When I Realized Not Focusing on My Mental Health Was Jeopardizing the Things Most Important to Me
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental disorder that affects the daily lives of those struggling with it. Between the inability to regulate emotions and the suicidal ideations, BPD can be debilitating. It often requires long-term treatment, time and energy to manage. Unfortunately, there isn’t much time nor energy to work on managing my BPD as a college student.
Borderline personality disorder does not just involve not being able to regulate your emotions. This disorder also involves patterns of intense and unstable relationships, impulsive and dangerous behaviors, problems controlling anger, paranoia, chronic feelings of emptiness, need for affirmations, suicidal behaviors, distorted sense of self and a very real fear of imagined or actual abandonment. These are the symptoms that make living with my BPD so significant, and in my case it makes living the life of a college student almost impossible.
I have been fighting these demons for years and my BPD is something I’ve dealt with every day even before my diagnosis. In high school, it was difficult to regulate my emotions and control my self-destructive behaviors, but I was able to manage it more effectively because my high school years were not nearly as time-consuming as college. From late nights in the library, to the constant pressures I put on myself to be the best, college became my life and my sense of being. I had to perform this balancing act between academics, school involvement and a social life — there was little time to focus on managing my BPD. Every college student has to perform this balancing act, but it is especially difficult to balance all of these aspects of college life when you struggle with a chronic mental illness.
Living with BPD is one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced. Fighting to just survive, not thrive becomes tiring, and being unable to control my emotions results in consequences that could break anyone down. I have yet to master this balancing act. Due to my BPD, it becomes difficult to think rationally, and to respond in the correct manner to a situation. This is incredibly immobilizing especially on a college campus. While other students rationally use exercise as a way to deal with the stresses of college, I hold onto a bottle of alcohol while I wait for some stranger on Tinder to provide me with some sort of relief — even if it is just for 10 minutes. While it seems others maintain healthy friendships and relationships with others, I idealize individuals, put them on a pedestal and think my life is worthless without them. Other students seem to be OK with going to the dining hall to eat alone or sit at the library by themselves, but I am so terrified of being alone that I will simply not eat if no one is available to go to dinner with me, and I certainly won’t go to the library alone to do homework, so that homework does not get completed. I cannot gain weight without feeling the need to engage in disordered eating behaviors. I cannot hold a stable relationship because I have such a fear of abandonment. I begin to suffocate that person by latching onto them and never giving them space to be their own person. Because of this, they have no other choice but to leave. While others don’t care if someone judges them for wearing sweatpants to an 8 a.m. class, I would change anything I needed to even if that meant my personality to please others. I believe this is not the life of a “normal” college student — this is the life of a college student living with BPD.
Not only that, but these college years have also included countless numbers of nights crying and self-harming over a sub-par test grade, punching walls over a text that was read but not answered and drinking myself into oblivion at three in the afternoon to dull the extreme pain I felt when I got into fights with my friends. All of these extreme reactions, spouts of excessive anger and self-injurious destructive behaviors, are all a result of this illness. Symptoms like these have to be managed in order to maintain stability, but managing my illness often fell to the wayside when midterms that were worth half my final grade were next week, work gave me more hours than expected and the meetings every week for my student organizations were made mandatory. My mental health no longer became a priority for me when so much more had to be done in order to ensure that everything else got done and got done well. It was at this point when my mental health no longer seemed to be important, that it became critical to make it a priority.
I didn’t make my mental health a priority. I was so focused on my grades, my student involvement and maintaining my friendships, that I actually didn’t realize not making my health a priority actually jeopardized all of these. My irrationality and recklessness kept me from attending class and putting effort into my school work — as a result, my grades suffered. My roller coaster of emotions and behaviors kept me from being an active participant in my student organizations and consequently risked my future in them. My emotional instability, extreme need for affirmation, aggressiveness and poor sense of self seriously damaged many of my friendships to the point where some were no longer salvageable. I made the mistake of thinking that not focusing on my mental health wouldn’t affect the other aspects of my college experience. They did. Managing my mental health would actually ensure the other aspects of my life would be protected and would allow me to continue to grow as a person.
Living with borderline personality disorder as a college student is extremely difficult, but it is not impossible. The best thing you can do for yourself is to make your mental health a priority. By becoming stable and learning how to maintain your BPD, you can make your college experience better, and overall grow as an individual. Making recovery a priority and focusing on your health first, will allow the other aspects of your life to eventually fall into place. Dedicating time to recovery could mean college won’t necessarily involve losing the ones you love or jeopardizing your future because of your illness — it would involve developing healthy relationships and creating the future you want. It is not an easy process, and does require so much commitment, but in the end it’s worth it. Gaining the ability to eat at the dining hall myself, not needing a bottle of tequila to dull the pain of my disorder and managing my BPD is a fight worth fighting. College is already stressful enough, but learning how to minimize the symptoms of my BPD will help me to create the college experience I want for myself, and will help me overcome the challenges of an illness I thought to be unconquerable.
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 demaerre.