in the world and then without warning or explanation, we come crashing down hard. We love you at one moment and then hate you in the next. Rather than telling you about it we act “in” on it, separating ourselves from you and then making up some bullshit excuse as to why we went AWOL without telling you the truth. I hate you — don’t leave me.

Oftentimes I myself find I feel disconnected to the world, like I am not part of it, many times questioning if I exist at all. Abandonment, whether perceived or actual, is often present in my life. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked friends and my girlfriend if they are leaving me and if they still love me. It seems no matter how many times I ask, the constant fear of being left is present. The quiet borderline can be summed up in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s quotation:

“I swear to you gentlemen, that to be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.”

To cope with these emotions we turns against ourselves with self-hatred. Personally, I always cut myself to atone for how bad of a person I was. You drove them off. You deserve pain. It’s only fair you atone for this. Once I had self-harmed, I felt like I had atoned for how evil I am. Eventually it got so bad there was barely a spot on my body which hadn’t been inflicted with some form of pain. Once again, acting against ourselves. Sometimes done out of self-hate, sometimes done as a punishment to someone we saw as bad, even though just moments earlier we had been talking about how great they are, what a saint they have been.

Many times the quiet borderline refuses to face these symptoms or even acknowledge them. We don’t act out so therefore how could we meet the symptoms for BPD? This results many times in the quiet borderline going years without any diagnosis or being misdiagnosed. It was my refusal that landed me into a psychiatric ward for a stint. The cuts, the scars, the suicidal ideation finally caught up with me. In a way, it was like being arrested when my friend Whitney told me, “You are going to the hospital.” I was given an ultimatum, either I go willingly and check myself in or go in by force against my will. So I went “willingly.”

A few months back I was discharged. My arms are free from cuts and though many scars are prevalent, my destructive behavior isn’t quite there anymore. In the midst of episodes, I still want to cut myself. That’s something I don’t think I will ever be free of. I accept this. My doctor therapist and my friends and girlfriend hold me quite accountable in this respect.

Recovery from BPD is possible, but it is a long and hard journey. We have so many wounds that need to be healed, a lot of which we have repressed so deep it takes months of searching and meditation. Had my priest not told me to get help, I don’t where I’d be.

If you know someone with behavior like this, talk to them. Research what a quiet borderline is. Help us to help ourselves, because sometimes we just can’t. If you are a quiet borderline, you aren’t alone. I am with you in this fight. Medication and therapy can help you so much. There is no shame in seeking help. There is no shame in having a mental illness. We have a real sickness, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Step into our mind, then you’ll know damn well it exists.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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

Image via Thinkstock.

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