Before we get started, I’d like to make one thing abundantly clear. The following ways that I manage BPD do not substitute therapy and seeing a trained professional. If you have a mental illness, please avoid diagnosing yourself or using articles such as this in place of licensed help.
I am living with BPD. Since I was fifteen, my mental health has been a struggle, and finally being diagnosed with BPD was both a relief and terrifying. They say that BPD can’t be cured, and that was one of the main things that scared me. I was always going to be like this; I was never going to be happy. How was I going to survive decades more of this agony?
But after a year and a half in BPD focused treatment, I understand what they mean. I can’t cure my personality disorder, as it is a coping mechanism formed around who I am; it is a part of me and will never entirely leave. But I can control it. I am living with BPD because I know how to manage my symptoms, avoid triggers and take each day as it comes. It doesn’t constitute the best of me, nor the worst of me.
It’s taken years to know how to manage my mental illness, and I’m still learning. I still have bad days, bad weeks or lately, even bad months. But good can still be found in those dark moments, and I’ve come to recognise what I need or what can help me. The following are ways that I manage my Borderline Personality Disorder.
A lot of my mental health struggles have centred around control and a lack of it. Urges to self-harm or purge would come from feeling out of control. This is why a routine is vital to managing my mental illness, as it allows me to feel like I’m in charge of my mind and wellbeing.
I like to get up early in the morning, as that’s when I’m at my most productive. But it can easily swing too far, and I’ll start forcing myself to get up far too early and do too much. That’s why I use my routine as a guideline, but I’m trying to teach myself to be more flexible in things. To sleep longer when I need it, or have a lazy morning.
Personally, I like mornings; I love seeing the colours in the sky and taking my time. Being late can cause a lot of anxiety for me, I’ll grow extremely stressed and emotional, even to the point of panic. To accommodate for this, I plan my schedule loosely and add extra time for travelling or getting ready.
Staying healthy allows me to quiet a lot of my fears and avoid possible triggers. I’m vegetarian, and I love cooking, so I always make sure to have lots of vegetables and fruits in my diet, and I’m trying to drink more water. This ensures that food doesn’t become a stressor so that I can also enjoy desserts and takeaway. A big part of controlling my eating disorder is not seeing food as a treat or a punishment, and just listening to what I need.
Part of this is learning to exercise for health and not weight. I try to appreciate running for how it clears my mind and boosts my mood, rather than looking at calories.
I try to keep a lot of time sectioned off just to be home. I used to pack my evenings full of social engagements and take on more than I could handle. This left me feeling drained and susceptible to rapid mood swings. My writing brings me the most joy in life, so I ensure that I spend plenty of time writing and reading.
My evening routine is also focused on quietening my head, as I tend to overthink and then lay awake for hours. So each evening, I try to head upstairs at least forty minutes before I want to sleep. I take my time brushing my teeth and doing skincare, often listening to music. Then I always read for at least fifteen minutes. This allows me to read more and feel good about that, whilst also staying away from my phone. I’ve also found it to greatly help my sleep quality, which is vital in managing my BPD.
I get a lot of jokes about how much I value sleep. I’m really used to it, and I think many of my friends just don’t realise how different a lack of sleep affects me. When I’m tired, I am highly susceptible to negative thought cycles and emotional distress. I already struggle with my focus, so a lack of sleep only worsens this. Being tired makes me feel vulnerable and defensive, not someone that you would want to be around.
I aim to get eight hours of sleep every night. And thanks to my Fitbit, I’m aware that this requires about nine hours in bed to achieve. I don’t sleep very deeply, and I wake up a lot. I struggle with paranoia during the night, mostly when I’m home alone, making it really hard to fall or stay asleep.
A lack of sleep will make my next day more difficult, which in turn will make me not achieve my to do’s and feel guilty for it. It will create a cycle of hating myself and then not being productive for it. Not worth it in my eyes.
So I prioritise my sleep and try to always get eight hours of sleep, adjusting my alarm as necessary. I also prefer to exercise in the morning, so this means that it’s early to bed for me!
Alcohol really impacts my quality of sleep. I would love to say that this makes me never drink, but I’m trying to be honest here. It does make me more cautious of drinking, and ensures I don’t drink too much when I have commitments the next day.
As mentioned, my sleep is ruined when I have had a lot to drink the night before. But aside from that, alcohol is a depressant and certainly has this effect. A day after drinking, I’ll wake up anxious and with a persistently low mood. I’ll begin doubting myself - did I embarrass myself last night? Did I say anything I could regret?
Also, whilst drinking, I tend to take things too far. I’ll drink to cover up my insecurities, and I’ll drink to feel good. I wish alcohol could just produce a fun night as it does for so many others, but it hits me differently due to my mental illness.
Many substances do, which is why avoiding them is part of how I manage my BPD. As I said, I do drink, but I just keep an eye on it and choose the moments wisely. I avoid other substances, as the lack of control scares me, and I have quite an addictive personality. Feeling completely happy is rare, and so if something can give me that, it only highlights how rarely I feel it sober.
Some people believe that you’re a product of the five people that you surround yourself most with, and I think it’s true in how heavily they impact you. Your friends set the tone, and you influence each other heavily. Part of managing my BPD is ensuring that I have the right people around me.
My closest friends all know about my struggle with mental illness, because I want to surround myself with people who can support me best. They understand what I struggle with and what impacts that. Interpersonal relationships are one of Borderline Personality Disorder’s biggest struggles, and it’s definitely the hurdle I face most days.
I wouldn’t say that I have many friends, but I build close relationships with those I do. I’m not the easiest person to have around, and so I like to focus on those who accept me and love me despite anything.
These are friends that I’m not ashamed to double or triple text, as I need the confirmation that they still like me and haven’t abandoned me. They’re ones who don’t mind that I’ll often be quieter and listening, and that other times I’ll be louder and more engaging.
Part of your choosing your environment is also choosing what you expose yourself to. I’ve grown to a point where I’m comfortable unfriending or unfollowing people or accounts that don’t bring me joy. Some people trigger emotions or insecurities, and I don’t need that, so I remove it. There is no shame in removing someone from your social media who doesn’t benefit you; it’s a strength to be able to make that choice.
I spent years trying to please people, as I felt that I had to earn my worth through them, even to earn them. I’m trying to break this pattern. So I try to listen to what I need. If I want to cancel plans, I don’t pray that they will, I message them and tell them. If I don’t want to go to a party or festival because it makes me anxious, then I don’t. Instead, I have friends over to play board games or eat brunch. I make sure that plans work for me as well, instead of continually adapting myself to others.
Part of surrounding myself with people I trust and who know about me ensures that I have open communication lines. My friends know the worst of my past, and I need this to ensure I feel comfortable sharing with them.
My bad thoughts lose their strength when I say them out loud, and they can sound ridiculous. I’ll accidentally do something, and then be convinced I need to be punished and hurt for it. I’ll not hear from a friend for a few days, and be sure that they hate me and have gossiped about me with everyone. It sounds silly, but such thoughts can control me to the point that I’m sobbing and curled up in a ball.
But now I force myself to say these thoughts out loud, to give others a glimpse into my mind. It gives them a chance to reassure me or simply to understand how I perceive things. People can’t help or understand you if you don’t let them.
This openness also extends to articles such as this one. By writing about my struggles with my mental health, I come to understand them more. Patterns emerge, and I get the distance I require to understand them.
It also aids in removing the guilt of a mental illness. I’m not clinging to a secret shame; I’m openly discussing the bad that comes with my good, as we all should.
I have less bad days than I used to, but they can still knock me off my feet. Recently it’s been more challenging than usual, as the Netherlands is locked down and things don’t seem to be getting better.
The way I see it, you have two types of bad days. The first is the emerging bad days. You wake up feeling low, or you’re struggling to do stuff. This is not a fully-fledged depression day; there is still room to change things.
If I wake up like this, ideally I would go for a run. The endorphins can work wonders and give me my first success of the day. Often, I can’t convince myself to run, but I can manage a walk. Even going for a ten-minute walk and observing my surroundings can help to calm my restless mind.
Singing in the shower, it’s old fashioned but does the trick. I recently bought a shower speaker for my partner’s Christmas gift, and I think I like it more than he does! I love turning it on and giving a little performance as I lather myself in suds. I fight the urge to play a sad song, and instead rock out to some Taylor Swift - I’m a cliche, I know, I’ve come to terms with it.
Getting dressed up, even to sit at home, can really help. Putting on some makeup or getting out of my sweatpants can give me the nudge I need to get things done. I’ll make a cappuccino and put myself in a working space, and try to knock some items off my to-do list. Often I’ll write articles or work on my manuscript, as these are tasks I enjoy more. Always try to do things you want to do, as that still counts as being productive and will help get you through the initial slump.
If my brain can’t handle creativity, I’ll try cleaning something or doing another brainless to do. Organising my closet whilst watching a TV show can work well. It’s about taking those small steps, as once you have something done, the pride of your accomplishment can pick you up.
But as I said, there are two types of days, and the second is what I call “depresso-espresso days”. I don’t know why I use that term, it just sounds so dark brown and murky, and it’s easy to tell friends when it hits. These are the days when you just can’t do anything. You feel heavy or anxious; you just want to curl up into a ball or go to sleep.
One of the biggest things that I’m learning is when to stop trying to be productive. I’ll hope that it’s the former day, but if it is one of these, then I ‘give up’ on this day. I curl up under a blanket, and binge a TV show or read an easy book. I’ll light candles or make a hot chocolate, anything to create some atmosphere.
It’s important to recognise and accept these days, as if you always force past them, then that internal tiredness is carried along with you. Your mind needs a day off, so give it that. Because then you can try again tomorrow and have saved energy to kick ass!
It’s easy to feel guilty when you have a lazy day, but this is part of the experience. You’ve depleted your resources, so rest and fill up again. I have these days every month, and I’m learning to accept them as part of the experience. I’ll have a day when I clean half my house and write 4,000 words for my manuscript, and then a day when I watch an entire season of Friends. C’est la vie.
My oldest sister once said that we time travel in our minds, we’re always stuck in the past or thinking ahead to the future, and never focusing on the present. This really struck a chord for me.
I will often become stuck in the mistakes of my past, on things that I’ve done or said, on things that have happened to me. The resentment, guilt and regret can eat away at you. If something happens in my morning, it can ruin the whole day to come, or even days after.
Similarly, I’ll become anxious about the future, worried about finances or where my life is going. Even on a smaller scale, I’ll enjoy time with my friends and then realise how late it is, be worried about losing sleep and being unproductive tomorrow, taken from the moment itself.
I’m trying to teach myself to be anchored in the present. I use to-do lists for this, focusing on what I can achieve today. I also write down three things that I’m grateful for so that I remember all of the good in my life rather than get lost in the bad.
The future can overwhelm me, so I try to think only a month in advance, creating goals at the start of each month.
A lot of BPD is precisely that, focusing on the now. Will I return to therapy one day? Most likely, as triggers or life situations could aggravate my mental health. Will my depression or anxiety worsen? That could happen, but I’ll deal with it when it does.
Thinking of the future is scary, as for a while, I even doubted that I had one. But living with BPD, I try to look at today, tomorrow and the days to come. This is what I have in my control; all I can focus on is myself and the role that I play in the world. Small steps like a routine, identifying and removing triggers, and open communication can help you live with your mental illness. But they should never take the place of professional treatment, merely accompany it.
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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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