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Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month
I’m going to pull from a post I already made on my personal facebook last year to bring some awareness to Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month, for my first time. It still isn’t easy for me to talk about this so publicly, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try and raise more awareness anyway. This topic is particularly hard because the person who knew me the longest and deepest of anyone was my mom, and she is no longer here to support and validate me in talking about this. She advocated to get me help while sacrificing her own health and so I feel I owe it to her to speak out. She knew I had this disorder even before I did, and it was through her help that I came to accept it when I was officially given the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD).
A personality disorder can be defined as “a deeply ingrained and maladaptive pattern of behavior of a specified kind, typically manifest by the time one reaches adolescence and causing long-term distress or impairment.” The first symptoms are usually displayed in childhood and continue into adulthood, which is why it is part of the criteria that a person cannot be diagnosed with it until they are over the age of 18 to determine it is actually a long-standing pattern. It’s also important to keep in mind that while most people might experience some of the traits of any given personality disorder in varying degrees over time, the disorder is characterized by the extremes of several traits and by the rigid way they occur, as well as their influence on the individual’s everyday life.
Now for borderline personality disorder specifically: the name was originally determined because doctors at the time believed that it was a disorder that bordered between neurosis and psychosis. It is now recognized that this isn’t an accurate theory, but unfortunately a better name has yet to really replace it (one that has been most significantly and credibly suggested is emotion regulation disorder). In order to meet the diagnosis for BPD a person must have at least five of these nine symptoms:
- “Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.” E.g. I am often hypersensitive to what I perceive as signs of rejection or potential abandonment and may push a person away because I think they’re going to leave me anyway, so I figure I may as well beat them to it. However, the cycle continues and that fear of abandonment leaves me feeling desperate to pull the person back into my life.
- “A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.” E.g. For me, this typically manifests for just a handful of people that I get very attached to, in the past it was often a teacher or a coach - someone in a type of care role that felt maternal at times to me. One day I could be over the moon about them and feel like they are the most supportive and caring person ever. The next day, due to the slightest perceived sign of rejection or abandonment, I feel like they don’t actually care about me and that they hate me instead – in turn, I feel angry or upset towards them.
- “Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.” E.g. I have a very, very hard time identifying with things like traits and "likes", or I switch between various ones. I feel like I don’t know who I am in the sense that nothing feels like it actually fits with me (Do I like hockey or do I just think I like hockey, do I like the colour purple or do I just think I like the colour purple). This may seem like a silly thing, but it is a very confusing and lonely feeling.
- “Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self damaging such as spending, reckless driving, substance abuse, binge eating, etc.” Impulsivity has been a core trait of mine for as long as I can remember, including each of the areas listed.
- “Recurrent suicidal ideation, gestures, or self-mutilating behaviour.” This has also been present for me since childhood. I remember longing for death as young as 8 years old and often feeling like it was the only solution to the emotions that completed consumed and overwhelmed me.
- “Affective (emotional) instability and intensity due to a marked reactivity of mood such as intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety.” This means not only do I switch emotions drastically and rapidly, but also any emotion I do feel is intensified exponentially. I cannot even begin to explain how exhausting it is to feel emotions to the extreme every single day, and if you asked my mom she would tell you that I’ve been this way since I could walk and talk.
- “Chronic feelings of emptiness.” I.e. In between emotions I have a constant feeling as though there is an aching, heavy, gaping hole inside of me. To me, these chronic feelings of emptiness involve feelings of emotional numbness, hopelessness, loneliness, and longing.
- “Inappropriate intense anger or difficult controlling anger.” I.e. For a lot of these symptoms, it is something only those incredibly close to me or that I have an intense bond with would know, like my parents for example. It is also something that, for me, is often directed and felt internally, rather than outwardly.
- “Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or dissociative symptoms.” E.g. when I am acutely stressed or anxious I will often become paranoid that people are laughing at me (even something like a car next to me on the road, if the person is laughing I think they must be laughing at me and something pathetic about me). I get paranoid that people are following me, especially in cars, and I sometimes fear that people can hear my thoughts. It’s totally irrational and I know that, but that doesn’t mean I can prevent the worries from repeating in my head. As for dissociative symptoms, sometimes when a lot of suppressed feelings or memories try to surface - or even just when I'm feeling really overwhelmed - I will begin to feel “zoned out,” or like I’m not attached to my body and like my feelings aren’t my feelings; I’m numb and nothing feels real. I look in the mirror and I think that I’m in someone else’s body, or I don’t really recognize the reflection. Some episodes, much less frequently, I will actually lose periods of time and feel like I can’t recall what happened.
Needless to say, despite only needing to meet five of the criteria, I met all nine when I was diagnosed. While it was mentioned by multiple professionals throughout my teen years, I officially received the diagnosis after a suicide attempt almost three years ago. This diagnosis has been both a blessing and a curse. It comes with a ridiculous amount of stigma and misunderstanding, but it also for once in my life made me feel understood. It made me feel like I wasn’t just “crazy” but that there was scientific research to help explain why I was feeling the way I was feeling, and that there were many other people out there who happened to share the same set of symptoms that I did (though it’s important to remember that for as many different people that there are with the disorder, there are that many different ways that it affects them or is presented in them). It also means I have a high capacity for empathy and insightfulness, though I often deny those things. It means that a lot of people won’t understand me and will judge me. It means I will likely live with this for the rest of my life, whether I learn skills and receive treatment to help me manage it or not. It means I will lose a lot of people in my life who aren’t able to understand or put up with me.
As my mom always told me, not everyone will understand us or be able to “handle” us, but that doesn’t say anything about our worth as a human being and there are people who will love me in spite of my flaws — those are the people that matter. There is more to me than borderline personality disorder, and there is more to you than your diagnosis too. Disregard anyone who doesn’t love and value you, you deserve the love you think that you don’t. And another favourite: “if you can’t stick by me in my recovery, then you don’t deserve me when I’m healthy.”
You are NEVER alone and you deserve a healthier and happier life, please keep fighting for that.
May is Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month. You can find more resources below:
Scarlett has been volunteering with mindyourmind since 2012 and has been a member of the staff team since 2016. As a Psychology graduate from King's University College at Western, she is passionate about all things related to the subject and is a proud mental health advocate with lived experience.
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