Since I’ve already written about my breakdown last year, and have only touched on what actually living with Borderline Personality Disorder is like for me, I thought I’d write a post about how it actually affects me day-to-day. As with any medical condition, my experience is phenomenological – it is purely my own, and the product of my thinking and patterns of behaviour, as well as things that have happened over the years. Everyone has a lot of preconceived ideas about mental health problems, and there are a lot of clichés knocking around, but everyone is different and my experience of BPD may not match someone else’s who has received the same diagnosis.
[The NHS information about symptoms of BPD is here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/borderline-personality-disorder/symptoms/, if you’d like to read the ‘official’ symptoms etc.]
First of all, I had never really heard of Borderline Personality Disorder (or Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder) until September 2018, when one medical professional first suggested it as a possibility. I think a lot of the stigma of this condition comes from the name – I still don’t really get the ‘borderline’ bit, and anything that basically implies that your personality is the problem is not the best thing to be told, especially when you’re not feeling top-notch in the first place. Since I received my ‘official’ diagnosis from a consultant psychiatrist in November 2018, I have done a lot of reading about it all, and I now know that the ‘personality’ bit really just refers to patterns of thought and behaviours that certain people exhibit that can be grouped together in a certain way. So that’s a bit better.
Anyway, I thought I’d briefly outline the things I personally struggle with, which have been identified as characteristic of BPD.
Oh, this is a fun one. When I’m having a bad day it can feel like I am one massive knotted ball of emotions. It feels like I can’t escape myself or my racing thoughts. These intense emotions can rage from crushing depression, to crippling anxiety/panic, to furiously overwhelming anger. In the moment when they are happening it can feel like there is nothing else in the world and you want to do anything to escape them and switch them off. Rationally, you know these moments will ebb away, but at the time it is TERRIFYING. Approach with caution.
Black and White Thinking
When I first became ill last year, this was a particularly tough one. I found it hard to accept that I was as ill as I was, whilst also being incredibly angry and frustrated that I couldn’t be the ‘well’ version of myself I felt had existed only a few weeks before. In my mind, I was either ‘Well Sarah’ or ‘Poorly Sarah’. No prizes for guessing which one I decided was Good and which one was Bad. I still do this a lot on a bad day (Tom – I can virtually see you nodding furiously at this point), and assign judgement to my emotions and thoughts – they are either Good or Bad, and I am failing if I think the Bad thoughts. A lot of the work I am doing with my therapist is around accepting how I am feeling at any moment, and letting myself see things as not Good/Bad or Black/White, but sometimes as more grey or just OK.
Relationship with myself/sense of identity
This is probably the trickiest one for me to talk about, so I probably won’t say too much right now about it. As I’ve just said above, a lot of the thought patterns I can fall into are very judgemental of myself, and sometimes it can feel like I just don’t know who I am, or what it even means to be me. Writing it down while I’m having a better day, it looks really bizarre, but honestly it’s what it feels like. And it’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. I self-blame a lot, and unfortunately this can lead to some destructive behaviours that I am still not fully comfortable speaking about. Yeah, this one is a toughie.
Relationships with other people
A lot of people with BPD struggle with unstable relationships and struggle to form attachments. I don’t really have this issue as such – I am a naturally sociable person and I am happily married. My other personal relationships are pretty solid, too. However, a BPD trait I do have linked to relationships is that with some people (especially some close friends and boyfriends) I am either absolutely besotted and think they’re the best person ever, and immerse myself deeply in the relationship/friendship, or I cannot stand them and push them away.
I did this ‘push-pull’ with all three of my serious relationships before Tom, and it played a role in all of them ending. When these extremes started to happen with him, luckily I realised I did not want to lose him the same way I’d lost the others. He was a Good One, and I knew (even though I didn’t know about BPD) that our relationship was worth more than the irrational thoughts. I talked to him about what I was thinking, he gave me space to work things out, I accepted the thoughts I was having and tried not to label them Good or Bad, and eventually things evened out. Evidence that acceptance does work!
(NB: I knew the thoughts I was having were irrational, if I had had serious doubts about the relationship’s suitability I would not have just blindly stuck it out.)
So those are my main experiences of BPD. There are others, often from when I was younger- such as separation anxiety- that I may talk about at another point, but these are the things that currently affect me day-to-day.
Sorry it hasn’t been a fun post (it wasn’t much fun to write, either) but I feel the more information I can give about BPD and Me, the clearer it will make everything else I post about. If that makes sense.
Anyway, thanks for reading, if you have, I really appreciate it!