Trigger warning: this post discusses self harm and suicide. I try to be as honest as possible in this post, recognising that some of what I say may be confronting for people who aren’t used to this kind of mental illness. I also highly recommend reading this guide by SANE Australia, which I found extremely helpful when I was diagnosed.
“Don’t date a borderline, they will ruin your life. They’re manipulative and they can’t feel empathy. They will take everything from you and then leave you destroyed, before moving on to ruin their next life”. This is a common sentiment that you will find on internet forums if you go searching for information or advice about borderline personality disorder (BPD). This can be truly discouraging for someone like me who already suspects that they may be a bad person, when you realise that so many people on the internet truly hate people with your disorder. I definitely understand that undiagnosed borderlines who do not keep tabs on their behaviour can be capable of horrible things, like I have done firsthand, but we are not evil. People with BPD have usually developed the disorder because of childhood trauma or not being taught how to process emotions properly during formative years. Our behaviour comes from a very painful place, not from a place of malicious intent.
When I feel like I am losing control of my emotions, I get a rush of white noise in my ears, and my heart feels like it is being squeezed as hard as possible from the inside of my chest. I’m often crying, not from the negative emotions, but from the extreme pain that they cause within my body. I scrunch my body up really tight to try and contain the explosion and if I don’t focus on keeping my hands open, I inevitably scratch and claw at my inner arms. I have an excruciating impulse to smash my head against the wall. I often can’t make any noise, and if it escapes, it bursts out of me like some sort of inhuman shriek. Sometimes I writhe and thrash and sometimes I have to be physically restrained by my partner for protection. While this happens, I truly believe that I am at the very least losing my mind, if not dying. Luckily this has only happened to me once in public, but countless times in my own home. At my lowest point it was happening every day or so. Currently I can go about a week or two without losing control of myself.
This can be triggered from something as small as my boyfriend being slightly annoyed with me, which my brain interprets as him hating me and never wanting to be around me again. The rational part of my brain is still awake and trying to tell me the truth, but the irrational part of my brain starts screaming at me that I am worthless and unloveable. This is what it’s like to have BPD: to be completely aware that you are being irrational and yet being entirely consumed by tumultuous emotions.
I thought I just had depression and anxiety for a really long time, but it never fully explained the way that I reacted to things. Once, when my friend was upset with me and wouldn’t reply to my messages, I tried to call her 20 times in a row, desperately crying the entire time I was dialling. I have such an intense fear of abandonment that any fight, or even a small argument, feels like the end of the relationship for me. Although I put so much energy into not being emotionally manipulative, I truly believe that I have a greater capability for it than other people. My brain tells me to say something, anything, to avoid the crushing weight of impending abandonment. I constantly feel like I am at war with two voices in my mind.
I suspected that I had bipolar disorder for quite a long time because of my rapid mood changes and persistent patterns of deep depression. I also go through what I describe as a ‘manic’ phase most nights still. This consists of anywhere from one hour to several hours where I feel like I can’t calm down. I feel like I have overwhelming restless energy, I can’t concentrate on anything and I feel an overwhelming rush of nausea and nervous energy in the pit of my stomach. The difference is that with bipolar, these manic episodes can last anywhere from days to weeks.
People with borderline personality disorder exhibit most, if not all, of these following symptoms.
Fear of abandonment. As I previously described, my fear of abandonment is ever-present in my life. I have been emotionally abandoned by a few close friends in my life who were unable to cope with my extreme emotional states and self-destructive behaviour. I am constantly paranoid and vigilant within romantic relationships, believing that any wrong move will make my boyfriend want to break up with me or stop loving me.
Black and white thinking. In the BPD world, we refer to this as splitting. It’s common for us to put loved ones on a pedestal and believe them to be perfect and incapable of wrongdoing. However, if someone that I care about does something that I perceive to be ‘wronging’ me, I can often feel cold, distant and angry towards them within seconds. It can take a lot of vigilance on my part to identify when my reaction exceeds a reasonable emotional response.
Uncertain identity. I remember the first time that I saw my face in a mirror, I was disappointed and confused. It just didn’t match up with what I saw in my mind’s eye. When I am going through a particularly depressive period, I struggle to feel emotionally connected to the woman that I see in the mirror. I also struggle to feel any emotional attachment to memories that I have beyond at most a year ago. They feel like they happened to a different version of me.
Impulsiveness. I’ve been clean from drugs for about eight months now. I never had an addiction, I just didn’t feel like I could stop when I started. I would go out partying and it just never felt like enough. No matter how much I consumed in a single night, I always felt like I needed another pill or another line to feel even better. Inevitably, the comedown would drag me into the pits of hell of my brain and make me feel dangerously suicidal. I also used to be a huge binge drinker and engaged in self-destructive sexual behaviour on a regular basis.
Suicidal or self-harming behaviour. I have self harmed since the age of 15. I was always prone to scratching my arms or smashing my head against the wall, which luckily don’t leave marks or scars on my body. 7 out of 10 people with BPD will attempt suicide in their lifetime, which is also a statistic which I am part of. I attempted to take my own life in October last year and I am forever grateful that I got the help that I needed.
Feelings of emptiness and emotional surges. When I am left alone without any distractions, I feel empty and dead inside. Sometimes I truly believe that I am not a human being. When I do feel, the emotions are so overpowering that I feel like I am dying, as I described before. It can be really exhausting to fluctuate so wildly almost every day. These emotional surges are also often expressed as huge outbursts of anger in people with BPD, which luckily is a symptom that I do not live with.
Disassociation. Disassociation is what is more commonly known as an ‘out of body’ experience. Some people with BPD experience this intensely, where they don’t remember things that they have done. I experience emotional disassociation. When I am upset and my emotions are too much for me to handle, sometimes I push them so far down that I can’t feel them or really anything anymore. At those times I feel like I am floating just above my head, still alive but not attached to myself.
I wrote this post to try and give some insight into a little-known and highly stigmatised disorder that I unfortunately live with. I don’t write this to seek sympathy or simply for attention for myself. I felt truly lost when I was diagnosed and felt like I didn’t know anyone like me who felt things the way that I do. I truly believe that only with education can we break down barriers to understanding mental illness.
If this article has raised any issues for you, please contact your mental health professional, or if you are in Australia, the number for Lifeline is 13 11 14.