I was officially diagnosed in mid 2018 as suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, along with depression and anxiety.
And from as young as I can remember, I’ve always had intense emotions. When I was happy, I was super happy, and when I was sad I was almsot broken. However, in contrast to people who are Bipolar, my ups and downs didn’t each last weeks at time, I could (and did) fluctuate from happy to depressed to fury in a matter of minutes.
As a kid that can really weigh down on you. Especially when you’re always last on people’s list to call to hang because you’re just too high energy and you don’t know why. I mean, in my mind, I was smiling, happy, and comedic, so why wouldn’t people want me around? I didn’t realise that people just found me exhausting. To me I was always just me, and I didn’t know how, if, or even if I wanted to change it. Why was it so wrong to be me?
Let’s go over a bit about Borderline Personality Disorder (hereafter BDP) in case you’re not familiar (don’t worry, not a lot of people are, and it’s still not something people like to officially diagnose). The NCBI website describes BDP as being a cluster B personality disorder, characterized by, but not limited to, emotional instability and erratic behaviour which in some cases leading to self-harm, which they find happens most in adolescence.
They also go on to say
Although personality disorders are diagnosed only in adults, BPD manifests itself in adolescence in the form of uncontrollable anger, self mutilations, dissociation and other such behaviors. Hence, there is a growing number of scientists discussing the possibility of diagnosing BPD in adolescents.
Various studies have concluded that BDP stems from early childhood, often born from trauma or even overnuturing. In my case, I was a bronchial asthmatic, and I was raised on homeopathy. So when I got sick I was at home for 4-6 weeks (if something like bronchitus) or at least 1-2 weeks for the average cold. So, the overnuturing I experienced over my childhood (which only eased up after I was 10) is where it all began. Unfortunately I also grew up in a very violent home, and while I never really bore the brunt of any hidings or such, a lot of my trauma came from my parents arguing the way they did. It was violent, it was aggressive, and it was traumatic. I won’t go into detail, because there is no need.
In high school, around 1997 I think, I started cutting myself during my rages. It began with small cuts (under 2cm) up my left hand, but that caught too much attention from friends so I moved to my inner left forearm. Not very well hidden, but it worked for me. No one understood why I did it, and most thought it was a cry for attention. I dont think I even understood why I did it back then. But thinking back, it was definately a way for me to manage the pain and lonliness I felt inside (which is when I would cut). It almost made the pain I couldn’t change (being an outcast) into something I could manage (the pain inflicted upon myself). Was it right? I still don’t know. Do I still do it? Not as often anymore, which is great. I still have the scars, but since losing the “ceremonial” knife I used from day one, it hasn’t been a go-to for me for a while.
So now you have an idea of where it stems from, listed below are 9 most common symptoms of BDP:
1. Having an unstable or dysfunctional self-image or a distorted sense of self (how one feels about one’s self)
2. Feelings of isolation, boredom and emptiness
3. Difficulty feeling empathy for others
4. A history of unstable relationships that can change drastically from intense love and idealization to intense hate
5. A persistent fear of abandonment and rejection, including extreme emotional reactions to real and even perceived abandonment
6. Intense, highly changeable moods that can last for several days or for just a few hours
7. Strong feelings of anxiety, worry and depression
8. Impulsive, risky, self-destructive and dangerous behaviors, including reckless driving, drug or alcohol abuse and having unsafe sex
In a nutshell, I check all those boxes. BDP is difficult to diagnose, because you can’t just look at a ‘snapshot‘ of someone’s life. This was the very reason I believed I went undiagnosed for so long – all the professionals kept doing was looking at that time in my life when they were seeing me. So they almost always dismissed me as “just being a teenager”. Which I can understand to an extent. I get it, kids are still developing and yes a lot of what could be seen as a mental (bipoar) or personality disorder (BDP) could also be attributed to the trials and tribulations of becoming a teenager and finding out who you are and your place in the world.
So I was dismissed as a kid and basically got told I was just naughty and I would grow out of my huge emotional outbursts. And I suppose to an extent I did. Or at least it lay dormant for many years. But it always came back.
Had they looked at the bigger picture, and dug properly, they would have realised that I was feeling isolated due to being an outcast at school, and in my later years of dating, I constantly switched between idolising my partner and despising him, I constantly clung to any friend that showed signs of being friendly, and that I was needy due to my ill perceived idea that everyone was going to abandon me (I mean why wouldn’t they, I was irritating at the best of times – and I whole heartedly believed that back then!). I’m still terrified of being alone with myself for long periods of time.
I started dating in 1995, and my first relationship lasted 9 months with a brilliant young artist named Phillip. I’ll never forget him and his dog, Morag. I was 12 and I was in love, and that was really the start of it. I supposed you could have almost called me a serial dater. I went from one long-term boyfriend to the next. My self-worth has always been tied to whom I was dating at the time, and I believed whole heartedly that I deserved it when they cheated on me, or when they broke up with me. If I didn’t have a boyfriend, I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I was rarely single for more than a few weeks if I wasn’t replacing one boyfriend for another. I needed validation from peers and quickly found sexual promiscuity was a way to get it. This led to my risky behaviour at parties, and my wild ways – I found alcohol in 1997 when I was 14 and I was always the one breaking into my friends’ parents’ booze cabinets, and got drunk all too often very soon after turning 15. Then the heavy partying in my late teens and early twenties, to my drug abuse in my thirties. All risky behaviour that I craved no matter the consequences.
So given just those limited signs (and believe me these are distinct patterns that followed me even into my thirties) I already check almost all of those criteria. Determined by looking at the bigger picture vs just a snapshot.
I suppose I could point blame in the direction of the health system as it currently stands in South Africa. It’s not cheap. And psychiatrists or psychologists are even less so. So I think most of my battle was not being able to afford a therapist or a psychiatrist for any extended period of time whereby they could unpack my life’s meaning. But during my breakdown and during my stay in the clinic, I was officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and depression by my local GP of all people. He had seen me through my heroin battle and I was totally unaware he could recommend the clinic stay to my medical aid. I owe him so much for that.
To say this took a weight off my shoulders was an understatement. I’m not one for labelling things, but honestly just having a basis to go from to understand what’s happening in your brain is so empowering. I know now that BDP is curable, and that it’s just a way my mind chose to cope with the traumas I experienced as a kid. I do think my drug use exacerbated the issue, and brought it to light a few years earlier than it might have been, but I consider that a plus. It means I can work on being a better, new and improved Me sooner. I can focus on methods such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or more specifically aimed at BPD, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, which both work on mindfullness and being present in the moment as a way of managing emotions and it’s been helping so much. And I wouldn’t have found it while people were still trying to push Bipolar on me, where I knew in my heart I didn’t resonate with any of the Bipolar symptoms personally. I always felt BPD made sense for me (knowing first hand the story of my life of course), but couldn’t find anyone to confirm this until last year. And it took a mental break for it to happen, which is scary considering how close my suicide attempts were getting.
I think it’s also fascinating how addiction, co-dependancy, and personality disorders like BDP overlap as often as they do, but I think that’s a whole other post. So I’ll end here, on this note:
If you ever feel like a diagnosis doesn’t fit, trust your gut. Get a second, third, or fourth opinion. Do research yourself, but be careful not to start manifesting issues in yourself from what you read. Talk openly and honestly to your doctor about your life and thoughts. They’re not mind readers and personality disorders are complex things. The more honest and open you can be, the more accurate and swift your diagnosis. And lastly, talk to someone who cares about you. You’re not alone in this, mental illness is huge and it’s getting more of the spotlight each year.
Remember, you are loved.5>
PS: Books I can recommend for more information:
~ Borderline Personality Disorder for Dummies (I actually have this in my bookshelf, and I have been highlighting everything I resonate with so I can look back on it in a few years and see what has fallen away as I’ve progressed).
~ I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me.
~ Sometimes I Act Crazy (this one is a good read for family members of people with BPD).