Hello my beautiful darlings!
May is not only mental health awareness month but also Borderline Personality Disorder awareness month. Being someone who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, I know all too well the difficulties it brings to one’s life and the negative stigma that surrounds it, even within the mental health community. That is why today I wanted to share with all of you some information about Borderline Personality Disorder as well as tell you my story and talk about what it is like to live with such a complex illness.
So what is Borderline Personality Disorder ?
For anyone who doesn’t know, Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD for short is a disorder that impacts the way you think & feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. People with BPD often think with their emotions instead of in a rational manner. With BPD you tend to have an intense fear of abandonment or instability & you may have difficulty tolerating being alone. However, inappropriate anger, impulsiveness & frequent mood swings often push people away.
I tend to call BPD the ultimate contradiction disorder. A quote that tends to resonate with people who have BPD is “I hate you, don’t leave me”. This is because our anger can be so intense that we truly feel like we hate this person but as soon as that person shows any sign of leaving, we panic and beg for them to stay because we know without them, we would be lost.
BPD usually begins in early adulthood and has been shown to be more common in women. An estimated 1.4% of the adult population experiences BPD, but due to it heavily being misdiagnosed, the actual number of people with this disorder is more than likely much higher.
The unfortunate truth is many mental health professionals either do not believe BPD exists or will refuse to work with a patient who has a diagnosis of BPD. This is mostly due to its difficulty to treat, as well as many people who have BPD being in denial that they have it. It’s hard to treat someone if they don’t acknowledge there is a problem.
Sadly, 70% of people with BPD will attempt to take their life and 10% will be successful. This is higher than any other disorder. That number alone is why BPD needs more awareness in today’s society.
I have been unofficially diagnosed with BPD for about 3 and a half years now and officially diagnosed for about 8 months. I was misdiagnosed with Bipolar 2 disorder 3 times which is a very common thing. Many people who eventually receive a BPD diagnosis were previously told they had Bipolar. This can cause issues because some medications that are used to treat Bipolar have the possibility of making Borderline symptoms worse. It is also possible to have both BPD and Bipolar, but is less common.
When I first came across the term Borderline Personality Disorder, I had just stopped therapy with a therapist I did not get along with and was feeling very lost. That therapist made me believe I was this horrible person and I wasn’t trying hard enough to control my emotions, especially my anger. Being someone who was always very interested in psychology, I began to research what I was experiencing on my own and came across an article talking about BPD. I instantly resonated with what it was saying and knew I wanted to know more. After doing some more research, I bought this book called “Get me out of here: My recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder” by Rachel Reiland. Within the first few chapters, it felt like a fog had lifted and I truly felt understood.
Around this time, I began seeing a new therapist and psychiatrist. After my first meeting with the psychiatrist, he once again just passed it off as Bipolar 2 but my therapist saw something else. After a few more sessions with my therapist, we began to talk about the possibility of me having BPD. It felt so amazing to have someone actually listen to me. My therapist at that time though, didn’t believe in labels. We talked about how I showed many empath qualities and discussed how traumas in my life would have contributed to my behaviors today. During one of our sessions though, I asked her if she had to diagnose me, what would she say and she told me she would diagnose me with Borderline Personality Disorder. For most people, this diagnosis would have been heartbreaking and devastating but for me, it was a relief. I’m someone who likes labels because if I know what is wrong with me, I can research what can help. Getting this diagnosis finally gave me an answer as to why I behaved the way I did.
I worked with that therapist on understanding BPD more and where it would have come from. We had just started to really dive into treating my BPD when suddenly, she told me she had to leave the company. I was devastated and for a long time thought I would never again be able to trust another therapist. However, today I am back in therapy with a new wonderful therapist who I love and a new psychiatrist, both who have officially diagnosed me with BPD based on the symptoms I experience and my past traumas.
9 Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
So what are those symptoms you ask. Well, there are 9 main symptoms of BPD. To be diagnosed, you usually need to be experiencing at least 5 of them. In my case, I experience all 9.
So the first symptom is:
- An intense fear of abandonment, even going to extreme measures to avoid real or imagined separation or rejection.
I deal with this a lot. For someone with BPD, when they feel abandoned, it honestly feels like the end of the world for them. My poor husband tends to get the brunt of this. Whenever he wants to go somewhere without me, either out with his friends or just by himself, I instantly feel heartbroken and believe that he doesn’t want to be around me and doesn’t love me anymore. Obviously, this is not true but try telling my BPD brain that. This often will result in giant meltdowns or arguments because my emotions take over and cause issues. This is also very obvious within arguments. If my husband tries to walk away from me during an argument, I go into complete panic mode and will do whatever it takes to keep him in the room with me or stop him from leaving the house. In my mind, if I let him walk away, he will never come back so I must make him stay. It’s awful and often makes our arguments worse because he can’t walk away from me to cool down. Having extremely bad anxiety on top of BPD also makes this even harder. Whenever my husband even leaves the house, my mind won’t stop telling me that he won’t come back home. I am always so terrified that he will get into an accident or something will happen and I will never see him again. Thankfully, I have a very understanding husband who doesn’t mind texting me when he arrives to his destination, talking to me on the phone while he is driving there, and just keeping me updated throughout the day so I know he is okay. Still though, it’s exhausting to live with such an intense fear.
The next symptom of BPD is:
2. A pattern of unstable relationships, such as idealizing someone one moment and suddenly believing they don’t care or are cruel the next. This is otherwise known as splitting.
Looking back, it seems like I always struggled when it came to relationships. Whether is was a romantic relationship or a friendship, I always had issues. I definitely had many pointless falling outs with friends or boyfriends over the littlest things. I was definitely the kind of girl who, if you gave me attention, I clung to you and idolized you. I can’t even count how many boys I would crush on all because they gave me an ounce of attention, which usually landed me into trouble. When it comes to splitting, I do this a lot in many different aspects of my life. If you don’t know, splitting is a black and white, all or nothing mentality. There is no middle ground, no grey area. I definitely see myself do this with my grandma and husband. One moment, my husband is the best husband in the entire world who I know loves me more than anything and then something happens and i’m convinced he hates me and never cares. It’s like one little thing can have me believing something completely different, and usually untrue, about someone. I also tend to split when it comes to everything I do. It’s like if things aren’t perfect, they are bad, there is no in between. It is exhausting to live your life like this because the reality is nothing is perfect and many things in our lives exist in that grey area. It is also very hard for the people around the person with BPD to understand this kind of extreme mindset which just makes things that much more complicated.
The third symptom of BPD is:
3. Rapid changes in self identity & self image that includes shifting goals and values and seeing yourself as bad or as if you don’t exist at all.
I have never known who I am. It feels weird to even write that but it’s the truth. Throughout my entire life, I have never had a grasp on the person I really am. I’m someone whose personality is shaped by the people I am around. This is just one reason why now that my chronic illnesses have caused me to be stuck home almost all of the time, my sense of self is slipping farther and farther away because I am hardly around people. I didn’t realize how true this was until I was in college. I had never been a party girl or even a girl who dreamed of going away to a 4 year school. But that all changed when I wound up hanging out with a new group of people. Within a couple of weeks I went from being the girl who was ready to settle down, get married and start a family to someone wanting to go to the clubs multiple times a week and drink and go away to a 4 year college. The change was so drastic that I lost track of what was important in my life and even wound up losing Tom for 4 days. It was in those 4 days though that I woke up and realized how “not me” I was acting. It’s always a struggle thinking “okay, do I really love this thing or do I love it because the people around me do?” I also changed my major 5 times in college because I kept changing my mind on what I wanted to do. I was constantly changing my plans for my future. I also do this with my self-image. It’s the reason i’m constantly dying or cutting my hair or changing up my style. In a way, I think I believe if I just keep changing things, one day one of these changes will stick and i’ll know who I am, but it never happens. It’s really hard going through life without knowing who you are because who you are really shapes the life you live.
The fourth symptom of BPD is:
4. Periods of stress related paranoia and loss of contact with reality, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours or even days.
I tend to be the girl who is always paranoid. This is heavily due to my anxiety but there are 2 paranoia thoughts that I have that really take a toll on my life. The first of these being that whenever I leave the house to go somewhere, especially if it’s the movie theater, a concert, or the mall, I am convinced that place is going to get shot up. It has become such a problem that I stopped going to concerts all together and often do not want to go to the movie theater because I spend more energy on watching my surroundings than I do watching the actual movie. Everywhere we go, I am on high alert. It’s debilitating living like this but it’s more than just a fear, my mind practically makes me believe that this is going to happen. The other major paranoia thought happens anytime i’m alone and it’s the belief that someone is going to break in and kidnap me. This has been a fear since I was little and one I still deal with today. My doors and windows are always locked and if I hear even the slightest noise, i’m often running upstairs to hide in my bedroom. I also suffer with dissociation, or the feeling of not being real or present in your life, daily. My psychiatrist now believes my dissociation episodes are so frequent and intense that they are more than just a symptom of my BPD but it’s own dissociation disorder called depersonalization/derealization disorder. This means I do experience this at a higher level than someone typically would with BPD, however, any level of dissociation is disorienting because how does one function when they don’t even feel like they are real and everything and everyone around them are just a little off and fuzzy somehow.
The next symptom of BPD is:
5. Impulsive & risky behaviors, such as gambling, reckless driving, unsafe sex, spending sprees, binge eating or drug abuse
I have always struggled with overspending money. Especially if I was going through something stressful, I always felt comfort in shopping but when the bill would come in, I often had no idea how I would pay off my debt. This was especially hard when I would buy expensive things such as a new camera or tablet. I got into debt many times because of this. Today though, this is not as much of an issue, only because for a long time, over a year, I had no income coming in that was my own and had to rely on everyone else to buy anything. This was so difficult to deal with so now that I do have income coming in that is my own, I am much more careful with how much I spend. However, especially in certain situations, I easily fall back into the habit of buying a ton of stuff. I also have struggled with alcohol in the past. For a while there, I was drinking almost every single night. Drinking not only helped numb the pain but it allowed me to be able to let loose and truly be me without all the stress I usually hold. It seemed like anytime we would hang out with friends, I had to drink just to have a good time. Again, this has now stopped only because I was put on a lupus medication and can no longer drink a lot. But honestly I do feel if I never went on a medication, this could have spiraled out of control and become a much more deeper issue in my life.
The sixth symptom of BPD is definitely the heaviest on the list and that is:
6. Suicidal threats or behaviors or self harm, often in response to fear of separation or rejection
I have suffered with self harm since middle school. There were only 2 instances I can think of where I actually made my arm bleed though because I was always too scared to really harm myself. Instead, I would scratch at my arms. I would use either my nails or an earring back and scratch over and over until my arm burned. Though this is much less common today, I still do suffer with this self harm behavior here and there, especially after intense arguments. For me, not only does feeling that pain remind me that I am alive and really here but a lot of the times, I have this deep belief that I deserve to feel that pain because of my actions. It’s messed up but it’s the reality for so many people out there and needs to be talked about more. Recently I also learned that chewing my fingers is a form of self harm. Now I chew my fingers constantly, sometimes unconsciously even, to the point of them bleeding and hurting. To find out this was actually self harm was a shock to me and something I have been trying hard to not do nearly as much. I also have suffered with suicidal thoughts, especially when I was in high school. Today, I don’t really have suicidal thoughts per say. I don’t want to die, it’s the exact opposite, I want to live but I do struggle with suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation is basically this belief that everyone would be better off if you weren’t here and you wish you were suicidal because of it. This is truly a devastating thing to come to terms with but when you live with multiple chronic and mental illnesses that truly affect every aspect of your life and the people you love most are forced to do more things because you physically can’t, it’s very easy to slip into that kind of mindset. If you are feeling like this, I am so sorry but please know, no matter what your mind may tell you, it’s lying. You matter in this world and people would miss you more than you could ever imagine. No one’s life would be better without you here, no matter what your mind tells you. It’s heartbreaking to think about how many people struggle with this in the world and how little is really being done to make things better.
The next symptom of BPD is:
7. Wide mood swings, lasting from a few hours to a few days, which can include intense happiness, irritability, shame or anxiety.
Borderline Personality Disorder should be nicknamed intense emotion disorder because that is what it is like to live with BPD. Every emotion, every mood is intense. They often compare people with BPD to people with third degree burns because that is how vulnerable we are, we have no emotional skin. The slightest “touch” can feel like a knife. These intense moods can often switch very quickly. On average, I would say I go through 6-8 different moods a day. I can wake up feeling happy, become angry by noon time, and then drop into a depressive state by dinner. It’s exhausting mentally and physically living like this. Often these switches happen due to a trigger, either an obvious one or an unconscious one but they also can occur without reason. These are always the worst because they could strike at any moment. BPD doesn’t care if it’s a holiday or you’re on vacation, at any moment it can cause your mood to switch and there isn’t much you can do about it. Heck, I was in Disney World for the very first time ever, at Mickey’s very merry Christmas party, on my honeymoon and I had a mood drop. It was awful! The worst is dropping from a state of pure happiness and euphoria into a deep depression because it’s such a drastic drop. It gets to the point that even when you are in a mania type state, you start to worry because you know what is to come next but have no idea when it will happen. It’s so hard having to explain to people who ask “what happened, you were just fine” because I often really have no idea what happened. It’s even harder explaining to someone “why you are so angry or irritated suddenly” because often, there is no real cause. You just feel tense and can’t explain why. But that’s just my life and unfortunately, I have to deal with it and just learn how to cope living with emotions so intense that can switch at a drop of a hat.
The eighth symptom of BPD is:
8. Ongoing feelings of emptiness
I say a lot that I feel empty or I feel numb. It has always felt like there was something missing in my life. This constant void that no matter how many times I tried to fill, would always open back up again. When I was younger, I would always be like “oh if I could just have this” or “if my hair was only blonde” then I would be happy. But time and time again, the thing I would want would happen but the emptiness wouldn’t go away. It’s incredibly hard to live with this feeling of emptiness, especially when you have such great things in your life. I struggle with this so much because I look at my husband and our 4 fur children and I don’t understand how there can still be this hole in me. A lot of the days, it’s like i’m going through the motions, there but not really there. Just feeling empty and lost. Words can’t express how hard it is to live like that.
And the last symptom of BPD and I would say the hardest to deal with, with the exception of the suicidal one is:
9. Inappropriate intense anger, such as frequently losing your temper, being sarcastic or bitter, or even getting into physical fights. This is often followed by intense shame or guilt.
Let me just start off with saying, BPD rage is a thing and it is incredibly difficult to manage. I am going to use the analogy that my psychiatrist told me because I had never felt more understood before in my life. So basically, when someone with BPD starts to go into a BPD rage episode, it’s like they are caught in a wave and in that moment, they are desperately trying to escape this wave so they will do whatever they can to be free. For me, when I am in “the wave” I tend to scream, punch things, throw things, curse, and basically lose all control. In those moments, I see red. When I look back, I am deeply ashamed of the things I have said or done in these rage episodes because they are just awful. But when they happen, I don’t feel in control anymore. The best way I can describe it is the rational part of me takes a back seat and the irrational inner child in me, the core of my BPD takes the front seat and causes havoc. This child is so wounded that the only thing they know to do is lash out and make the ones around them hurt like they have been hurt. Now I am still present, it’s not like I black out or anything or that this inner child completely takes over but it honestly feels like I can not stop these actions and am forced to just sit there and watch it happen. Once it’s all over, and I am crying my eyes out while trying to pick up the broken pieces and mend the damage, that is when I am back in the front seat, back in control. I will not lie, these episodes are scary, especially because they can occur over the littlest thing. Even the minor ones though, are difficult. There are moments where I am suddenly overcome with anger and in such a bad mood. I tend to give attitude, raise my voice, and just not be a nice person when this happens. Often leaving my loved ones upset and confused of why I am acting this way. Managing my anger is my number one problem and definitely the symptom I struggle the most with and the symptom that causes the most issues within my life. But it’s important for loved ones to be able to separate the person from the disorder. No, this is not giving that person an excuse or saying their actions in these moments are okay because they are not and they need to work to fix them but people need to know that the disorder is causing these rages, not the person that they love.
As you can see, living with BPD is hard. I want to point out that I have never shared my story in such detail before like this. Yes, I am someone who is very open about her health and what she struggles with but I’ve never opened up about living with Borderline before. I won’t lie, I am scared. Scared that people I know will see this and treat me different, scared that i’ll be viewed as an awful person. BPD has such a negative stigma in society that when people hear you have BPD, you’re instantly labeled “psychotic” and “unstable” based on what the media has told them. But we are not monsters!! We are just misunderstood people dealing with deep childhood wounds who never asked to have this disorder! We are broken and just trying to figure out how to put our pieces back together and survive!
What causes BPD?
They are still unsure of what exactly causes BPD. Though they have found evidence of it being related to an abnormality in the brain, the biggest cause seems to be having a stressful or traumatic childhood. Many people with BPD report being abused or neglected during childhood, as well as growing up with a parent who had substance abuse or a similar mental illness. Others were exposed to hostile conflicts and unstable family relationships. When it comes to me, through therapy, we have pinpointed a few big events that have contributed to me developing BPD. One being my mom and dad divorcing when I was 5 and not getting to see my dad that much and the other being losing my grandfather, who was a father figure in my life, right before turning 13. Though these are the 2 big ones, there are many other smaller things I went through in childhood and up through high school that have caused me to develop BPD. In therapy I have learned that things I never thought would be traumatic actually were and as I dive into my past more and more, I think to myself it’s no wonder I have this disorder. But I also think to myself that i’m a pretty strong person to have gone through what I did and have to battle my mind everyday because of it and still be able to smile and see the beauty in this world.
When it comes to treatment, it is definitely one of the hardest mental illnesses to treat. Though medication may help manage accompanying disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and mood switches, the main form of treatment is talk therapy. Through DBT exercises, dialectical behavioral therapy, you basically learn how to retrain your brain and manage your emotions. Talk therapy is currently my only treatment for my BPD and has really been helping. But honestly, the biggest thing that has contributed to me getting better was educating the people closest to me on this disorder.
For the longest time, I did not want my husband to read about BPD. I was terrified if he read about it, he would leave me. But it got to a point where I was feeling so misunderstood and alone that I decided I needed him to get a glimpse into my world. We bought this book, “Stop walking on eggshells” by Paul Mason and after he began to read it and my grandma began to read it, things started to get better. They finally understood that my mind doesn’t work like theirs does and that something that may not seem like a trigger to them, is for me or that the comment they made was invalidating and that is why I lashed out. My husband has even started to realize that my anger when he has to leave the house comes from fear and now instead of giant arguments every time, we can talk through things and I feel understood for once. It is so incredibly important for loved ones to educate themselves on BPD, I can not stress that enough!
Learning to manage your emotions, thoughts and behaviors will take time and the reality is even though you can, and you will, improve, you will more than likely always struggle with some symptoms of BPD. There will be good times where things are going great and you may even feel like you’ve recovered but then there will be bad times, where you break down again, you falter and you relapse. This is okay, this is normal and does not in any way make you a bad person. Setbacks will happen but what matters is you get right back up and you try again. With consistent treatment & support, a person with BPD can live a long, happy, and healthy life. Having BPD does not mean you will never find love or that you will never be happy. It just means, we have to work harder to have these things and the more awareness that can be spread on the truth about BPD, the easier living with this disorder will become.
I hope I shed some light on what it is like to live with Borderline Personality Disorder and I hope you enjoyed this blog post. If you are someone who is suffering from BPD, please know you are not alone and you are not this monster the media may make you out to be. You’re a loving person who is just struggling with wounds you never should have gotten in the first place. Hold on to hope because I promise, it will get better.
Until next time,
Kaylee D. ❤
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