Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

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Namrata Roy

06 October 2021

6 Mins

You are not your disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is a psychological disorder characterised by unstable moods, behaviour and relationship. This is the basic textbook definition. However, like any other disorder, the experience and intensity of symptoms vary from person to person.

Please note that this is a personal account and personality disorders look different on different individuals.

What is BPD?

Trigger warning for high anxiety, suicide and self-harm.

While many people have heard of Bipolar Disorder and often use it synonymously, that in fact is incorrect. This is because the symptoms tend to overlap and sometimes, it is difficult to diagnose correctly. But the fact remains that BPD is a personality disorder and Bipolar is a mood disorder.

The first diagnosis of any disorder is extremely difficult to accept for any person. When I was first diagnosed with BPD, I remember feeling relief and anguish at the same time. I was relieved because I knew there was a name for what I had been going through and I can seek help to cure or at least keep it in control. I was in anguish because of the name of the disorder.

I thought there’s something wrong with my personality, wrong with the essence which describes me as a person all along. This thought was, back then, deeply troubling.

BPD vs Bipolar Disorder

It’s harder for me to describe in a chronological order which symptoms are easier to handle because they all get their time to shine like players in a basketball team. But nevertheless, I’ll start with the shining star:

1. The unnerving urge to indulge in self-harm

One in ten people who have BPD is likely to commit suicide. Suicidal tendencies are very common in people who live with BPD. With the stigma already associated with BPD, it doesn’t make it easier for borderlines with suicidal thoughts. As one of the most prominent symptoms of this illness, it is extremely hard to deal with self-consuming thoughts of ending one’s life.

What you can do to help:

Understand that it’s not the person’s fault, and they are doing their absolute best to keep themselves from falling apart. Do not guilt the person through lectures of gratitude in life, especially if they are going through a crisis. Contact a trusted family member or a medical health professional immediately.

2. I will do everything in my power to make you leave me, but I really hope you don’t.

It’s not just a character trait anymore, it’s a symptom. Contradictory thoughts running through your mind is downright exhausting and painful. For years, there was a pattern in relationships for me. I had always blamed people for leaving me or myself for driving them away. I would love people intensely, then test them to see if they really cared about me, and through these supposed mind games, the relation would fall apart and I would end up hating them with an even higher intensity. These unstable relationships made me question my self-worth more times than I can count.

What you can do to help:

If you are ready to accept and support a borderline in their long and intense battle to heal, then patience is your greatest tool. Please be gentle and patient while the person figures how to manage relationships in their life. BPD usually stems from childhood trauma and negligence, so understand that they are trying to understand a lot of things that they couldn’t in their time. Help them get the help they need, and if all of this is too much for you, say it. Establish boundaries and be kind. Kindness doesn’t cost a thing.

3. Black and White: There’s no in-between.

Not identifying the grey in one’s life, is a borderline’s most tragic irony. Splitting is a defence mechanism in which most borderlines characterize situations or people (called Idealization) as either good or bad. We cannot find that grey area, as hard as we try seeing things more complicated than the extremes. Extremes are in our blood. Quite literally. I remember idealizing people from an extremely young age. Putting them on a pedestal and dragging them down in my mind once they behave even slightly different from the picture that I’ve painted of them. It is understandably not fair on the person who is idealised, but I am incapable of seeing it any other way. Life is complicated, but splitting experiences into good and bad is how we cope. It is extremely difficult to operate in life with this symptom, but believe me, we are trying every day.

What you can do to help:

If a borderline has accepted their diagnosis and is willing to work on it, gently call them out when they exhibit splitting behaviour (ask for permission before). Try to not take the idealization personally. Understand that it comes from a place of love for you and the fear of unstable relationships. If a borderline is not yet willing to work on it, you can very well establish your boundaries. But help them seek help. In the end, we are all trying very hard to help ourselves, keeping in mind to not hurt others.

4. Anxiety and Depression: My two best friends.

While this is not true for all individuals, borderlines often have to deal with anxiety and depression as side-dishes to the main course.

As someone with BPD, intense and unstable emotions are part of my daily routine. Compared to neurotypicals, I tend to feel emotions in the 1000th order. As much I would have liked this to be an exaggeration, it’s not. It’s a mind-numbing reality for borderlines. It’s a boon and a bane to feel such intensity of emotions at the same time. It is emotionally exhausting and draws criticism. Therefore, it’s no surprise to find out that people with BPD often suffer from high-functioning anxiety and/or depression.

Depressive episodes, long bouts of anxiety, and panic attacks tend to be a roadblock in a person’s daily routine.

What you can do to help:

Give space and attention in periods of depression and anxiety respectively. Ask what the individual requires, and keep a trusted family member and/or a medical professional informed at all times. All you can really do is just listen. That would be enough.

5. Dealing with bullying

The stigma around mental illness is as thick as clouds during a hurricane. When it comes to BPD, the awareness is extremely low and people tend to not believe you. I have been termed as attention-seeking (for self-harming), emotionally weak, and someone who is not even trying (because I would get better if I was, right?). I have been ganged up and bullied in the middle of the night because my personality traits were getting too much for some people. I was too much, too intense, too weak, too desperate.

All in the midst of my treatment, and at the height of my symptoms.

You don’t have to understand, you don’t have to stay and watch us heal from unresolved traumas. You just have to be kind. If you do not understand a disorder, don’t dismiss it. Educate yourself. Don’t invalidate a person’s experiences and struggles. Living as a borderline is painful enough.

What you can do to help:

Do not engage in bullying. Period.

These may seem like characteristics that almost any person has, but in BPD, these symptoms amplify to an extreme level and operate almost simultaneously. Do not, for any disorder, romanticise a person’s experience, or invalidate them.

While most of this stands true for most borderlines, understand that people with BPD are not the monsters that society presents them to be. BPD individuals are strong, passionate, and empathetic. When a person confides in you about their diagnosis, which means they care about you and hope that you’ll stay with them in this long-drawn process of healing. You can read about their diagnosis, try to be more kind and patient, and just listen. To be honest, that is what all of us want you to do. Listen.

I am not a medical health professional. I have been diagnosed with BPD and this is strictly based on personal experiences. Please seek professional help, if needed.

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