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Living With the Limitations of Borderline Personality Disorder

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“You can do anything you set your mind to.”

“Reach for the moon and if you fall short you may land on a star.”

“You are the master of your life.”

Platitudes, sayings, and motivational quotes such as these are common. I read them on stickers and signs, on therapists professional websites, and I hear them said around dinner tables, often meant to encourage.

I have borderline personality disorder (BPD) and I believe I live with limitations. I cannot do “anything” I set my mind to. I can do some things really well. There are some things I cannot cannot well. I cannot and have not achieved all my dreams. I have achieved some dreams, not in the same way I planned.

I believe that all of us humans have limitations; some of us more acutely aware of what they are and how the impact on our daily lives, hopes, and goals. Mine may not be always be “visible” for others to see (at this time in my life) but my limits are there and very real to me.

I can’t do anything I want to, and I cannot always be the person I want to be. I have wished before that I was easier, and that my feelings were less large. I feel limited by my physiology, psychology, and the environment around me that impacts my symptoms. Admitting this feels both sad and peaceful; it feels peaceful because I am giving myself permission to let go of “achieving the impossible” as a goal for my life. I cannot do “it all.”

Having limits doesn’t mean I am bad, wrong, or useless. I believe human beings are essentially good and valid. As I have read in the dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) manual, we each have essential goodness and essential validity, meaning each person has inherent significance which cannot be taken away or discounted (p.164 DBT Skills Training Manual,  M. Linehan). I believe that you and I are a treasure.

One quick google search of a definition of a limit is: 1. “a point or level beyond which something does not or may not extend or pass.” We all have limits in some way. I would bet no one reading this article could suddenly fly like a bird, or whip up a gourmet meal in under 10 minutes. We cannot change the past, or predict the future. Life is full of limitations. We are limited by “time” whether we like it or not, it happens, things pass. Seasons change, in my case (in Canada) it is obvious when this occurs. Our bodies change, no matter how much we seek to resist and control them, our bodies are changing every second, and there are limits on what the human body can do.

And there are my own unique limits I see, on me, because of my personality disorder. Even with access, and all the privilege I have in being able to participate in therapy, I am still limited by my disorder. The very disorder itself for me, sometimes does feel like a limit. My body and mind simply shut down, and I cannot function if I feel have gone beyond a level I cannot be and, do, I cannot not extend, I cannot pass… My will is not enough. I simply must be “willing” to accept the present and the limits that exists when I am in the throws of an intense emotion, fear of abandonment, and urge.

My limits change depending on how emotionally vulnerable I am. For example, if I have not slept, eaten healthy, or spent time alone—I am at a greater risk of falling back into unhelpful behavior patterns, so my limits are much greater, more obvious, and crossing them, or (attempting to), may result in significant relapse. Other times, when I have had supportive relationships, rest, and meaningful leisure, for example, I feel I can extend my limits a bit more, I can walk a bit further on my path, take on extra hours of work for example, or write a few more articles. My limits change but they always *exist.*  No amount of therapy, or perfect diet, or helpful relationship has erased my limits…. No matter what I have learned in terms of skills, I am sensitive at my core—I cannot “unfeel” things, I cannot seem to forget. I am deeply impacted by what happens around me, and the interactions I have with others. If I push myself too much, I fall. I collapse. I cannot keep going. I have limits.

While borderline personality disorder makes me limited—preventing what I can do in my life, the types of jobs I can take, and how I handle relationships and change, and the type of care I need to maintain my recovery—there is a dialectic here, a “both and” that gives me hope, and joy in the midst of my very real limits.

I have limits, *and* I am brave. I have limits, *and* I breathe through tough times. I have limits *and* I can skillfully grieve them. I have limits *and* I care deeply about other people and their experiences of joy and hope.

Having BPD and the limitations that for me are a part of the disorder does not mean that I fail at life, at love, at meaning, at hope. Limits mean I do have pain and struggle and with these very real limits…. I am valuable, essentially good and valid—just like you, just like anyone else.

I am limited. I cannot do everything or “anything” I set my mind to. I cannot overcome all obstacles, barriers or limits. I cannot guarantee that my falling short will land me on a shiny star. Whatever your limitations are, I believe you are also deserving of life, love, meaning, hope. I have limits and so do you. Together we are limited and together we are still so very treasured.

Getty image by Klaus Vedfelt

Originally published: December 15, 2022
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