During my first hospitalization five years ago, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). I walked into the hospital and told the receptionist, “I don’t want to kill myself, but I don’t want to live.” At first, they were not going to admit me because I wasn’t directly threatening suicide. However, the psychiatrist recognized my plea for help and I was accepted into the hospital. From there, the psychiatrist asked me a series of questions and I was given the diagnosis of BPD.
When the psychiatrist explained BPD to me, she used the analogy of a tree in a storm. She said, “When you were a child, you were a tree sapling withstanding a terrible, violent storm. Every gust of wind sent you flailing in the wind, this way and that. Now you are a grown tree and the storm has passed, but every small breeze still sends you flailing into the wind.”
There are nine major symptoms of BPD. This list is taken from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI):
1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment by friends and family.
2. Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization (“I’m so in love!”) and devaluation (“I hate her”). This is also sometimes known as “splitting.”
3. Distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.
4. Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, substance abuse or reckless driving.
5. Self-harming behavior including suicidal threats or attempts.
6. Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.
7. Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness.
8. Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.
9. Dissociative feelings—disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity or “out of body” type of feelings—and stress-related paranoid thoughts. Severe cases of stress can also lead to brief psychotic episodes.
Bipolar disorder and BPD often mimic each other, and it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. If bipolar disorder is like a light switch with quick, drastic, mood swings, then BPD can be thought of as a pressure cooker. Small triggers build up until suddenly any little or major event causes the pressure cooker to explode.
In the hospital, I learned how the emotional baseline of a person who has borderline personality disorder differs from the regular population. Imagine an emotional scale that ranges from 0-100. The average person’s emotional baseline is at a 20. If a person experiences happiness, then they might move up on the scale and if a person experiences sadness, then they move down the scale. In contrast, people with BPD have an emotional baseline of 80. This means they experience their emotions more intensely. Happiness becomes ecstasy and sadness becomes despair. In addition, people with BPD have a slower return to their baseline. For the average person, when they experience their emotions, the emotion fires in the brain for about 12 seconds. But for someone with borderline personality disorder, the emotion fires in the brain for 20% longer.
After I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I did research and every website had titles such as “Borderlines are Unlovable.” In my heart of hearts, I know that I am loved by many, but the thought that I am incapable of being loved stays with me. Because BPD is a violent storm that affects everyone around me. Sometimes the damage control isn’t enough, and I must accept that
those I love are allowed to walk away. I appreciate those who have stayed despite the turmoil I create.
When I am experiencing a borderline episode, my life is thrown into complete chaos. I struggle with anger, with extreme mood swings, and with a distorted self-image. The self-loathing I feel is so deep that all I want to do is cut my insides out to stop the pain. I sit in emotional pain for days, and it feels like it will never end. I become insecure about my relationships with others and the idea that my loved ones will leave me is unbearable. I feel like a burden, like I am too much to handle. My anxiety propels me into panic attack after panic attack, driven by insecurity and self-doubt. If there is one thing I want people to know, it is that I am sorry. I know my anger outbursts have consequences. I don’t mean to be this way. And I am doing the best I can.