*Note: This post may be triggering for those with BPD, self-harm behaviours and suicidal ideation/thoughts.*
In January of this year, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (or BPD). Unless you too struggle with BPD, know someone who does or have studied it in school, you probably have no idea what I am talking about. A personality disorder? Does that mean she’s a lunatic? No, certainly not.
Borderline personality disorder is a serious psychological disorder where individuals experience ongoing instability in moods, behaviour, self-image and functioning. In simplistic terms, I have difficulties regulating my intense emotions.
My BPD diagnosis was the missing piece to the complex puzzle that is known as my life. I have struggled with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, major depressive disorder and disorder eating, yet I still felt as if something was missing. I felt as though I wasn’t fully understood and wasn’t getting all the help that I truly needed. The first time I learned about BPD was in my developmental psychopathology class last year. I went home and cried after the seminar and I couldn’t make it through the textbook chapter either. It felt all too similar, too real, too close to home. I didn’t tell anyone about my concerns; I kept it all bottled up inside. I didn’t want to have a personality disorder. I didn’t want to be ‘crazy’.
As an individual with a personality disorder, I have been extremely hesitant about going public with my diagnosis. I felt as though it was a piece of me that I should be ashamed of; a part of me that should be put in a box, kept in a closet and locked away from the rest of the world. With that being said, this is me publicly announcing that yes, I have a personality disorder.
Let me explain what BPD means for me.
You can’t see my BPD.
Having borderline personality disorder is not like when I had cancer and lost all of my hair. BPD is deep within me. Often times, I only show you what I want you to see. Those who interact with me daily have a glimpse of my BPD tendencies, but they can’t see what is going on in my head. They can’t see how I fight inside of my mind on the daily.
I have been damaged along the way.
BPD is closely linked to trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, with any mental illness, not every case is the same. Just because there is a generic etiology of BPD does not mean every single diagnosis is cookie cutter. For example, I did not experience abuse, neglect or maltreatment as a child. I am fortunate to have unconditional love and support from my family. Nevertheless, trauma is something that has had an impact on my life. I have physical and emotional scars that have shaped me into the person I am today. This led to me create a distorted view of myself, other people and the world in general.
I feel abrupt, amplified emotions and I am often unable to control them.
You know that feeling when a friend cancels on you last minute? Many people would be upset and angry, yet for someone with BPD, feelings of rage become intolerable. You view the situation as an attack on you, yourself. You feel as though your friend planned to hurt you and doesn’t care about you or your feelings. It’s as though you feel this sudden hot flash overcome you and you lose control of yourself. In situations such as this one, I may lash out verbally – and have feelings of shame, guilt and regret almost instantaneously.
Anger isn’t the only emotion where I struggle with regulation. There is also anxiety, sadness and irritability. These emotions encompass me in a thick haze that I struggle to appropriately fight my way out of.
I have all or nothing thinking.
I love it or I hate it. I’m ecstatic or I’m depressed. Things are absolutely delightful or things are completely disastrous. I see the world in black or white – all or nothing. I have never known grey.
I have a continuous, internal monologue inside of my head.
I’m always thinking. Even if I become aware that I’m overthinking, it’s as though I can’t stop it. I analyze every little thing often creating completely irrational thoughts, what if situations and judgments. “They aren’t texting you back because you’re a bad person.” “You’re repulsive, no one loves you and you will be alone forever.” “You deserve every bad thing that has happening in your life.” Because of this, I find that allowing myself to be happy is a challenge. I often believe I don’t deserve happiness or love. I blame myself for situations that are beyond me. If the weather’s bad, it’s probably because “I did something to deserve it. I’m sorry.” As you can see, this constant (no-good) thinking is exhausting. It impairs my relationship with others as well as my relationship with myself.
I can love myself one second and want to end my life the next, multiple times throughout the day.
This topic almost goes hand in hand with the previous one. Because I am always thinking, I find that my beliefs and thoughts can switch multiple times during the day. The main one that I struggle with is my view of myself. “You are beautiful and your scars show your strength”. “Actually no, you’re damaged beyond repair and your scars give you physical evidence that no one could ever love you.” I am able to love everything about myself and two seconds later, sob uncontrollably in disgust. The hardest part about this is that it’s all happening inside of my head. No one can see the pain and distress that I feel. This ominous feeling is completely invisible to the outside world.
I crave affection, yet flinch when someone gets too close.
I want to be loved and validated more than your average person. I often fantasize about how I want my life to be like the fairy tale, love story we see in movies. The issue with this (besides being quite unreasonable), is that I have such an incredible difficulty with being vulnerable. The thought of letting someone in makes my head ache and my stomach upset. I fear rejection, failure and hurt. I struggle with the idea that someone could truly love me (and all of me). Because of this, I don’t like to make close connections with others unless I know for a fact that they won’t leave or hurt me (how can you truly know?) (and even then, I often question it).
I have an irrational fear of losing my loved ones.
One of my biggest fears in life is that, one day, my loved ones will stop answering my calls. They will decide that I am too much of a burden, a lost cause and continue their lives without me. They will leave me to fend for myself.
*Thankfully, this would never happen – but it still crosses my mind from time to time.*
Destructive behaviours distract me from reality.
Drinking copious amounts of alcohol became my escape. I would drink and drink and drink, until I blacked out. Regretfully, I can recall a few times, when I woke up in vomit or urine. Gross, I know. This was all done to forget who I was. To numb the excruciating pain. To sleep through the night. To turn my mind off. To not have to be me for a little while.
With heavy drinking, came impulsive behaviours. I won’t get into too much detail about this as I still deeply struggle with coming to terms with things that have happened to me. But, long story short, my impulsivity has led to sexual assaults and self-harm.
Self-harm became a way to deal with my emotions. Numb? Maybe you’ll feel something. Ashamed or guilty? You deserve to be punished. Sad? Release some pain. Suicidal? Maybe it will go too far this time.
Some days breathing is about all that I can do.
Apart from side effects of chemotherapy (which are finally subsiding), some days I just can’t get out of bed. I am tired of thinking and functioning. I just need a little break from the world for a while. I am not suicidal – I am just tired and need to be left alone. I will come out when I am ready.
Sometimes I feel empty, like a shell without the snail.
This feeling of emptiness is almost indescribable. I don’t feel anything; I feel hollow as if there is nothing inside of me. I can’t smile and I can’t cry. I feel numb. It is unsettling to say the least.
Sometimes I depersonalize, disconnecting myself from this world.
When my emotions become too much for me to handle, my body may shut down. This is where I depersonalize. It’s like living in a thick fog. Sometimes I feel as though yes, I am in my body but cannot move or think. Other times, I feel as though I’m across the room staring back at myself. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it creates intense anxiety and panic.
I am an empath and have such a big heart.
For as long as I can remember, the needs of others have always come before my own. If I can make someone else, smile or laugh then I am satisfied. I will talk to someone for hours about their problems and do my best to give them advice or help them come up with a solution. The trouble with this is that I often feel other people’s feelings too much. When I was younger, I recall a night when I was watching Team Canada play. Although we won, I cried because I felt awful for the goalie on the losing team. A simple example like this one, shows that I struggle with creating emotional boundaries. I often feel as though it is my duty to keep everyone happy and alive.
I am resilient.
Despite all of these negative thoughts, emotions and behaviours, I strive to be at peace with myself. I take medications nightly and I participate in dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) twice a week. I have only been receiving this treatment for one month now, but I have already made so much progress. I work on the skills that I have learned every single day. I practice self-love, mindfulness and compassion towards myself. I have become sober and in turn, my impulsivity has decreased. I’ve found a creative energy in myself that I had never known. I am able to appropriately deal with my negative emotions.
Something that I’ve realize is that with many mental illnesses (and BPD is no different), you have to want to get better. You have to want to heal and recover. You need to practice the skills and techniques that you have learned every single day. You have to integrate good, happy and therapeutic things into your life. You will sink if you don’t.
I am not crazy.
I am a human just like you and the next person. I love playing soccer. I practice yoga daily. I paint and write. I love to sing loudly and dance around my apartment. I love going to the beach. Laughing is one of my favourite things to do. I am not a monster. I am just another human being who happens to struggle. But, I am hopeful. I am healing, and I am recovering.
I am Emily, and I have borderline personality disorder but no, I am not crazy.
Keep on shining.