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How I'm Learning to Combat the Emotional Intensity My Borderline Personality Disorder Brings

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Marsha Linehan has said, “People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are like people with third-degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.”

Let me just tell you, in my opinion, it’s 100% true.

My skin screams as I lie awake at night feeling lost and lonely. I feel nauseated every time I wait for a response to a text message or phone call. My heart aches every single time I scroll through social media and see my friends enjoying life without me. Worst of all, my entire body shuts down when I assume those I love most, have suddenly abandoned me.

While I know deep down inside the things I feel are intense and oftentimes fail to match facts, it doesn’t make the agony I experience any more bearable whatsoever.

When moments of emotional intensity hit me, I often feel myself drowning in my own thoughts and feelings. The gravity of it all quickly overwhelms me, and it activates my black-and-white thinking — the thinking that convinces me I’ll never escape the pain and devastation that consumes me.

I recently processed this emotional intensity with my therapist, though, and she helped me see a beacon of hope I’d previously disregarded: the idea that this too shall pass.

As I rambled on about my heartache, my therapist discussed my black-and-white thinking and reminded me I don’t always have to reach “level-10 upset.” I responded with, “But in some moments, I feel level-10 upset!”

The key phrase in that I later learned, was “some moments.”

I think that for many of us with BPD, it’s hard to imagine anything outside of the present moment of our emotional agony because the slightest shift often hits us like a ton of bricks. When we feel sad, all we can remember are the times we felt that same emotion in the past. We can’t remember what the sun looked like the moment it’s covered by the clouds, and within a few minutes, we forget the sun ever existed to begin with.

Although I’m convinced I’ll always experience moments where I feel “level-10 upset,” I’m learning just how important it is I find ways to cope and compartmentalize my pain.

I try to identify my emotions more frequently and label the physical symptoms I experience as a result. When the feelings and physical sensations become too overwhelming, I use the distress tolerance skills I learned in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) or reach out to friends for a distraction. I’ve also started making flashcards with statements to counteract the negative automatic thoughts that come with the agonizing emotions like sadness, anger and fear.

I know that these tools are merely a stopgap for the time being, and the real work still lies ahead. Eventually, I hope I can discover ways to regulate my emotions and experience discomfort without feeling like the world is on fire. In the meantime, though, I hope I can reach for the tools I have more often, instead of letting my emotions dictate all of my life decisions and run my day-to-day life.

I may never know what it’s like to live my life without feeling everything so intensely, but I hope I can find a way to quickly put the fires out before they burn every inch of my body and destroy what little bit of emotional shin I have left.

Unsplash image by Scott Webb

Originally published: April 6, 2020
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