black and white photo of woman with long hair in darkness

Whenever people mention borderline personality disorder (BPD) — or emotionally unstable personality disorder as it’s also known as — everyone automatically thinks of the negatives.

“Emotional instability,” “mood swings,” “impulsive,” “reckless,” “suicidal,” and even “criminal.” I believe this is all because of the way BPD has been portrayed in the media.

But what people don’t tell you is the positives that come with BPD. Even though sometimes I can be highly sensitive, I can sometimes read other people’s emotions really well – for example, I may know when someone is faking when they say “I’m fine.” Because of what I have been through in my past, and the way BPD is, I sometimes see the world in a way no one else does. I can be creative and imaginative. When it comes to hobbies, I can be passionate about them. Relationships and friendships mean the absolute world to me and I value them a lot.

Not everything about BPD is bad; there are a lot of positives that need more recognition.

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Dear darling,

I know deep inside

you may think of yourself

in black and white

and you may judge yourself


You call yourself

hostile names,

and you may believe

too much bad

of your mind and heart.

Sometimes you may think

you’re undeserving of love,

because you feel awful

and difficult and strange.

You may give yourself

a million excuses

to explain why

the world, your friends,

and family

are too gentle with you.

But darling,

let me tell you

how I see you.

I understand the need

to berate yourself,

but let me share a secret:

nobody is perfect.

And I’ve learned to see

that living between

my black and white,

my good and bad,

are so many shades of gray,

and a myriad of colors.

Every time you smile,

and every time you give

of yourself,

it makes you

who you are,

which is perfectly imperfect

and strikingly attractive

in its very own way.


Dear darling,

Don’t call yourself

those nasty names.

I don’t believe

you’re terrible,

and I am sorry

you feel that way,

about yourself.

We are all comprised

of black and white

and good and bad.

Instead of placing

your primary focus

on blaming yourself

and roller-coaster guilt-trips,

look me in the eye,

and I will tell you

again and again,

how beautiful,

inspiring and strong

your heart is.

Yes, including those

ups and downs.

And maybe,

just maybe,

because of it.

Dear darling,

You’re perfectly imperfect.

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Thinkstock photo by gpointstudio

Naked – stripped off of all the defensive layers.

Raw – sensitive thoughts and emotions.

Eruptive – with wavering identity and courage!

That’s what I am – a girl fighting borderline!

It’s hard – not to stop, not to think, not to feel, not to be afraid of myself and everyone else. It’s hard – to put down that bottle of beer that makes me feel good. It’s hard – not to lose temper at the loved one. It’s hard – to hide my fears under that masquerade of naiveté and cheerfulness. It’s hard – to not self-harm or tell myself, “It’s not your fault.”

A person very close to me recently said, “You’re never going to change. Because you don’t want to. Well, stay the same! Because it’s not my problem… and I’m giving up on you.” A part of me knows it’s alright as I knew I wanted to change, and that I could definitely make it through, because I always have. But all that showed on the outside were the tears, accompanied by intense the fear of abandonment. I begged my friend, much to his chagrin and disgust. Well, what he didn’t know was that I felt the disgust for myself too.

From the time I became aware of the fluctuations in my behavioral patterns, I have been trying to figure out what it was. I had felt rage, grief and elation, instead of anger, sadness and joy. It’s like my mind had a magnifying glass of its own. I am this sweet person overshadowed by madness and many other things. Then started my battle with the identity crisis – no, not the career-related one. The personal one! It began with disagreements, crying, screaming, yelling, laughing, hurting my loved ones physically and verbally, and last but not the least, hurting myself physically and emotionally. The journey went on and on, up and down a rocky road that never seemed to flatten out.

A while ago, I blogged about waging a war with depression. But I never realized there could be more. I felt empty all the time. Depression was just a little part of it, but not the whole. I made new friends, thought life was going to be fun now, but my inner demons were never quite silenced. They came back, hurting the one I cared deeply, and wanted a life with. I scared him away, as well as all my friends, with my irrationality.

I threatened to kill myself, I banged my head against a wall, I made a huge scene on the road in the middle of the night – my friends were still there, but I knew they were not going to be for long. I took a call the next day and went to the psychiatrist again. And boom! It wasn’t depression. It never was! It was borderline personality disorder, which was dwelling inside me since long.

For those who don’t know, borderline is all about emotional instability which can lead to other things as well – eating disorders, depression, substance abuse, addiction, self-harm, suicidal tendencies – what not?

We trust people too much, care too much, yet live in this immense fear of abandonment. We feel we’re unworthy of love or that this shrewd world doesn’t deserve us. It’s always an erupting volcano inside our heads. All we get is, “It’s all in your head,” “You’re at fault,” “You don’t want to help yourself,” “You need to be fixed,” “You’ll never change,” “You’re a psychopath,” “I’m done dealing with you.” Well, bring ’em on! Is that the best you’ve got?

I may look hunky dory and cool to everyone who just met me; but I am someone with a fluctuating sense of identity, impulsiveness, uncontrollable emotions, dissociation, distorted self-image; but deep down, I am also someone who’s brave and strong enough to get out of this mess.

Dear fellow beings, I am not the only one who feels deeply. There are thousands out there who hurt themselves and fall down a spiral of self-hatred, guilt and fear of abandonment.

And the least you could do it is to understand or support, instead of all the name calling. ‘Cause trust me, the world we live in isn’t colorful, it’s just painfully black and white.

Follow this journey on Harikalicious.

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Thinkstock photo via Natalia Kuchumova

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

Six months after my mom’s suicide, there is still a 12-pound lasagna she made in my freezer  and I can’t will myself to defrost it or throw it away.

“In case you have guests,” my mother had said, hoisting the slab of meat, noodles and cheese from her refrigerator bag into my freezer.

I took this to mean, you should have more friends over. Now that she’s gone, I realize my translation was wrong. She was saying, I wish I had more friends to feed because I feel alone. She’d had plenty of friends once, plenty of dinner parties, but that all ended years ago. Her friends had fallen from her favor over bizarre arguments of which I’d only hear the murky details or they’d been driven away by my mom’s general operating procedures: a consistent pattern of destruction to herself and others.

Some background: My dad divorced her when I was four. She tried to stab him with a kitchen knife. Her best friend became estranged and embittered around the time I graduated college. Their plan to manage an artisan cheese business went wildly astray. Her second husband, my sister’s dad, left when I was 25. She spent most of their 15-year marriage disparaging him. I don’t know how he lasted as long as he did. Actually, I do. He was well fed.

As much as she was stubborn, deceitful and conniving, my mom was equally passionate, charming and generous. I can hear her humming Dave Brubeck while dancing with the watering hose in the backyard. I can see her leaning over a simmering pot of chili, stirring it with one hand and helping me finish my math homework with the other. Even now, I can recall from memory the taste of her tiramisu, the dessert she made for my surprise 21st birthday party, an event she organized and executed flawlessly. The garden and kitchen were her sanctuaries, but they were also her dominion over which to rule. She could exert her wishes over ingredients that had no words or free will. Her cakes were never dry or burned. Plants grew exactly the way she planted them. People, on the other hand, she could not control. My mother treated anyone disagreeing with her or disobeying her wishes like an enemy combatant, especially her loved ones. This didn’t make sense to me until I realized my mom was struggling with a mental illness called borderline personality disorder (BPD).

According to the Mayo Clinic website, this is a common personality disorder. The National Institute for Mental Health estimates the number of BPD cases in the U.S. at roughly one percent of the population“Their emotions are like exposed nerve endings,” says Dr. Helen Grusd when I interviewed her about BPD. She is the past president of the L.A. County Psychological Association and a forensic and clinical psychologist for more than 30 years. “Those with BPD have a distinctively polarized view of relationships, idealizing themselves and others, but one mistake and the person is totally devalued,” Grusd says. Living with a person with BPD is, in Dr. Grusd’s words, “like living with Mount Vesuvius always on the verge of erupting.”

There is mounting research that those with BPD lack brain chemical functions related to empathy, the ability to relate and understand the feelings of someone else. In a study last September cited in the online psychiatric journal Helio, researchers found those diagnosed with BPD “had reduced activity in brain regions that support empathy,” suggesting “people with more [borderline personality disorder] traits have a more difficult time understanding and/or predicting how others feel.” Those with BPD are capable, according to Grusd, “of being empathetic one minute, but threatening and verbally abusive the next.” Demonstrations of kindness and love must compete with their day-to-day feelings of “chronic emptiness, rage and fear of abandonment.” BPD takes one’s need to be right to a toxic and oftentimes—as in my mom’s case—lethal level. “Rates of suicide with BPD are around 10 percent. It’s pretty high,” says Grusd.

Snapshots of my upbringing don’t look much different from plain old questionable parenting. For example, if I forgot to call my mom upon arriving somewhere to let her know I was safe, she’d threaten to call the police or highway patrol and a few times she did. As a result, I became obsessively punctual and overly attentive. If I shared an accomplishment of mine with her, she would be overjoyed momentarily, but would also tell me how she would have done it better. I became keenly observant of her methods, never questioned her authority and strived to be the best at everything, because anything less was a massive disappointment in her eyes. Any disagreement, big or small, merited a strong reproach. It could trigger her to throw something, to storm off screaming or drink even more than she normally did.

In college, I finally grew brave enough to tell her she had a drinking problem, but after three pointless attempts at an intervention, my efforts seemed futile. Her reality, no matter how factually incorrect or emotionally unjust, was all she could see. I resigned to spend my life proving I was not her. I’d place a mental checkmark in the “not-my-mom” box when I hit a milestone. Attain a college degree. Check that box! Still speaking to my dad after age 21. Check! Not addicted to alcohol or painkillers. Check. In retrospect, being on constant red alert for mom-like tendencies was concerning, but something more insidious was happening to me. The worse my mom’s situation became, the more I felt responsible for her, the more I felt ashamed I couldn’t solve her problems.

Four years ago, my younger sister stopped speaking to my mother altogether. I understood. I might have done the same had my first 18 years been exclusively under my mother’s roof. Growing up, I at least lived at my father’s house half the time. I had time away from my mom that my sister never had. When she closed off communication with my mom, I became the last relative to stay at close range.

This meant accepting her lasagnas, quiches and homegrown vegetables, managing her DUIs, her unpaid bills, her storage unit filled with canned goods and cookbooks. When she asked me to forge her doctor’s signature on a prescription pad she’d swindled from the office, I declined with my best friend in the room for both moral support and protection if she acted out. When she called the reverend two weeks before my wedding to ask him not to marry me, she told him I was too afraid to back out. This was, of course, a complete fabrication. Years before, she’d lost another dear friend in a similar clandestine maneuver when she disapproved of the fiancé. Over time, the wasteland of ruined friendships, marriages and business ventures grew as plentifully as the tomatoes in her garden and rose as reliably as her sourdough starter.

It took a long time for someone else to point out my mom might have an actual disease instead of what I referred to as her “homemade recipe for crazy.” I was 30, married, in therapy and my psychologist gave me a copy of “Stop Walking on Eggshells,” a book about borderline personality disorder. The book outlined in startling detail every dark shade of my mom’s psyche: Intense fear of abandonment, explosive anger, extreme idealization and devaluation of others and of the self, impulsive behavior, substance abuse, self-harm.

At the time, the research and advice from the book provided me with answers. Its author, Paul Mason, writes, “the sacrifices that people make to satisfy the borderlines they care about can be very costly. And the concessions may never be enough. Before long, more proof of love is needed and another bargain must be struck.” Children of BPD parents routinely become overly sensitive to the moods and needs of others, overbearing, quick to wound, overly critical of themselves. Did I possess these traits? Check.

For me, the tools I’d developed to deal with my mom cost me the ability to navigate conflict in a healthy way, stand up for myself, allow someone else to take care of me when I needed it. Educating myself about her struggles, working with a therapist and becoming aware of her effect on my behavior set me on a path to build the much-needed emotional resources I lacked. I learned to take responsibility for what was in my control and let go of what wasn’t. It was not my job to fix everything.

For the first time, my mother made sense to me. And understanding her, having empathy, was something I could give her more fully, even if she didn’t have much to give in return. It allowed me to see the intellectual strengths, the silly quirks and the creativity she gave me, not just my shortcomings and rediscover gratitude for the sum total of her influence. It allowed me to see the whole her and the whole me.

That was several years ago and now she’s gone. Even with this self-awareness and insight, I’m left feeling lost again and with more questions than answers. Was there anything more I could have done for her? Did anything I do matter? Did I enable her to cause more damage? I’d spent years, after all, trying to help, to get her into AA, give her enough money to stay afloat after her bankruptcy, take her to various doctors for the endless slew of medical ailments she developed or psychosomatically manufactured. The dialogue in my head reminds me of the unending analysis surrounding the 2008 financial crisis, measuring damages, the bailout, whom to blame, whether we did too much, not enough. My mother’s death is like this, a shattering moment in my historical timeline that can never be undone, but can be forever deconstructed and reinterpreted in my mind as I look into the past or when new information emerges.

I delivered the news of my mom’s death to an old friend of hers, someone who’d known my mother in her late teens. They’d lost touch many years ago, but she was one of the few close friends with whom my mother parted company on good terms. Her reaction was striking. She said she was saddened, but not surprised. “Even then, your mom seemed troubled, off. She didn’t react to other people very well, to conflict, but she was a great friend.”

A week before her death, my mom and I assembled a small Weber Grill she brought me as a gift. Let me rephrase. My mom bought me a grill, probably with money I had given her to make rent that month and then she assembled it herself because she said I was doing it wrong. She was quite a master craftsman and tinkerer — in and out of the kitchen — as long as all of the items succumbed to her personal system of logic. She didn’t see reason to change course if her direction conflicted with the instruction manual or, say, the natural laws of physics.

“You never really need these,” she said, tossing some screws aside. I’d learned to stay quiet unless she posed an imminent danger to myself or to others. Being non-reactive, depriving her of fodder to fuel an emotional eruption was a handy technique I’d learned to keep us both on good behavior, but fear and worry still churned inside me no matter how calm I appeared on the surface.

When I look back on that day, this is what I see. The years of trying eventually gave way to the years of accepting she was never going to get better. She was not only unwilling, but also unable. I was able to find moments of joy with my mom, to give her what I could rather than giving in to her mania, to fill some of her loneliness with a daughter’s love. It was hard work much of the time, but I came to believe her work, the work of living with an untreated mental illness for 60 years, was much harder.

On a warm August day just after noon, I got the call from the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department. That morning, she had driven to her favorite place in the world, a beach in Montecito, close to the former estate of her idol, Julia Child. That’s where she died by suicide.

I couldn’t eat the rest of the day. Walking into my house that night, I wasn’t sure what to do or even who I would be in this new world where I was not fearing the call I already received, worrying what havoc she was causing. I was released by one kind of sorrow in that moment. Then, I spotted the last three tomatoes she’d given me, small and solitary, ripening in a large white pottery bowl. My mother was the only person I knew to pronounce the word, “to-mah-toes” instead of “to-may-toes” and to correct anyone who pronounced it otherwise. I would never hear that word her way again. And I was overtaken by another kind of sorrow. I was overtaken by the sadness that I would never again see the person I had spent most of my life trying not to become and without whom, I would not be who I am.

I wasn’t the least bit hungry, but I put a pot of water on the stove for pasta and cried while I sliced up the tomatoes. I mixed them delicately with basil, olive oil and sea salt and I ate them for her, digesting my loss.

Several days after the call, her suicide note arrived in the mail. It said, “I love you always and forever. I’ll be the angel in the sky listening and granting wishes.”

That same day my sister sent me a picture of the largest squash I’d ever seen. Before going to work, she’d had a casual discussion about making vegetable lasagna and hours later a coworker happened to offer up this green giant, literally the size of a caveman’s club. My sister’s next message was no surprise.

Mom is speaking to us through zucchini.

There was a levity to this moment, an enchantment specific to grief.

“I can finally talk to mom again,” my sister says.

“It’s easier now that she can’t talk back,” I say.

Then came the laughter. Then came the tears.

The Weber Grill she gave me and built for me, sits on my patio in the place where I took the last picture of her. It works like a dream. I’ve held onto the extra screws she didn’t use as if they were good luck charms.

As for the mysterious zucchini, my sister made that veggie lasagna, but that’s not all. She made zucchini bread and zucchini fritters and still had more left over. It was just too much. We didn’t know what to do with it all.

This article originally appeared in Salon.

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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Photo via contributor. 

Dear Husband,

This letter is for you. A letter of thanks but also apologies.

Living with my mental health issues is at time unbearable, but trying to love someone who has them, well, I don’t know how you do it.

I know you feel a huge pressure to provide for me and our little boy. Thank you for the way you mange our bills and outgoings on just one income and manage to keep us afloat when my reckless spending sometimes takes over due to my borderline personality disorder (BPD).

I am sorry for the times my illness has made your life hell. Made me difficult to live with and difficult to love.

I am sorry for the times I frightened you with acts of self-harm and suicide attempts. Sorry for the times I left you to be both a mother and a father to our little boy. Thank you you so much for stepping up like you have done over and over again.

Loving. Devoted. Loyal. Strong. Brave. Theses are just a few of the words I would use to describe you. In truth, these words barely scratch the surface of what an amazing man you really are. Where so many would have run a long time ago, you continued to stay. I know you didn’t sign up for this five years ago when we both said “I do.” So thank you for staying.

Thank you for trying your hardest to understand and help me in a world that is completely alien and frightening to you. I know it’s been so difficult and pushed you well out of your comfort zone.

You’ve kept me alive when I believed I was better off dead. You loved me when I thought I didn’t deserve to be loved.

I am sorry for all of the sacrifices you’ve had to make for me. Not seeing your friends and family as much as you wanted to. Not being able to relax after work because you have housework to do that I couldn’t do. You deserve more, I know that. You have worked harder and given more than I would ever have expected. Thank you so much.

I’m incredibly sorry for the pressure I’ve put on you. I’m sorry it doesn’t seem enough, but I promise I will make it up you.

I know without me your life would be incredibly different. I want you to live the happy, carefree life I know you crave. I am working so damn hard to get better so you can have the life you greatly deserve. Thank you so much for baring with me. I promise I will keep fighting.

Thank you so much for telling me you are proud of me – and meaning it! It is something that means the world to me but not something I am accustomed to hearing.

Thank you for making me concentrate on getting better and not worrying about getting back to work. Without you doing this I would most certainly have pushed myself too hard to find paid work and relapsed to the point of crisis once more. Thank you for believing in me. Always. Whatever I’ve wanted to do, you have encouraged and believed in me, to the fullest.

I know this will embarrass you and I know you are as bad as me at accepting compliments, but you are an absolutely amazing man. Without you and our little boy, I would not be here to fight another day. I’ve struggled and struggled more than most people can imagine, but it is you who deserves the medal. Always working. Always loving. Always giving. Allowing me to keep on going.

You are my husband, yes, but more importantly you are my best friend. I don’t know many people who could have done and still do, what you do each and every day.

You have taught me so much. More than you realize. You have taught me what “in sickness and in health” really means. And I thank you from the bottom of heart for that.

I am stronger, healthier and braver because of you. But most importantly, I am alive because of you.

Thank you for all you do and all you are.

Yours always,


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What does it feel like to me to live with borderline personality disorder?

It feels like constant rejection. It feels like constant uncertainty and unfamiliarity. It feels like dying even when it wasn’t my fault.

It includes relationship instability because I’m afraid of everything, and that includes intimacy. It includes harming myself in various ways because my brain tells me I’ve been terrible and need to be punished.

It includes strange detachments from reality because my mind doesn’t understand how to function under stress.

It includes hallucinations that make me feel trapped and like a fish out of water wishing I could scream but unable to breath because you’re stuck in fear that your loved ones will think you’re “a freak.”

It feels like everything that was supposed to make sense skipped over me, and now I’m trapped wondering what’s “wrong” with me.

It feels like daily uphill battles. And nightmares because I feel like a failure, and nothing can get my brain off the fact someone may dislike me.

Living with borderline is living with a voice deep inside me yelling at me that I’m unlovable, unworthy, underserving.

It is a highly stigmatized disorder, but those who don’t understand it — like the desire to constantly kill yourself, or submit yourself just for a little taste of love — might not realize the damage stigmatization can do.

It’s walking around with a label slapped on my back that I’m “oversensitive” or the “crazy ex girlfriend,” dehumanizing words for someone with a severe mental illness.

I don’t have the option to turn my back and run away, because personality disorders tend to never leave the mind, and that realization scares me while I fight to stay alive.

I am uncomfortable, with pinches of impulsivity and uncertainty mixed in with mood swings and major dissociation.

But none of this makes me, or anyone else diagnosed, any less of a human being.

It doesn’t make us any less beautiful or any less worthy of the gifts life has to offer.

Borderline may have horrific challenges, but it does not make those diagnosed with it horrific. We are brave — and that’s really what matters.

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 Yuria Ibarra

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