It scares me to write this article. I’ve written dozens of articles related to my depression and eating disorder, but talking about the root of it all, my borderline personality disorder, terrifies me. I like to think that the stigma is due to the lack of knowledge around personality disorders, the misconceptions held, as then there’s hope. My role in this is to spread awareness and share my experiences with a personality disorder.
When I was diagnosed with BPD, I did the natural thing and googled it. I read articles and posts telling me that I had a ‘fake’ illness, that I was untreatable, that I was manipulative and that I couldn’t be cured. BPD can’t be cured, but it can be managed, and now I finally understand that. I have my BPD under control for the most part, but it still affects my daily life through the following ways.
It feels like you started several rungs lower on the ladder, and so you have to make extra effort to climb as high as your friends started. This effort can be consistency in contact, whilst they’re excused from the same reliability. It can be paying for things or providing gifts, feeling like you can’t be a burden or forced praise. This doesn’t mean that your friendships are fake, but rather that you feel a greater obligation in it. You often see your friends as being better than you, and you’re determined to earn them.
This was one of my biggest goals in therapy for my personality disorder, as I wanted to break free from this pattern ad learn to put myself first. This involves saying ‘no’ to plans rather than feeling obligated to them and not giving more than I’m receiving. Whilst I’m vastly improved from where I started, I still often feel the need to ‘fix’ things for others and go that extra distance. Examples include arranging flowers or gifts when they get a new job, have a birthday or are sick.
The fear of abandonment present in BPD can make you terrified of confrontation. This is one of the most significant ways that my personality disorder affects my daily interactions with friends. If someone hasn’t messaged me in a while, I assume they’re mad at me or no longer wish to be my friend. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t reach out, I still assume it’s my fault for not putting in the effort and that I need to apologise for this and earn them back.
Whenever a friend starts a conversation abruptly, such as writing “Dude” or even just a “Hey.”, I begin to panic. My stomach ties itself in knots, and I’ll start to sweat. I begin to consider every possible reason they could have for being angry with me, punishing myself for each of these mistakes. It could be that I forgot an important event, that I didn’t keep a secret they confided in me or that I haven’t put in enough effort. I will think of every possible reason.
99% of the time, they aren’t even mad at me. The next message will be telling some story or genuinely asking how I am. It will take about half an hour to calm down. I have wonderful and understanding friends, but still, I force myself to walk on eggshells around them, and it feels like I’m waiting for them to realise that I’m not worth their time. I also assume that people have been talking about me behind my back, or are ganging up against me.
And if they’re actually mad at me? I am a wreck. I will be sobbing uncontrollably and have thoughts about self-harm, even though I haven’t done that in years. I won’t go through with it, I’ll use my coping mechanisms, but a tiny part of me will still believe that I deserve to be hurt. I don’t see anything past that argument, and I don’t know how we can continue to be friends. Even if it’s something tiny like “I didn’t appreciate that comment”. I am waiting for them to leave me, which is all the proof that I need that they will.
I work in marketing, and like most of the world, I’m currently working from home. I find that my personality disorder affects me primarily in my work through extreme emotional mood swings. I can be so happy and chatty in one meeting, and then just lose it all, begin crying as soon as the camera is off. I struggle with focus and energy a lot of the time, as tasks that may be easy for other people take a lot out of me, such as long meetings and forcing myself to be social when I don’t feel like it.
I have a lot of self-doubts, which leads to major imposter syndrome in my work. I have a need to please authority figures, and when I do mess up, this stays with me for far too long. I consider that to be the cumulation of my self-worth rather than all the things that I do well. I have the same fear of being told off as soon as a superior messages me. They can start the conversation in a friendly tone, asking how I am or so, but I’ll still read it to be the calm before the storm. And an unexpected phone call from someone? Enough to make me nauseous!
I mentioned it briefly, but the impact of mistakes on my wellbeing is significant enough to warrant an entire section. I have a lot of personality disorder under control, but these are the moments where it slips out of reach. Where emotion trumps reason, and there is no way back.
Whenever anything goes wrong, whether or not it was my fault, I know that I am to blame. I am to blame if the trains are cancelled and I can’t make plans. I am to blame if the door closed before I grabbed my keys. I am to blame if someone responds negatively to my article. I am to blame if I burn food on the stove or forget to buy something at the grocery store.
Everything is my fault, says an unwavering voice in my head. And when such mistakes happen, I deserve to feel like crap, and I do. I bully myself and use every pejorative term in the book. In those moments, I wish that I still self-harmed to punish myself, but I manage not to cross that boundary again. I will cry for an hour straight, and I will lose any motivation I had for the remainder of the day. Even if my partner or a friend tries to reason with me and comfort me, I cannot truly accept it.
The error will stick to me like glue, inducing shame for days to come. But sometimes, as soon as it has passed, I can look back and realise how irrational it was, how unnecessary the emotion was.
A few weeks ago, I thought I had lost an important document of my sister’s. I just couldn’t seem to find it or remember where it was. I turned my entire office and living room upside down, throwing paper and other objects in my tearful rage. I was stupid for losing it; I was so stupid for being so careless. Then she called me to say that she had found the document herself, as she had never given it to me. I sank to the ground, still panting, and surveyed the damage, scared of myself.
One of the major areas that BPD affects you in is romantic relationships. The fear of abandonment, the tendency to unstable relationships and mood swings can make it pretty challenging to be with someone. I struggle with a lot of jealousy, I can be extremely controlling, and swing between thinking my partner is the best person in the world and the worst. I sound like a delight to be with, don’t I?
Before I was correctly diagnosed, my BPD almost destroyed my relationship. But once I understood that these were symptoms, and not just who I was, it got so much easier to control. I did a lot of time in therapy, and every day, I have to practice what I’ve learned. It took some effort from my partner too, as you can’t expect someone with BPD to act like someone who doesn’t have it.
He once told me that his biggest revelation was that even though what I feel is wrong/crazy/irrational, that doesn’t mean that I’m not feeling it. Telling me that it’s crazy doesn’t make the thought go away.
This was a lightbulb moment for us, as instead of informing me that I was wrong to be jealous or scared, he would ask me why I was. He’d inquire into my thoughts and work through them with me. Instead of saying “I’m not going to cheat if I go to this party”, he would reassure me on my specific fears and find out what I need from him. In that example, it was a single message at some point in the night, just to know that he thought about me, even for one second. That was enough and allowed me to wish him a good time at the party and not bother him during it.
Being with someone who has BPD isn’t easy, but my partner likes to say that there are a lot of good parts to it too. And now that I have a friend with BPD, I see those benefits in her also. When someone feels everything so strongly, it can be scary or overwhelming. But it can also lead to beautiful passion, giving yourself to everything and everyone. You have so much empathy; your friend’s loss is as real as your own. You think of everyone, and you remain considerate. People can confide their darkness to you because you’ve had your own.
It can be hard to love someone who paints everything so brightly, but it can also be incredible to witness the colours with them.
I can’t remember a time when I liked myself. I had felt out of place in my body and mind since I was at least fifteen, which is when my depression kicked in. During my treatment for BPD, another goal was to work out who I actually was. I had just been told that all these dysfunctional and negative parts of myself were actually a disorder. I had spent years copying the personalities around me to the extent of not even knowing my own interests. All I knew is that I loved to write, and it remains my most prominent solace.
This is the year that I am at my biggest size yet, but also the year that I am the happiest. I am working daily to love my body, to separate health from weight and to make exercise a treat rather than a punishment. I no longer purge or restrict myself, but the thoughts remain. I slip into thinking I need to earn or deserve food, or trying to calculate calories. I feel self-conscious in my body as I come to terms with being fatter than my partner.
I struggle with my self-worth on a daily basis. This happens in the guilt of not exercising, the doubt over food, and generally what I feel have to offer people. I hold myself to rules that I don’t impart on others, and I live in the murky waters of self-doubt.
Looking at my reflection makes me break down and cry at least once every two weeks, maybe twice. In conversations, I sometimes feel trapped in my fear, knowing I have nothing to offer people. Parties are a terrifying occasion for me, and I quickly switch to an extroverted extreme, a safety mechanism to protect my true introverted self. I’ll get too drunk to cover my fear and uncertainty, and then spend the day after hating myself for it, going through everything I could have said wrong.
You don’t cure BPD, but you learn to manage it, as I have. I can enjoy my life and go after my ambitions, but I still carry the anchor of my BPD with me on a daily basis. It can be in such small and subtle ways, but they build up to affect me greatly.
Surrounding myself with an understanding circle of people allows me to be open in this struggle, but even so, I will often silence my pain, telling myself that everyone feels this way or that I have no reason to hurt so much. I am living with my personality disorder, and it feeds into every decision I make. But it feels like a relief to understand that even though BPD doesn’t go away, your life can get so much better, and happiness is at the end of the road.
Want to learn more about this personality disorder? Check out how Crazy Ex-Girlfriend portrays BPD!
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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