A friend once drunkenly asked me what it feels like to have BPD. She didn’t mean anything offensive by it; she was just genuinely curious. She couldn’t imagine how it felt. She had read my articles to try and learn more about BPD in order to support me, and she wanted to understand, but didn’t know how.
I didn’t know how to explain to her how it feels to have Borderline Personality Disorder. You can read all the articles, see lists of symptoms, and never quite get it.
Because when I meet other people with BPD, which hasn’t happened often enough, there is a unique understanding between us. There’s this connection that bypasses everything else, of “Oh, finally someone who gets it.”
The only thing I can compare it to is meeting someone else who has lost a parent and suffered from that unbearable grief. That understanding of “You know this terrible secret that no one else can even picture.”
But I want to be able to answer her question. I want to help people understand how it feels to have BPD so that they can empathise better with those struggling, so they know how to help them.
I’ll try my best to share how it feels for me. But this doesn’t mean that it’s the same for everyone. People will experience BPD differently, just like any other mental illness.
With BPD, you struggle with heightened emotions. You feel everything at 200%. That applies to good emotions like excitement or love, but also negative emotions like sadness or anger. It’s like a heater whose knob is broken, and so warm air just keeps pouring out, and you can’t contain it.
It feels overwhelming to feel so much all the time. I never feel things in a normal amount. I can’t just be a bit pleased or a bit sad, I have to be fully in that emotion. When I’m in that emotion, I don’t remember how it feels to be anything else. When I am sad, it’s like happiness never existed.
As a result, I can be scared of feeling things. I started going to therapy again, and we quickly realised that I had bubble-wrapped myself in my life. I had stopped putting myself out there and created such firm boundaries in an attempt to protect myself from my BPD.
With Borderline Personality Disorder, you feel so much all at once, that you often want to just feel nothing as it’s easier.
Feeling everything all the time is so tiring. It’s like after you have a really good cry session, and you’re just so drained. Except it’s that emotional equivalent every day.
Alongside the rapid mood swings, there’s a lot of overthinking. My mind never stops racing with thoughts. Even when I’m in a conversation, my mind is working on a million other things at the same time. I’ve tried yoga and meditation, and I can’t enjoy them as my brain won’t stop. It seems scared to be quiet.
By the end of the day, I am just so tired.
Borderline Personality Disorder makes everything feel like life or death. When I’m out of a situation, I can laugh about that. I can see how ridiculous it was to feel so intensely about a relatively unimportant situation. But when I’m in the midst of that episode, there is no talking me down.
A simple message from a friend that I read as aggressive or disappointed will cause my world to crash down. Being late for an appointment feels like the most stressful thing to ever happen. Losing my keys will ruin my entire day and likely the week that follows. Everything feels like a huge deal.
Mainly because I blame myself for everything that happens. It’s always my fault if someone is mad at me, no matter my intentions or actions. It’s my fault I dropped the mug, and it broke, because I’m so careless and irresponsible. It’s my fault I missed the train because I should’ve planned more time and taken things more seriously.
Everything feels urgent, and because it’s all my fault, it means my self-deprecation feels urgent too.
Handling all those emotions, and self-loathing, can be so uncomfortable. But aside from the emotional aspect of BPD, there is a physical discomfort to it as well.
I often feel so uneasy in my own body. Alongside or stemming from my BPD is an eating disorder I’ve worked hard to manage, so it can be difficult to differentiate the two. But I always feel uncomfortable with my limbs.
People with BPD will often struggle with dissociation, feeling like they’re watching themselves do things. This is a really scary feeling, and it can cause a lot of paranoia.
Another aspect of the discomfort in Borderline Personality Disorder comes from how you begin to dread happiness. As you feel things so intensely, you know that happiness is short-lived, and so you’re almost waiting for the fall. Additionally, happiness can feel very foreign and undeserved, while depression feels more familiar.
There are days when everything hurts. It hurts to feel so much. It hurts to assume everyone is out to get you. It hurts not to trust anyone fully.
Having BPD feels painful, as you’re not even on your own side most of the time. Out of everyone, you should be your ally, but often you’re the villain in your own story. You only see the ways in which you hurt people and can’t be what they need.
I’m always waiting for people to leave me, and sometimes I push them to leave me as it feels easier. It feels painful to always be waiting for something bad. It feels painful to assume the worst in people.
A lot of people with BPD struggle with self-harm, and even when you’re not hurting yourself, you might still get intrusive thoughts about it. This can be terrifying as they can come out of nowhere. Sometimes I’ll just be walking along and get an intrusive thought about hurting myself. Sometimes it’ll be in response to a situation, but still feel scary and as if you can’t control yourself.
It feels scary to have a disorder that holds a lot of stigma. To know that there are people who hate you for having something you can’t control and don’t like having either.
It feels scary to have a disorder that can’t just be cured. And while you can come so far with professional help, it’s still something to manage.
It also feels scary not to know yourself fully. After I was diagnosed with BPD, I had to learn what aspects were me and which were mirrored from other people. I realised I had built my identity around what I thought people wanted. I’m still trying to understand who I am at twenty-six, but I’m closer than I was.
I didn’t want to end this list on a negative note. While it’s important for me to share the truth of living with Borderline Personality Disorder, I also want to highlight that there is hope and light within it all.
What does BPD feel like? It feels like passion. Sometimes too much, but I guess that depends on your perspective. I have so much passion for things, and it used to be something I hated about myself. People would always tell me that I was “too much”.
Too sensitive. Too loud. Too needy. Too dramatic. Too emotional.
But what if I’m not “too much” but “just enough”?
My passion is one of the best things about me. My passion makes me love my friends fiercely, and I would do anything for them. My passion makes me a writer, as I have so much to say and share. My passion makes me love fictional characters as if they were real, and cry when I finish a book series and have to leave them behind. My passion makes me know a million random facts that I can’t wait to share with the people I love. My passion makes me never stop trying, even when it feels so hard.
Living with BPD makes you feel everything intensely, including your love for people, books, movies, hobbies, pets and more. And I think a lot of love isn’t a bad thing.
These are just some of the ways that I feel my Borderline Personality Disorder in daily life. A lot of it is reactions to events or perceived threats, and so it can really differ. As mentioned, this may be how I experience it, but it could differ greatly for someone else. So if you really want to know how it feels for someone, just ask and give them the space to share their experience. Sometimes, that’s the best way that you can be there for someone.
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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