Trigger warnings: self harm, suicide
I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder last year. For me, the diagnosis was extremely helpful. The word ‘borderline’ with this does not mean almost a personality disorder as many assume. I wanted to share some thoughts on living with BPD and hopefully help some people feel less alone and offer a little bit of hope.
First and foremost, BPD leads to people feeling extremely intense emotions. Here’s a recent example of this from me: I got upset because I was unable to go out with friends and did not want to miss out on anything. It is natural to be upset. But, this quickly became an intense sadness that completely took over and resulted in self-harm. Rationally, I know that this was not helpful and frankly, an overreaction. At the time, I could not contain the sadness that turned into anger and self-harming was my way of relieving some of this intense emotion.
To someone without BPD, emotions come and go and intense emotions are often a result of an intense situation. For those with BPD, emotions are often intense and lasting. While this means anger and sadness can be dangerous emotions with BPD, it also means that people with BPD tend to be very enthusiastic and friendly and fun to be around when emotions allow it. This shows that BPD does not have to be all negative all the time and it is possible to enjoy the company of someone with BPD.
Due to experiencing such intense emotions, it is very common for people with BPD to shut down. It is like a huge build-up of pressure in a container and we know it will soon explode so we just turn it off. We have difficulty regulating our emotions and so feeling nothing is better.
On top of all of this, people with BPD also experience mood swings very often. These often involve depression, anxiety and anger. There can be no obvious trigger to these mood swings and take it from me, they can be exhausting!
Another thing I would like to mention is feelings of shame. Before my diagnosis, I had noticed that feeling embarrassed or humiliated had a profound effect on me. If I was embarrassed by something, I would still be playing it over in my head and hating myself for it years later. Turns out that this is common with BPD.
Borderline Personality Disorder is often accompanied by substance abuse. For me, it was alcohol. At the time, I was unaware of BPD but I did know that alcohol numbed emotions for me. When sober, I felt everything all the time and it was draining. Having a drink would stop me thinking and feeling anything deeply. Obviously, alcohol is a depressant so in the long run is very damaging for someone with a mental illness.
BPD is also commonly joined by eating disorders and self-harm. These are other things which I have personally experienced. For self-harm in particular, I have always used it to relieve emotions. I get really really angry so I cut myself and feel better. Feeling better is fleeting though because then comes along the guilt and shame. In the moment, it feels as though nothing else will help but in the long run, it harms more. A pretty vicious cycle, right? While harming oneself might seem counter intuitive to mentally well people, it is very common among those with BPD. It provides relief from intense emotions that we have no other way of dealing with.
On to a topic that anyone close to me understands well, relationships with others. Before my diagnosis, I was very aware that I was clingy and insecure in friendships and romantic relationships. No matter how hard I tried to stop this and change the way I was around people, I could not do it. I still have not managed to do it but knowing it is part of BPD eases the self-hatred relating to it.
I have always been sensitive to rejection. Any of my friends will tell you that if I ask them to hang out and they say no, I will not react well. I will either believe that they hate me or will isolate myself from them so they cannot leave me. I am insecure and people often find it annoying that I need constant reassurance. Luckily, I have found friends who are willing to give that reassurance. It does not stop the insecurity but makes it more manageable. It is very easy for me to think that everyone I know hates me and will leave me because I hate me so much.
It might seem that being friends or in any relationship with someone with BPD is difficult. It can be at times, yes. But, if you take the time to understand the illness then it gets easier. If you know to offer reassurance and not be dismissive etc. then it will be possible to have a good relationship. This idea that people with BPD cannot have healthy relationships is bullshit. It is more difficult but it is not impossible. See here for an old post about my relationship before I knew we both had BPD!
One of the symptoms of BPD that is often misunderstood and unfairly focused on is manipulation. I hold my hands up and admit that I can be manipulative. Until recently, I would beat myself up about it. That was until my therapist asked me why I was being manipulative. People manipulate in order to get a need met. I do not manipulate people to hurt them, I rarely do it consciously. It is often very subtle but I do it because there is a lack of something which I need. My way of getting it just happens to be manipulation because expressing that I need something from a person is difficult for me.
Self-harm and suicide attempts from those with BPD are often thought to be part of their manipulation. Sometimes they are but that is not to be quickly judged. Imagine what someone must be going through to think the only way they can get love or attention is to hurt themselves. When I first realised that I had self-harmed in order to get attention from a friend who had been ignoring me, I was horrified with myself. I was about 16 and upon realising what I had done, I immediately started thinking that I was the worst person in the world.
We are constantly getting sent the message that anyone who hurts themselves for attention or validation is bad. This is not true. They are often hurting and scared and do not know what else to do, it is a desperate act. It is damaging to assume that any self-destructive behaviour is only used to manipulate others into responding in a certain way.
BPD often leads to difficulties having a strong sense of self; people tend to have difficulty knowing what they like or value or struggle with setting any goals. This is something which leads to a lot of indecisiveness, something I have trouble with on a daily basis. I am also prone to adopting attributes of characters in film, tv and books. I do this because I often doubt myself and everything about me. By turning myself into someone else that obviously knows who they are, I then feel a stronger sense of who I am. Obviously, this is not the healthy way to develop knowledge of you but it stops the fear and empty feeling.
People with borderline personality disorder often struggle to concentrate. This is hardly surprising considering all the stuff going on in our heads on a daily basis. The lack of concentration can often lead to dissociation, a type of “zoning out.” It is often clear when someone is in this state as their face and voice might become expressionless. Dissociating is the mind’s way of avoiding intense emotions or painful memories. This can be helpful until it starts to happen with normal, every day emotions which everyone should be able to experience.
There you have it. I have, by no means, covered everything but this gives a bit of an overview of what it is like to live with Borderline Personality Disorder. Next blog post about it will focus on the stigma attached to the condition.