My struggle with borderline personality disorder has mostly been under the surface. Usually when people hear “Borderline Personality Disorder”, they react like someone peed in their cereal. Disgust or anger that crosses their faces as they begin to talk about a particular ex or the movie Gone Girl or Girl, Interrupted. Things I’ve heard about borderlines?
“Those girls are absolutely insane.”
“They’re the worst people on the planet.”
“They are crazy, but they’re the best in bed.”
“Extreme Daddy issues.”
“Oh, you mean strippers?”
“If you don’t want to get stabbed or murdered, don’t date one of them.”
“They deserve to be locked up and kept away from normal people.”
The people that said those things didn’t realize they were speaking to a person with that personality disorder. Do I fit their criteria? Nope. Am I mostly in control of my actions, reactions, and emotions? Yeah, but it depends on my stress level and environment.
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment by friends and family.
- Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization (“I’m so in love!”) and devaluation (“I hate her”). This is also sometimes known as “splitting.”
- Distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.
- Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, substance abuse or reckless driving.
- Self-harming behavior including suicidal threats or attempts.
- Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.
- Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness.
- Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.
- 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.
Yep, I check most of those boxes or did at some point. I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that. Thankfully, therapy and medication has given me a reprieve from my own intensity. That’s something I’ve gotten used to being described as: intense. But it’s the truth. When I fly high, I am intoxicating and everything you could ever want in a human being. When I feel sad, I crawl into this dark hole that I can’t get out of then initiate self-destruction sequences. One small word or action can send my day into a tailspin. I live on a roller coaster. I’ve had to unlearn a lot. Taking a breath before speaking has become a lifesaver. I typically withdraw until I’m ready to speak rationally. I’ve also got some meds that have evened me out a ton.
I lashed out a lot in my early twenties while I was still undiagnosed. Here’s a huge and necessary, I’m truly sorry for how I behaved toward you, to every guy I dated in that time period. I was not the person I am now, and it’s okay if you still hate me. I hated me then, too.
The best portrayal of Borderline Personality Disorder, in my opinion, is Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. What would the horse from Horsin’ Around know about BPD? Quite a bit. He’s self-destructive, impulsive, and looks for approval in everyone around him while simultaneously pushing them away. BoJack’s very intelligent, quick-witted, but mean and sarcastic as a defense mechanism. He engages in risky sex, binge drinking and driving, and drug abuse. All of his self-sabotaging decisions, his desire to get away from himself, and his absolute need to be loved ring so true with me. I adore BoJack, because I don’t feel so alone. He is the male version of me. It’s also refreshing to see a depiction of a male borderline, because I feel like the media ignores them completely.
You could say I’m high functioning now. I don’t necessarily act like BoJack anymore. There’s evidence that borderlines actually grow out of these behaviors by their 30’s or 40’s. I’m working hard at changing, but I am also much less intense than I was at 23. How come? Time and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It was created by Marsha Linehan. She’s a doctor that actually has borderline personality disorder, but created a method to challenge all the thoughts that tell me I’m worthless or that I should harm myself. DBT helped me learn how to tolerate distress and practice mindfulness.
The only time the techniques fail me is breakups. They are uniquely hard for me, because of my fear of abandonment. Even if I’m the one that initiates the breakup, I react as if I’m the one broken up with. And if I’m actually the one broken up with, my whole world collapses. It brings up the worst emotions. Everything I was afraid of during the relationship, in other relationships, and as a little girl comes straight to the surface. My internal struggle with borderline personality disorder becomes very visible. It’s like a volcano erupts.
When I lived in Destin, I swear, my group of friends used to look forward to my frequent breakups, because I would go wild afterward. Feral might even be a better word to describe an out of control and hurt Iris. I would go off my meds completely, and party hard, doing the most ridiculous shit. It was entertainment for them, but I was destroying myself. Without caring about the consequences, I threw myself to the wind many times, because I felt that no one loved me. Somehow I’ve avoided STDs, DUI’s, and death. I consider myself very lucky. Other people going through the same pain were not so fortunate.
Right now is probably the best I’ve ever reacted to heartbreak. I was frantic initially, yes, but I calmed down in a day or two. I resisted drinking, or theatrical sobbing midnight phone calls, or getting naked with any guy that smiled in my direction. Risky or impulsive decisions were not an option. I needed to end the cycle of abusing and punishing myself. I’m not really a self-harmer, but I didn’t have any suicidal ideations which is a huge sign of progress for me. I don’t know what caused it, but I told myself that I would not treat myself that way this time.
Even though every brain cell is shouting to do the opposite, I’m controlling my impulses. I’m exercising every day and doing productive things instead of self-destructing. Dancing terribly the living room until I feel better is a daily occurrence, because it makes me laugh. Sure I cry, but I make sure that’s accompanied with writing down exactly what was going on in my head and heart. I get it out instead of letting sad or angry thoughts bounce back and forth in my mind. I also go to therapy and coaching. I’m staying on my medications and hugging my giant teddy bear whenever I get down. My soul searching trip empowered me and influenced this very level-headed and rational approach to healing. You might even say I’ve matured through this process.
This makes me inexplicably proud of myself. I’m sure 19 to 27 year old me is doing backflips and cheering. You can’t heal in the environment that harmed you, but you also can’t heal while harming yourself. Somehow that clicked in my mind without words this year. I wish that I had been able to do this for myself sooner, like maybe when I was 23 or 24. But I am grateful that I get to learn this lesson and heal myself at all.
What I’ve learned from living with BPD?
I am not alone. I am worthy of love, respect, kindness, and security. There is hope. There is genuine love and understanding out there for people like me. There is a possibility of change and recovery. Each day is a second chance. I can accomplish healing.