DISCLAIMER: This article cannot self-diagnose or represent all experiences of Borderline Personality Disorder (or BPD). Seek guidance from a mental health professional for more information. Please be advised that this article mentions self-harm and suicide.
Borderline Personality Disorder is not a well-known mental health challenge. It seems like discussions around mental health are always focused on anxiety or depression. So when I was diagnosed with BPD last year, I was ashamed and embarrassed that no one could understand my experience. When a psychiatrist evaluated me and told me, “you have Borderline Personality Disorder,” my first response was denial. I thought there was no way he could be right- I couldn’t have BPD! But then I read the symptoms.
As it turns out, I could relate strongly to Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms. For example, chronic feelings of emptiness, emotional instability, and impulsivity are just a few. Here are a few of the challenges I’ve experienced because of BPD symptoms.
One common symptom of BPD is “emotional dysregulation” or “a reactive mood.” People with BPD are more likely to have an overactive limbic system. In other words, we’re born with sensitive brains. For me, this looks like frequent mood swings and multiple changes throughout the day from one extreme to the next. It can feel like being on top of the world and then suddenly feeling suicidal because something triggered a reaction. Many of us feel irrational and oversensitive and will hide our feelings as a result. As I’ve learned, hiding and ignoring our feelings doesn’t make them go away. This can make them stronger.
It’s no secret that young minds can be impulsive. But with Borderline Personality Disorder, this flaw takes control. This can look like splurging on a shopping spree, having reckless sex, engaging in self-harm, or trying new and dangerous drugs. All to cope with intense feelings and symptoms. It feels like being defenseless against your urges and having little control over your actions. Like constantly asking why did I do that? And then doing it again. For me, it looked like acting impulsively to cope with distress and then feeling angry with myself when I saw the effects.
Disassociation refers to the feeling of being disconnected from your reality. It can feel like you’re dreaming or “zoning out” from the present moment. It’s a natural defense mechanism often in response to intense anxiety or trauma. And around 75-80% of those with BPD experience distress-related disassociation. In my experience, it usually doesn’t last longer than a few hours, but it was frightening at first when I didn’t know what it was. Now, I try to ground myself with concentrated breathing, exercise, or meditation when I feel myself slipping out of reality.
It is difficult to tell when I want something because it can offer value in my life and when I want something simply because of a symptom. For example, after high school, I wanted to move to Austria, learn German, and become an English kindergarten teacher. At the time, it felt like a wise decision. But in reality, I was just bored. I thought impulsively changing my life could fill some of the emptiness I felt inside. Spoiler alert: I did not move to a different continent, and I still cannot speak German. The wise decision in this scenario was to take a year off to spend time thinking about what I wanted, rather than rushing into impulsive choices. But, I often still find myself second-guessing good decisions because of my impulsive past.
And this brings me to why I wanted to write about this topic. If you are like me, you’ve probably never heard about Borderline Personality Disorder growing up. Unfortunately, we don’t talk about BPD enough. And when we do, it’s demonized. BPD is associated with being attention-seeking, manipulative, and hypersensitive. It’s frustrating to see such a negative stigma around the illness- but I know education is the key to improving this problem. If I were more educated on the topic, I wouldn’t have felt so much shame growing up with these symptoms. I also know I wouldn’t feel as angry with myself each time I make a mistake.
At least 1% of the population has BPD. This means there are millions of others with varying experiences similar to mine. If you are someone experiencing Borderline Personality Disorder, you are not alone. There are millions like you and millions more who are unaware that they have it. And also, BPD is 100% treatable. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is very effective in aiding with symptoms and means a diagnosis is not a life sentence.
I am not my disorder. I am so much more than just a diagnosis and a set of negative experiences. My difficulties with Borderline Personality Disorder only represent a small part of me that is still learning and growing. I’m still learning new ways to cope and recover from my disorder. But I know how much we can benefit if we just try and understand each other a little more.