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We Need to Change How We Talk About Borderline Personality Disorder

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Trigger warning: This post briefly mentions self-harm.

About four and a half years ago, I paid a routine visit to the psychiatrist I’d started seeing after admitting myself to the hospital for self-harm. Up to that day, I was unaware I’d spent most of my life battling a mental disorder. Even after I went to the hospital, I was still in denial.

During that visit, she diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder (BPD). We talked through it while I nodded along, leg shaking in my chair. She handed me a packet of information on BPD, advised me to do some independent research and sent me on my way.

By the time I left her office, my temper was simmering under the surface. I wasn’t impulsive! How dare she? I didn’t have unstable relationships… did I? Surely not. I definitely didn’t have signs of dissociation. Right?

I sat in my car thumbing through the materials she’d given me, trying to process my new diagnosis. The only useful thing in the packet was a worksheet on coping mechanisms. The rest of the pages were printouts of book summaries.

The titles?

• “Sometimes I Act Crazy”
• “I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality”
• “Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder”

These titles are quite popular among people who have BPD, and many consider them helpful and enlightening. I’m not knocking anyone who has read these books and found them useful. I’m always supportive of anything that helps people battle their BPD. And no, I haven’t read any of these books because I absolutely did judge them by their covers.

I scoffed and tossed the packet into the passenger seat before speeding off. Not only was she insinuating that something was actually wrong with my brain, but she was essentially calling me crazy! How could she get away with that as a mental health professional?

Those printouts were one of the main reasons I refused to believe my diagnosis for several months. I knew I was certainly battling something that was bigger than me. I knew I couldn’t control this “monster” inside me as I’ve always called it. But I knew I was not crazy. I was just going through a rough patch, and I needed some help.

As time went on, my resolve softened, and I researched BPD for myself. One day, it just clicked. I was able to recognize many of the characteristics of BPD in my own life, which kickstarted my recovery.

But those book titles were my very first impression of BPD, and I think they’re a dangerous introduction to the disorder.

And it’s not just books. Check out some of these article titles:

• Toxic People Part II: Personality Disorders continued
• Dangerous Liaisons: How to Deal With a Drama Queen
• Borderline Personality Disorder: Is It Just an Excuse?
• Personality Disorders Are Not Illnesses

Look, I know I can be a lot to handle. Believe me when I say that no one knows better than I do. On the same token, no one wants to be written off as crazy, or dramatic, or accused of making it all up. Not only do these terms have negative connotations, but they’re also counterproductive.

What are you accomplishing by calling us crazy or trying to convince us our disorder isn’t real? You’re writing us off. You’re marginalizing us. You’re telling us that our disorder is inferior, that we’re just “being crazy.” It’s not inferior, and we’re not being crazy. BPD is just different than other mental disorders. Yes, it’s intense for us and everyone around us at times, but that doesn’t invalidate it.

If you know anything at all about BPD, you know it’s characterized by hyper-emotion. We don’t take anything with a grain of salt; we take the whole saltshaker. How on earth do you expect us to react when you say we’re crazy? It may be all we think about for hours, days, or weeks. We may physically punish ourselves for an illness we can’t cure completely.

Talking semantics may seem oversensitive, but the rhetoric surrounding BPD has got to change. Stop painting us as delirious, insane, selfish, dramatic, manipulative, etc. We’re battling a cruel, ugly monster that most people won’t understand, and we need help just as much as anyone else living with mental illness.

You wouldn’t say those things about any other condition, so don’t do it to borderlines. Giving us these incredibly hurtful labels may only send us spiraling.

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.

Thinkstock photo via artlazareva

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When My Borderline Personality Disorder Feels Like a Parasite

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I don’t feel like I’m in control of my own mind. I feel as if there’s some sort of parasite lurking around in my head, pressing buttons and pulling levers just to see what would happen. And what happens is total chaos.

One minute I’ll be fine, talking to a friend or watching a movie, and then out of nowhere this ache will rise up and fill my whole being from head to toe. It’s the worst kind of pain because it’s not caused by anything in particular, and it’s always there, just waiting to tell me how hopeless I am. It eats away at me, chewing apart all the things that make me feel human.

I keep waiting for the numbness to hit, but it never does because my borderline personality disorder makes me feel with every fiber of my being, day in and day out. And it’s so exhausting, especially since I question every feeling I have. I can’t trust my mind, and I can’t trust what it makes me think.

If someone greets me in a different tone of voice than they did the day before, it has to be because I did something wrong and now they’re mad at me. If someone takes a bit longer to respond to my messages, it has to be because I said the wrong thing and so they don’t like me anymore. If my mom gives my brother a longer hug than she gave me, it has to be because she loves him more. The list goes on and on, and a hundred of these thoughts cross my mind every day.

It’s as if I’m an intruder in my own body, feeling disconnected from myself and the world around me. I think this is why I grasp at any form of connection, holding on tightly even when I know I should let go. Because in those fleeting moments where I get to feel part of something or someone, I feel alive. Those are the moments my heart and my mind belong to me.

It’s so easy to succumb to the voices that tell me I’m nothing but a factory fault as a result of mass production. That I came into this world with no chance. Broken.

I am not going to back down without a fight, however. Because I am not an illness or defect. I am someone’s daughter, sister and friend. And I will look back at these written words in moments of clouded judgment and remind myself again and again, until I fully believe it.

Just as I hope I can reach others who face similar doubt on a daily basis. I know sometimes it feels as if the world doesn’t care about us, so it’s our job to care about each other.

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 BCGraphix

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5 Unique Coping Strategies I Use to Manage My BPD

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There are lots of lists with skills and coping mechanisms for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Skills for handling extreme emotions, stress relief, for mindfulness, meditation and self-encouragement. Some of them are really helpful but for me, some just don’t fit. As time went on, I developed skills I now want to share:

1. Playing catch.

I know to importance of exercise for stress relief, but I often cannot motivate myself to actually do it. I needed to find some low-threshold activity and eventually found myself tossing a ball with my partner. It’s playful but also physically demanding. Even more, it helps me focus and not drift off in thoughts. Furthermore, being clumsy and missing a catch brings a smile to my face.

2. Reminding myself of the “little things.”

Practicing mindfulness is a lot easier for me with a daily reminder of little beautiful things I can appreciate. I put a collage of different phrases from the “Just Little Things” blog on my wall so I do not overlook the small moments that bring me joy and happiness.

3. Writing my thoughts in third person.

Writing short stories in third person is an alternative to coping skills involving imagery exercises that may contain memories that are distressing or disturbing to me. Under a lot of tension, it is nearly impossible for me to use imagery exercises. I find it helpful to instead write about my thoughts as a third person narrator so I can distance myself from them.

4. Reading fantasy novels.

Reading a good fantasy novel about keeping evil at bay, continuous fighting and finding hope in dark places helps me a lot. Next to “The Hunger Games” and “Lord of The Rings,” the Harry Potter series is my favorite. J.K. Rowling’s books stand for encouragement and show how to live with trauma. When Albus Dumbledore tells Harry “It is our choices far more than our abilities that show what we truly are,” I felt much less burdened by my illness.

5. Listening to heavy music.

I could name hundreds of bands that are helping me to get through my struggles, but I will focus on a more popular one, Bring Me The Horizon. Listening to BMTH often fits my emotions. They are loud and aggressive as well as soft and quiet with tender melodies. They sometimes feature sounds of screams that may be intolerable to a majority of people. It seems as if their music can pick up my high level of tension, ride along with the rollercoaster of feelings and finally relieve them. It is not only their music but also their lyrics that speak to me on an emotional level.

Below is an excerpt from their song “Can You Feel My Heart” that almost perfectly sums up my feelings when my BPD is at its worst.  

I’m scared to get close and I hate being alone,

I long for that feeling to not feel at all,

The higher I get, the lower I sink,

I can’t drown my demons, they know how to swim.

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The 'Surplus Stigma' of Borderline Personality Disorder

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I wrote the following to spread awareness on the reality and stigma of borderline personality disorder (BPD). A trigger warning may be needed if you have BPD.

A while ago at school, I overheard borderline personality disorder brought up in a conversation between a social worker and some students. I casually lingered to hear the discussion. Within moments, the social worker loudly declared those with BPD are “borderline human” and will “fake pain to manipulate others.” Next, he exclaimed, “I can smell borderlines from a mile away!”

I immediately left the building crying and thoughts spiraled through my head. “Is that what they really think of me? Haven’t they ever thought about what this pain is like through my eyes?”

Another encounter occurred in one of my mental health classes. The instructor thoroughly outlined causes, symptoms, and treatment about depressionanxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, eating disorders, and the list goes on. When it came to BPD, however, it was described as manipulative and untreatable. On the test, a true or false question read, “Personality disorders respond to treatment.” I had to answer false to receive credit, when deep down I knew some research shows at least 80 percent improve from the proper treatment, even if some functional impairments persist.

I can recall yet a third individual who noted we are “scary borderlines” with a chuckle. As if this isn’t enough, I have been denied services, as I recounted in my first story. My symptoms have been minimized and overlooked through my attempts to find treatment.

Two international researchers perfectly describe what I, and many others diagnosed with BPD, face with the stigma. In the book “Beyond Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder,” John G. Gunderson MD and Perry D. Hoffman PhD., explain:

Seldom does an illness, medical or psychiatric, carry such intense stigma and deep shame that its name is whispered, or a euphemism coined, and its sufferers despised and even feared. Perhaps leprosy or syphilis or AIDS fits this category.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is such an illness. In fact, it has been called “the leprosy of mental illnesses” and the disorder with “surplus stigma.” It may actually be the most misunderstood psychiatric disorder of our age.

For many years, clinicians spoke and wrote in pejorative terms about patients diagnosed with the disorder as “the bane of my existence,” “a run for my money,” “exhausting,” or “treatment rejecting.” In fact, professionals have often declined to work with people diagnosed with BPD. This rejection by professionals, which has seemed at times almost phobic, has spanned many decades.

The literature often refers to BPD patients as manipulative, treatment resistant, raging, or malignant, they conclude.

BPD stigma spreads outside clinical settings. Within seconds of searching online, stigmatizing or misleading articles, posts and videos are all over the screen. The term “borderline personality” is often incorrectly used to describe violent, harsh, dangerous or “crazy” individuals. In multiple horror-movies, such as “Fatal Attraction,” the portrayal of Alex has been described as a borderline personality.

One of the first books I skimmed for a college research paper on BPD was no different. Largely quoted on one of the pages read, “I have never met a borderline patient that I actually liked.”

Often, people may undermine the impact of living with a mental illness and the stigma that comes with it. I am often cut short by remarks that invalidate my experiences. My symptoms are trivialized or ignored because, “Everyone gets mad and sad/Maybe I have it because I get angry too!”

I have even suffered from death threats and harassment on my blog, just because I have BPD.

I feel like I am trapped in a house alone with my BPD, isolated from the outside world. If I peak my eyes through a window, I see others met with support and understanding as they disclose their bad days, anxieties, or sorrows. But if I disclose my BPD, my symptoms are viewed as an overreaction, scary, needy, or minimized. I don’t know what it is like outside of this window. I feel like I cannot step outside of this “borderline” because those around me will not let me or accept me.

It is certainly not to say that other mental illnesses are not stigmatized or
don’t result in difficulty. Rather, mental health awareness cannot stop at more stigmatized, severe mental illnesses, whose symptoms are demonized and different from other more common mental illnesses.

Some research to help shed light on the BPD stigma show these attitudes may hinder the progress made in treatment and damage the doctor-patient relationship. This leads to further consequences. Stigma puts a barrier on mental health resources for BPD. If an illness is viewed so harshly, those who have it may be less likely to reveal struggles and seek out treatment. The negative views against BPD have not only held me back from seeking out services and treatment, but it has horribly triggered my symptoms, heightened my self-hatred, and fueled the painful thoughts and paranoia.

It is true many professionals may lack the skills or background needed to treat a specific group of severe patients, especially considering mental health care lacked tools to treat BPD for a long time. Yet, the negative assumptions and attitudes are still problematic. It is clearly not helpful to the clinician or patient, nor is it necessary, to continue to associate BPD to such negativity.

Undoubtedly, BPD is in dire need of understanding. It has been estimated multiple times that up to one out of 10 of those with the disorder die by suicide, and up to eight out of ten attempt suicide, an average of three times.

Despite the severity, those with BPD are treated like the blacklist of mental
health. As a psychology student myself, I aim to draw upon my experiences and passion for psychology to help treat, advocate, and raise awareness for personality disorders. My own struggle certainly serves as inspiration and motivation, but I also lost my best friend and martial arts mentor who had BPD. I loved him with all that is within me — he was the epitome of patience, compassion and kindness, but he endured life’s emotions through such intense pain. One night, the message replies stopped. Silence. My best friend had died by suicide. I never heard his voice in the present moment voice again.

He was a mental health worker who often helped me make it through my days. After I enrolled in college, my love for psychology and writing expanded even more, and I finalized my decision — I will make a difference to others in similar situations, I will keep his memory alive, and I will pursue the career that I love.

Thankfully, the stigma and myths of BPD have been refuted and pointed out by numerous professionals. They have provided evidence-based treatments and models that improve the outcome of the disorder.

Dr. Marsha Linehan’s widely used model of BPD truly captures the essence of the disorder and what we overcome every day. She created a highly effective BPD treatment known as dialectical behavior therapy.

Borderline personality disorder causes emotional, behavioral, interpersonal, cognitive, and identity symptoms. It is a serious, chronic mental illness characterized by hypersensitive emotions, intense emotional reactivity, and a slow return to emotional baseline.

The hypersensitivity means emotions are easily aroused and may occur from ordinary circumstances that do not typically bother someone without the disorder. The reactions are then noticeably intense and evoke grief instead of sadness, humiliation instead of embarrassment, rage instead of annoyance and panic instead of nervousness. Positive emotions, such as great joy, may also occur easily. Lastly, the slow return to baseline means it may take longer to level out and heal from an emotion. This instability and sensitivity is better explained as a natural range of emotion across various contexts, as opposed to mood episodes or periods of worry or stress.

With this underlying model in mind, specific symptoms consist of extreme reactions and preoccupations toward real or perceived abandonment, rejection, and slights, reoccurring self-harm and suicidal ideations, impulsiveness, chronic emptiness, intense anger and a distorted sense of identity, self-direction and image. Splitting in BPD can be broadly explained as extreme shifts between positive and negative thought patterns, because a whole picture is not integrated in the mind. Other symptoms include dissociation, paranoid ideation and transient hallucination experiences. What seems like typical events to others, such as a brief separation or perceived failure on an ordinary task, may instantly stimulate BPD symptoms.

As Linehan said, “… borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering. Yet… life is movement.” With the heart palpitations, the shocks that emotions send through my body and the trembles and numb fingers that occur at the hint of an emotion, the stigma only adds more pain and shame. It secludes us from the help we need. Don’t be the one to perpetuate the stigma. My emotions may be extreme, but I have been repeatedly told they make me passionate, energetic and beautiful.

 

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How I Found My Strength After My Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis

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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

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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.

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

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