When friends describe me, they often opt for the word ‘sensitive’. They try to play it off as a compliment, with an exaggerated grin, but we both know what they really mean. I’m too sensitive, and I’m too emotional. I can’t blame them for thinking this, as I definitely am highly sensitive, and I go through at least two rapid mood swings per day.
I’ll wake up feeling great and jump into my exercise clothes. But the minute I start jogging, or as soon as I pause for a traffic light, I will become flooded with sadness, loneliness and grief. Sometimes there is a reason, something small I did, some insignificant mistake, and sometimes there is nothing. I can be crying my eyes out and then suddenly see something hilarious and insist on showing it to my bewildered friend, who was trying to comfort me a moment ago. My moods have a life of their own, and I’m a mere passenger to them.
It doesn’t make sense, and I know that. It’s irrational, and I know that. But it’s still happening to me, every single day, as well as to all the other people living with Borderline Personality Disorder.
There are nine key symptoms for Borderline Personality Disorder: frequent and intense mood swings, fear of abandonment, difficulty maintaining relationships, self-harm, impulsive/self-destructive behaviour, unclear self-image, ongoing feelings of emptiness, extreme anger and loss of reality. However, it’s vital to remember that individuals with BPD may not have all of these symptoms, and they can also be expressed in different ways.
Borderline Personality Disorder mood swings differ from those in Bipolar Disorder and other mental illnesses in how rapid they are. There are several changes within a single day, instead of having several days in the same extreme emotion. These mood swings can include any feeling, such as anger, fear, anxiety, paranoia, excitement and sadness. The mood swings can be triggered by minor events, as individuals with BPD feel their emotions to a heightened extent.
Imagine that individuals without BPD experience an emotion at a healthy level. So if they have an argument with a friend, they feel 30% of the emotions because they recognise it isn’t a huge deal and will blow over. Someone with BPD would feel 90% of the emotions because it feels life-changing and as if things will never go back to how they were. If someone without BPD loses their debit card, they might feel 20% of the emotions, because it sucks, but they know it was an accident and happens to anyone. Someone with BPD would feel 80% of the emotions, because they keep blaming themselves and feel like this is another drop in a larger ocean of things going wrong.
These mood swings can also occur in how people with Borderline Personality Disorder feel about others. They will love someone one moment and think they’re the best person in the world, and then one careless word will cause them to change their opinion of them completely.
BPD mood swings are erratic and unstoppable. You often don’t feel them coming, so it’s just a tidal wave of emotion out of nowhere. Usually, I can recognise that my emotions are irrational to the situation, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling them.
Individuals with BPD may try to ‘deal’ with the intense emotional shift by engaging in impulsive behaviours, such as substance abuse, self-harm, binge eating or other risky behaviour.
A lot of research still needs to be done to determine the causes of Borderline Personality Disorder and how it functions within an individual. But from what we do know, it suggests that BPD individuals aren’t set up to handle events that might be minor to others, and so they experience extreme emotional fluctuations.
Neuroimaging has confirmed that BPD brains differ from neurotypical brains, specifically the amygdala and the hippocampus. Given that the amygdala is responsible for regulating emotions and the hippocampus allows us to regulate our behaviour, this suggests that the overactivity of these regions affects the emotional regulation of the individual. BPD brains are overworking in certain areas, and the effect is that emotions are experienced far more intensely.
Individuals with BPD often struggle to handle situations that others would consider easy or minor. They lack specific coping skills that others take for granted. For example, they don’t have the same emotional permeance, so when they feel an emotion they can’t imagine feeling anything else. When someone with BPD is depressed, they can’t recall how happiness feels. When someone with BPD is angry, they can’t recall the love they feel for that person.
Individuals with BPD also tend to struggle with rational thought processes, so placing things into perspective. So whilst others would take being left on read to mean the person is simply busy, someone with BPD will take it as that the person hates them and is angry about something. They also lack the emotional vocabulary and experience working through emotions, so they easily get trapped in a severe mood swing.
As always, it is imperative to seek treatment if you’re struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder or another mental illness, as a trained professional can offer a tailored plan to your issues. DBT is often used to help individuals with BPD, as it looks at reworking thought patterns and providing that perspective in the height of an emotion.
But what can be done outside of therapy during a Borderline Personality Disorder mood swing?
1. Talk to someone. Saying the emotions and thoughts behind them out loud may be difficult, as it’s easy to feel ridiculous, but it is immensely helpful. It removes the power and obsession over the emotion so that it feels more manageable. Then the individual can help to direct you towards a more rational response whilst also acknowledging your experience.
2. Keep a mood diary. Track your emotional changes in a journal, either by writing the emotion, numbering the severity or using a colour that matches. This helps you to see when your mood fluctuations happen and spot any recurring themes. It’s helpful to share this with your therapist as well.
3. Body = Mind. Caring for your physical health can impact your mental health. By regularly exercising or even going for a short daily walk, you can ensure your brain has the good hormones it needs to combat mood swings. It can also help to do this when negative emotions occur, as it helps to distract you and calm yourself.
4. Prepare ahead. When you’re feeling terrible, you might not want to take steps to feel better, so plan ahead to make this effort as small as possible. For example, it could be by making a self-care box with the items you’ll need, creating a dedicated playlist, having a codeword with a friend or whatever works for you!
Everyone has mood swings to some extent. The difference is whilst most people have one or two per week, individuals with BPD will often have two per day. Whilst someone else can separate the mood swing from reality, an individual with BPD sees only the heightened emotion; it blocks their view of everything else. People know a mood will pass, but it doesn’t feel that way to us.
Experiencing extreme emotional shifts is exhausting. I finish a bad day, genuinely exhausted, feeling as if I’ve emptied every emotion I have into the vat, and only a numbness is left. It’s important to care for yourself during such mood swings, to not fight against yourself further and instead allow them to happen and instead try to heal. Don’t blame yourself for feeling so much; instead, look at what you can do to ease the experience.
You’re not broken; you’re just wired differently.
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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