Greetings my interweb friends,
I hope you’re all having an exciting week. I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about living with BPD and other mental health diagnosis, but I don’t believe I’ve spent a post breaking down what BPD actually is. Not recently anyway. Since May is Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness and Mental Health Awareness month, what better time than now to explain it.
I’d like to began by saying I am not a doctor. Everything comes from my own experiences and research, if you think you relate to BPD I encourage you do some more independent research and then go from there. I am only sharing to help educate and giver perspective from someone who struggles with it.
A simple google search of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can lead you down a rabbit whole of misinformation and confusion. Another term being used in replace of BPD is emotional dysregulation disorder, which I think gives a better picture of what is actually going on and helps replace the confusion a bit. However, for the purpose of this blog I’ll be referring to it as BPD. BPD effects approx. 1.6% of the U.S population, that’s a lot fo humans, my dudes. Essentially it is a mental health disorder which makes it hard for one to regulate their emotions. It is made up of 9 different characteristics or traits. To meet diagnostic criteria one must have 5 of these 9 traits that cause significant issues in day to day life.
These 9 characteristics or traits are made up of the following (personal examples included):
- Fear of abandonment. Often making frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. For me that can look like sabotaging, ghosting, or physically running away from situations or people.
- Chronic feelings of emptiness or boredom. For me that’s existential crisis.
- Reoccurring suicidal behavior or gestures or self-harm. I don’t fear death when things get real bad in my life and it’s a problem.
- No clear self-image. Markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self. Changing my hair, aesthetic or being critical of who I am or who I’ve been. I feel as if I have mostly gotten past this one.
- Black and white thinking or splitting. Often looks like a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. Me being indecisive about views/people/decisions/or situations because my emotions on it change so fast. Often results in consulting all of my friends to make a decision. (Not healthy. Not not healthy either).
- Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). For me that’s traveling impulsively, spending without thinking, or drinking a little too much.
- Anger issues. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g. frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights). If I get anger (which is seldom) it show up with my words. I’m quick to say mean things I don’t mean, but know hurt. Sometimes I don’t even remember saying the mean things. And they’re usually to the people I care about the most.
- Dissociation. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms. This is like zoning out for me. It feels kind of like brain fog. I just stare at a wall for an hour and have no idea what’s going on.
- Wide mood swings lasting from a few hours to a few days, which can include intense happiness, irritability, shame or anxiety – It’s normal to feel everything in a day, no?
While there are many out there who have specific characteristics or carry some of these traits, they don’t have “BPD”. At the same time different combinations of traits make for different symptoms and issues. What I am trying to say is that BPD looks different on everyone who has a diagnosis. It also is often coupled with other issues like anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, etc.
As someone who has BPD I am going to explain it to you in a much simpler way. It’s mostly being hyper sensitive and not knowing how to control your emotions. The best way I’ve heard it described is like having 3rd degree burns on your emotional skin (or for you yogis I think of it as my Manomaya Kosha). So when you’re feeling your feelings they can be very overwhelming, often looking dramatic from the outside, but they’re real. And you don’t know how to cope. It’s like getting the best or worst news of your life in a single day when nothing that big even happened. You feel it all in the pit of your stomach or the center of your chest and don’t know how to respond, because you know how irrational it sounds to those around you. However irrational it may sound, the feelings are real and still there.
For a lot of us BPD comes in episodes. At least, thats the case for me. Something very stressful happens or something triggers stressful feelings from the past, and my emotions get so intense that I don’t really know what to do. They can last a few hours or a few days/weeks just depending on the circumstances. People often think I’m dramatic because it seems so small from the outside, or like I am over sharing because I am being honest about big emotions. But, they’re not that big for me. Those feelings are so real and valid. For some (or maybe just me) those feelings are sometimes linked to past traumas and healing that becomes a huge piece in controlling the strong reactions.
I am also a human who has Bipolar, so mood shifts can sometimes lead me into BPD episodes. Mania triggers the impulsive side of bpd and the two of those together…. I’ll do wild things – like deciding to go to Thailand and leaving in a 3 day period (worth it). But then crashing with the depressive episode and wanting to die once getting there.
Stigma and Treatment
There’s this accepted idea that people with BPD are incurable and hard to handle and work with. In my opinion that isn’t really the case. Sure, when I have been in an episode or at my worst I have been challenging. But healthcare professionals never labeled me with BPD as soon as I came in, like they claim they can. It took multiple in-patient trips for it to even get addressed. When it did get addressed, my first psychiatrist didn’t want to put the diagnosis in my chart because of the stigma it has with some healthcare professionals. However, we walked through the 9 traits and I did in-fact struggle significantly with 5+ of them. Everything just kind of made sense, but the labels and horror stories on the internet were not helpful. It is very misleading and disappointing. Quite frankly it shames us and dims hope.
Sure, people do bad things and have BPD. People also do bad things and don’t have that label. And people with the same label also do really really good things. Just because someone feels big emotions doesn’t mean they’re incurable or difficult to work with. Our brains are just different and in the right circumstance, when people meet us half way and work together, extraordinary things happen.
Since BPD is a personality disorder and not a mood disorder, there is currently no medication out there to treat it. However, some medications can help with the anxiety and depression that come with it. Talk therapy, DBT, and other forms of therapy have proven beneficial. For me, yoga helps the most. Having a supportive community or support group is also super helpful.
It’s really just a lifelong journey of learning what your emotions are trying to tell you and how to manage them in a world that doesn’t really like you being emotional. I think there’s a lot of power in those of us who feel everything all to much. And like anyone who has power, you have to learn how to control it and do good with it.
I hope you found this post helpful in some way. If you or someone you know has BPD what are your thoughts?
I hope you find this post helpful or educational. If you or someone you love has BPD what are your thoughts about the diagnosis and it’s stigma?