Being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder was both a relief and a disappointment. I was relieved to discover that something was actually wrong with me; I hadn’t been making it up or exaggerating. Other people felt this way too, and this therapist knew how to help me. But I was disappointed to discover that what I had didn’t come with an easy fix, I would always live with this emotional chaos.
Nothing can replace the benefits of a good therapist. And I specify a good therapist, because it can take a few tries to find the right one. I only clicked with my last therapist, and I think it’s because she specialised in personality disorders and trauma, so she could understand me and see what I wasn’t saying.
But the lessons of therapy still need to be applied in the real world, and you need to find a way of functioning that works for you. Over the years, I’ve developed a few rules for regulating my unstable emotions, and maybe they can help you to find what works for you.
There’s a joke in my friend group about how much I love sleep. I get called 'the baby', as I’m always the first to go to bed when we hang out, and on weeknights, I follow a strict schedule. I don’t mind the teasing, as I do recognise how funny it must seem to them. But I don’t do this out of tiredness in the moment, I do it as a precaution.
I’ve found that tiredness really exasperates my BPD symptoms. I’m more likely to get upset and frustrated, I’ll think less clearly, I’ll say things that I later regret and so forth. I’m just not comfortable when tired, and it makes my thin BPD skin even thinner. Research has shown people with Borderline Personality Disorder tend to always feel more tired.
So I decided a few years ago to prioritise my sleep. I know that having around eight hours makes me a better version of myself. I know that a lack of sleep affects me more than other people. This is a form of self-care for me, as I’m recognising what I need and doing it, no matter what everyone around me does.
Once in a while, I’ll make an exception if I’m travelling or with friends. But I try to keep this exception to one night. I also avoid napping for the most part, as it just messes with my system, and I often wake up feeling low.
This tiredness also extends to social activities. I’m a bit of an introvert, so I know that having a lot of plans doesn’t bode well for me. I don’t want to end up socially drained, as this causes me to feel more anxious. So I try to have a maximum of two days in a row with plans, but ideally always a day in-between. It can be hard to set those boundaries and harder yet to ask people to respect them. But I know that following this makes me a better friend to them, and to myself.
I suffer from hangxiety basically every time I drink. Even if it was just two or three drinks, I’ll wake up anxious, depressed and convinced that I made a fool of myself. For the rest of the day, I’ll replay each social interaction and list the reasons everyone must hate me.
For that reason, I’m learning that I just can’t enjoy alcohol the way everyone else can. As it seems less and less worth it. I won’t lie and claim I never drink, but I am growing more conscious of it, and I try to make it a rare occasion. Maybe one day, I’ll stop drinking entirely.
I don’t take other substances, even though it’s quite common in the Netherlands. I respect people’s choices, but I know that the effect of these will not be a good match for my BPD brain. An elevated mood will only lead to a more severe crash or will make me notice the contrast that much more. There’s a high comorbidity between BPD and addiction, so what goes for someone else can’t apply to me.
A lot of my time is spent chasing serotonin, as BPD leads to such chronic feelings of emptiness. I always feel like I’m trying to fill a gap inside me and searching for an external source of happiness. It leads me to mistake food for comfort, to depend on alcohol, to extensively shop online and more. But I’ve discovered that exercise can really help me to get that fix in a healthier manner.
I try to regularly go for runs or, at the very least, take a walk most days. It helps to get me out of my head and out of the house. But I also have to practice it in moderation, as I’m aware of just how easily I could slip back into my eating disorder and over-exercise. I’m constantly correcting myself to view exercise as something for my mind rather than my weight.
My relationship with exercise is not a steady one, but I know it helps me, so I just try to keep it in check. I focus on the joy and strength of exercise rather than the calories burned.
I used to really struggle with time alone. A large aspect of Borderline Personality Disorder involves mirroring and adapting to the people around you, so I think it is daunting not to have anyone around to do that with. BPD comes with such an unstable sense of self that you don’t want to be alone with that fractured identity. I used to desperately avoid time alone, or use substances to make it easier.
It was really difficult, but over the last two years, I’ve really focused on embracing time with myself. I forced myself to do it, and eventually, I started to love it. Now I crave time on my own, and I always carve out some of my week and weekend for it.
Time alone allows me to reset. It’s refreshing as I don’t need to adapt or mask; I can be myself. I get to exist without that constant worry of what I could be doing wrong or how I could have upset someone.
I can really feel when I haven’t had enough time alone, so I always make it a non-negotiable part of my schedule.
I get overwhelmed really easily. My rapid mood swings are a lot to handle, and so it can easily feel like too much at once. Things that come easily to other people can feel a lot more difficult for me. That’s why I really prioritise consistency. I try to form habits and stick to them so that one extra thing is sorted and can be removed from my mental load.
Habits feel comforting, and so on days when I wake up feeling depressed, I can rely on the familiarity of these actions. I wake up at the same time every day and eat the same breakfast, so if nothing else that day, I achieved this. I have specific things I do on difficult days, like take a long walk to buy an iced coffee, just to get me out of the house and breathe fresh air. I listen to specific albums and artists to calm down. I know what to rewatch when I feel so low that I can’t even get out of bed. I live in the comfort of these habits.
As I mentioned in the previous section, some things feel harder for me than others. Sometimes that’s just getting up in the morning. I feel exhausted from working even though I do fewer hours than my friends. I find a disagreement with a friend to be an exhausting and emotionally debilitating experience, no matter how small the issue is. My mind doesn’t work like people without BPD, and that can be so frustrating.
But through this, I’ve had to learn how to listen to myself. I can’t hold myself up to the expectations of others, I need to set my own guidelines. I still fight against this a lot, but slowly I’m learning to rest when my body needs it. To take things slow on a depressed day and settle for little wins. To reach out to a friend when anxious thoughts have a grip on me.
With or without BPD, it’s vital to learn what your mind and body need, and to respect how much it can differ from others. To not only hear it, but to act upon this. If you were sick, you’d go to bed, and sometimes a mental health day requires the same.
These six things aren’t life-changing, but they help me a little each day. They help me to find my own rhythm instead of relying on someone else’s. They help me to make my symptoms more manageable so that I can live with Borderline Personality Disorder without letting it run my life. By regulating my emotions, I get to make it through each day, learning as I go.
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.
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