I was officially diagnosed in mid-2018 as suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, along with depression and anxiety.
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 almost broken.
However, in contrast to people who are Bipolar, my ups and downs didn’t each last weeks at a time, I could (and did!) fluctuate from happy to depressed to fury and rage 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 realize that people just found me exhausting.
To me, I was always just me and I didn’t know how or even if I wanted to change it. Why was it so wrong to be me?
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
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 psychiatrists like to officially diagnose). The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website describes BDP as being a cluster B personality disorder, characterized by, but not limited to, emotional instability and erratic behavior 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.
Childhood & trauma
Various studies have concluded that BDP stems from early childhood, often born from trauma or even over-nuturing.
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 bronchitis) or at least 1-2 weeks for the average cold.
So, the over-nuturing I experienced over my childhood (which only eased up after I was 10yo) 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 spankings 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.
Cutting & self-harm
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 “just a cry for attention”.
I don’t think I even understood why I did it back then. But thinking back, it was definitely a way for me to manage the pain and loneliness 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
- 9. Hostility
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 (bipolar) 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.
Looking at the bigger picture
Had they looked at the bigger picture, and dug properly, they would have realized that I was feeling isolated due to being an outcast at school.
And, in my later years of dating, I constantly switched between idolizing my partner and despising him.
I constantly clung to any friend that showed signs of being friendly, and 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 wholeheartedly believed that back then!).
I’m still terrified of being alone with myself for long periods of time.
I started ‘dating’ in 1995. My first relationship lasted 9 months with a brilliant, budding young artist named Phillip. I was 12 and very much “in love”.
That was really the start of it. I supposed you could have called me a serial dater by the end of it all. 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 wholeheartedly 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.
This meant I was rarely single for more than a few consecutive weeks. I needed validation from peers and quickly found sexual promiscuity was a way to get it. This led to my risky behavior at parties, and my “wild ways”.
Enter Alcohol, stage left
I found alcohol in 1997 when I was 14. 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 behavior 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 and not just a snapshot!
Who’s to blame?
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 in my 30’s which resulted in a stay at a mental facility, I was officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and depression by my local GP of all people.
He had seen me through my battle with H 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 labeling things, but honestly just having a basis to go from to understand what’s happening in your brain is so empowering.
I believe that my BPD is curable. It’s just a way my mind chose to cope with the traumas I experienced as a kid. Do I think my drug use exacerbated the issue and brought it to light a few years earlier than it might have been? Definitely.
But that wasn’t necessarily a negative. 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. Both work on mindfulness 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 a Bipolar diagnosis 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 2018.
The sad part is that it took a mental break for it to happen. This in itself is scary considering how close my suicide attempts were getting.
I think it’s also fascinating how addiction, co-dependency, and personality disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder 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 some 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 are 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 finally, 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.
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).