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Why It’s Hard When Friends Don’t Believe I Have BPD

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I’m a “high-functioning borderline.” I have a good job. I can make a good impression. I can express my emotions clearly, and I have learned to redirect my anger and soothe myself when necessary. That’s why it can be difficult for friends to believe when I tell them I have borderline personality disorder (BPD). Big emotions? Sure. Sensitive soul? Definitely. But mental illness? Don’t be ridiculous.

On one hand, it makes me happy that no one can recognize my struggle. It shows that the thousands I’ve spent on dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) therapy — and the years I’ve invested in self-work — have paid off. But at the same time, the situation always leaves me a little frustrated. Here’s why:

1. It minimizes my struggle.

The amount of energy it takes to live like a “normal” person is unfathomable, even for me. I spend each day — all day — talking myself out of arguments. Fighting my brain over toxic thoughts. Quieting the voices that make me second-guess my strength and sanity. (“Was that email too strong? Will I come off as angry? Would a ‘regular’ person have responded the same way?” “Was my boss looking at me weird today?”) Convincing myself the world isn’t that bad — it’s not out to get me, I’m not losing my job. my boyfriend does love me — it’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK. It’s a marathon for mental health every single moment I’m living. In fact, I also have to remind myself daily that I do, in fact, want to live.

2. It makes you feel like a stranger.

When you minimize my struggle, it makes me feel like you don’t know me. It makes me feel like you don’t get it when I say how hurt I am, how scared I am or how little hope I have in being alive. I appreciate that you believe in me, but I don’t want you to believe in me so much that you fail to see the pain I’m experiencing in real life.

3. It makes me less likely to share the truth.

I don’t want to let you down! You think I’m healthy. You think I’m strong. Why would I want to tell you how hard it was to wake up today? That I went to bed crying and wishing the pain could just be over? That, when it comes to your compliments and affirmations, it is hard to believe anything you say? The voices in my head are simply so much louder.

I appreciate you sticking by me, but what I would like for you to try in the future is this:

Have empathy.

Imagine yourself looking after an active baby in the middle of a home with multiple fireplaces. The moment you set it down, it immediately starts crawling toward the fire. You spend the entire day pulling it back close to you. You can’t catch a breath. You can’t look away for a moment. When it comes to managing my emotions, that’s what having BPD is like. It’s exhausting. And though I can’t get paid for that work or make it tangible enough for you to see, it takes absolutely everything out of me.


And believe me. Don’t use your past experiences as a guide. Use mine. Understand that you don’t know my perspective because you have never lived in my body. You have never operated with this brain. I am not exaggerating these feelings. They scare me, and when I express them, I need to know we are on the same page.


But don’t judge. Talk to me. Ask me questions. Don’t believe the internet goons that make BPD sound like a demonic, hateful, manipulative disease. Not everyone with BPD is the same. Some are good people, others haven’t found the right support yet. But some of them do — whether you believe it or not — look and act exactly like me. And we need your support, whether you believe it or not.

Photo by Laura Marques on Unsplash

Originally published: December 28, 2018
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