Looking around in the street

How I Found My Strength After My Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis


I’ve thought life was hard for as long as I can remember. I never really fit in. I flocked more towards adults growing up because they made me feel more secure, but I never thought I had a mental disorder.

In 2016, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Everything seemed to fall into place as far as understanding why I was the way I was, but the journey only got 10 times more difficult. Since I was now aware of my disorder, it made it harder to cope day to day. I knew I had this condition, but I couldn’t stop my emotions from raging or the thoughts of wanting to end my life. I couldn’t stop those feelings and lies that told me to leave my husband all the time or that I wasn’t good enough. I became more and more frustrated. And as each day passed, more times than not I wish I wouldn’t wake up.

My life changed when I was introduced to a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) book. I was going to be a part of the DBT group, but no one else had BPD so I felt like more of an outcast. My husband and I decided to do it together in the comfort of our own home. As we read through the book and I filled out the exercises, a lot of life made more sense. But it was all about applying these skills to the situations you struggle with. That was the hardest part. Anyone can read this book and be enlightened by it, but can everyone apply these skills to day-to-day turmoil?

I soon realized I had to find the strength and determination that was inside me. I couldn’t rely on the books and the therapy and the medication alone to save me. I had to save me. I needed the strength to read the book. I needed the strength to go to therapy and talk about things I didn’t want anyone else to know. I needed the strength to take that pill every day — it all started with the want to change. None of those things could’ve helped change me if I wasn’t willing. And as each day comes and goes, I’ve learned more and more about myself and about living in this world. We all have the potential to find our inner strength, but it takes work. And unfortunately, we will be working at it our whole lives. But, that is what is so special about us.

We, as BPD survivors, know how to love deeply and connect in many awesome, unique ways. When we love something, we love that something. And when something makes us sad, we are sad. But, that is what shapes us in our lives. The experiences we go through and the multitude of work we have to get done can continue to make us stronger and stronger.

I think The Mighty is a site that can help millions around the world. I am so blessed to be a part of this so I too can post my story. I am a survivor of BPD and continue to survive every day. My prayers are with everyone who fights every day with an illness. Find the strength in you to fight it daily.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Thinkstock photo by Merlas

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Researching My Wife's Borderline Personality Disorder


I need to get this off my chest.

My wife was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) a few years ago, so I did my research to see how I could help make her life and our relationship stronger and better for us both. Personally, I was horrified to see the massive amounts of negativity surrounding the condition — that I’m supposed to “run for the hills.”

I knew my wife had BPD before I married her. She gave me the option to leave, and still does after a bad day. I tell her I love her, how this condition is part of her and we’ll work through it. I will admit it has been a source of stress in our relationship, especially before I came to educate myself on the disorder. I’ve learned to take the time to chose my words wisely, to make sure I give her a little extra space and even sacrifice things I love to benefit her growth. She’s come so far in learning to control the ups and downs of the disorder. Our relationship is strong and growing stronger every day.

So, I strongly encourage those of you who have someone in your life who is living with BPD to educate yourself, instead of running away from them. Run full speed toward them; show them unconditional love and be patient with them. I understand it can be hard and hurtful sometimes, but I do believe that love over all is the best treatment for this disorder. As a spouse, family or friend of someone has this disorder, keep your chin up and fight the good fight.

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The Loneliness of Living With Borderline Personality Disorder


Living with borderline personality disorder can be extremely lonely.

Between the stigma, the lack of public knowledge about the disorder, and the associated behaviors – including what’s known as “splitting” on even the closest people in one’s life – BPD can feel isolating.

Though the concept of “mental health days” seems to be growing in popularity, it’s important to recognize that some people require more than the occasional day off every couple of months. With BPD, I never know what to expect; I don’t know what my energy level and moods are going to look like, what’s going to trigger me, or what impulses I’m going to experience each day. Sometimes I wake up in a panic. Sometimes I wake up with optimism and confidence, but a small, upsetting event or too much time spent reading the news leaves me spiraling into a depressive episode. Sometimes I wake up in pain for reasons I don’t even understand.

There’s a reason BPD is sometimes called emotional regulation disorder. When I experience an emotion, it hits me like a tidal wave, and it becomes increasingly difficult – sometimes impossible – to see past it. Sometimes BPD manifests in physical symptoms, even putting me in the emergency room, and that tends to be the only time people take my mental illness seriously.

I know my close friends mean it when they offer their support, but I also know loving someone with borderline personality disorder can be overwhelming – to say the least. It’s one thing to have a meltdown every couple of months, but it’s entirely different to live with a disorder as unpredictable and intense as BPD. To avoid “burdening” those around me, I tend to bottle these feelings, fearful of “overreacting” or pushing people away. I know most people won’t really understand, and I don’t want to bother my friends with my third crying spell this week.

How do you explain to someone the burning feeling of emptiness in your stomach, swimming through your veins, breaking you down from the inside? How do you explain the lack of emotional permanence or the effort it takes to overcome the constant fear that everyone you know and love wishes you were dead? How do you explain that, despite the positive people and events in my life, I spend most of my time fighting the urge to self-destruct or disappear?

Most days, I can’t even really explain it to myself.

With the help of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and medication, I’m learning what works for me. I’m learning skills to more confidently navigate the days I feel most alone and to accept that this disorder makes me unique but not unloveable. I’m learning that not everyone will care to understand the battles taking place in my head each day, but some people will, and those people are worth the risk of rejection or isolation. I try to remind myself that no matter how lonely BPD makes me feel, I am never really alone.

If you know someone with borderline personality disorder, please try to keep in mind the emotional roller coaster they may ride every day, even if you can’t see it. If that person seems dramatic or attention-seeking, understand they are responding the way anyone experiencing pain, moods, and impulses of this intensity would respond. If that person tends to keep things to themselves, consider reaching out to them anyway. Sometimes simple validation and reassurance is more helpful than you could imagine. Caring for someone with BPD can be intense, but the extra effort can also save a life.

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

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

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What I Want My Friends to Know About My Borderline Personality Disorder


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.

Sincerely,

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.

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

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wall that says everything matters, nothing's important

The Wall Art That Captures What It Feels Like for Me to Have BPD and PTSD


On Bell Let’s Talk day, I shared this photo on Instagram and promised a blog post, so here’s that post!

wall that says everything matters, nothing's important

When my friend Audrey and I were downtown looking for street art, we came across this painting that says “everything matters, nothing’s important,” and I immediately felt it completely describes how I often feel living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Living with PTSD/BPD is tough, painful, sad, exciting, joyful, happy, and debilitating. At times it feels like “everything matters” — like life is nothing but wonderful. But it can also feel like “nothing’s important” — like life is too painful to continue on. And it switches back and forth like that quickly, constantly. Sometimes it’s even like everything matters and nothing’s important at the same time, and that’s really confusing.

It wasn’t until recently that I’ve started learning more words for feelings; before that, things were just good or bad and there was nothing in between. I still have to challenge myself to figure out how I’m truly feeling. Everything is driven by emotions I don’t understand. I find myself going back and forth between hating people in my life and loving them with my whole heart. Many moments are either dreadful or filled with so much joy that it’s like I might just explode. I think the reason why things seem either good or bad is because when I experience positive or negative emotions they’re to the very extreme.

For example, even with this blog post – when I post it I will likely feel confident and happy. Then, an hour later or a day later I might suddenly hate it, wish I never posted it, feel ashamed of my mental illness, and think people will hate me. Before I know it, I might even switch back to feeling confident and happy. Usually for no reason at all, or maybe I just haven’t dug deep enough to find the answers or reasons yet.

But it’s more than just the feelings. There’s nightmares, flashbacks, and horrible anxiety – one or the other effects me almost every day. I want to work through the memories behind the PTSD symptoms, and I have been trying for years, but disassociation and difficulty trusting people makes that challenging. I can also be impulsive in a variety of ways to cope with the things I feel. Self-harm is one of those ways… one that’s hard for me to talk about.

There have been so many dark moments but so many moments where the light has shone through. And although I greatly dislike that I have to go through all of this and that it often seems impossible to get through, I know I would not be me without these experiences; it allows me to feel empathy, to connect with people, to feel intense creativity and inspiration. Ask me another day, I might tell you how very angry I am and how much I despise having mental illness. But I always come back to the fact that everything matters. Life matters, I matter, and these experiences matter.

This is just my experience and definitely doesn’t describe what everyone goes through with PTSD or BPD, but it is a little glimpse of how I experience the world.

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Borderline Personality Disorder: What Is Black-and-White Thinking?


When I am speaking to a group about my history, I always list the typical symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD), since most people are unfamiliar with the diagnosis. One of the questions I am most frequently asked  is “What is black and white thinking?”. Usually, I will tell them sort of about a funny example from my life of the first time I ever saw myself thinking in black and white, which I will share later in the post, but first let me explain black-and-white thinking in detail.

The official psychological term is splitting, though it may be called all-or-nothing, either/or, love/hate, us/them, and most commonly, black-and-white thinking.  Splitting is not unique to BPD alone. Most people will experience splitting sometimes, but with BPD, splitting may happen the majority of the time, if not all the time pre-treatment. It’s a constant in my life that I have to check my thoughts for evidence of splitting. Black-and-white thinking is ingrained in me, the natural way my brain works.

So what is splitting? Splitting is the inability to see the dichotomy of both positive and negative aspects of our thoughts, usually associated with how we think about people. Everything is either all good or all bad – there is no middle ground. All of my thoughts are polarized. My life is either absolutely terrible or completely amazing, but nowhere in between…

That’s why the main treatment for BPD is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). “Dialectical” means the integration of opposites, seeing that two seemingly opposite things can be true at the same time. The therapy and its coping skills intend on helping patients more easily find a balance between these two extremes we are used to experiencing.

There is nothing intentional about splitting; it’s an automatic response to intense and/or dysregulated emotions. It’s a natural defense mechanism all humans have as children. What causes BPD is a complicated issue, but most professionals agree trauma can play a key role in disrupting the development of the person with BPD. Due to this, when someone with BPD is acting out, it’s not that they’re failing at using their coping skills effectively – it’s that those skills may never have developed at all.

Most children see everything as all good or all bad. This is especially imperative with relationships, most crucially the relationship with their parents. Young children lack object constancy, meaning if they can’t see something, they think it isn’t there. This is why you can play Peek-a-Boo with babies. So if Mom is another room the child may think “Mom abandoned me! She hates me. My mom is bad.” while later at dinner they might think, “Mom is feeding me because she loves me! I have a good mom.”

As you can imagine, thinking in these extremes causes a lot of the symptoms associated with BPD. Splitting is one of the reasons we can so quickly change from idealization to devaluation, and because of that, we may have chaotic and unstable relationship patterns. It isn’t only about others – we may think of ourselves under these strict guidelines as well. Often “I am a bad person” is an idea we are positive is true. This contributes to our identity disturbance and poor self-image. Splitting also contributes to frequent mood swings as we switch from all good to all bad.

As I said, splitting is something I have to constantly be on the lookout for. I also have to take precautions to avoid situations that cause splitting. For example, I cannot debate or realistically discuss politics with someone I disagree with. You should have seen how upset I was getting this past election season and how many people I unfriended! Splitting says my views are right, so yours are wrong. When I did engage in political discussions, more so when I was younger but occasionally still do, I would do things like argue facts that have been proven to be incorrect, just for the sake of staying right. Splitting says you’re either with me or against me. So I would suddenly hate someone I had liked just based on their political views – which is unfair and immature. But dialectically, I realize I do this and I take measures to prevent it by avoiding political conversations. I wish I could participate and stay reasonable and rational, but time has proven I still can’t, even in recovery – so I don’t (well, I try not too). I don’t feel I’m losing much by avoiding politics, so it’s an effective way for me to cope with splitting.

But I am constantly polarizing my thoughts, and I can’t avoid everything that causes it because then I’d get upset with every person who prefers Miracle Whip to mayo. Even something as irrelevant as that is processed by my splitting thoughts. So part of living in recovery of BPD is constantly analyzing my thoughts to look for signs of my symptoms like splitting. (Pro Tip: watch out for words like “always,” “never,” “hate,” or “wrong,” as signs you may be splitting.) 

The best part is once I realize I’m splitting, I’m able to dialectically work it out in my mind so I don’t get so polarized about everything. I try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. I list out reasons why they might be like that. For example, if I am convinced someone hates me because I haven’t heard back from them in a while, I may remind myself of things like they might not be able to pay the bill, the phone may be broken, etc. As I do that, my thoughts move into the shades of grey I couldn’t see, and my emotional intensity comes down as I move into the grey.

When my therapist first asked me to read the DSM criteria for BPD and see if I found it familiar, I told her that wasn’t me at all. I didn’t think I had black-and-white thinking or pretty much any of the other symptoms that I can now see I obviously had. So it wasn’t until about six months into DBT that I was able to take a step back and notice myself splitting. I remember it very well as it was a huge revelation for me and a leap forward towards recovery. Note, this story does contain adult topics and may be NSFW.

I met L when we were in DBT in 2012, and she is still one of my best friends to this day. At the time, we both were struggling with BPD and quickly clicked when she joined my group a few months after I did. Before L joined, our group would sit in silence in the waiting room until our therapists called us back to the meeting room for group. That changed when she joined, as L is very gregarious, and the dynamic of the group evolved as we became more talkative and closer to one another.

This was about six months into my DBT treatment. L and I were just beginning to become friends. We had just started texting outside of group. That day, L entered the waiting room, sat down, and told the group of women she needed to buy a new vibrator. This led to a lengthy yet funny discussion of the quality of different vibrators and recommendations of which one she should get. I laughed through the conversation, though felt slightly embarrassed by the topic, not really contributing to the conversation. After about five minutes, they let us head back to group, and the conversation died out as we got our binders out and prepared to start. I laughed so much my face hurt and went into group in a jovial mood.

A few weeks later, M, one of the group members, was graduating. Graduation was not a formal event, but when someone felt they knew the program well enough, they would stop attending group, and graduation happened at the beginning of the last class a person attended. The therapists would talk about how much the person has grown since they started DBT, the class members would comment on her successes and send well-wishes, ending with the person making a short speech to say goodbye.

When M was ready to speak, she did not discuss her time in DBT at all. Instead, M quietly said, “So, um, there is something I need to say. I wanted to speak up then, but I couldn’t, but I really want to say it before I leave. A few weeks ago, there was a very inappropriate conversation in the waiting room before group. It made me feel very uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel I could speak up. I–”

L cut M off. “M, I know I started that conversation, and I wanted to tell you I am so sorry. It was a really inappropriate conversation, and I should have been more mindful. I did not mean to make you uncomfortable. I will be more careful in the future and I’m sorry to have upset you.”

“It’s OK, I just wanted to get the chance to speak up…”

M continued on, and L continued to apologize for starting the vibrator conversation, but I wasn’t really listening at this point. Instead, I was seething.

Who does she think she is? I thought to myself. L can talk about whatever she wants and just because M’s a prude doesn’t mean she can be such a bitch about it. And my thoughts kept going, totally trashing M while praising L, when suddenly it hit me. I was starting a fight in my head while the two women were actually apologizing. I had drawn a line in the sand and was intensely angry at M.

This is it! I’m thinking in black and white! 

This is what black-and-white thinking is!

I spent a lot of time analyzing my thoughts through the rest of class, curious as to how it became so extreme in my mind when the situation didn’t warrant it. I was creating a fight when there wasn’t one. I complained that M was being a prude for being uncomfortable with the conversation, when I knew that I, myself, was a little uncomfortable too!

I remember I kept saying to myself that I was “on L’s side,” when L’s “side” was actually one that was forfeiting. In my mind, L was right and M was wrong and I had L’s back. Not only was M wrong, but she was a terrible person – in fact, I never liked her anyway. 

There I was, totally devaluing someone based on one thing she said that I didn’t agree with. No, it wasn’t that I didn’t agree, it was that she said my friend did something wrong. At the same time, I was idolizing L, thinking about how cool I thought she was and how I was impressed by her candid constitution. Suddenly, she was my best friend and I had to defend her, though I really didn’t know L that much better than M at the time.

It was completely irrational, but it was an obvious display of black-and-white thinking to me — a demonstration I really needed because I didn’t even know I was splitting. I can’t spot it all the time, but I am pretty good at noticing when I’m splitting now. And the best part is once I realize I’m doing it, I can use my skills to talk myself to a middle ground. If I start getting worked up, I will actually ask myself questions about my symptoms, like, “Am I thinking in black and white?” and look for statements that are all or nothing.

Now you all have a more comprehensive understanding of splitting. It’s complicated to explain exactly how it works to people as they have a very elementary understanding of what that is like for the person experiencing it. Luckily, as long as we remain mindful of moments when we do start polarizing, we are able to correct those cognitive distortions before much damage is done. I can’t speak for other people with BPD, but I feel this is something I may never get a hold on. I don’t think I can rewire my brain to not immediately jump to the extremes, but as long as I keep mindful of my thoughts and watch out for splitting, it’s manageable.

Editor’s note: This story is based on an individual’s experience. Not everyone experiences BPD in the same way.

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