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The 10 Best and Worst Symptoms of My Borderline Personality Disorder

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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.

After living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) for several years, I feel like it is important to share what it’s like living with it from someone who has it. Now, this statement is a bit of a fallacy. There are so many different experiences people have. There is no one perspective that summarizes the experiences we all have. However, I know since finding out about my borderline two to three years ago, I have severely struggled to find any media that simultaneously makes me feel like I’m not alone and I’m not a “monster.” Every time I have searched for resources, I either leave feeling like I just got done reading a medical report or I’m a manipulative danger to society.

Usually, I don’t care about labeling myself. In fact, I usually don’t think of myself as someone with BPD as much as I think of myself as someone who struggles with their mental health. However, having BPD is a whole roller coaster in and of itself outside of all other mental health issues. That’s not to say it’s better or worse than any other condition, as much as it is to say if you do not have BPD, you might not pick up on all the symptoms someone experiences on a daily basis.

Due to the negative stigma, I have started to completely dissociate myself from the borderline “label.” I only talk about my diagnosis with my most trusted friends, my therapist and my parents. Even with these people, I’m cautious to identify as having BPD and instead say I have borderline symptoms. This is true, but I don’t just have some symptoms. I have all nine of the symptoms the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) associates with BPD (you only need to have four to be diagnosed in most cases).

Every day, I struggle to feel real, accepted and rational. I live in extremes. However, most people struggle to pick up on this — not because my symptoms are mild, but because I’m reasonably good at hiding them. Yes, I was diagnosed only a couple of years ago, but I have been living with this my entire life. From breaking down crying after my parents said a little girl on TV was a good singer because I thought that was them saying I wasn’t as good of a child in general (even though I’ve never thought I was a good singer or really cared all that much about it), to having to take my schoolwork home as homework because I was too busy working through my intrusive thoughts to actually sit down and do my work. I have always shown extreme symptoms of BPD.

All this to say, unless you talk to someone who has BPD you will likely never know the severity of how much it affects them. So, I decided to share some of my experiences. I want to talk about the good and bad. I want to highlight both because I think it is important to shed light on the dark sides of mental health, but it is equally important to find value in your experiences. So, here is what I believe to a realistic portrayal of what it is like to have BPD.

1. I can’t work in places where I don’t like the smell.

Now, most people wouldn’t think about this being an issue for someone with BPD. However, for me, being sensitive doesn’t just apply to people. It applies to all of my senses, including my environment. It doesn’t just stop with smell, either. If I don’t like a sound, feeling, taste, etc. it is very hard for me not to focus on it. When I do experience these things, it causes me to become anxious and do things like pick at my skin, have trouble breathing, start sweating, etc. Often, I feel awkward in public spaces because I will sometimes have to sit at two to three different places before I feel comfortable.

2. I have to have an area that is just mine.

Having privacy is an absolute must for me. It’s less about trying to hide something as much as it is about me having a safe place I can escape to. If anyone enters my space, my anxiety will build until I become so tense, I feel the need to express my irritability and anger in a negative way. My spaces are my room and my car. I heavily associate those areas with being something I can control, knowing what to expect and somewhere I can be myself. I have often snipped at my parents for coming into my room and moving something like a jacket or a chair because it makes me feel like my safe place is being compromised. Another example is I ask my friends to hang out in the guest room instead of my bedroom because it feels like a more neutral area to be in. It can be overwhelming, but if I express my boundaries and manage my reaction, it all works out.

3. If someone cancels plans, it ruins my whole day.

Luckily, through therapy, I’ve gotten a lot better with this. However, it is still something I struggle with when I’m interacting with new people. When I make plans with someone, I get so excited with the anticipation of the event that when people cancel, it feels like they’re not canceling the plans, but they’re canceling me. If they don’t apologize and reschedule, I’ll start to spiral and have to use emotionally exhausting coping mechanisms to stop negative thoughts. Going through all of this makes me feel irrational and insecure about how capable I am to control myself emotionally. It is difficult to constantly feel like you’re emotionally immature because you experience emotions so intensely.

4. I love to communicate.

Talking about feelings is one of my favorite things to do. If there’s an issue, I want to make sure whoever is hurting feels better, including me. If I’m hurting, the only things I can focus on are my negative emotions until I talk to someone about it or journal about what I’m going through so I can process what is going on. Of course, this can come off as overbearing, and I have to work to keep it under control. Not everyone wants to talk about everything that’s wrong at the moment. However, I have realized the people around me appreciate having someone who cares so much about understanding them. It’s all about moderation and appropriate timing.

5. I have severe triggers.

Most of us have heard about trigger words. Some of mine are “sensitive, dramatic and stupid.” To me, these words are connected to very painful thoughts and memories. If I get called sensitive in an argument, my brain splits off into two thought processes. One, I try to understand what the person was trying to say, so I can respond accordingly. Two, I feel as if the person is compromising how I feel by questioning my reaction. Therefore, I am not only wrong (or bad) now, but I have been wrong (or bad) in every situation like this, and I deserve to be punished. After this, it’s hard for me not to shut down or react with anger. To help this, I like to point out my triggers to those important to me and remind myself others simply don’t know better.

6. I can re-experience the emotional intensity of an event like it was yesterday, even if it happened years ago.

It’s like every emotion being a strong grudge you can’t get rid of. If I think about a time where I hurt my friend’s feelings, I start to get depressed and switch to self-loathing behaviors. If I think about a time when my mom got me a thoughtful gift, I start to smile and feel the need to text her telling her much I love her. These emotions are so intense, it can feel like I’m re-experiencing the event. It’s hard to remember not everyone feels in extremes like me, so I have to work to manage how I express my emotions so they don’t appear to other people as big as they feel to me. It can be exhausting having emotional responses that never dull. It makes me feel “crazy” or overreactive, but I’ve learned to accept that. My brain just works differently, so while I am able to process events, the amount of energy it takes to do so can be very tiring and feel unfair.

7. I love big.

I have so much love to give. To me, there is no end to how much affection I want to show to those I care about. To the extent I have to set limits for myself on how much I can text and call my friends to tell them I love them so it’s not overbearing. I even give my dogs and cat daily affirmations and massages just to make sure they know how deep my love is. This aspect can be dangerous if I’m not careful about who I give love to. Yet, for those like my friends and family, who I trust, it is just a part of who I am. A part of me they love and appreciate. Overall, if you’re someone I love, there will be no question about it.

8. I struggle to know what is real and what is fake.

Luckily, unless I’m in a dark place, I can notice when I’m being irrational. However, on my bad days, I don’t know what I look like, if I actually emotionally connect with people around me, what emotions I feel, etc. This leads to me looking for ways to make me feel more “real,” often in ways of self-harm. I will have sex with random people, not eat or drink, hit/pinch myself, etc. It can be really scary when I break out of the fog of confusion and realize the extent of the damage I’ve done. Now, I have healthier ways to cope. I’ll make something, start a fun conversation with a friend, go out to run an errand or try to list how I’m feeling in as many words as possible. Simply participating in society helps me validate myself.

9. I can’t watch any serious or dramatic movies.

Since one of my “superpowers” is being able to feel in extremes, I can empathize with people once I understand how they feel. This leads to me being incapable of watching anything sad without starting to cry or anything serious without feeling overly stressed out. This has definitely caused some funny situations. One of which was while watching the comedy “Booksmart” with my friends. One of the characters started talking about how much she loved her friend. Instantly I started thinking about how much I love my friends, and not two seconds later my face was covered in tears. It has been years since that happened and my friends still bring it up to this day.

10. I live in almost constant fear and shame.

I feel a background emotion of fear and guilt like a constant buzzing in my ear. I always feel like I’m doing something “wrong” or I’m about to do something “wrong.” I can’t tell you what is “wrong” because it doesn’t exist, but I can still feel it. Even if I’m happy, I worry my depression will hit, my happiness is making someone else unhappy, I’m just distracted from my responsibilities, etc. The only time I get relief from these feelings is with the help of medication and sleep (if I don’t have nightmares, which is rare). Otherwise, my chest is tight, there’s a frog in my throat and I have to stop myself from itching my skin off or twitching my head in response to my restless energy. It’s like living life waiting for the other shoe to drop, in a constant state of tension.

Now, these are just some of my experiences with BPD. Some are funny and sweet, while others are dark and a little scary. Either way, this is how I live. I can’t change any of this. I was born with my brain, and I can learn to love it or live to hate it. Most of the time, it’s both. I just hope others who experience BPD like me will read this and feel less alone. We are not a danger. We are not incapable of taking care of ourselves. We do not live life ignoring other peoples’ emotions for our own benefit. We are just people struggling in ways that are a little bit different than others.

You can follow Madelyn’s journey on Deinternalized.

Getty image by Husam Cakaloglu

Originally published: May 6, 2021
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