To those who are close to me,
Please don’t hate me, try to understand me.
I live with borderline personality disorder (BPD) which can be hard to treat, and is in my experience amongst the most stigmatized of mental illnesses. It can be easily misconstrued that we are simply “manipulative” or “attention-seeking.” Borderlines are renowned for their unpredictable emotions, their short-lived intense relationships and their “dramatic” moments, so it is easy to see how these misconceptions came about. But please don’t hate me, try to understand me. BPD is composed of these five main characteristics that interlink and spur each other on, and can make everyday life a constant struggle.
1. Intense fear of abandonment.
I live in constant fear that those I care about the most are going to leave, with no real reason to believe they are going to do so. Something so small as an unanswered text can cause a debilitating panic attack that leaves me unable to breathe or think as the fear takes a hold and leaves me shaking.
It’s utterly exhausting and means happy relationships can be a drain for everyone. I become clingy, possessive and often defensive. The lack of trust, the constant need to prove themselves and the never-ending intensity creates the exact situation I am terrified of.
2. Unstable, intense relationships
People can be terrified of hurting me, too afraid to compromise or to put me in my place for fear of my reaction. Depending on my emotional state and my perception of the world, I can either see those I care about as the most incredible, lovely people in the world, or terrible friends who don’t care if I live or die. It is terrifying and confusing to know that the way you view the ones you care about is distorted and volatile.
I am stubborn in my extreme views and cannot be pushed or persuaded otherwise. It leads to a painful game of pushing people away only to draw them close again — a calm medium never seems to be reached and it’s exhausting. As is common with BPD, everything is seen in black and white, but people can only truly be captured in shades of grey.
3. Reoccurring suicidal or self-harming thoughts and behavior; Impulsive, self-destructive behavior.
When under stress, or in an intensely emotional situation, my illness takes over completely. It pushes me to destructive behaviors I know in my gut are only going to make the situation worse. It’s as frustrating for me as it can be for those who care for me. In these times, due to my intense feelings of guilt, anger, frustration and my inability to regulate my emotions or my distress, suicide often seems like the “best” solution to any complex problem. It’s an urge that I cannot shake or rationalize without a tiring, often long battle with my mind.
4. Extreme mood swings and sudden anger.
As everything is perceived in black and white, my emotions are extreme – it’s as exhausting for me as it can be to those close to me. One second I am happy, bubbly and confident, and with the smallest of triggers I become inconsolably sad, upset or even worse, inconceivably angry. The emotion is genuine, intense and feels like it will last forever, even though it often disappears as quickly as it appears.
Sometimes I get into a mood where I don’t even want to help myself. When I’m hurt or scared, anger is my defense – but it is all-consuming, like a monster that takes over. I lash out at those I care about without caring about the consequences until I’ve calmed down and it is too late and I become overwhelmed with guilt.
5. Shaky sense of self and extreme feelings of emptiness.
There are times when I feel proud of who I am, but it can quickly switch to a deep hatred. At times, I barely know who I am and can’t distinguish if what I am feeling or thinking is rational or not. My lack of a strong core is the way I know that my illness has crept up again. It leads me to feeling volatile and often empty. When the emptiness seeps in, everything seems completely dark, sometimes for weeks at a time, and it feels like nothing can ever make me happy. I’m unable to rely on myself and instead rely on others for my happiness, which is never the answer.
What I hate about this illness the most is its ability to take away my control and prevent me from being me. It makes me a walking paradox, making every single day a rollercoaster. When the illness is bad, it can become all-encompassing and I fear that being close to someone like me is overwhelming and horribly draining. Seeing me hurt, and constantly battling a minefield to prevent hurting me again, creates a situation where no one can win. At times, being close to me seems impossible, and requires a lot of courage. I understand when space is needed as closeness begins to take its toll on happiness, but I hope in the end, I can make any sacrifices worth it.
So far, I fear this letter has been without hope and it is easy to sit here full of self-pity and excuses for what is sometimes inexcusable behavior, but that helps no one. Thankfully, it is only a myth that BPD cannot be treated. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is an extremely effective program that allows people with BPD to live happy lives by learning to manage the illness. Fighting this illness is a walk I need to do on my own, by me and for me, but having the love and friendship of those I care about around me makes it easier to reach the ultimate goal of being calm, happy and stable.
By writing this letter to you, I hope you can begin to isolate what is me and what is my illness. Understanding may not take away the hurt, but it does help in taking away the fear. Setting strong boundaries, procedures or contracts helps me know what is and isn’t OK in times of crisis. Keeping in touch with others who support me, both professionally and just from a caring standpoint, can help lift the burden. Above all else, honest communication about what is needed – space and compromise – teaches me to be a better friend, helps me explain what I need and prevents unbearable pain that lack of communication causes on both sides. I promise, even when it seems like I’m not myself, a small part of me is still up there, listening and trying to fight through. I am trying. Please remember that I am more than just my illness and please, don’t hate me, but try to understand me.
Someone who is more than just their BPD
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 Suchota