Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is so incredibly complex that no two people with the disorder are exactly the same. There is a sliding scale of symptoms and different treatment options that work for BPD patients in many different ways.
For example, one of my biggest triggers is rejection, whether real or something I perceive could happen at any moment. There is a ton of information out there, but the key is finding what works for you. In moments of distress, there are certain tactics you can deploy to try and get ahead of the emotional influx before it becomes destructive.
The fact sheet I am going to show you is not written by a doctor or a psychiatrist, but instead from my experience with borderline personality disorder — how I try to manage it on a daily basis and how it affects my life. I find, for me, reading the same old things written by specialists in the field isn’t always so helpful because as I said earlier, the emotional roller coaster of BPD is different for everyone.
We also have to face the reality that there is still an extremely negative stigma attached to borderline personality disorder, even from the very people who are meant to be there to help. There are doctors who won’t accept BPD patients as they see them as a high suicide risk or “manipulative,” which can in itself be another enormous trigger for people, leaving them feeling even more isolated and alone.
I have been in the hospital many times and, unfortunately, I have had a range of traumatic experiences by the very people who are meant to help me. I have been talked about like I am not there, treated completely the opposite to someone presenting with a physical ailment and most of the time I leave feeling worse than when I went in.
1. Having borderline personality disorder does not make you a bad person.
This is something I struggle with a lot — thinking I’m not a good person because I manage things differently to everyone else. The truth is, in fact, that I believe having BPD has led to me having the compassion and understanding of mental illness that I do today.
2. BPD patients are not dramatic attention seekers.
This one is complex because many behaviors exhibited by someone with BPD could be perceived by others as dramatic and attention seeking. It’s not the best way to put it, but there are definitely examples of my behavior that could be mistaken for “attention seeking” whereas the real emotion driving me is seeking validation. Absolutely, there are times when someone may accelerate their behavior to get this validation, but it’s a very grey area when it comes to it being attributed to “attention seeking.”
3. BPD can make you feel unlovable.
I recently had a great talk with someone who lives with BPD, whose greatest fear is that she will become “too much” and her partner will leave her. This is something both people involved in a relationship have to face, for there will always be an underlying fear that the person could leave, triggering that enormous sense of rejection. I still have dreams where I am desperately trying to stop someone leaving me but they won’t listen. It’s a frantic feeling of desperately wanting the person to listen and not to reject me. This bleeds into normal life and is what makes relationships incredibly hard to navigate at times.
4. A lack of control over the intensity of emotions and emotional responses.
As it was put by Marsha Linehan, creator of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), “Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.”
This is, by far, one of the hardest aspects of BPD for both myself and my loved ones. To give an example, my best friend of 17 years outright rejected me via text and has never spoken to me since. She was, at the time and for many years, the person who I looked up to the most in the world and felt the safest with. As BPD patients tend to put people on pedestals, for me, losing this friendship and the emotional response involved was like she had died. Even though logical people were giving me advice, I felt the emotion of loss and rejection on such a scale that I still struggle with it three years later.
While someone without BPD may have ranked as a 5 on a scale of emotional intensity, I would have ranked it as a 15. This intensity and lack of control over emotions is a daily struggle for everyone involved. Not only did I have to deal with the extreme level of distress, but I replayed a million scenarios in my mind. How could I be so oblivious to my own behavior that I could not see it coming? It made me feel “crazy” and I spiraled downhill with an enormous sense of self-hatred and blame.
5. There is a link between BPD and trauma.
There is a link between significant past trauma and borderline personality disorder. I was sexually assaulted in a violent attack when I was 16 years old. I also experienced neglect by my father after my parent’s divorce and rejection from my two elder brothers. My world suddenly went from being a family of six to having my sister and mother has my primary family relationships. This meant that, after I was assaulted, I had no male influence or attachment I could turn to, which resulted in me never mentioning the assault until about three years ago in therapy.
Trauma is such a complex concept and thus presents differently in every person. For example, someone may experience extreme childhood trauma that does not lead to significant mental health issues in the future. What I am saying is there is no formula for BPD. There are so many variables that go into how we grow up and what potential issues we may or may not face.
6. BPD can be easily misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
My own example of this is from back in 2010, when my life and mental health became extremely chaotic. I attempted suicide and self-harmed in a serious way for the first time. I was referred to an extremely well-known institute, where after 45 minutes, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder.
Being far better versed in mental health by then, I couldn’t see how this was possible. Taking away the fact I had never seen this doctor in my life and he had little or no knowledge of my past, such a serious diagnosis just did not fit with all the research I had done on bipolar disorder versus BPD. It was the fact I had so much knowledge of mental health, and of course my own behaviors and past, that I challenged this diagnoses. I was thankfully referred to another psychiatrist whom I eventually saw every week for the next seven years. He was hesitant to formally put a name to it and I am grateful for that; he took his time, as did I, exploring all the dark corners of my past and present before making the diagnosis.
7. BPD is commonly intertwined with other mental illnesses.
This is referred to as co-morbid illnesses, where they exist alongside one another. For me, it is major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is this that makes BPD so hard to treat in conjunction with these other serious conditions. Pharmacologically, there are no “pills” for BPD, but medication is used to treat co-morbid mental illnesses. This is only my personal experience, for there are many other mental illnesses and disorders with which someone who has BPD may also be experiencing.
So there you have it — my own “BPD Fact Sheet.” Being such a complex illness, I feel it sits in the middle and the offshoots are the depression and anxiety that I deal with every day. It still scares me when my mood shifts so quickly and I can literally feel the distress level rising. This is where everyone’s own personal BPD toolkit comes into play.
BPD is a lonely disorder — the very nature of BPD causes self-isolation and the perceived inability to “fit in” anywhere. There are so many times when I wish I could go back to my younger self and explain what was happening. Life was so confusing all the time — never having my sense of self or a place in the world and not understanding why.