Acrylic painting of girl looking upset

“You’re crazy.”

“What drugs are you on?”

“Stop overreacting.”

“Calm down, it’s not a big deal.”

I’m sure many of us have heard at least one, but most likely all of these before. Those who say them may fail to realize the immense impact they have on a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD). But why do these words hurt so bad?

They hurt because we spend every single day trying to convince ourselves we aren’t “crazy,” and we aren’t overreacting. Years of therapy has taught me whatever I am feeling is valid. I am not “crazy.” I am not overreacting. I am feeling how I am feeling, and I am allowed to feel that way. Yes, to our friends and family we may be overreacting. But those of us with BPD understand that any small thing can set us off, any small change in facial expression can send our minds running with horrible thoughts.

I find it so hard to not feel “crazy,” to not feel out of control. When someone tells me I’m crazy, or asks me if I’m on drugs, it makes me feel worse. It makes me feel horrible. It makes me hate myself even more because I realize others don’t view me the way I want to be viewed.

The worst part is, it makes me feel so alone. Alone because it feels like no one understands me. No one is willing to listen to understand why I’m upset and understand what caused that.

Unfortunately, many people don’t make that effort, and that’s something I have had a hard time coming to terms with.

Just please, if you have a friend or a loved one with borderline personality disorder, don’t invalidate their feelings. Make them feel heard, make them feel loved and make them feel understood. They don’t need you to say they’re crazy; they need you to tell them it’s OK to feel the way they do and to know they’re aren’t alone.

Never, ever tell anyone they’re “crazy.” You may have no idea the kind of impact those words can have on a person who lives with borderline personality disorder, or any mental disorder.

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Today is a “down day.” Today is a bad mental health day. Today is a day I feel as if my heart is filled with nothing but hot air. There is no life in me, I just feel flat. I tell my loved ones today is not a good day for me and they, of course, ask me why. Why? I have no idea why. The thing about having borderline personality disorder (BPD) is that this insidious disorder can just creep up on me for no good reason, making the sunniest days feel pitch black.

Now that I’m being treated for my BPD, I’m supposed to try and examine my recent life events and consider what may be the cause of this depressive feeling. I’m supposed to take care of myself, do something nice that won’t necessarily fix everything but might make me feel somewhat better in the meantime. I’m supposed to work on sitting with this feeling, acknowledging the presence of my low mood without employing any of the harmful coping mechanisms I once used as crutches. I know exactly what I am supposed to do on days like today, but I don’t.

Some days I do. Some days I am mindful and I recount all the tools my therapist has given me, using every one as a weapon against my mental illness. But, not today. Today I just feel defeated and ashamed. I feel great shame for the fact I feel this way, even though life is rather good right now, and for the fact that I am not trying to tackle it. I’m just exhausted, tired of the constant battle with my own mind and today, I can’t be bothered going to war again. So, I sit in my pajamas, unable to focus on the film I have put on in the background, lacking the motivation to move and feed myself.

The shame I feel only worsens as the day grows longer. A small voice in my head urges me to get up and do the practical things I need to do to look after myself, but I ignore it. I feel guilty. I am supposed to be better than this by now. I should be past this, past the bad days, past the mental illness. I am now officially two years into my recovery process, so why am I still having days like today? The judgments I am passing on myself and my feelings are, at best, unhealthy, and, at worst, holding me back from making this at all better. These judgments are based in shame, but this shame is unfair.

I have decided a bad mental health day is something I should feel ashamed of. I have decided all the negative emotions I feel – anger, hurt, emptiness – should be pushed down because I am supposed to be in recovery now, supposed to be better than this. Why have I decided to pass these judgments upon myself? If I were not looking at myself, if I were thinking of a friend walking in my shoes, I certainly would not be so quick to write off their struggle. I would tell them bad days are normal and even those without mental illness have down days. I would tell them I am here for them, on hand to provide whatever support they need until they feel better. Importantly, I would not pass judgments. I would simply be what they needed me to be in that moment to help them. But, because this is not a friend I am discussing but myself, it is easier to listen to the voice of my BPD that tells me my bad day is worth these feelings of guilt. I listen to its suggestion I am weak and, in turn, I feel shame for this apparent weakness. I spiral, caught in a cycle that many who have BPD are familiar with.

Today was a down day. Today I listened to the little voice from my BPD and I did not use the tools given to me to combat it. But, I am not some kind of a failure for this. I am not deserving of shame and guilt because I have a disorder that makes some days more unbearable than others. I am not weak because I had a bad day. In fact, I am strong. I am a strong person because I made it through that bad day. I am a strong person because I am still here. Today, I survived. Sometimes, that is enough.

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As someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) I know it can be sometimes overwhelming to support me. BPD can impact every aspect of our everyday lives and wreak havoc in our relationships. Considering the stigma, the lack of sufficient research and the lack of public education on mental illness – especially heavily stigmatized disorders like BPD – it can be challenging to know how to support friends and family facing symptoms of BPD or even how to approach the subject of mental illness in a way that’s respectful and effective.

The powerful stigma associated with BPD labels us as inherently violent, abusive and manipulative. This causes many people with BPD to avoid speaking up about their disorder altogether, and the stereotypes demonize and often alienate those with the disorder. In reality, people living with BPD tend to be notably empathetic, passionate, loyal and resilient, and there are many ways to provide support. It’s true the symptoms of BPD tend to infiltrate friendships and relationships, but – like anyone struggling with overwhelming emotions, mood swings, impulsivity and more – a little effort goes a long way. Here are some tips for supporting someone in your life living with traits of borderline personality disorder.

1. Validate, validate, validate.

Even if you don’t understand why someone is feeling a certain way or if their reaction seems overdramatic, it’s important to recognize that whether or not you agree, that doesn’t make the emotion any less real. Whether or not it seems like someone “should” feel a certain way doesn’t change the fact that they are. Often, someone with BPD has a history of emotional invalidation, neglect or abuse. This leaves them afraid to trust their own emotions, so a little validation can go a long way. Sometimes living with BPD can feel isolating, and external validation and acknowledgment of our experience can be an important step to recovery or, at the very least, surviving a moment of distress.

2. Listen, ask questions when appropriate and do your research.

If someone with BPD opens up to you, pay attention. Rejection is difficult for anyone but can be especially debilitating for someone with BPD; if we feel silenced, ignored or sense you’re generally uninterested in what we have to say, that can be painful enough to stop us from opening up at all. Make a point to do your own research rather than expecting us to do it all for you. Scour through other articles on The Mighty, read about BPD from the perspective of people who have it, familiarize yourself with the symptoms and treatment options, read a book about it, etc. Assure the person you care about them by putting forth the effort to learn about what they’re dealing with, ask how you can help and show genuine interest in their well-being.

3. Learn their triggers.

When it comes to BPD, triggers can be difficult to avoid as they’re generally based on relationships and interpersonal interactions. Each person is different, but common triggers for people with BPD include harsh criticism, the perceived threat of rejection or abandonment. Abandonment sensitivity may seem inconsequential to someone without the disorder, but it can be very real for us. Additionally, people with BPD may be triggered by their own thoughts, memories or reminders of past trauma. Despite the stigma associated with triggers, they must be taken seriously. There’s a difference between feeling hurt or offended and being triggered by something; when I encounter a trigger, for example, I face intense emotional reactions in addition to debilitating physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, extreme nausea and vomiting, hot flashes, uncontrollable shaking and sweating, body aches, loss of appetite and total exhaustion.

4. Learn their preferred coping skills.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a common and reliable treatment option for people with BPD. DBT is a year-long program divided into four basic modules — mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness. It isn’t for everyone, but much of the content of DBT can be beneficial to anyone with or without BPD, and most of the skills, tips and tricks are available online. Everyone has their own preferred coping skills, so while some people find peace in practicing, for example, the “Nonjudgmental Mindfulness” skill, others may find it challenging and frustrating. I personally find the TIPP skills to be the most effective way to calm down during moments of intense distress, and it can be helpful to have someone remind me of these skills when I’m feeling particularly worked up.

5Be honest, direct and respectful.

One of the most frustrating symptoms of BPD can be our tendency to ruminate over comments, moments and mistakes that affect the way others perceive us. In my experience, the threat of rejection can be enough to send me spiraling into a paralyzing panic attack or worse. I’ve found the best way to avoid this kind of thing is just to address the situation directly but graciously, keeping our triggers in mind. When it comes down to it, compassionate communication – while not always easy – is fundamental.

6. Try to remain patient, gentle and empathetic.

Remember that people with BPD tend to be particularly sensitive when it comes to interpersonal interactions, and triggers can be everywhere. One of the most prominent symptoms of BPD is the debilitating fear of rejection, abandonment and isolation. Keeping up with relationships can be an overwhelming roller coaster in itself when you have BPD, and although we – like anyone else – are bound to make mistakes, try keep in mind the risks we take every time we open up or let someone into our world. This also means we deeply treasure the people who put forth an effort to understand our experience. Often, effectively supporting someone with BPD is as simple as reaching out or actively listening with empathy and compassion.

Everyone is different and heals in different ways, but it’s important we make the effort to support one another – especially when faced with a disorder as frightening and life-threatening as BPD. You don’t have to live with the same symptoms in order to support someone who does. Really, these tips can be useful for any relationship; validation and respect for another’s emotional experience can be a relief to anyone, whether or not they have BPD or exhibit any traits of the disorder.

I don’t want to gloss over reality here: it can be challenging to keep all of these things in mind at times. Still, if you find yourself feeling irritated, try to consider the obstacles they overcome every single day. Personally, BPD causes me to feel conflicted by my desire to maintain close relationships and the urge to isolate myself as a way to avoid feelings of rejection and abandonment. When you’re used to feelings of emptiness and isolation, support from loved ones, friends and acquaintances is often what keeps us afloat. It’s important we have allies by our side as we navigate a disorder as unpredictable and stigmatized as BPD.

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One comment can ruin my day and set off a mental process that’s self-destructive.

I am a reactive person, it doesn’t take much to do.

How can I go from sitting in class or in an office, content, productive, feeling well, to the next moment feeling deeply offended, feeling horribly insecure and feeling compelled to act in an unskilled way?

With borderline personality disorder (BPD), my internal sense of security is easily threatened. This comes from years of self-invalidation, social invalidation and being wired in a way where I don’t feel secure in my relationships with people to begin with. When someone says something offensive, I’m hard wired to react negatively and feel threatened.

When someone does say something negative and I feel threatened, I begin to act unskilled and the process of burning bridges and offending people begins. Why would I offend someone? Because they made me mad, and I feel like I’m evening things out.

This is a quick and easy way to ruin relationships, create a tense group dynamic and makes my life more stressful than it needs to be.

One comment, one slight, can cause my BPD to go into overdrive. It’s exhausting. I wish I wasn’t wired this way, its not a great way to live. No one wants to go through life ruining relationships and feeling insecure.

But this is what BPD does. And living with BPD isn’t easy because this can happen any day, and I know for me it can happen whenever I’m around people I don’t completely trust. I have no idea when this is going to happen but when it does, I have a hard time acting skillfully and not acting in a self-sabotaging way.

BPD is difficult. It’s unpredictable and I never know when I’ll feel like I’m in a crisis.

I just know it’ll happen again and that’s kind of frightening.

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After struggling with mental illness since I was 10 years old, losing my dad and grandfather to suicide, and losing my husband to cystic fibrosis, life can be hard. I struggled, really struggled. After years of therapy and different medications, I gave up. I thought I was a lost cause and that no one could help me.

A few years later, after talking things through with my partner, I finally sought out help again with his support. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) shortly after I moved last year at the age of 26. Because I struggled with my mental health for such a long time, I’ve become an expert at pretending I’m fine. I hide it so well and seem to be so happy to others, not many people know anything otherwise. Suicidal feelings and attempts along with severe depression, panic attacks, rarely leaving the house, insomnia, emptiness and random emotional outbursts were a part of daily life and I didn’t manage it very well.

After reading up about BPD over and over again since being diagnosed, I noticed one of the topics people seemed to avoid talking about was the rage.

Unfortunately for me, this is a very big part of my BPD, which I really try to get a grip on, but sometimes I loose that battle epically. It could be from the smallest thing to any sort of argument that gets blown out of proportion, and can make me explode inside (sometimes outside, too). Most of the time I have no control of it, act like it never happened as soon as I start to calm down and sometimes don’t remember it happened at all, which can be extremely difficult for a loved ones to get their head around. I’ve pushed many people away with the overload of emotions I experience, and am the best at the self-destruction game. Sometimes I find life extremely difficult to get my head around, but I try to be positive when I can.

I can say I am very lucky to have an amazing partner who doesn’t really understand me, but tries to. He’s super supportive and loving, but he is always on the receiving end of my wrath (poor guy), which can make our relationship very difficult at times. I never mean what I say when the venom pours from my mouth, nor do I intend to hurt anyone with my outbursts. It just happens and sometimes it’s difficult to get over, but we manage to. I feel I sometimes have to be a walking apology. People don’t understand what’s happening when you have an emotional outburst or know how to deal with it. For me particularly, if I’m arguing with my partner for instance, I ask him to just stop and I leave the room and sometimes the house. Getting 10 minutes to calm down and reflect really helps. Well, just the headspace really helps to be honest, but I’ve found getting out of a situation when you feel overwhelmed is the best thing to do if you feel like you’re losing your grip. To me, BPD has an ugly side, and rage is definitely it.

Luckily there is hope and help. Managing it is just another battle for us, and we will get there one step at a time.

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Personally, I am not the biggest fan of labels. I fully respect the people who set out to find the one that fits them the best but for me, the majority of the time I don’t see the point in them. I often find them more destructive than helpful as people can sometimes get caught up in the trap of forcing themselves to “fit the diagnosis.”

However, at the same time, I completely understand how it feels to get a diagnosis and get that overwhelming sense of belonging and finally feeling like you belong to a community of likeminded people. I have experienced both of these. And when my diagnosis changed, I felt them both at the same time.

I have borderline personality disorder (BPD). Often it cannot be diagnosed until the person reaches the age of 18, which is how it went for me. However, at the age of 14, I was diagnosed with depression. Suddenly, when I moved to go to university and had to join a different mental health team, I got reassessed and was told I didn’t have depression after all. Yes, I was depressed, but it was a depressive episode in a BPD diagnosis. This was completely new to me because BPD had never been mentioned to me in the four years I was receiving help for my apparent depression.

It felt like the world had come crashing down. For a while I had known a depression diagnosis did not quite fit me. I was too impulsive, I often didn’t feel emotions but the times when I did, they would be so indescribably intense. I didn’t seem to “tick” the right boxes for depression symptoms. Still, I was told at a very young age it was what I had so, of course, I believed it. When I was told that I wasn’t depressed, I tried desperately to convince them I was. It seems so silly to look back on, but I essentially argued with mental health professionals about diagnostic criteria to try to prove to them I was depressed. I didn’t feel strongly attached to the diagnosis, but I felt like they were calling me a liar or a fraud and that all of the hard times I had faced were for nothing.

And then they explained borderline personality disorder to me. And I suddenly felt this strange sensation as if I had been doused in cold water and awoken from a deep sleep with a shock. It made so much sense to me, suddenly I the ticked boxes of a diagnosis and I was able to make sense of the way I felt. And I’m so glad that it happened.

But the change of diagnosis didn’t feel good. In fact, it felt catastrophic. It was as though everything I was finally getting around to dealing with had suddenly been stripped away from me and I had been dropped into unfamiliar territory and given an entirely new battle to fight. I felt suicidal. I didn’t want to have to go through it all again. But it was a blessing in disguise.

I deeply distrusted the mental health system for a while after that. It felt like they had lied to me all that time about having depression when I didn’t. Now, of course, I fully understand why they didn’t tell me earlier, but at the time I was furious. But this experience made me realize I was clinging too much to a diagnosis to tell me who I was. I realized regardless of what word(s) were on a piece of paper next to my name, how I felt hadn’t changed. My feelings remained as valid as they always were. They were just called something different now.

My diagnosis changing taught me how to not cling to labels. It taught me to focus more on my feelings and how they were affecting me instead of trying to figure out why I didn’t “feel depressed” properly. I realized it didn’t matter what condition they put beside my name because, whatever it read, I would get help for it. No matter what I had, I could keep trying to get better the way I always did.

My diagnosis changed. But my world didn’t. A new condition’s name did not strip me of how I felt. I was still valid. How I felt was still valid. It was still OK to not be OK.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via LanaBrest.

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