To be honest, when my psychotherapist suggested a diagnosis of BPD, I was pretty confused. I had heard a fair amount about this before, and its British counterpart, EUPD, and from what I “knew”, it certainly wasn’t me.
On top of thinking she had the wrong idea, I couldn’t help feeling a little angry, not at her or what she was saying, but at the prospect of yet another diagnosis to add to the annoyingly long list.
From what I had come to understand of BPD, it seemed to revolve around violent acts and sudden bought of anger. For example a person may be perfectly lovely one moment, then screaming and punching holes in a wall the next. See that was my idea of Borderline Personality Disorder, something extreme and noticeable, something obvious and violent. To me, it came with convictions of GBH, cases of domestic violence, anger management courses and fear, a lot of fear.
But when Sarah (my psychotherapist) began talking through it with me, I was more than surprised to hear her describing me.
Funnily enough, anger was only a very small part of the diagnosis, and didn’t have to be present for an individual to be diagnosed, much like those with depression don’t automatically self-harm. In fact, as we went through the list of emotions, I was suffering from extreme instances of all except anger. On this list were feelings such as shame, sorrow, panic, terror and long term feelings of emptiness and loneliness. It also said that those with BPD may be feeling suicidal one moment, to the point that they make plans to carry out, but feel relatively content only a little while later.
We then went onto look at what was titled as “disturbed patterns of thinking”. Initially I thought nothing classed as “disturbing” would apply to me, wrong again.
The first one in fact, was thoughts that you are worthless, a terrible person. Well, I’ve felt this way from a very young age so I guess it did apply to me. The next was having feelings you don’t exist. Now this one made me sit up and look. I had never told Sarah of the times I had struggled to convince myself of my own existence and that this world and the people in it are all real, so I was kinda freaked when she mentioned that one. I began to think that maybe this diagnosis was more me than I originally assumed.
Now the next part hit me harder than the last. It mentioned short episodes of strange experiences, like hearing voices and being unable to figure out if they are real or not. Often these voices may tell you to harm yourself or order you around. Although I hadn’t had this happen huge amount, I can definitely point to times when I have been genuinely confused as to who is yelling at me, who is telling me to run, or hide or jump. Sometimes I have overwhelming pressure in my own head where I hear a cacophony of random voices, men, women, young, old, sometimes even different languages all talking at once. Not necessarily shouting, or even being threatening, just talking, enough to make me feel like I’m insane, enough to make me feel as though I really do need to die if I want any peace and quiet.
The next point was about prolonged abnormal experiences, including confusing distressing beliefs. I’ve always had paranoid thoughts, but never assumed they would fit in with BPD. For example I have had fear for years of being watched, so much so that if I needed to use the toilet I would close the window and blind, lock the door, turn the light off and balance the toilet lid so as to hide as much as possible. I often waited so long to use the toilet out of fear of being watched that I would have “accidents”, just adding to my feelings of failure. These feelings of being watched continued for years, and I can’t say they’ve now. At the worst point I truly believed that I had been drugged and had cameras implanted in my own eyes, meaning people could see anything I looked at. For years, I refused to look in mirrors for too long for fear of people seeing me through my own eyes and would only wash/shower/bathe if I was able to wear underwear. I can’t even count all the other crazy theories I’ve had over the years, from really young ages too, and I’m sure you’d all be too weirded out to read them anyway.
The next big reveal on my BPD revelation was impulsive behaviour you find hard to control. My first thought was of binge drinking, drug abuse and risky sex, all of which I around to say I have avoided, though granted this is mainly down to religious beliefs. However, when she started to mention self-harm, including extremely sudden urges to do so while in the middle of another task, I was feeling more than a little uncomfortable. I had definitely self-harmed in the past, and I had definitely done so in fairly random points, while cooking for instance, just feeling the urge to cut or burn myself could come on even if I was laughing and joking when the thought came to mind.
So, so far, I had related to almost ALL the key indicators of BPD, surely there wasn’t anything else right? Wrong. We went on to look at something I didn’t even realise I had an issue with until then, or I had but I hadn’t thought it was such a big deal.
Again my first thought was of Bonny and Clyde syndrome, of which I have never had the misfortune of suffering, where a girl falls in love with and will do anything for, a guy who constantly puts her in danger and abuses her. However, apparently, that isn’t the only form of unstable relationships. In fact, the main issue was a feeling of fear of abandonment, leading you to smother a person, desperate not to let them go.
I’m ashamed to admit that yes, I have been clingy in the past. I do have a constant feeling of what I can only describe as terror, a genuine fear of people leaving me, getting bored, dropping me etc. These feelings can lead to fairly extreme methods of keeping them close, which can, though thankfully not in my case, lead to a form of stalking. The more regular methods are along the lines of texting/phoning the person regularly, so much so that you feel empty if you aren’t able to speak to them. It may be calling them at odd times, physically clinging to them, or even threatening to hurt yourself if the person should ever leave.
A few years back, I had confided in a friend as to a few issues and made the mistake of saying that I didn’t know what I’d do without them. Of course I had meant it in a nice way rather than a threatening way but I was pretty upset to find out they felt “trapped” and “threatened” when I had said this. Again, another prime example of me displaying symptoms I didn’t even know existed.
This can also go the other way in that you feel over crowded, hate to be touched or showed affection by other people and withdraw from those you love. Funnily enough I’ve experienced this too, which is a strange mix really, to feel clingy and crowded at the same time. Tell me about it.
I’ve often had times when people talk to me and I really do feel like screaming at them to leave me alone, I feel I can’t bear to be touched, I can’t bear to see another persona face or hear another person’s voice. Sometimes these feelings are so intense I worry that I may cause genuine physical harm to people if I don’t get away from them quickly. I also tend to hold these feelings in for as long as possible, finally exploding at a completely innocent person, who then thinks I’m some crazy horrible nut-job who lashes out for no reason.
I also tend to “bulldoze” relationships, either because I feel I am unworthy of their friendship/love, or because I’m worried I’ll hurt them if I spend too much time with them. I’ll pull away, “forget” to reply to a text or come up with excuses not to meet up. Sure it hurts, but at least I’ll keep that person safe right?
Sarah also mentioned that a lot of people with BPD suffer from “all or nothing” thinking, a kind of reasoning that everything is either good or bad, no in-between. Often this affects views of people, as in a person is either perfect or they are the devil incarnate. The relationship is either good, or bad, perfect or rotten. I hadn’t even realised that was an incorrect way of thinking, I had always thought things were either good or bad, and now suddenly, so many past mistakes made sense. So many times when I thought someone was perfect, only to find a single fault in them and suddenly think they must be evil. So many times I have felt completely at ease with one person, then, due to feeling inadequate, I’ve suddenly found it difficult to talk to them, to even look them in the eye.
For so long, I assumed everything was how life was meant to be, I mean, having suffered with depression for most of my life I knew things were wrong with me, but I was focusing all on the mere obvious emotional problems, such as the self-harm and the negative view of myself. I never at any point dreamed that my way of viewing other people was wrong too. I never realised that thinking up ridiculous scenarios due to anxiety wasn’t the norm. I didn’t even consider that there was an actual name for the things I suffered, an actual diagnosis for the problems I have been dealing with over the years, but there was, and it all fit perfectly like a puzzle.
As I said to begin with, when Sarah gave me this diagnosis, I thought she was mistaken, I thought, “there’s no way I have BPD, I’ve never once in my life thrown a chair or hit someone in anger” but that’s not what BPD is. So, if you, like me, have been thinking that BPD isn’t you because you don’t fit the stereotype, or any other mental or physical illness that you have been tossing to the side with the thoughts “no way, that’s not me.” Seriously, do yourself favour and do some real research, look at ALL the symptoms, ALL the theories and problems that diagnosis can cause.
I know initially I was upset at the idea of another diagnosis, but, far from making me think less of myself, it helped me to understand myself more, to realise more when I have what I call “funny turns” to notice when my mood changes, when I need a hug or need to hit something. More than labelling me, learning I have BPD has really helped me to help myself, helped me to better explain what is going on in my head, what has gone on in the past.
So please, don’t stereotype all diagnosis with a particular symptom, don’t say OCD is all about cleaning, don’t say depression is all about crying, and don’t say BPD is all about anger. Each of these illnesses has an infinite number of symptoms, one of them might just fit you, and finding out what’s going on inside, is the first step towards helping yourself get better, or if not better, to cope.