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Meet My Monster: Borderline Personality Disorder

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I’m writing this in the midst of a borderline personality disorder (BPD) episode.

I’m sitting at my laptop, tears streaming down my cheeks, painfully aware of what feels like a hollow cavity where my heart is. My throat is tight; my head is spinning. All I can seem to think about is what I should be doing: writing my book.

One of my current projects is a non-fiction book about my immigration journey with my husband, Adam — he’s English and I’m American. We’ve had to cut through a lot of red tape just to stay on the same piece of earth together, only to discover a room full of lasers on the other side.

And my “monster” has picked the perfect time to visit. She’s trying to convince me this book isn’t worth writing, that I’m not good enough to write it anyway. She’s asking me why I bother. She’s wondering why I didn’t kill myself four years ago, like she urged me to. She tells me I could’ve spared him from this mess, and he would’ve been none the wiser.

And she’s winning. The proof is in my tears. It’s right here, in this very article, which I’m writing instead of working on my book or my freelance articles which are due in two days.

I know I need to do something productive, so I’m talking to you, because maybe you know how I feel. Maybe you know how frustrating and stressful it is when the monster decides to perch on your shoulder when you have so much else to do.

Maybe you know how it feels when she tries to convince you that she’s not even real, yet she’s right there, in your face. She tells you that she’s just a mirage, something you made up to excuse your own laziness and lack of talent.

But she’s not a mirage, and I know that, deep down.

She’s there and causes the emotional “brakes” of my brain to malfunction, sending my train of thought careening off its tracks. She’s really there, and she won’t leave me alone today.

To people who don’t have this disorder, personifying my mental illness probably sounds — for lack of a better word — “crazy.” But it’s the only metaphor I can come up with that accurately describes how this feels. My BPD isn’t really a monster, but it’s so powerful and sometimes so alien that it feels like a separate entity.

Now that I’ve gotten through a good chunk of this article, my tears have dried. In an instant, my mood has transitioned from the strongest winds of a catastrophic hurricane to the eye of the storm. I can feel my heartbeat again. I can swallow and breathe comfortably.

Ten minutes ago, I wondered if there was any way I’d be able to get out of bed today. Now, all I can think about is the sandwich Adam’s kindly making me, because my hurricane mood eclipsed my hunger. Ten minutes ago, I stared at the blinking cursor of my manuscript, wondering where I’d find the motivation to write even a single word. Now, my borderline brain is quiet, purged, empty. Ideas and motivation are slowly returning.

Maybe I snuffed out my monster’s voice by writing this. Maybe she went away on her own, as she sometimes does after she’s wreaked sufficient havoc.

That’s how quick it is. I go from 100 to zero in 10 minutes. And who knows? Maybe 10 minutes from now, I’ll read over this article again, and my monster will come right back. She’ll probably tell me it doesn’t deserve to be published, that no one will care how I feel, that it doesn’t really matter.

For now, though, I’m going to enjoy this brief wave of peace and quiet and get some work done, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.

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 Grandfailure

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When Your Family Doesn't Think Your Diagnosis Is Real

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To be diagnosed with any mental disorder and have your family doubt if it’s real is one of the toughest things someone could ever deal with. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is difficult to deal with on its own. Emotional instability that manifests itself in unstable relationships and self-image, like you’re jumping from one extreme to another all the time. There is never an in-between.

Before I was diagnosed, I spent a great lot of time wondering if other people function the same way I do. It didn’t feel right, how I function, but I thought if someone else did the same things, maybe there was nothing to be bothered about.

It was always just one of two things. Either, I was really depressed or really hyper (but not necessarily happy). The only consistent thing about me was that I was always over-thinking. Sometimes, I literally feel total chaos in my head as thoughts race and jumble into one massive pile of mental torture.

It wasn’t obvious, to say the least, because I got great at faking it around people. Yet, I had, and still have, sketchy relationships, especially with friends. Sometimes, it seems like I trust too much. More often, I don’t trust anyone at all.

I remember specific moments when I find myself not caring enough, if at all, even for the closest friends I have. I do things, mostly impulsive, ridiculous things, that I know might threaten my friendships without much regard to the possible cause. It feels like some sort of nightmare or a curse.

Then, I wake up and realize I don’t want them gone from my life, and they actually mean something to me. I make it up for whatever I’ve done wrong. Then, the cycle just resets.

I used to think I was just naturally mean (although I knew I wasn’t.) The truth is, it often feels like there are multiple sides to who I am, and there are moments when I cannot figure out if any of them is even the real me.

Yet, the thing that makes it harder is when you have no support from the people you’d expect to be there for you. The support you need becomes doubt as they insist that everyone goes through the same things.

I still don’t know how to deal with it, to be honest. I’m still not sure how to convince my family that this is more than real. If only they could see what goes on inside my head, then they wouldn’t doubt for a second that this is not a matter to be ignored.

To people like me who live with BPD, or any mental illness, and find themselves in a similar situation, let’s stay strong. It is difficult to be met with doubt instead of support, but I am with you. We are going to get through this. We will find ways to be better and live above this disorder. Believe me, even if they don’t believe you and even if there are times when even you don’t believe in yourself, I believe in you.

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 Image via Thinkstock.

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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.

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

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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Thinkstock photo via Archv

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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.

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

Thinkstock photo via Archv.

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