What is borderline personality disorder?

Out of everything I have experienced in life, one of the things I find most difficult to talk about with any real candour is my diagnosis of BPD, or Borderline Personality Disorder. There’s something about it which I can’t bring myself to explain in words; that feeling of fear and distrust which dogs every move. It’s not simple enough to just call it ‘anxiety’ or ‘worry’, because it goes far deeper than either of those things and I often find myself tongue-tied, unable to describe just now BPD affects me. As a result, very few people in real life know I have the diagnosis. I just can’t bring myself to tell them.

Earlier, I read a brilliant post called What Is Borderline Personality Disorder? on the site “You Know You’re Borderline When…”. Since my diagnosis, I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about BPD in the hope of finding some sort of understanding of my often ridiculous actions, and the post I just mentioned is easily the best article I have ever read on the subject.

One point the author, Jaen Wildfly, makes is particularly meaningful to me.

I guess the keywords here are: Unstable Self-Image

That still sounds a bit fancy. In essence, it means “I have no fucking idea who I am or what I want since my desires change from one minute to the next.”

I suspect one of the reasons why I can’t bring myself to admit to having BPD is because it all sounds a bit, well… self-absorbed. Nobody knows who they are, right? It’s not like we have the monopoly on wonky self-image. Try telling the average person on the street that you have an unstable self-image, and listen to them talk about how everyone doubts themselves; it’s impossible to get across just how much of an impact being impaired in identity can have on your life without sounding like an attention-seeker.

When I was diagnosed last year by a psychologist, I had a hard time explaining why the label of BPD – or rather, any label – was so important to me. Over the years I’ve been given many diagnoses – clinical depression, chronic anxiety, schizophrenia for a short while – and usually they’re as welcome as a kick in the teeth. Each label has changed me in some way and determined the path my life took, and most have resulted in disaster. However, I started to realise that my life has been governed by my total inablity to react rationally to imagined disasters, and without knowing the reasons why I act like that, how could I ever improve?

Jaen also uses the word ‘fragmented’, which to me is the perfect description of how it feels to live with BPD. Sometimes I wonder what I’d see if I could open myself up and look inside; whether everything would be shattered and broken. I wonder if there would be a visual clue as to what’s causing me to destroy every relationship I have.

To describe BPD properly, you have to grit your teeth and be prepared for others to judge you, for them to think you’re a cold, uncaring freak with a tendency to fly off the handle at the smallest provocation. BPD, like any other mental illness, is very unattractive when it makes itself known.

Regular readers will know that I haven’t quite destroyed every relationship; I’ve been with S for over a year now, and through some sort of divine intervention we’re yet to have a single argument. Not even a small one. This defies everything BPD is about, and I can only assume that the combination of cipralex and beta-blockers I take – along with the ten or so joints I smoke a day and the tendency to turn to opiate painkillers when things get too stressful – numb the fears which make me irrational and obsessive. It’s the fear which makes me angry, you see; the fear that I’ll lose somebody, or they’ll think less of me.

We are romantic junkies. Borderline behavior will increase with each new partner; thoughts of a perfectly passionate soul mate will drive us to do things that can be considered “impulsive.” But we are driven by a primal urge for this special someone to be our ultimate romantic love and savior. It is hard for us to look for realistic love when we crave this intensity. We are “in love” with being “in love” and will do stupid things to get our desires quenched. Usually, we end up disappointed because we don’t understand the transition from desire to love.

When I met my ex-fiance, O, the relationship was already doomed to fail although I didn’t come to realise that until many years later. Throughout past relationships, my behaviour had developed into a seething cluster of resentment, mistrust and paranoia which ruined everything I came into contact with, and my tendency to fall for men who would take advantage of me had given me an incredibly skewed view on love. I believed equally in the great love story and the cruelty of men, hoping for the first but inevitably finding the other.

During the relationship, I rarely saw my behaviour as unreasonable. To my mind, all the injustice of the world was constantly thrown upon my shoulders and O simply didn’t understand how much his words hurt me. Looking back, there’s no way he could have known, because very few people would react the way I did. Most wouldn’t slam doors or bury themselves in the corner of the room, banging their heads against the walls. Not everybody would smoke ten cigarettes in a row, lock themselves in the bathroom and punch themselves in the face, just because their boyfriend didn’t answer his phone.

Storming out of his house in the middle of the night and waking his parents became a common event; I’d wait at the end of the driveway until O came out and apologised. On an almost daily basis I would walk away from him over a small argument, stomping down the road with tears running down my face, first marching along then slowing down as I realised he might not follow me if I went too far. I always wanted him to follow me. I needed him to.

Like many BPD’ers, I’ve made a number of suicide attempts. I’ve barely mentioned them so far because the feelings behind the attempts are still quite raw, even years later. Also like many people with BPD, because I survived it’s assumed they were a cry for help or attention, and so the doctors who treated me in A&E for paracetamol and antidepressant overdoses didn’t take me seriously.

Each and every time, I wanted to die, and was disappointed when I hadn’t. The efforts of others to save my life were lost on me; I just wanted out. The last time I considered suicide, I found myself running out of the house in the middle of the night, into a storm. My mother and I had been arguing about the amount of control she has over my life, as usual, and I suddenly just couldn’t take it any more. For a few minutes, the idea of walking into the sea crossed my mind. I even set off along the embankment, planning on getting to the sea wall and letting the tide pull me away. The urge was addictive, and I couldn’t think of anything else but ending my life. The ability to see how my death would hurt others was lost to me, and I still don’t quite know why I went back home after two hours. I stopped being angry, I think.

I have never considered suicide when depressed; even thinking about it would be too much effort in that situation. However, anger and panic are what drive me to think such thoughts, to harm myself, to chain-smoke and take more pills than I should. Any type of fear sends me into a blind panic; I just don’t know how to deal with the emotions. Or any emotion, really.

 

58 Comments

  1. Lovely post. What do you think about the title “borderline personality disorder”? It’s non descript isn’t it and borderline? Border of what. I don’t know. I just sometimes wonder how they come up with these names

    • I was just thinking about that. I actually quite like it; it certainly feels like I’m constantly teetering on the edge of something (the ‘borderline’); I’m never quite stable or straight and the slightest thing could send me into a fit of sheer terror over being abandoned.

      Copied from Wikipedia:

      “Personality disorders are a class of personality types and enduring behaviors associated with significant distress or disability, which appear to deviate from social expectations particularly in relating to others”

      I know BPD is different for everyone to some extent, but this describes how it feels to me, perfectly. It does cause significant distress – to the point where I’ve harmed myself over my inability to form real relationships – and it’s safe to say that my throwing a plate at the wall and considering suicide because somebody criticises me isn’t exactly living up to society’s standards.

      I can understand why you’re not keen though; it is pretty vague. Everyone knows what, say, bipolar is (even if they don’t understand it) but Borderline Personality doesn’t really mean anything.

      I much prefer it to ‘emotional instability disorder’ – it makes it sound like a bit of teenage angst.

  2. The journey from here to there can be a bitch sometimes…In some ways I can relate. Some of the things you described sound like my mother, except she can’t take any of it on her self…always someone else’s fault. I understand that as well, I just cant trust that that someone wont be me. I have respect for someone who keeps trying….

    Wander

    • Oh, trust me; a lot of what I feel is always someone else’s fault. I’ve been working on that. It’s an awful feeling when you eventually realise it was your fault all along, because you’re so convinced.

      Although my mother doesn’t have BPD, she does have some traits which I recognise in myself, and I understand what it’s like to have things taken out on you for no reason. Chin up.

  3. “We are romantic junkies. Borderline behavior will increase with each new partner; thoughts of a perfectly passionate soul mate will drive us to do things that can be considered “impulsive.” But we are driven by a primal urge for this special someone to be our ultimate romantic love and savior. It is hard for us to look for realistic love when we crave this intensity. We are “in love” with being “in love” and will do stupid things to get our desires quenched. Usually, we end up disappointed because we don’t understand the transition from desire to love.”

    This is me…to a “t”. And I’m trying to achieve something right now that I know deep down is totally impossible. And will be a lost cause in the end. And I know I’m going to be deeply disappointed and hurt. But yet, I’m still pursuing the quest. Squelching that “impulse” is hard. I have to stop myself, take a deep breath and think a minute. I’m an impulsive person. Although over the years I’ve been able to control it, there are times it gets the best of me. The frustration and depression I experience from it all sucks.

  4. This makes a lot of sense. I’ve been diagnosed with BPD (and then undiagnosed, which y’know, helps heaps with an already unstable sense of self), but nothing has made as much sense regarding that diagnosis as this just did. Thank you x

  5. To be quite honest, though I’m diagnosed with Bipolar II, I’ve long suspected I might have BPD, either instead of or along with the BPII. Your post makes me wonder all the more, in addition to the research I’ve done. My number one trigger is romantic relationships. They send me over the edge every time. I become a different person. My sense of inner self-control is torn asunder. My other relationships aren’t great, either, but it’s nothing compared to my romantic interaction. I relate deeply with much of what you’ve written here. Thank you for sharing.

    • Bipolar and BPD seem to be quite often mistaken for each other; I’ve sometimes wondered if BPD isn’t perhaps an offshoot of bipolar. A child psychiatrist did think I had some form of manic/depressive condition, although I was never diagnosed as I didn’t have extreme highs, just small occasional ones which didn’t cause much trouble. The lows were huge compared, so I was eventually diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

      I’d say romantic relationships is one of the main features of BPD, although I’m no expert so I’m not about to try to diagnose you! I’ve damaged so many relationships through the need for control and the fear of being left, and for a long time I thought that fear was justified. I empathise with your feelings; sometimes I feel as though I’m two different people, ripping at each other.

  6. This is excellent. It is hard to describe to BPD. There’s so much to say to this post. Like not being taken seriously. I don’t understand why others can’t see that it really is that bad for us, when it’s “that bad.” The attention-seeking, for me has never been about seeking attention. It’s been about hurting, terribly. I can’t fathom how others can’t relate to this pain, especially health-care providers. In my opinion, they stigmatize the most!

    And I agree, the judgment really gets to me. I have experienced this often. Someone believes I am a great person, apparently I make a good impression, but then if you talk about the stuff you really do, or have gone through, they take off like a bat out of hell, thinking that somehow you will damage them and then labeling you as crazy. I’ve even noticed that with followers. What bothers me more than anything is that I can handle intense emotions, obviously, so hearing others stories, even drastic ones, does not bother me. I feel not alone. I feel better reading about what others have been through. That’s why I love your blog. You talk about the real deal. But the favor is often not returned. If I talk about something scary like anger, people want to run away. I don’t understand that at all.

    I relate so well to your description of a phone call not being returned. The fear can be so intense. I have experienced this with text messaging, also. To me it gets down to the manners thing again. I handle this far better than I used to. But, for a long time, even ten seconds was too long. But, really, how it can it possibly take a week to answer an email or phone call, even just to say, “I’ll call when I can.”

    Not sure I will ever understand why we can often see what’s behind the behavior of others – to chunk back, this caused that, and that caused this and here is where it started. Yet, others cannot see where we are coming from. Actually I think Borderlines are BETTER at understanding other people than the average. Because we feel so much we can see better, I guess is what I mean. We have a surplus of empathy. To me, sounding crazy I’m sure, BPD is more normal than I think others think it is. In our modern world we’ve become so disconnected. But that’s not how we were meant to live.

    Ok, stopping rambling now. Your post is so good, I could comment nearly the length of it.

  7. Have you read “I Hate you, don’t leave me.” ? I found it an excellent book that described me to a tee. I must say, though it’s been difficult, after being dxed 13 years ago I’ve found wonderful resources and techniques that have helped me discuss my illness with people in a way that I’m comfortable. You must remember, not everyone NEEDS to know or accept you.

    My mother used to say You are who you are and you are perfect just the way you are. My response was always “Yeah, perfectly screwed up” :P

  8. BPD is something I am making concerted efforts to learn about and understand. There are many reasons (I have a very good friend who is afflicted, I know so much about so many other mental illnesses, I have an inherent need just to understand people as much as possible). But probably the most compelling reason is one shared with me (by my aforementioned friend), and kind of expressed by you here.

    She said: “It’s a diagnosis that couldn’t be more vague if it tried to be.” Which translates in my mind to: “It’s a condition that is so complex and nuanced and misunderstood, and has the most incredibly unique presentation in every individual who has it.”

    I understand why you are hesitant to share this diagnosis. Very few people can grasp it, because it doesn’t have terms with strong, familiar associations to accompany it. Mania. Depression. Anxiety. People can wrap their heads around these (or at least they think they can). But fragmentation? Unstable self-image? Not so much.

    Thank you for sharing here. I truly hope to be able to learn and grasp some of the concepts behind this insidious, pervasive, and life-afflicting illness.

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  17. I enjoyed reading and related to it all but this

    Most wouldn’t slam doors or bury themselves in the corner of the room, banging their heads against the walls. Not everybody would smoke ten cigarettes in a row, lock themselves in the bathroom and punch themselves in the face, just because their boyfriend didn’t answer his phone.

    Was just perfect.

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  19. I wish 14 years ago, when my ex partner suggested I may have bpd, that id have looked it up instead of slashing myself in anger and shame and disgust. Its only now, after being suspended from my job, that ive relented and confronted this possibility. On Monday, it is the psychiatrists for me and thans to articles such as this, im ready to be honest and reclaim my existance. I dont want to be frightened of love anymore and all that is beautiful in the world.

Send me love.

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