I was first diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in May of 2017 following an admission to the psychiatric hospital. For many years, I suspected there was something different about myself and my actions and behaviors. I brushed them off as something that was just normal for me and part of my personality. When the psychiatrist asked me questions, I didn’t realize he was actually performing an assessment. He finished and said, “Well, I feel very strongly that you suffer from borderline personality disorder and I highly suggest and recommend that your outpatient program consist of dialectal behavioral therapy.”
Now I had no idea what borderline personality disorder even was, let alone what dialectal behavioral therapy (DBT) was. He continued on to say that DBT is typically done in group settings and you attend at least one or two sessions a week, sometimes as much as three. Anyone who knows me knows I do not do well in settings like that, because I know absolutely no one and am not comfortable sharing things with people I’m not familiar with. I begged him to please not make me do group therapy. He was actually quite mean about it and said that he didn’t believe I would make any progress if I didn’t do it.
When I arrived home I figured everything would go back to the way it was. But my mom thankfully pushed me to go back to therapy, and mentioned I could always find a psychologist to do DBT with me one-on-one. When I first spoke to my current therapist on the phone, she actually said that the first thing she focuses on in therapy is the trauma. We didn’t even talk about my BPD diagnosis or DBT. A few sessions in, I explained to her my diagnosis and what the psychiatrist had said. At first, she didn’t believe I even had it, just like my parents and several close friends doubted it as well.
As time went on, she began to learn more and more about me, and she is now 100% confident I have BPD. We do DBT frequently and it has helped me so much. DBT and what it is, that’s another article for another day. I really want to talk about what it’s actually like to be borderline.
When I tell people I have BPD, the first responses I usually get are either a look of confusion, asking if that’s the same thing as multiple personality disorder, or if I meant to say bipolar disorder. No, it is not the same as either of those illnesses. This is exactly why I want to talk about it today and help educate those of you who are unfamiliar or confused by the term.
Unlike bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety, which are characterized as mood disorders, borderline personality disorder is characterized as a behavioral disorder, and is better explained as emotional dysregulation disorder. There are more than four million cases per year, making it fairly uncommon, but more common than you would probably expect. Symptoms of BPD include emotional instability, feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, impulsivity and impaired social relationships. Now, you’re all probably thinking you have several if not all of those. But what sets BPD apart is the intensity of each of those symptoms, and the level of intensity people who have it experience.
I myself didn’t believe the psychiatrist until I looked up all the symptoms and found that I experienced all but one. Since then, I have learned that living with and being aware of borderline personality disorder is by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
My reality of living with borderline personality disorder is this:
1. Efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
Please for the love of God, don’t leave me. I beg of you to please not leave me. I have been left all my life. I have been abandoned by the people I thought never would have left in the first place. I’m paranoid that the people who are still around are going to leave me too. I don’t know what for, but probably something related to my BPD. Looking back, that’s likely why everyone who has left so far has left up until this point. Although, those people have never actually given me a reason. So it probably isn’t related to my BPD, I just think it is. I irrationalize the fact that the people currently closest to me are going to get tired of all my problems, and are going to leave me just like everyone else has. Sometimes I will sabotage what I have with the people closest to me, so they will leave me now instead of dragging it out and putting me through agony and paranoia.
2. A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family or friends, often swinging from extreme closeness and love to extreme dislike or anger.
I want stability more than anything. I have expressed that time and time again. In reality, I am the one who creates the instability. Instead of allowing someone to leave with no explanation, I will give them a reason. I will test them, push them to their limits, idolize them and make them my favorite person. Then eventually, I will fear they will leave me, in turn making me fear them instead of love them.
3. Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self.
My entire life I have felt as if I have hated myself, every inch of me and my physical appearance. I destroyed my body for many years with self-destructive behaviors like cutting. I still to this day struggle with an eating disorder which is classified under self-destructive behaviors as well. I have never liked myself. I have always hated my own existence and questioned why I couldn’t just die because it seemed as though I was better off that way anyhow. I don’t see myself in the same way the rest of you do. For every positive thing you have to say about me, I have something negative, if not two or three negative things, to counteract that and convince myself that you are either lying to me or that you just don’t see the real me.
4. Impulsive and dangerous behaviors such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving and binge eating.
I am notorious for making impulsive decisions. If there is any symptom of BPD that I exhibit the most, it’s impulsiveness. I do it in a destructive way to be quite honest. It is my way of showing desperation to try to calm the shame and guilt and intensity of emotions that manifest in ways I am unable to control. It’s a way of punishing myself, because I have felt all my life that I deserve to be punished, as if what I have already been through wasn’t enough punishment. My self-hatred manifests itself by causing me to make impulsive decisions. It’s a warped perception for me to control my overwhelming amount of emotions.
5. Self-harming behavior, such as cutting.
God only knows how long I’ve had BPD, but I started cutting myself when I was about 14. Whether that was just a symptom of my depression or an early onset sign of BPD, I’ll never really know. But my ongoing eating disorder is definitely a symptom of it because I can’t seem to control it. Eating disorders are characterized as self-destructive behaviors and mine has been going on long enough; though no would ever guess I struggle with one just by looking at me.
6. Recurring thoughts of suicidal behaviors or threats.
I have had recurring suicidal thoughts for as long as I can remember. I’m still shocked I made it as long as I did without being hospitalized. I just want to be put out of my pain and misery and no longer have to deal with a life riddled with traumatic memories, anxiety and sadness. Sometimes it feels as though it’s the only solution to my pain, though I know I won’t ever do it. Don’t ask me what’s stopping me, though. I don’t have an answer.
7. Intense and highly changeable moods.
My moods rely on the behavior of other people. I do not handle insults or criticism well, because someone is basically pointing out what I already hate about myself. If you think of it, I’ve thought of it long before you and turned it into self-hatred that causes my current mood to take a nose dive. I lose control when I dwell on other’s words or criticism. Shame is fueled by my reactions to the way you speak to me or something that you point out. I want to make everyone happy and please every single one of you. But if you criticize me, even if it’s constructive, I will immediately take that as an insult and turn it around on myself. Shame is a constant. There is sadness, anxiety, fear, restlessness, but out of everything, shame is the only constant. I feel shame more than I feel anything else.
I like to call this the void. I’ve talked about it before. It is the point I reached before I was hospitalized. I didn’t know what I felt other than the fact that it was absolutely nothing over nothing. Shame didn’t even exist here in the void. There was absolutely nothing. I feel way too much on a daily basis, which is ironic because that’s something people with BPD are known for. Yet we can also struggle with chronic feelings of emptiness. I suppose it becomes the void when everything becomes too, too much. Maybe I want someone to save me. Maybe I’m trying to save myself, I just don’t know how to do that.
9. Intense anger or problems controlling anger.
This is thankfully not something I experience, but I can relate to not having control over how I express and communicate. I get extremely angry when someone doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say or express. I get extremely angry when I don’t know how to control my habit of bringing up unnecessary shit. However, my anger manifests itself with crying and shaking and more crying. So no one really knows that I’m angry.
10. Difficulty trusting, accompanied by fear of other people’s intentions.
I’m evaluating your intentions 24/7 without you even realizing it. I am reading you and analyzing you to figure out what it is that you want to do with me. My first instinct is to protect myself. I’m analyzing you to figure out if you’re there to hurt me, traumatize me or shame me. If you’re lucky, all three at once. Do I know you’re not going to do those things? Most likely, yes. Can I control myself and tell myself that you aren’t going to do those things? Absolutely not. So here I am continuing to analyze and figure you out even though there’s really nothing to figure out.
11. Feelings of dissociation, such as feeling cut off from oneself, seeing oneself from outside one’s body or feelings of unreality.
Dissociation is one of the very few things I don’t know how to put into words. I’ve never known how to explain it. Looking back, I’ve experienced it since I was very young. The best way I can explain it is that it’s an out of body experience. You are not you, but you are still you, only you’re you looking at you from a distance. But the you in the distance is the you that you cannot control. You watch and you suffer while something happens. You want to help or protect the you in the distance, but you don’t know how and you can’t. So you sit and watch in agony instead. I dissociate whenever my brain feels like it. Sometimes I’m at home, sometimes I’m reading a book, sometimes I’m driving, sometimes I’m at work, but it doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, I always have to be prepared for it.
I feel like there are never really adequate words to explain borderline personality disorder and what it’s really like to live with it. No one will ever understand how difficult and how intense it is to feel so many emotions and so many things at one time and react with such intensity. Unless you live with it, you have no way of ever knowing what it’s really like. And believe me when I say, I would not wish borderline personality disorder on my worst enemy. If you struggle with borderline personality disorder and you’re reading this, please know that you’re not alone. And please, if you have the resources and are open to therapy, please seek out a therapist or your own workbook to do DBT, because I cannot even begin to tell you what it has done for me and how much improvement I’ve made.