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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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Thinkstock photo via panic_attack.

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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.

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What the Mirror Doesn't Show About My Borderline Personality Disorder

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Perspective. Looking at myself in the mirror is like trying to imagine other people’s perspective of me. Therefore, the mirror lies. It only reflects what is in front of it. Feelings and emotions can’t be seen.

My face is just a mask I wear every day to please others and sometimes, to lie to myself. But what is the reality behind the reflection?

Impulsivity

Only a few things can show emptiness, guilt and impulsivity. They are a ripple effect that begins with thoughtless and sometimes careless actions that end with remorse and despair. For me, impulsivity is the worst of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and if I could choose only one symptom to go away, this would be it. I have done terrible things impulsively and even though others can be aware of my actions, they can’t understand the reasons behind them and sometimes, neither can I. How can I reflect something I can’t even describe? When I look at my past, I can’t help but feel guilty about how I’ve treated significant people who I was so afraid to lose, but pushed away anyway, leaving a big hole inside me.

Pain

Another feeling that can be hidden is pain. When I grew up, I was taught to “always show my best side” and apparently, happiness and smiles are people’s best side. However, my deepest scars are worn inside. The struggles I have gone through because of my illness wouldn’t surface until later on in life, after a few misdiagnoses, a hospitalization and the accurate diagnosis of BPD.

I am aware I have a family that cares, my children who love me, a few friends who are just a phone call away and a husband who has demonstrated he is here for me through thick and thin. But then again, there are times when I feel empty, lonely and in a lot of pain. A pain I learned to hide, even from myself.

Happiness

Finally, even though there are many things that hide behind my mirror, one keeps me alive: happiness. I can’t “see” happiness every day, but I know there is a part of me deep inside that knows I am happy. Because happiness is not permanent. For me it is the amount of good moments that weigh more than bad ones — even when bad ones are harder to overcome.

Knowing I have BPD is happiness, because I finally know what my illness is and I’m learning to handle it. Going to bed early enough to wake up refreshed is happiness. Knowing I love my job even on the hard days is happiness. Realizing I raised my children — even if I was not the best of moms — is happiness. At the end of the day, it is not about how I look, but how I feel — and my mirror doesn’t show that.

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The Truth About My Need to Achieve

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Thinking back to the early years of my childhood, I can recall being a rather precocious child, always vying for attention in some small way and always trying to be brilliant. For
me, this meant shining above all others in school. I had to be the girl who could spell the most words, had read the most books, had to neatest handwriting. All I wanted was to be brilliant; not a great ask, at all! I had an idea of myself and if I could not fulfill this image in my head, I believed I would be wholly useless, a failure. My goals were extraordinary, even for a small child – I had hopes of Oxford or Cambridge aged 5, aimed at eventually studying a PHD when I was 7. I had constructed a vision of myself that I had to become and this has always stuck with me.

Looking back now, I realize two things. Firstly, this was an early manifestation of my borderline personality disorder (BPD) traits. Though it is only diagnosable post-adolescence, I believe I demonstrated some characteristics to a problematic degree in my youth, and that it was something I was always predisposed to. Secondly, since embarking on the road to recovery through therapy, I understand this idea of brilliance that I held so close was a need for validation. I wanted concrete manifestations of my goodness so that others around me could tell me I was great, as proven through my accomplishments. I held onto dreams of becoming this ideal person because it was a mask, a mask I wore to hide the cripplingly anxious and self-loathing person I was growing up to be. Under the ambition, ambition I still have to this day to an extent, I was a fragile, nervous person and I needed to somehow “trick” others into seeing a version of myself that I would have rather been.

As my BPD manifested itself clearly at the exit stage of my teenage years, I sought validation just as desperately as I had in my childhood, but the means of doing so varied greatly. I entered into serious romantic relationships; they were, as characteristic of BPD, unstable and I would constantly seek reassurance from partners that I was loved, liked and wanted. This extended to friendships, even to some relationships with family members, as I doubted the need others had for me in their lives.

By the time I was in my 20s, this kind of insecurity had ballooned and become a great obstruction to my relationships, my studies and my ability to form new friendships. I needed constant reminders that I was wanted; if I didn’t get them, I would “punish” the perpetrator by cooling contact, almost ghosting the people I cared for over some perceived slight that indicated to me I was not as wanted as I had to feel. I started drifting away from people, and they from me. I was lonely, and this only reaffirmed the little voice in my head, my BPD telling me that if I wasn’t being validated, if people were not constantly telling me so, then they did not want me.

Since I have begun therapy, I have started to separate that insidious little voice from my rational brain, the one that tells me that no one can respond exactly as I want them to. People are not mine to control and I cannot hand out punishments to those who do not telepathically understand what it is I want from them all the time. I am more able to contradict the gnawing voice that tells me I need to seek validation all the time, the one that said I had to brilliant or I would not be good, worthy or cared for. Sometimes I still fall prey to it and find myself wondering if my friends really do like me, or if I am just a needy, wanting burden upon them. But, I fight this voice because mine is louder and I will not succumb to what I now know is my disorder, something that I can learn to control. Through dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) techniques and a greater self-awareness, I can fight even this most vitriolic of my BPD symptoms.

To my loved ones; I am trying my hardest every day to win the battle with the little voice that wants to make me feel inferior and unworthy. Sometimes, I seem cold and unresponsive because I was not victorious and I feel like you don’t want me anymore. Most of the time, however, I am beating it and I am telling it that I don’t need it – I can validate myself now and know that I am loved. But there are times when I still need your understanding because this fight with my disorder will not be won overnight, and I will need you by my side.

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Being a Beauty Queen With Borderline Personality Disorder

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There was a time when I seemed healthy and unstoppable. I worked hard, I did not sleep, and I dedicated my life to helping others. My life was a movie. And a glorious one at that. The truth was the façade I showed the world was just that — a façade. An illusion of happiness and wellness.

the author wears a dress and a pageant sash, and walks down a runway
My first walk as Miss Maryland 2015
Despite my success as Miss Maryland World 2015, being the president of a nonprofit organization, a published author, public speaker and preschool teacher, I was actually deteriorating inside. In this photo, I was mentally ill, but you could not tell. Every day was difficult to get out of bed, but I painted my face, clipped in my extensions, fixed my posture and wore a smile. I had to be my best for the world. It was expected.

The reality was I was struggling with my identity, self-mutilation, severe anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I had not been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) yet during this time, but my struggles with identity and self-harm were symptoms of this serious mental illness. I loved pageantry but I wore a mask to hide the suicidal thoughts and pain I felt every single day.

I had a book published about my battle with anorexia nervosa as a child and my suicide attempts as a teenager. I was candid about my past hospitalizations. I wrote how I was “better now” as an adult. But I wasn’t — I was getting worse by the day. I wanted everyone to think I was cured of mental illness. But that’s not how mental illness works. Mental illness is a slow process to recovery, just like a physical illness can be. But I did not know that then.

I felt by focusing my attention on pageantry and helping others I would never have to face the critical childhood trauma I had experienced. I always expected despite my severe mood swings, depersonalization and self-harm, the pain would go away and I would get better. But I did not.

Even in pageantry and life in the public eye, I experienced significant negative events that further impacted my mental health. After competing in Miss World America 2015 and placing in the top 12 in the nation, I began to search for my own identity outside of pageantry. As a perfectionist, I obsessed over my placement. I did not feel good enough. I slowly began cutting my hair off in search of my own identity — an identity different from the one I had portrayed in pageantry. The thing about borderline personality disorder (BPD) is I can mimic another identity because I do not know our myself. Over the next year, my symptoms worsened. I struggled with suicidal ideation and began isolating myself from family and friends.

After months of worsening symptoms, I experienced a psychotic break on December 30, 2016. I had severe derealization, depersonalization and impulses to crash into a tree. Just to feel something because I had become numb to the world around me. I had been gravely ill for years and my “fake little world” of having it all together began to fall apart in front of me. I could no longer hold it together. I felt embarrassment and shame.

As I turned the steering wheel of my car, I received a call from a friend. I had tried to call her twice before and somehow, by the grace of God, she called me back right in time. She could hear the desperation in my voice and I cried as I explained I could not feel anything. I felt as if I was in a nightmare, watching myself from a distance and I just wanted to get back into my body. I felt by causing myself significant harm I would bring myself back. She stayed calm as I explained this and guided me into driving myself safely to urgent care.

Once I arrived at the urgent care I could hardly hold myself together. The years of pain, sexual harassment, assault, childhood trauma and daily stresses boiled over and caused me to lose touch with reality. The police then came to the urgent care and escorted me to the emergency room.

I am now in my third hospitalization program as a partial hospitalization patient and it has been life-changing. I am learning how to cope with my illnesses and am receiving medications necessary to aid in my normal functioning of life. There is no shame in that and I am feeling better.

I feel myself slowly returning. It will take time to get better, as with any illness, but I have hope in receiving absolute healing through my faith and the counselors and therapists who have been a part of my care. If you are struggling, seek help. Do not be ashamed and do not hide behind a wall of lies. You are not alone and life is not hopeless. There is no shame in being sick. We are human and sometimes we get sick. The key is to not let your illness win. You must win the crown, the trophy, against mental illness every day. You are not alone.

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.

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What I Mean When I Say I'm Stuck in a 'Black High' of Borderline Personality Disorder

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For the most part of my life I have been living in extremes. However, for the past year I have been living in a such a tortured space that Dante’s “Inferno” is probably the only thing that comes close to expressing what I have been experiencing. I have been either so frozen by depression and feelings of emptiness or tormented for days or weeks by an episode I call a “black high.”

I will try my best to explain something to you that I don’t even understand myself.

Close your eyes and think back, in every little detail, on a big moment in your life. Say for example, your first day at the beach — what did the ocean smell like, what sounds did you hear, what did the sand feel like between your toes, were you scared of the big waves or did the power excite you? Your first dance — see the yellow, red, orange and blue disco lights turning round and round, smell the smoke machine. What song was playing, were your palms sweaty, were you in love, what did you wear, who did you dance with? Let’s make it a bit simpler than that. Think of any day you had to run an errand — what was it for, did you buy something or was it just a to-do item, were you hurried or relaxed, were you driving or walking? What about a day you went to see a movie — what was the movie about, did you like the actor/actress starring in it, is he/she married (if so, to whom), do you prefer movies or books? Now, imagine having these types of thoughts split seconds after each other, racing through your mind on loop about any and every topic you can imagine for days (sometimes weeks) — that is somewhat my “black high” feels like.

I have used examples of pleasant thoughts to better explain in what detail I think about things, but generally I do not think about pleasant things. My thoughts would cover topics of failed relationships, self-doubt, feelings of worthlessness and mistakes I have made and how I could never go back and change them. However, above all, the biggest part of this “black high” is the critical voices that comes with it. These critical voices would speak to me all.the.time. They never leave my thoughts, and they suck the life out of me. They would create a fear and anxiety in me that make me feel as if I am going to lose my mind. They would leave no dark corner of my mind unexplored about how little I think of myself, and they would release every terror, anxiety and phobia I have. These fears and anxieties becomes worse at night time because I fear for the sun to set and for the day to end because then there are no distractions, just me and the silence of the night. I fear for the hustle and bustle to stop outside, for the sense of loneliness is overwhelming. When night settles so does the dark and the racing thoughts are overwhelming. There are no beginning or end to these thoughts and critical voices; they flow into each other like an infinity sign. I am not sure if it is part of “me” or if it is the “good” critical voices, but something is trying to fight the darkness off. They tell me I am going to be OK. The sun will come up tomorrow, and we will face it together.

Why do I call it a “black high”? Well, “black” because of the darkness it represents to me. It drains the life out of me and prevents me from living my life in every way. The depression keeps me from getting out of bed and living my life, but this “black high” hurts my soul in a different way. It takes away what is most precious and dear to me — my own thoughts and my ability to write. I have been trying to write this contribution for weeks now, but I could not string more than a couple of sentences together because I couldn’t concentrate long enough. The words and sentences would become gibberish, I would not be able to spell, and my understanding and ability to edit and spellcheck would become completely voided. Not only that, but I would not remember anything of what I wanted to say. There was one incident where I took a walk around the pond to try and clear my thoughts and I thought of these amazing things I wanted to say. I rushed back to the apartment, sat down at the computer and started typing, and every single thought I had disappeared from my memory and got replaced by who knows what; it broke my heart. The thoughts still haven’t returned.

A “high” well, because what goes up must come down, right? As I slowly start to emerge from this tormented hell I have experienced, I am exhausted. Exhausted from fighting my own mind for days (or weeks), I am back to having no energy for anything; doing everyday tasks, seeing friends, public and noisy places, etc.

I feel the sadness and despair start to overwhelm me again — how is it that my life came to this? A never-ending seesaw ride between needing noise and people, daylight and focus, to silence and isolation, darkness and distraction.

Through all of this there has been only one thing that has remained constant — one piece of advice that has carried me through all of these worlds. My sister once told me when I found myself in a desperate place and felt I had do a million things and couldn’t even see myself doing one, all I had to was the very next thing. Don’t think two or five or even one thing ahead, just do the very next thing. Even if the very next thing was simply to get out of bed, then that is what you do. When you have done that, what is the very next thing? Even if the only “very next thing” you did was just to get out of bed for the whole day you should be proud yourself because “tomorrow” is then very next thing you are going to try.

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