Trigger warning: This article makes brief references to self-harm and suicidal ideation.
The first time I stumbled across the term “borderline personality disorder,” also known as BPD, I was 19. I found a book my mom had left out on the kitchen counter called Get Me Out Of Here: My Recovery From Borderline Personality Disorder. A memoir by Rachel Reiland, the book’s chapters were filled with a description of a hell that sounded a lot like my own.
After flipping through a few more pages, I went to the family computer to Google more about BPD. As I worked my way through the search results, I found what I think deep down I already knew I would find. Almost every single symptom seemed to be aligned with what I experiencing:
- Desperate attempts to avoid real and imagined abandonment
- Suicidal behavior and self-harm
- Chronic emptiness
- Low self-esteem
- Unstable interpersonal relationships…
Check, check, check, check, annnnnnd check.
While I initially felt a wave of relief wash over me that there was an explanation for the way that I was beyond my working theory that I was just a terrible person, this relief was soon overpowered by fear. Because as I continued to read on, I also came across countless negative depictions of BPD.
Research has shown that BPD is one of the most stigmatized mental health disorders, even among mental health professionals. People with BPD are painted as manipulative, explosive, and hard, if not impossible, to treat.
If I were to be diagnosed with BPD, I believed my worst fears wouldn’t be fears because they would actually just be the truth: I was unlovable and difficult. So I stayed silent about my findings. I wouldn’t receive an official diagnosis for another five years.
And during those five years, I suffered. I struggled to regulate my emotions and caused collateral damage as a result. My relationships were turbulent. I lost friends. I pushed away my family. I was completely and utterly depressed, anxious, and empty.
I blamed myself for the anguish. I told myself that it made sense people left. After all, how could they have stayed? I was reactive and unstable. My self-esteem was almost non-existent. I felt as though I was simultaneously too much and not enough at the same time.
And this is the worst part of living with BPD: the symptoms make me feel like I am impossible to love. BPD makes me push people away and go inward when I need their love and acceptance the most. Because, deep down, I think I don’t deserve the tenderness.
At 24, I finally received my diagnosis and was able to enroll in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). DBT teaches emotional regulation skills, interpersonal effectiveness, crisis management strategies, and more. I can safely say DBT saved my life.
Of course, there are still times I doubt my own worth and feel broken beyond repair. Emotional regulation doesn’t always come easily. I still struggle to trust others fully, and myself, for that matter. Thanks to DBT, though, I now have the skillset and tools to help bring me back down to neutral. I can now navigate my relationships more effectively. I feel safer in my own mind.
I’m coming to realize there are going to be people who find me to be too much. Too there. Too sensitive. Too whatever. And that’s okay. They’re entitled to their own opinion. And, ultimately, these aren’t my people.
Instead, I try to focus on the ones who stick around, even when I’m at my most “unlovable.” I’m learning that it’s okay to ask others to help you pick up your pieces. I’m realizing the right people always see who you really are, even if you’re falling apart.
While I can’t say I’m all the way “better,” I can say I am healing. I am trying. And, most importantly, I am still here. And that’s more than I could have ever hoped for before.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is an emotional regulation disorder that is estimated to affect 1.4 percent of the U.S. population. BPD is marked by various symptoms including frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, unstable interpersonal relationships, distorted self-image, self-harming and suicidal behaviors, impulsivity, and more. BPD presents differently in everyone. In order to be diagnosed with BPD, you need to exhibit at least five of the nine DSM-5 criteria.
If you have BPD, please know you are not alone. You are loved, you are worthy, you matter. BPD does not make you exempt from being loved, and loving, even if it may feel like it sometimes.