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When Borderline Personality Disorder Feels Like a Life Sentence

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

It seems as the number of people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) rises, so does the stigma toward it, so it’s no wonder it feels like a life sentence to me. Rarely do you see an article or a positive comment directed toward people afflicted with this disorder. Instead, it is often a never-ending stream of negativity and horror stories of how hard we are to be friends with, how we are manipulative, toxic and craving attention; how we lie to get what we want and how our outbursts at the smallest of things are constantly overreactions.

We are made out to be selfish and cruel and calculating, and are socially classified as having one of the worst mental disorders there is, due to the low rate of recovery. The death by suicide rate among people afflicted with BPD is estimated as high as 10%.

I have BPD, co-afflicted with depression, anxiety and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). For those not familiar, BPD is often caused by childhood trauma and abandonment. It can physically change the growing process in certain areas of the brain. The amygdala, for example, sometimes does not develop as a “normal” one does. In fact, some studies show it is between 8% and 24% smaller, which can be seen on brain scans.

The amygdala is the brain’s emotion center and when underdeveloped, it does not allow us to think rationally and emotionally at the same time. This often ends in outbursts, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Some studies indicate up to 70% of people with BPD will attempt suicide at least once in their lives. I have survived three major attempts caused by the sexual, physical and emotional abuse I endured for the first 14 years of my life. Even with medication and therapy, I spend a lot of time passively suicidal, meaning it is constantly in the back of my mind, but I have now learned new coping techniques to help me get through the active ideations.

Many people afflicted with BPD are co-afflicted with one or perhaps multiple mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, but many of these mental illnesses are caused by an actual chemical imbalance in the brain. These chemical levels can often be balanced out with the proper combinations of medications, and with the addition of some form of therapy, many live a functional life.

BPD is a personality disorder that can have a variety of causes. For some, during our most formative years, we developed a different mental framework than the average person. Our core beliefs about ourselves are sometimes completely mutated, which influences not only how we see the world, but the meanings we attach to certain words or events. Simply put, our way of thinking can become so distorted that it affects everything from our lack of self-esteem, to our “over” reaction to something that would not ordinarily bother the average person.

These characteristics are not born within us. We have been neglected, rejected and damaged enough that we fail to learn the basics of our sense of self. Many of us may carry intense self-loathing, with an inner sense of disgust and hatred that eats at us every hour of every day.

Those with BPD often have their minds hijacked by painful, raw emotions we have little to no control over. On a physical level, it would be comparable to having a wound with a scab that gets ripped off with every emotion, and it eventually becomes a raw, open sore, with words being the source of the pain. Something that may not even be a hurtful statement can be taken in a different way because we put our own distorted view of the world onto it, and all of a sudden, we are reeling in an indescribable amount of pain. A few harmless words can cause so much damage as we often attach different meanings to the words that are said.

Whatever our emotions are telling us at the time is what many of us consider to be the truth, which often leaves us at the mercy of our emotions. For many people, their thoughts tend to dictate how they feel, whereas with BPD, often our thoughts follow our emotions.

People can be their own worst critic, but people with BPD can take this to a whole new level. Our inner dialogue is sometimes so ingrained to tell us we can’t be healed, or that therapy or meds won’t work. It also might tell us we are unlovable, unwanted and misunderstood. This inner voice can be so convincing that we sometimes believe we have become our illness. Even though we know this inner commentary has led down bad roads before, we often continue to trust it, almost like a safety net.

Our minds need concrete information and we can do poorly when we are left to make assumptions or fill in the blanks. That inner critic will have filled up those blank spots with self-hatred and negativity before we even know it has happened.

The bottom line is many people with BPD simply think and operate drastically different from those without it, and the more people are educated on this illness and how to help those struggling, perhaps the stigma will lessen, even slightly.

Getty image by Dreya Novak

Originally published: February 21, 2021
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