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5 Tips to Tackle Borderline Personality Disorder When You’re Struggling

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The struggle with borderline personality disorder (BPD), for me, is the extreme shift in mood without any notice. A person living with BPD can go from feeling inspired and motivated to feeling an emptiness and sadness all in the space of a minute. There is no warning, or if there is a trigger it is too quick to catch. But learning about the illness itself is so important because at least it allows you to try and work out what has happened and what you can do to tackle the feeling.

BPD is, by far, one of the most complex mental health issues, severely under-researched until the past 10-15 years, yet is more common than you would think. Due to the complexities, each individual’s presentation of the illness itself has led to BPD becoming one of the worst stigmatized mental disorders. Personally, I know there are times I have been to a doctor or landed in the hospital, and I will intentionally leave out that I have BPD because there is an extremely negative stigma around the disorder, even in the mental health profession. 

This led patients feeling confused about their own emotions and scared to talk about them for fear of rejection from either a loved one or a medical professional. So, the patient may go either undiagnosed or incorrectly diagnosed.

So, when I think about the tactics I need to deploy to tackle BPD, I also have to take into account the comorbid illnesses that come along with it, like major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety and, for me, addiction. You need to have a pretty extensive toolkit in order to wade through all of that if they come together at the same time, but for now, we are just going to focus on BPD and what I have found useful when I know I am not in a good place. 

1. Grounding myself.

This is basically forcing my brain to come back to the present and the moment. So, I will describe in great detail what I can see, smell, touch and hear. And when I say “in great detail,” I really mean it — the more I push myself to focus on what I am doing, the distress level automatically goes down because I am directing attention away from it.

2. Acknowledge that this will pass.

As I mentioned, my mood can sometimes shift in a minute, and it’s important not to let that shift scare me into any self-harming behaviors. I try as hard as I can to tell myself this is just an emotion and like all emotions, they will come and they will eventually leave.

3. I put it in a box.

If I do not feel strong enough at the time, I will tell myself that this is going in a box and getting locked — not forever, but just for now until I am in a better place to address it or deal with it, depending on what the trigger was. 

4. I take a break.

I allow myself to switch off if I can. So, I take a nap because there is every chance I could wake up feeling calmer. I don’t criticize myself for being “lazy” — I give myself permission to take a break and I do it without judgment. I try to read at least a couple of pages of a book to steady my thoughts and then try to clear my mind as much as possible.

5. Mindfulness.

This is something I struggled to learn at first, but I think that is quite normal. We don’t live mindfully anymore; we are so consumed with the material world around us that we don’t stop to just be in the moment. I use my “Calm” app on my phone to do even five minutes of deep breathing exercises. Like the grounding technique, the brain automatically sends messages to the nervous system to calm down. 

Now, I will 100 percent admit that when a full-blown BPD episode crashes with depression and anxiety, these five things feel impossible. The overwhelming emotions and distress I feel during those times is truly terrifying and when it is happening, all hope of a happy future seems to evaporate in an instant. What I have found, though, is if I try to engage in my tactics when I am not feeling as bad, I can at least try to deploy them when I do feel like it is all too much.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, BPD is so different and complex for everyone with the disorder, so what works for me may not work for someone else. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), the core therapy for BPD, contains a great number of techniques you can try and there are many resources on DBT available. If you work hard during the times that you can, then I believe the really horrible times can be less devastating than if you have no go-to guide whatsoever. 

The more I learn and understand my own triggers, the more I can think of ways to either avoid them altogether or work out what to try when they do arise. I think the most insidious part of borderline personality disorder is the extreme shifts in mood that happen in the blink of an eye. I would definitely say that would be my biggest challenge and something I need to work on every day.

Try these five tips and try your own. Every person with BPD needs a toolbox of their own. My best advice to you is to learn as much as possible about the illness itself. Journaling is also helpful in identifying small things you may miss that trigger a mood change or distress. Good luck with your journey and always remember: you are not alone in your fight.

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

Originally published: February 21, 2019
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