*Trigger warning: this blog discusses mental health struggles and suicidal thoughts.
I’m crouched beneath the desk of my university dorm room, hands planted over my ears as I rock back and forth and hum the tune to Teddybear’s Picnic. I remember thinking: something is wrong.
I’ve always found it easier to express myself on paper. I recently wrote this piece on why I deprive myself of medication for my mental health, and this time, I’ll give you more insight into my diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Much is said about those of us with this diagnosis, little of it kind, and even less from our perspective.
I was a quiet kid and noticed myself becoming more emotional in my teens. Every mood seemed magnified, leaving me less able to cope with life’s ebb and flow. Each ache and pain felt catastrophic; like being trapped in a pinball machine, mercilessly flung from one mood to the other at breakneck speed. The emotional whiplash was exhausting, for me and everyone around me.
Often, the feelings were so overwhelming that I lashed out, my fury like dropping a glowing match on a puddle of petrol. No matter how sorry I was, people can only tolerate that behaviour for so long before they feel the need to walk on eggshells. Not everyone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) will behave this way, but the stigma affects everyone regardless.
According to the NHS, borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a disorder of mood and how a person interacts with others… In general, people with personality disorders differ significantly from others in terms of how he or she thinks, perceives, feels or relates to others.
Symptoms which characterise the disorder — also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD) — include intense fear of abandonment, chaotic relationships, inappropriate, intense anger, impulsivity and self-harm.
My diagnosis didn’t come until university. My boyfriend at the time, Ryan, lived in the building next door; we met during freshers week and immediately became inseparable.
Despite having already planned the decor of our future home (same tastes!) — I couldn’t escape the terror that Ryan would abandon me. On impulse, I’d end the relationship, desperate to put an end to my anxiety. Each time I would leave him devastated and begging me to stay. I self-harmed in a bid to keep a lid on my emotions, and when he eventually walked away, I became suicidal, overdosing on vodka and pills which did nothing more than knock me out for the day.
I’d suspected maybe I was bipolar, so the diagnosis of BPD came as a shock. I’d never heard of BPD but cried with relief, and then fear.
A quote by psychologist Marsha Linehan put into words what I’d been unable to articulate: ‘people with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.’
The statistic that 8–10% of those with BPD will commit suicide hovered over me. Compared to the low lows, the highs felt extra high. BPD has the addictive quality of a drug; just when you think the lows might kill you, the euphoria of a mood swing flings you into oblivion, and you question whether you imagined it all.
Another characteristic is black and white thinking. I have no problem cutting people out of my life over the smallest slight, because every slight is so excruciating I want to protect myself from future distress.
Aged 24, following the end of another relationship, I voluntarily spent a fortnight on a psychiatric ward. I’d fallen into a cycle of desperately searching for someone to make me happy, unwilling to admit that only I held that responsibility. I was so distraught at this perceived abandonment that I no longer felt able to keep myself safe. I’d imagined this to be my chance to finally get help; finally, someone would see how much I was hurting. But there was no help. The hospital was just a holding pen, its only goal: to keep me alive.
I learned that the dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) therapy I needed was no longer offered in my area, and that private therapy would cost around £700 a month.
Even more distressing than the extreme emotions is the isolation. While conditions like depression and anxiety have become part of everyday conversation, when I share my diagnosis with friends or family, they have a tendency to respond, ‘Ah, I prefer not to use labels.’
The mysterious nature of BPD makes people uncomfortable. Research shows that even medical professionals can be wary of, and sometimes unwilling to work with BPD patients. By disregarding my diagnosis, it makes me feel that at best, people would rather not get involved, or at worst, they don’t believe what I’m feeling is real.
Looking to the internet for advice and community is risky, too. It’s easy to stumble on vicious comments by people who have been burned; we’re selfish, manipulative, without remorse or empathy. Crazy. It’s painful to read, but I do understand.
It’s hard not to internalise the comments. It’s true that, when I’m very distressed, I can turn off my empathy like a switch because to feel it all just might kill me. But I pay for this later, when the guilt and shame hurtle towards me like a tsunami.
My biggest challenge is finding it in my heart to forgive myself. If you believe wholeheartedly, you’re rotten inside, you become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m trying to remind myself that just because I’ve stumbled in the past, it doesn’t mean I can’t do better now.
I’ve begun distancing myself from the label ‘BPD’ because I don’t want it to form my identity. But even so, knowledge is power; it’s the anchor I desperately cling to when it feels like I’m losing my mind. It allows me to apply logic to the storm inside my head and remind myself that this, too, will pass.
Romantic relationships can be especially tumultuous for those with BPD, and I’ve made a conscious decision to remain single for the past five years. It’s liberating to know I can make myself happy. But, the future scares me; friends assure me I could have anyone I wanted, but they don’t realize it’s me that has historically been the problem, not my looks. I’m afraid to disappoint myself, and prefer being the girl who got away rather than the girl who let them down. Sometimes I catch myself thinking it would be nice to have a family of my own, but I’m not sure that life is meant for me.
We need to talk about stigmatised mental health conditions, but I also need to learn not to stigmatise myself. I’m so much more than my mental health.
If you are struggling and are in need of support, below are a few incredibly helpful organisations that provide both resources and direct help:
Shout Crisis Text Line — you can text Shout to 85258 if you are experiencing a personal crisis, are unable to cope and need support.
Talk to the Samaritans — they offer 24-hour emotional support in full confidence. You can call them for free on 116 123
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) offers a chat and hotlines service from 5pm to midnight
Papyrus (Suicide Prevention Charity) offers similar service for adolescents and young adults under the age of 35