When I began to learn about my diagnosis I didn’t really know much about BPD and it was hard to know where to go for information. We’ve all heard about Bipolar and Schizophrenia but Borderline Personality Disorder, which affects about as many people as both of these illnesses combined, is rarely discussed. There is a lot of stigma out there and though you may not have realised it at the time you have probably seen a Hollywood portrayal of someone with this illness: Fatal Attraction, Single White Female and Girl, Interrupted. None of these movies accurately portray the experience that a Borderline goes through
After my initial response to the disappointing article published by The Guardian, Personality Disorders at Work: how to spot them and what you can do, I’ve been carefully considering what I can do to raise awareness. I’ve enjoyed working on this blog and interacting with the BPD community on Reddit, but I have previously kept this blog very private. I only talk to about three people about my diagnosis and experiences and have withdrawn from social media. I’ve realised that if I want to do my part to challenge the stigma I can’t do that by hiding my illness from the people in my life.
As this is my first blog post which I intend to share publicly I wanted to address the key points that I wish everyone understood about BPD. As with all of my posts, this is informed heavily by my own experiences and discussions I’ve had with other BPD individuals; I am in no way a professional and it is important to remember that mental illnesses affect individuals differently.
Splitting is the more commonly used term for the classic ‘black and white’ thinking that we’re so famous for. I can adore someone one minute but if they say something to me that I feel devalues me or is hostile I can unravel pretty quickly and begin thinking they hate me, that they’ve been lying to me, that I’ve been used, I’m so stupid for trusting them, etc, etc. It spirals rapidly and definitely confuses the people around me. Similarly, I will believe every terrible thing that people say about me, just not consistently. One day I’m the monster you think I am, the next you’re the monster for suggesting it.
I have been told that now that I know my diagnosis and am aware that I often have warped thinking, I should be able to turn it off. As much as I wish it were true, when I’m in that spiral it is immensely difficult to break out of. It seems next to impossible to identify which thoughts are rooted in reality and which are manifestations of my insecurities.
2. Emotional Dysregulation
So you know those moments when you get so overwhelmed by your emotions and there’s nothing you can do to tune out from it? That’s what it feels like for a Borderline all the time. It completely blew my mind to find out that the emotional intensity that I experience on a daily basis is a rarity for people who are neurotypical. When I’ve had an argument with a friend or believe they feel negatively about me I find myself getting teary at work suddenly or simply can not stop venting to my partner, it’s almost obsessive. I simply do not have the ability to choose not to think about or feel something; it takes an incredible amount of effort to distract myself or talk myself down.
Not only that, but my mood will change about 10 times a day. I can be a mess, drenching my pillows with tears and hiding under the covers, only to be euphoric about something nice someone said to me 10 minutes later. While it doesn’t quite match up with my experiences, the comedic poem Emotional Idiot by Maggie Estep does a pretty good job of summing up the constant fluctuations felt by someone with BPD.
This relates heavily back to the previous points I’ve addressed. When you’re overwhelmed by emotions, feel like the world is against you and are hating yourself it’s hard, not to act on your impulses. For me this usually means desperately seeking reassurance from the people in my life, needing someone to convince me that it’s in my head and that I’m not worthless. It is something I feel I’m getting better at keeping at bay but I’m definitely not there yet. I know it bothers the people I’m close to so most of the time I bite my tongue, but about 3% of the time I can’t talk myself down and I slip.
This is often met with confusion; it can seem unprompted as these are often situations that I’ve worked up tremendously in my mind. Other times it’s met with hostility as people don’t like being questioned on their behaviour, especially by someone who is doing so in such an erratic manner. When someone with BPD approaches you with a concern that you feel is out of place they do not have an ulterior motive and do not want to make you feel like shit. What we say is 100% reflective of the emotions we are experiencing and our perception of reality.
4. Manipulation vs Desperation
If I can just drill in one point today, it’s this: the stigma about us being manipulative is complete bullshit. We can often seem manipulative but as I discussed in #3 it is nothing more than a quest for reassurance and a way out of despair. We are not trying to make you behave in a certain way. There is a lot of inaccurate information and horrendous stigma out there about Borderline Personality Disorder, but how often I see the word ‘manipulative’ being thrown around cuts deep. Manipulative implies premeditation and a level of consciousness which we are simply not capable of when we are having an episode. Last night on Reddit I saw another Borderline talk about how we can be like animals; we’re just acting on instinct. Sometimes these are really shitty instincts, but…
5. The Good
We’re not shitty people, we just feel emotions with incredible intensity. Yes, it can make us act irrationally sometimes, we can be capable of some pretty nasty stuff. I’ve hurt others with the toxic stuff that I say because it feels so real at the time. I’ve hurt myself in more ways than I can count. Most of the topics I’ve covered today, however, is reflective of a Borderline who is going through a rough time. My life spiraled after losing a close friend, I know there isn’t a single day I haven’t grieved for him. The relationships in my life grew tense and this formerly suppressed illness infested every area of my life. I am certain that BPD had a huge impact on my daily life before this never ending breakdown but nothing that approaches the grip that it has on me now.
Without adversity and with treatment we can flourish. We care passionately for the people in our lives. That emotional intensity that can be so destructive can also be a strength. I love my partner more than anything. My closest friends aren’t far behind either, I love them tremendously, each in their own unique ways. I will put the needs of the people in my life above my own because it genuinely makes me happy and feel useful. I’ll get really excited, giddy even, about things that seem innocuous to others; parties, a new season of a Netflix series, a weekend out of town, cheese, a really good night out with my friends. These things bring me so much joy and I know I wouldn’t feel as alive if I didn’t have such a heightened emotional capacity.
There are a lot of resources out there about BPD, some very clinical, some full of stigma and some first person accounts of what it is like living with this condition. There is one post that I have found particularly valuable in discussing both the science behind BPD and the impact that it has on those suffering from this illness. In BPD, Me and Anxiety the author of Borderline Babble goes into depth about the myths surrounding BPD, symptoms and their experiences with anxiety.
Please let me know if you have any questions or feedback about this post, or anything else mentioned in my blog. I know it can be daunting opening up conversations about mental health, but I honestly believe that these difficult conversations are the only way to further societal understanding of mental health issues. I really intend to be an open book about all of this.
Thank you for taking the time to read this!