Borderline in Recovery

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) when I was 22 years old. I was angry, scared, and hopeless. My life was a furious storm and I was living in darkness, what felt like Hell. Every day I woke up wanting to die.

When I became angry, my entire body shook and trembled. I became frantic and I was unable to calm down. My behavior was out of control. I cried, screamed, threw things, pounded my fists into the walls. I broke cellphones and glassware. I stabbed a knife into the countertop, snapping the blade in half. I ran head-first into a tree to the point where I blacked out for a few seconds.

Self-harm was both a relief and a punishment. The physical pain helped to balance the emotional pain that I felt. Additionally, I thought that I deserved to hurt because I could not control my behavior.

At the time, I was in an unhealthy relationship, but I was in denial because I was madly in love. I mistook our fighting for passion. I thought that we were destined to be together, and that our commitment was a sign of strength. I was convinced that love was supposed to be hard. Still, our constant fighting was exhausting, and his lack of support made me feel insecure.

About twice a week, I would scream at my boyfriend and end the relationship. I left. Then, within hours, I would come back, sobbing, begging him not to leave me.

The most insignificant comments sent me into a rage. I remember once, I got into a fight with my sister and she told me she was going to leave. I fell to the floor, screaming and crying until she stayed. It wasn’t that I was trying to be manipulative; it was that I could not handle being alone. I couldn’t handle unresolved issues.

In my mind, I thought that if I acted extra nice when I wasn’t mad, that I could make up for my negative behavior. But the harder I tried to diminish my anger, the more intense it became.

Thoughts of suicide plagued me to the point that I could not ensure my safety. I was admitted to the hospital where I stayed for five days. During my intake assessment, I said, “I don’t want to kill myself, but I want to die.”

The psychiatrist recognized my plea of desperation and evaluated me. She diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder and explained what it was by using the imagery of a tree. As a child, I was a tree sapling withstanding a storm and every gust of wind sent the sapling swaying violently in the wind. Now, the sapling has grown into a tree and every light breeze sends it flailing as if it were still weathering the storm.

In other terms, as a child, I was not taught appropriate coping skills growing up, so I taught myself what I needed to in order to survive. These same coping skills no longer benefit me as an adult, and I don’t have the correct set of skills needed to live a healthy life.

The list of BPD symptoms is long but worth mentioning: fear of abandonment, unstable personal relationships, impulsivity, suicidal or self-harming behavior and ideation, periods of mood instability, chronic feelings of emptiness, inappropriate anger, and dissociative feelings. Not everybody with BPD will have all of these symptoms.

Upon my diagnosis, I felt fear, but I also felt hope. My behaviors suddenly made sense. I learned that while there is no cure for borderline personality disorder, there is treatment and people can recover from their symptoms. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) was recommended to me and after months of searching, I found a clinic that specialized in BPD. In short, this therapy is a skills-based approach that was developed for people with BPD but has since expanded to treating mental illness of all kinds.

In the beginning, I detested DBT and my faith in treatment wavered. For the first few months, I saw no improvement in how I was feeling or behaving. However, I stuck with it and participated in therapy for three years. Over time, I learned skills that helped me cope with life. I learned how to recognize what I am feeling and how to express my needs.

It has been over four years now since my diagnosis and I am proud to say that I am in recovery. I don’t scream or throw things anymore. I have learned to be alone. BPD will always be something that I live with; if I have a bad day, I call it a flare up. Now I have the coping skills needed to fight that storm. I have become a sturdy tree that only sways occasionally.

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