When it comes to Borderline Personality Disorder, we usually focus on the 9 primary symptoms: fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, unstable self-image, impulsive behaviours, self-harm, mood swing, feelings of emptiness, extreme anger and loss of contact with reality.
And while these symptoms are critical in correctly diagnosing BPD, it doesn’t end with just these. There are many symptoms that co-exist with these, or perhaps result from these.
Living with BPD is an all-encompassing experience. It’s impossible to separate it from who you are, and to know with any certainty who you’d be without it. Here are the 7 BPD symptoms no one seems to be talking about.
I am twenty-six years old, and I’m only starting to understand what I like and dislike. For as long as I can remember, I have been moulding myself into a reflection of those around me. I liked what they liked, and I complained about things they disliked. I picked up traits and sewed myself into a Millennial Frankenstein's Monster.
It was only once I finally got diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder that I realised how hollow a person I had become. Once I removed the layers of others, I didn’t know anything about myself. This was why I had resented time alone so much, as I would have no one to mirror.
BPD is characterised by an ‘unstable sense of self’, but what this fails to capture is the self-doubt rooted deeply in your identity. You begin doubting all of your interests, questioning if you just picked them up along the way. You start dissecting yourself, wondering if you’re actually caring or just trying to avoid people abandoning you. Do you really like that musician, or did someone you idolised say they do?
The self-doubt is rooted so deeply that nothing can be what it seems; there’s always the potential that it’s just another symptom.
Once you become aware of your BPD and perhaps start getting treatment, you begin gaslighting yourself constantly. I know I have a disorder characterised by overreacting to circumstances, so I begin questioning every reaction.
Do I have a right to be mad? Am I being unfair? Is this the BPD or me?
Every time I begin reacting to an event, whether with sadness, anger or envy, I begin gaslighting myself and assuming I’m the issue. It almost makes you miss the days when you could just be irrationally angry at someone, as now each emotion ends up being mirrored back on me.
I’ve reached a point where I have to ask a friend whether my reaction is normal as I desperately try to piece together a baseline. I still feel lost as to how other people would react to a situation, and so I assume my reaction is the wrong one.
In the words of Taylor Swift, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem”.
I’m always the problem in my mind.
None of the key symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder includes mania. In fact, this is usually a signifier of Bipolar Disorder. Yet, due to the unstable mood swings of BPD, individuals can experience brief moments of mania as well. It differs from Bipolar due to how short these periods are, similar to shortened periods of depression.
With my mood switching several times within the hour, the periods of mania can sometimes be a welcomed relief to the anxiety or depression. But mania is tiring, it consumes all of you. It’s also so extreme. I become consumed by hyperactive ecstasy and can’t stop for a single moment. In those moments, I sometimes see myself how others are seeing me, and I know how ridiculous it appears to others, but I can’t stop it.
The worst part of the brief mania is the crash that always follows. Anything can trigger it, from the smallest comment to dropping my coffee, and suddenly I feel lower than I’ve ever felt before. I forget what happiness ever felt like and wonder if I’ll know again.
Soaring from depression to mania and back again within an hour is exhausting. It takes so much energy to upkeep each extreme mood. In addition to this, there is a never-ending stream of thoughts.
I am always thinking. I’m questioning whether everyone secretly hates me and dissecting their messages. I’m thinking back to every awful thing I’ve ever done and berating myself for them. I’m trying to understand simple interactions and make them far more complicated in my head.
I’m always thinking, and it’s exhausting. I reach the end of the day, desperate to get into bed.
People with BPD feel exhausted by the brunt of their symptoms. They’re constantly trying to mould themselves into the most likeable version, and so they never get just to exist. Every small event is made ten times bigger in their head and used as a way to punish themselves. It is exhausting just existing with Borderline Personality Disorder.
I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Whenever anything remotely good happens, my heart sinks a little, knowing that something bad must be coming.
I think it stems from the low self-esteem of BPD, as you don’t feel worthy of anything good or kind. You can’t believe that people would actually like you, so everything feels like a trap. As a result, you live in constant discomfort.
I live in paranoia that people are trying to trick me, pretending to be my friend but secretly mocking me behind my back. I’m terrified of abandonment and constantly waiting for rejection, to the extent that I make it happen myself. I don’t trust anything or anyone, not completely, and it’s a lonely feeling.
I wish that my instinct was to be happy for someone. I wish that I didn’t have to feel envious first, even for a moment. I hate that I see everyone else’s gains as something I’m not getting. This isn’t the kind of person that I want to be.
Given that people with BPD live with such heightened emotions and fear of abandonment, we feel like we’re constantly in competition with others. We never feel like we’re doing enough, and so everything that others do feels like a direct threat. When someone compliments another person, my instinct is to see it as an attack on me and something I don’t have.
I know, I know, one of the key symptoms of BPD is self-harm. But that symptom refers to the behaviour itself, the act of hurting yourself. I’m talking about the thoughts. Because even when I am in a good place and haven’t hurt myself in months or years, I still think about it every single day.
It becomes this terrifying reflex, where the moment something negative happens, my first thought is that I should hurt myself. It pops into my mind out of nowhere, so convincing that it’s terrifying. It’s a calm thought, not emotional, and in my head it seems rational. I did lose my keys so I should hurt myself. I did forget to message someone so I should contemplate killing myself for a second.
I’m sorry to put it so bluntly but it’s the only way to express how casually it happens. Even when people with BPD aren’t hurting themselves, they’re thinking about it. They always think about it, they just don’t say it to keep things light and easy.
Maybe you’ve heard of these less common symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder before, and maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’ve experienced them firsthand or know someone else who has. There’s a lot to discuss around BPD, and until we do, these symptoms will be shrouded in shame. It’s vital to remember that no one chooses to feel this way; they’d change in a heartbeat.
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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