What is having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) really like?
Today is the fourth and final instalment of my series of interviews with people who are diagnosed with BPD, and today’s guest is Barbara (name changed to protect the interviewee’s identity).
Firstly, will you introduce yourself?
Hi! My name is Barbara. Well, it isn’t really… but for the sake of this, I’m going to say that’s my name. Anyway, I’m 25 years old and recently moved house from the north to the south of the UK. I say recently but next month it will be a year! I don’t work, but I do care for my best friend – who I also live with (to carry on a little anonymity I’ll call her Dorris for the rest of this). We have two cats and a dog, they are the craziest and funniest animals each with totally their own personality, so as you can imagine our house is rather full, but I love it that way. It’s our own little family. I love to read, create (mediocre) arty things, and photography. I also have depression, anxiety, and Borderline Personality Disorder (which I will be referring to as BPD for the rest of this).
Talk us through your experience with getting your diagnosis. How did you feel about it? Was it difficult to get an official diagnosis? Have you been treated differently by professionals or family/friends since your diagnosis? Does it change how you see yourself?
I was diagnosed with BPD in 2012, I couldn’t tell you exactly when as I was given the diagnosis about a week after leaving hospital (following a very brief stay) by a psychiatrist who I have no recollection of ever meeting before – and would never meet again – so I’m not sure if he diagnosed me there and then without really knowing me, or whether I was assessed/diagnosed in hospital and it was only at this appointment that I found out? Either way, it was a very brief appointment where I was told something along the lines of “you have Borderline Personality Disorder, here’s some information on it *hands over printed out booklet*, I’m discharging you back to your GP”. And so that was it, I walked out of that building with some words on some paper about this illness that I have and figuring out anything else was up to me. I don’t think I could give an accurate idea on whether it took a long time to get the diagnosis because I feel like it came out of nowhere however I can say that I feel as though almost every professional I have seen since has had some degree (although varying) of judgement and stereotyping before they’ve got to know me, for example, the psychiatrist who gave me the diagnosis. I very much feel like I was rushed out of the room because I wasn’t important/didn’t deserve his time. Or the first time I went in to see a new GP and they told me they had seen BPD on my record and asked around the staff before my appointment “to see if I had a history of being violent” (side note – I don’t!). Or the professional I saw recently whose reply to me telling them I have BPD was “oh that’s where you just overreact to everything isn’t it”. I also did/do see myself differently, initially I felt very much like it was a flaw in who I was, I think the word ‘personality’ shocked me, of course, I now know that’s not what it means, but for years (and still in brief moments now) I thought it was just something wrong in the way I am rather than an actual mental illness.
Have you undertaken any therapy? If yes, which? And what was helpful/unhelpful about it? Have you learnt any new skills to help you manage your mental health? If you’ve not done any therapy, was that by your choice? Is there a therapy you’d like to try? Why?
I haven’t had any therapy specifically for BPD, however over the years I have had a lot of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for depression and anxiety which has always helped for a short time. I have also had a brief few weeks of cognitive analytical therapy (CAT) therapy although I don’t feel able to say much about this as I didn’t get very far into it before having to leave.
I feel most of the ways that I cope, I have figured out myself, for example, I have learnt mindfulness from the countless books my best friend has bought me, not the ten-minute session I had with a therapist teaching me how to be mindful about an orange…
Specifically thinking of the BPD, I’d really like to try dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT). I’ve been talking about this for years, but unfortunately I’ve never been able to get it as it wasn’t available in my area, and now I don’t meet the criteria (I think because I don’t actively SH) which although I do understand I still find very frustrating as I still struggle with the urges along with many other things which I think DBT would help with. I would also be open to trying CAT again and seeing it all the way through.
It has been suggested that medication is not really effective at treating BPD. What is your experience?
From the medication I have been on, I agree that it’s not very effective for BPD, but I am on medication which helps me manage my anxiety to some extent and keeps my depression from overwhelming me. In saying this, please remember that medication isn’t helpful for everyone, affects everyone slightly differently, and you should always talk to a medical professional before starting or stopping any.
How does BPD affect your day-to-day life?
Oh blimey, BPD affects many areas of my life, but probably in a quieter way than you assume. Almost everything that I struggle with I struggle inwards. I find it very hard to vocalise and reach out until I’m at a crisis point (I am getting better at this though!). One of the criteria for a BPD diagnosis is impulsiveness (usually sex/drugs/drink/money), apart from a very brief year or so of impulse drinking (side note – I do not mean by this that I struggled with alcohol/needed a drink to get me through the day) I have never been impulsive with anything but the latter, I’m definitely impulsive with money! – although this is something I’m working on and I am a lot better with it than I used to be. My mood changes so rapidly day to day and it can be exhausting. Happy, then sad, then numb, then sad, then happy, then angry… This is probably one of the day-to-day aspects I struggle with the most along with ‘random’ urges and suicidal thoughts, yep you read it right, literally random. I could be taking a walk in the sun with my best friend through a beautiful park watching butterflies dance around in the air bursting with how happy I feel in that moment and suddenly BAM, my mind decided to remind me of how great it would be to just kill myself now. Or I could be at home playing on the PlayStation and BAM, the world would be better without you in it, Barbara. **Important to note here that the world would NOT at all be better off without you in it, and killing yourself would NOT be a ‘great idea’. If you’re feeling like this please reach out to someone, you are important, you are loved, and you are valued**
Luckily, I am in a place in my life now where I am able to let those thoughts pass without it distressing me/triggering me like it used to, but it does scare me how quickly they can just appear, even in the best of moments. I think I’m rambling on a bit with this, but BPD also affects my day-to-day life by making me feel so on edge with people, how to interact, what to say, and usually interpreting things wrong almost as if what I hear people say is totally different to what they actually mean. That full stop you put at the end of the text? That means you’re mad at me. Someone tells me I need to ‘try’ and do more -insert action here-, I hear YOU AREN’T TRYING. I struggle a lot with worrying about Dorris leaving. She is my soulmate, and the reason I’ve made it this far in my recovery, the thought of her leaving me destroys me inside and while rational me knows she won’t, and trusts her when she tells me if she was going to leave she already would have done, I can’t help but panic that one day she’s going to just up and leave. I also have typical ‘black and white thinking’, which I think is common for people with BPD. Things are either amazing or catastrophic, for almost anything, for example, I’m cooking cottage pie for tea, everything is going great and it’s going to be delicious… I forget to put the mushrooms in with the rest of the veg and that’s it, the food is ruined, it’s going to taste awful and have to go in the bin, it doesn’t occur to me that I can just pop the mushrooms in now and no one would know the difference! I guess similarly to this I also struggle with thinking rationally. I find myself second-guessing myself, even with things I know that I know, this is so irritating and must be frustrating for those I lean on for reassurance. I’m having to learn who I am again, and I’m finding that so hard at the moment, but each day I see a little more of the ‘old but improved’ me. You see that first question up there, where I introduced myself? There was a time not too long ago when I’d have started that paragraph off with ‘I suffer with…’ but I didn’t, I put it at the end because although that’s part of me, I now know that it isn’t ALL of me.
What helps you get through the bad times?
Over the years I have developed many different ways to help me through the bad times; short term when I’m feeling a negative emotion strongly I limit myself to feel it, by using my timed rule. So if I’m feeling really angry, I give myself 20 minutes to feel it. For those 20 minutes I can immerse myself in the anger, but after that, I must try to push that emotion aside and distract myself. On a rare occasion when I’ve reached the end of the 20 minutes and I’m still stuck with the same intensity of the emotion I allow myself an extra 5 minutes (but no longer than 45 minutes in total) before starting to distract, but more often than not after those first 20 minutes, I have felt the emotion so intensely that I’m exhausted of feeling it, and a distraction is welcome. I believe it’s important to allow yourself to feel, but I need to try and regulate it so I can acknowledge it, without getting lost in it for days. I also use photography, occasionally reaching out to charities such as the Samaritans, keeping myself busy even when I don’t feel like I can get out of bed, regular as possible ‘days out’ (beaches, zoos, a trip to the park etc), being with my animals, and art to try and keep the ‘bad times’ at bay, or distract from sinking too far into it. But perhaps the biggest things that help me get through the bad times is my best friend, Dorris. No matter what’s going on in her life, no matter how bad I’m feeling, regardless of how I may be (unknowingly) making her feel, regardless of how deep into the bad time I am, she is always there. With a hand to hold me through, having belief in me when I have none myself, and some stern words when I need them. She’s my cheerleader, my joker, my best friend, and the one I know I can rely on. She gets me, and she loves me for who I am, she pushes me to be the best me but never pressures me to be any more than that. My darkest secrets I trust her to hold, and my only future is with her. She’s my person.
What advice would you give someone who is struggling with the same mental illness as you?
You are not alone. This is not a flaw in your personality, it’s an illness. You are valid and there is a way through this to better days. I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, I once felt the same. It’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to feel lost, it’s okay to feel. You are stronger than you realise and I believe you can make it through. BPD is not the life sentence it feels like it is, with help, support, and your own hard work, you can live a life as fulfilling as anyone else, there may be times you have to live for others – hell there’s time I do, but one day at a time you’ll start living for yourself. Reach out to people, professionals, charities. Take the help you’re offered, and be truthful from the start. Please remember you are loved and cared about.
Do you have experience with BPD? Maybe yourself, or a loved one? Let me know about your experiences in the comments.