What’s it like to have Borderline Personality Disorder? To navigate life with a mental illness that many therapists can’t/don’t want to treat? Today, Rebecca shares her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m originally from New York City. I’m a 26 year old blogger. For fun, I like to fish, play video games, and read medical thrillers.
For those of us who don’t know, what is Borderline Personality Disorder?
On paper, Borderline Personality Disorder is a serious mental illness where you experience erratic mood and personality changes, coupled with an intense fear of abandonment.
Borderline mood swings move so quickly that you can be ambitious at 7am, grumpy at 9am, and have little motivation to live by 11am. Your personalities and even hobbies will shapeshift to match your new mood swings. This is why people that suffer from BPD have a hard time holding down traditional jobs or establishing a sense of identity.
Borderlines are also known for clingy behavior because a major symptom of BPD is a pervasive fear that the people you love the most will turn around and hurt you or be taken away from you (like in a freak accident.) This feeling comes even if they’re just walking to the garage to fetch something from their car.
Since Borderlines don’t have an sense of identity, who you are is heavily wrapped in who you love. It’s like if your arm randomly up and left. The shock is startling and can shut your whole body down.
It’s not something you ever get used to, either. Each time you feel that fear, it’s like the first time experiencing the shock, all over again.
So, short version, BPD is a complicated mental disorder that invades your moods, your identity, and your ability to have relationships with other people.
What are the most common misconceptions about BPD?
That we’re evil, serial killer, arsonist, manipulative, narcissistic, lying monsters, essentially. These are some of the most common words used to describe Borderlines.
There are more resources available to people who have encountered Borderlines than resources for actual Borderlines. I understand why, but it’s discouraging and heartbreaking to try to get help when there is an expectation that you’re this terrible person.
I never want to excuse the actions of people with Borderline Personality Disorder, my own included, but I want to offer a perspective.
We’re needy and extremely codependent, especially when we’re unable to find treatment.
The reality is that even psych professionals are not equipped to offer aid to people with BPD. Borderlines are deemed resistant to therapy and difficult to treat, especially with our impulsivity, paranoia, and persistent personality and mood changes. You have to find someone both willing and experienced in treating personality disorder, which is rare.
When help is hard to come by, Borderlines can regress deeper into their symptoms and become those things people say about us.
And this assuming the Borderline even has medical insurance to cover getting help.
What lead to your diagnosis?
I grew up in a violent household which lead to a suicide attempt when I was 13 years old.
I woke up in the psychiatric ward.
Personality disorders are rarely diagnosed to anyone under the age of 18, but after a series of tests and doctor’s visits inside inpatient care, they diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder.
How did you feel when you got the diagnosis?
It honestly felt like a death sentence. There is a small psychiatric center near where I lived and I saw literally every single therapist in there. None of them wanted to work with me. Since child services was involved, my parents had to take me to different therapies and none of the clinics kept me longer than a few weeks.
What sort of treatment have you pursued?
I’ve been in talk therapy on and off for the past 13 years. Most of talk therapy didn’t work for me because BPD isn’t something you can just “talk out” and try to reframe, which a lot of therapists tried to do with me.
However, finding a therapist that specialized in personality disorder has been my saving grace. I’m lucky to have found one locally, even though it took me a year and a half after moving here, to find her.
I hear that there is a therapy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy that has worked wonders for Borderlines.
I used to take medication, but some of my symptoms would be exacerbated. Like, if they treated my impulsivity and anger, it may increase my suicidal thoughts. If they treated my suicidal thoughts, I may experience intensified mood swings. Medication is really something you have to be patient with.
These days, do you feel your BPD is pretty effectively ‘managed’?
I think I manage it pretty well. I do have meltdowns and panic attacks every few months, when I neglect my personal self care and I get overwhelmed.
I’m still in therapy but the major factor in my sustained recovery is how mindful I have to be of my thoughts, emotions, and triggers. It’s exhausting to be in constant control, so I try to be kind with myself and not push too hard.
Do the people in your life know about your diagnosis?
I used to say I had depression and anxiety to make it easier, but in the last year, I started coming out with my real diagnosis. The people that didn’t really know me were shocked because they thought I was so emotionally grounded and I seem so stable from far away.
People that were close to me were generally accepting and not surprised. It was like giving them an answer to a question they were too respectful to ask.
There have been a small amount of people who were rude or took malicious joy in hearing about my diagnosis, but they eventually weeded themselves out of my life.
Honestly, saying the diagnosis out loud felt more like I was learning to accept myself for who I am, rather than seeking acceptance from others. I feel like I can finally breathe.
What resources have helped you navigate this?
Minimalism, hygge, and meditation has done a lot for me. Minimalism helps me curb impulsive decision making because it lets me put structure and limitations on my life, without reducing my quality of living.
Hygge helps me stay present in the moment and cultivate a safe, comfortable space inside of my home. Meditation is a great mental exercise because it helps me be more aware of my triggers.
My favorite books that have helped me along are The Tiny Book of Tiny Pleasures by Irene Smit and The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. There’s also a BPD specific book called Mindfulness for Borderline Personality Disorder by Blaise Aguirre that I enjoyed.
What advice would you give to people who love someone with BPD?
If you love someone with BPD, please take care of yourself. Have your own self care systems in place and don’t try to take on our problems as your own. You can’t fix or save us, but you can support us.
Create a crisis plan together so your loved one is having an episode, you know exactly what steps to take to get help.
We’re not lost causes. There are a LOT of people and resources who will tell you to run away, we’re not worth it, we’ll just burn your life down. Loving us is difficult (trust me, it was very hard for even me to love myself) but there are success stories. Look towards people who are optimistic and positive in being part of our healing journey. These will be the people that give you the help you need.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Rebecca. Do you guys have any (polite! respectful!) questions for her?