A lot of people don’t know that I have Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s not something I actively hide but merely comes from when they met me or whether I felt comfortable opening up. Once people know I have BPD, they tend to see me in a different light and sometimes even fear me. BPD still comes with a lot of stigma and a lot of assumptions. I’ve never really felt like I ‘fit in’ with the image of BPD, despite knowing that it can come in all shapes, sizes and levels of functioning. There are so many things that I wish people knew about Borderline Personality Disorder, but if I had to narrow it down to just five, these would be the main takeaways I need people to understand about me.
A significant aspect of BPD is emotional instability. I will go from euphoric to inconsolable before you have a chance to finish your cup of coffee. I once saw it described as a ‘hair-trigger’, and I think that phrase captures it perfectly, for anything can set off a change in my mood. I think of it as having thin skin, stemming from the phrase that people can have thick skin. My skin is too thin, so everything penetrates it and can affect me. I can’t block anything out, and so I feel everything; I feel it too much. I make assumptions from the tiniest of things. If my partner is out with friends and doesn’t message me for hours, my head convinces me that he is cheating on me, that he is leaving me. It sounds irrational, and trust me, I know that, but my head is so good at convincing me, to the extent that I can’t separate truth from lie. I consistently think that everyone is plotting against me, everyone is pretending to be my friend because how could anyone like me?
I sound like a great catch, right? People close to me want to help correct this voice and help bring me back to a controllable base level of emotion and rationally work through my suspicion and terror. But the key to doing this isn’t by telling me that it doesn’t make sense and leave it. Because that’s not enough for me. Rationally, I know that it doesn’t make sense. I know that not everyone in my life will leave me. But I still feel this way; I’m still experiencing these emotions firsthand. Instead, ask me what I think and feel, work through the emotion and fear with me. Point out the reality, but don’t expect that to be enough, and instead fight it together with me.
If I had a penny for every time that I’ve heard this, I’d have far more than my articles have ever made me! Firstly, there is no one face to a mental illness. It isn’t always the dramatic depression that you see in films, where they refuse to leave their bed yet look glamorously sad. Someone with an eating disorder doesn’t have to be painfully thin to be acknowledged for it, and someone with BPD doesn’t have to be a ball of chaos. People do experience mental illnesses in this way, and they also experience them differently. Someone doesn’t need to look like they have a mental illness to have one. Often, you’ll easily miss what’s right under your nose.
Secondly, being high-functioning in my mental illness isn’t always a good thing. It leads people to undermine my experience and not believe me. One of the first times I told someone I was depressed and self-harming, they said I wasn’t because I had friends and did well in school. I’ve been accused of doing all of it for attention as if that wouldn’t be concerning enough on its own. People like to mention how I don’t have a ‘reason’ for my mental illness. As if my own mind doesn’t remind me of that daily, and as if that removes the years of agony I’ve experienced.
Maybe I don’t look like I have BPD, as if there even is a way to look like you do, but telling me that is not a compliment; it’s actually an insult. It’s undermining my struggle and telling me I don’t deserve to feel this way.
BPD comes with extreme emotional mood swings. I can go from happy to sad to happy to angry within an hour. It’s literally exhausting, and after an intense day of mood changes, I’ll be passing out on the couch. But my good days, ones where it’s easier to get out of bed, and I have the motivation to exercise and write, make me doubt myself. Am I exaggerating those bad days? Will it feel so much worse when it goes downhill, as it inevitably will? Happiness is a foreign emotion to me, and so I feel far more comfortable in my sadness than my joy.
With that comes the doubt that if I express a good day, I’m giving doubt to my mental illness. I worry that people will assume that it can’t be that bad or that I’m not really struggling when I feel so depressed. Sometimes I have the urge to restrain my joy, as I worry that it’s undermining my anxiety and depression. I need people to understand that some days I feel okay, but it can change by lunchtime, it can change by the next day, and so forth. My happiness does not detract from my sadness. If anything, this is a more significant indicator of my BPD.
Before I was diagnosed with BPD, I assumed that I was a people pleaser and a loyal friend. I would go out of my way for my friends, giving and giving until I had nothing left to give. My time, my energy, my money, all went to the people around me. I felt like I had started several rungs lower down on the ladder than they had, and so all this extra effort was to get me closer to where they were. I had to earn my friends as they would otherwise leave me.
After my diagnosis, a lot of time in therapy was spent exploring who I was. I realised that my entire identity was mimicked from those around me and constructed with the aim of keeping people. Everything I did was driven by self-hatred and a crippling fear of abandonment. I hurt myself as a punishment for letting people down and not being good enough for them. All of these traits I would’ve quickly claimed to be, such as loyal, caring and considerate, were now tainted in the light of my diagnosis.
It is really easy for people to say that I should stop trying to care for them or that I should put myself first. But what’s less easy is for them to stop accepting me doing this so that I’m forced to focus on myself. It’s easy for my friends to consider me a people pleaser, perhaps because it removes their responsibility in it. But I have BPD, and so we’ve both got to do our part and not enable these behaviours in me. Because when I started trying to be more self-focused, I had many people saying that ‘I had changed’ and that I was no longer the ‘good friend’ that I was. But in reality, I was just healing and trying to care for myself.
One of the things that bother me most in the discussion of mental illness is when people claim that something is ‘just for attention’. They’ll call someone ‘attention-seeking’ for self-harming in a spot that’s visible. It bothers me for two reasons. Firstly, the individual does need attention because this is concerning behaviour, and they’re indirectly trying to be helped. Secondly, if someone were doing this just for attention, that is enough reason for concern; that is mental illness itself.
Individuals with BPD will often do anything in their power to stop imagined or real abandonment. I’m guilty of this, as much as it shames me to say. In the worst periods of my relationship, I would break down crying, I would self-harm, I would manipulate my partner into not leaving me. I have carried so much guilt about this, but now I’m trying to recognise that this was my mental illness and instead focus on what causes these behaviours. I am not a manipulative person; I’m just terrified to be alone. And I’m working on this. I’m working to reduce my dependence on others, and when the instinct to act a certain way arises, I resist it and instead openly discuss what I’m thinking and feeling. The extreme emotional mood swings, chronic feelings of emptiness and intense fear of abandonment have led me to do awful things and could do so again. But this isn’t me trying to manipulate someone; in my head, it is an act of survival. It feels like if I am utterly alone, I will no longer survive, and so my mind and body do what they must. It’s something that can’t carry on that way but indicates mental illness rather than cruel intentions.
It is hard to understand BPD without experiencing it, and the same can probably be said of most mental illnesses, as I can only speak from my own. But then again, I would never wish for anyone to experience BPD for themselves. So instead, all I can do is hope that people will share their experiences with it so that others can learn from them, can gain that small insight into what it is like to live with a mind against you. For emotions to be a rollercoaster hour after hour and to feel the weight of everyone on your shoulders. Someone once said to me that they couldn’t imagine ever self-harming, and in that moment, I realised that I could never imagine not wanting to do it. We will only live in our perspectives, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn from each other and work closer to understanding. These were the five things I need people to understand about my Borderline Personality Disorder so that they can see me as I truly am.
Looking to learn more for BPD Awareness Month?
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?
For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:
I'd love to hear from you!