I’ve been writing about my BPD for over two years now, and I speak openly about it with my friends. I get a lot of questions regarding it, as it’s still quite an unknown and stigmatised disorder, with not nearly enough information online.
“How do you know if you have Borderline Personality Disorder?”
“How do you know if it is BPD or something else?”
It’s hard to answer these questions, as it is such a subjective experience and I’m not a trained professional, simply someone living with it.
I have another friend with BPD and we’re complete opposites in how we present. She has more of the ‘traditional’ BPD symptoms, whilst I am much more of a silent sufferer and will appear high functioning. Neither of us is struggling more or less, just differently.
But I figured that it could be helpful to share my experience with getting diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, as an example of how it happens, and how it presented in me.
My symptoms started properly at fifteen. I only know this because years later I found a diary from that time where I kept writing about how sad I felt. I was losing interest in everything I cared about. I began self-harming that year, and yet I don’t even remember the first time I did it. That scares me a lot, as it should be this vivid memory, a turning point, and yet I don’t remember it at all. Self-harm has been something I’ve always struggled heavily with, and an urge I don’t think I’ll ever fully lose.
I had always struggled with my body image, going on diets before the age of ten and constantly feeling self-conscious. But around that period was the first time I actually tried to starve myself, counting the hours gleefully. I began over-exercising and purging. In many ways, this was another form of self-harm and a bid for control, when in reality I had lost all control over my mind.
This continued for a few years. It’s difficult to say if it was unnoticed. People could see how much weight I had lost, and I think some were certainly concerned, but no one really knew how to approach it. Looking back at photos of myself from this time, it’s easy to feel angry that no one stepped in. But I think everyone was just so unsure. Because I was eating, not enough in the slightest, but it wasn’t traditional anorexia and that was confusing to them.
I also wonder if people saw my self-harm, if anyone noticed that and struggled with whether to speak up. A lot of people struggle with what to say to someone who is self-harming.
At eighteen, I told my parents I wanted to see a therapist. In the following years, I went to two more therapists, but it never amounted to much. They didn’t really bother with diagnoses and took a positive psychology approach of recommending healthier coping factors. No one was really focusing on why I felt this way. But that was also my fault, as I was carefully choosing the narrative I shared in therapy. I didn’t share the worst parts because I was scared they would think I was crazy. I also couldn’t see what was my mental illness and what was me.
After my father passed away in 2018, I knew that I couldn’t keep going as I was. I was tired of pretending to be okay. I was tired of walking the fine line between life and death. Something had to change. I decided to go to therapy again, and this time I would do it right.
I went to my doctor and told them all of it, how bad things had gotten. By this point, it felt like a tale I could repeat by memory. They listened and sympathised with me, and told me I needed more help than a general psychologist could offer. I got referred by my GP and put on a waiting list, with a note saying it was urgent.
After a few weeks, I was invited in for an initial talk with a therapist. They specified that I might be moved to a colleague depending on what I needed. By this point, I had heard about personality disorders, and after sharing my story, I mentioned this. I told them that I wasn’t trying to self-diagnose but it just seemed to really fit my experience.
I was given the test for personality disorders, which involves two hours of questions. I went in determined to be honest and not craft the narrative like I usually do. I admitted to the worst of my thoughts and actions. I shared everything. It was an exhausting experience and I left with a tear-stained face.
Based on my results, I was moved to a new therapist who specialised in trauma and personality disorders. She told me that I had the criteria for three personality disorders: borderline, antisocial and paranoid. But since she felt that they were all linked and I had the most criteria for BPD, that would be the treatment plan we would follow. She also mentioned that in my previous therapist's notes from two years prior, they had written that they thought I might have BPD, but they felt like twenty was too young for such a diagnosis and so they hadn’t told me.
It was the most immense relief. I had always had that niggling feeling that something more was wrong with me than just depression or an eating disorder or anxiety. I had attributed everything else to simply being a terrible person. I wasn’t just jealous, I had a fear of abandonment. I wasn’t just dramatic, I had rapid mood swings. I wasn’t attention-seeking, I needed help.
She was confirming that I actually had something wrong with me. She was telling me that she knew other people who felt the exact way I did. There was hope for me, and for the past seven years, it had never felt that way.
But that relief after diagnosis is often deceiving, as it leads you to think a cure is on the way. There is no cure for Borderline Personality Disorder. I will never be fully better, but I can learn to manage it and live a better life.
My therapist decided on Dialectical Behavior Therapy for me, and over the next year and a half, we unpacked everything. We discussed my childhood and the root of my feelings of abandonment, as even though it presented at fifteen, it had actually started way before that. We discussed when I began exhibiting symptoms and what was going through my head each time. I had to speak to my younger self, I had to write letters to people, I had to confront all of my trauma head-on.
People have this misconception that going to therapy is a nice experience where you just get to unload. Therapy is exhausting. Therapy is confronting. I left my one-hour sessions feeling like I had run an emotional marathon.
And for the first months, I saw no change after that initial burst of relief. But slowly we began to chip away, and I started to recognise my behaviours, I started to understand them. And a year in, I began to actually do something about them, to choose the harder option over quick relief.
I think my BPD diagnosis also helped other people in my life, as it helped them to understand me better. They could recognise why I did certain things and how to support me.
As I said, there is no cure for Borderline Personality Disorder, but there is the possibility to live with it. I still have good days and bad days. I still have to work on myself, and I’m slowly doing that, through every little decision.
My treatment highlighted that I had moulded myself into what I thought people wanted me to be. I had mimicked everyone’s likes, dislikes and traits in an attempt to be wanted. So I was left with the task of discovering who I actually am. It was a difficult process, and one I’m still doing.
I had to learn to be on my own, something that terrified me initially. But now I love spending time alone. I love going to the cinema alone, or staying home with a book or TV show.
I am still getting to know myself, and learning who I am without my personality disorder, and who I can be with it. Getting diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder was step one, but not the final step. A diagnosis isn’t everything, but it does show you the direction you’ll need to go. And being better for a while doesn’t mean you won’t have bad times too. I know that someday I’ll go back to therapy, maybe several times, and that doesn’t mean I failed.
It’s important to speak to a trained professional, as only they have enough information to correctly diagnose you. As tempting as it is to self-diagnose, our unconscious bias can really get in the way. We may pick up on other symptoms to try and explain our struggle. We may try to mould ourselves into the diagnosis.
If you’re struggling, then please seek help. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be healthy. Get help from a trained psychologist, either in person or through one of the many online services now available.
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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