Doctors, mental health workers and other healthcare professionals often recommend various tips and tricks to help stabilize the symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD). But, when in the clutches of this disorder, it can be hard to even see how many of these could work, let alone actually implement them. When I was clinically described as being in the midst of a “mental health crisis,” I struggled to comprehend how such simple alterations to my lifestyle could make such a great difference. I was, frankly, in total disbelief of the doctors who recommended I make these changes. I thought their reductionism of the hardships of BPD was undermining to my struggles. It took me getting to a point when I was no longer considered a “crisis patient” to finally start working towards a better lifestyle, and since, I have tried a few of these little changes. I have most certainly seen a difference. I not only feel more in control of my BPD, but my life as well. Here are what I consider to be the three most helpful changes I have made to my lifestyle that have benefited my BPD recovery.
I was always an athletic person, right up until my depression made any physical activity feel impossible. I had previously been a runner, a keen martial arts enthusiast, and all around fitness fanatic. Then, I slowly but surely stopped working out, stopped attending my classes and felt any form of exercise was futile. It felt much easier and — in that moment — better, to just lay in bed, crushed under the weight of my sadness. Last summer, I decided one day, with a random burst of motivation that I dared not question, that I would bite the bullet and try a short workout at home. I love aerobics, so I dug out my old hula hoop, went out into the garden, and danced around for half an hour. Afterwards, I felt great, endorphins coursing through my veins. So, a few days later, I did it again. But this time, I stayed out longer, adding in some strength exercises too. Over the following weeks, my workouts became more structured, more centered around parts of myself I wanted to tone up, and I started noticing differences. Not only physically, but mentally, I felt more in control. My anger subsided somewhat now that I had something to channel it into. My stress could be turned into something productive. The rush of hormones post-workout made me feel more stable. Now, I try to work out at least once a week but I’m not hard on myself if I miss a week. I cannot stress enough just how beneficial my exercise regime has been to my mental health. Even a brisk walk for ten minutes can help, and I would encourage you to try it if you feel up to it.
2. Social media detox.
I love social media. I am on almost every platform. I can waste away hours liking and sharing posts, whittling away the day on something that is,
really, meaningless. Social media is a great distraction from work and always has me procrastinating on my projects in favor of another makeup tutorial, another few posts to read or something else to “like.” It also is incredibly damaging to my mental health. Twitter especially makes me feel as if I am vying for attention. It has me posting petty, passive aggressive things aimed at loved ones who haven’t really done anything wrong. In a moment of bad mental health, in seconds, I can post something I will later seriously regret. I hate when friends message me, asking me to clarify who a post was aimed at or what I meant by something I posted in the heat of the moment. So, I am currently on a detox. I have cut down the number of social media apps on my phone to just two and, perhaps, that number will shrink even further. I feel so much better. I am no longer allowing myself to act out in such a public way, therefore, I have nothing to feel guilty or embarrassed about later, so I don’t spiral into a cycle of shame. I can’t see things my friends are posting, so I can’t allow my BPD-related abandonment issues to be played upon. In essence, I am freer, not a servant to my phone anymore. I never thought I’d be able to tear myself away from social media like this, but I feel so much more stable for doing it.
3. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
I have always been very untrusting and skeptical of doctors and the health services, to my own detriment. When I was at my worst point with my mental health, I was a difficult patient. I would imagine, not really cooperating with the treatment I was so lucky to be offered. When I was somewhat more stable and began seeing my current, wonderful therapist, I was more motivated to get better, work on myself and find ways of coping and living with my BPD. Regardless, though, I still held a level of skepticism about DBT. I’d had some therapy before, and had not gotten on well with my previous therapists, limiting the amount of good work we could do together. I wasn’t so sure that this round would be any different to the others. But, my new therapist and I have an excellent working relationship and she understands me, knows what will and won’t work for me and my BPD. Some of the tools she has given me have, with no exaggeration, changed my life. I have learned how to be assertive, how to sit with my feelings instead of reacting to them immediately, how to communicate my mental health better, how to stop my emotions from becoming too intense — among so many other things. She has turned the great skeptic of therapy into the great believer. I am a huge advocate for this kind of treatment and, though it doesn’t always work for everyone, I think a lot of the tools it gives us as individuals with BPD can make this disorder far more livable. It also does not have to be wildly expensive, either. The internet has some great resources for free that can act as a wonderful starting point for DBT.
I recognize not all of these tips are employable for everyone. When you are in the grips of mental illness, it can be near impossible to take the most basic care of yourself, let alone get out of bed and go for a run. But, on the days when you feel you can, I would encourage you to try some gentle yoga, browse some DBT resources online or put your phone away for an hour or so. I am far from recovered, and I still have days when I am unable to put these tactics into play, so I do not want to sound sanctimonious. But, these little alterations to my lifestyle have really benefited me in stabilizing my BPD, and I hope they can help you, too.
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Thinkstock photo via Rebekka Ivacson.