13 Things I Learned 13 Years After my Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis
I was first diagnosed with borderline personality disorder 13 years ago, as a 13 year old sitting in the mental ward. My school counselors were concerned because I was going to class with cuts on my arms and writing suicidal notes in the margins of my notebooks. After my first suicide attempt, I was rushed to the emergency room where I would then be taken to the psychiatric ward. A few weeks later, I walked out with a borderline personality disorder diagnosis and a referral to a family therapist.
Fast forward to last December, I sat in my psychologist’s office, swinging my legs, and taking the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). After the test was scored, my psychologist was still convinced that I had borderline personality disorder.
That made 13 years of living with BPD.
And with those 13 years, I’ve learned a few things about living with BPD.
Not everyone will be understanding of your borderline personality disorder diagnosis.
There’s something to be said about the fact that when I open up about my BPD, I have to plead with the person to please don’t Google borderline personality disorder. A quick search over Google or even Reddit would reveal stories about crazy women and manipulative men and how horrible people with BPD are. Articles urge people to get the fuck away from people like us. That we’re dangerous. Liars. Manipulators.
I won’t sit here and pretend that these accusations are unfounded, but it’s a gross generalization of everyone who lives with BPD.
A lot of people will not be understanding of BPD.
And that’s okay.
Because we can’t control other people or what they think of us. I’ve been called a psychopath by others. Emotionless. A ticking time bomb. We could choose to get offended and lash out back, or we can choose to walk away from those types of people.
We always have that choice.
And we can choose to surround ourselves with people who say, “I don’t understand BPD, but I’ll try my best.” People who stay, despite our splitting episodes and mental breakdowns.
We can also choose to block or uninstall social media, so we don’t have to read the heavily stigmatizing anti-personality-disorder posts from other people.
As with anyone else in the world, borderlines too have the right to set firm boundaries.
2. Intrusive thoughts are not an accurate representation of reality.
Whether the intrusive thoughts are positive or negative, they are often not an accurate representation of what’s real.
For example, I treat fantasy worlds as an intrusive thought… spending time imagining myself as this great writer that everyone loves or thinking about a crush I have, proposing to me. These daydreams can feel good because they’re a break from our everyday pains, but they aren’t necessarily healthy and could breed obsession over those people.
On the other hand, you might believe that everyone is laughing at you. Hates you. Thinks the worst of you… because you said something cringy at a party and made a fool of yourself.
Stay grounded. Don’t live in your daydreams or your fears. Focus on what’s present and real.
3. It’s beautiful to feel everything so deeply and passionately.
Being borderline feels like the slightest joys brings the best highs and the smallest criticism can bring suicidal thoughts. We feel everything so deeply.
And that’s why it’s important to surround ourselves with things we find joy in, and be mindful of what breaks us down.
If you love to read, get Kindle Unlimited and fill your days with fantasy novels and join some subreddits related to those books. If you love the beach, plan some beach vacation trips.
When something brings you pain, ask yourself why and whether you need to remove it from your life, even temporarily. If social media makes you feel jealous about other peoples’ lives, it’s worth it to unfollow those people or deactivate social media. If something is triggering, such as seeing a friend who you had a falling out with, it’s worth confronting it (talk to the friend!).
Pain lets us know that something needs our attention. We can choose to breakdown and split and throw our aggression at it, or we can take a step back and analyze what’s happening.
That way, we control what gives us pain, rather than being controlled by our pain.
4. It’s okay to have an eccentric aesthetic or no aesthetic or all of the above.
It’s called borderline personality disorder, after all, right?
Because for a lot of us, BPD attacks our personality. We have none. Or we adopt our favorite person’s personality. Or we see something on tv and we change our whole wardrobe to be like that.
Personally, I went from an emo kid in high school, to a girly girl in college, to a bohemian hipster, and now I am what I like to call “hobo chic.” (Tbh, I’m embracing that I sometimes look like a trash can, but I do my make-up all fancy, so like a hobo-ey classy girl?)
What has helped me is holding something I want to buy, like a new dress, and asking myself, “Do I feel comfortable in this? Does it sit well on my body? Do I feel confident in this?” or “Do I only want to buy this because someone else I admire (whether in real life or on tv) wore something similar?”
Asking yourself if you’re doing it for you rather than to impress someone else or be like someone else, before changing your style, is worth it.
P.S. If you don’t have a style or aesthetic, you should go on Pinterest and make a mood board. Pin all the things that you like and let that be a foundation to your “style” or “look.”
P.P.S. It’s natural for your style or look to change over time as you get older or change moods. That’s okay. It actually happens to everyone, not just borderlines.
5. Stop the “you-only-love-once so do it” and plan for the future.
I came to this terrible realization when I turned 26. All my life, I lived this “YOLO” mindset…
Buy those hot wings because YOLO!
Spend $200 today on make-up because YOLO!
Go out and blow all your cash on booze because it makes you feel better for the moment and YOLO!
Can I get serious for a minute? I realized that I was doing this because I never planned to live long. There was a constant recurring thought that I was going to die young, kill myself, or get into a terrible accident. Part of me welcomed it with open arms. So why bother making long term plans?
And then I’d realize that I’m still unhappy. Still kinda broke. Still flopping from relationship to relationship, friendship to friendship. I never made long term goals.
So I never saved my money.
I never kept up with important friendships.
I always did whatever my impulses felt like in the moment and dealt with the consequences later (often by drinking more or throwing more money I didn’t have, at it.)
After talking to my therapist about this, I decided to create a “5 year plan.” I went on Pinterest and pinned what I wanted my life to look like 5 years from now. Honestly? I want a small little home with some chickens in the back yard and to be making a living with my writing. So how can I do that? I started putting some money in a savings account and stopped withdrawing from it for every little thing. I started this blog, to encourage me to keep writing. I don’t want anything extravagant, I just needed some consistency in my life.
Because otherwise, I was going to do what I impulsively felt like doing in the moment and then regret it later when I have to dig out quarters to buy ramen noodles or have nothing to show for, for all the years I’ve lived.
6. Friends and family don’t know how to help. It’s not their fault. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. It means they don’t have the experience.
With great shame, I’m going to admit that I used to want boyfriends who would “save me” from my terrible past and my awful BPD. I’d want them to hold me tightly when I screamed, “Get the fuck away from me,” and I needed them to be patient with me as I figured my shit out.
I just never told them.
Maybe it was my own ignorance. Maybe it was pride. Probably both.
In my adolescence, I’ve even met therapists who were unable to deal with borderline personality disorder, so I can’t expect my loved ones to know where to start.
So, we have to help our loved ones.
We have to sit down and have a candid conversation about what it’s like living with borderline personality disorder and what they can do to help us.
One of the places I like to begin, is to explain what splitting is. I tell them what I might do while I am splitting, like lashing out, saying awful things. I ask that my loved ones be patient with me and let me ride it out. Put me in a safe place and even lock me in there. If they need to leave me for some reason, just reassure me that they’re not abandoning me and they will be back at X time to check up on me.
Learn what helps you and what you need, during your darkest times. Then tell the people who love you, and give them some options so they aren’t left to figure it out on their own. It’s difficult to empathize with the intensity of our emotions and thoughts, when not living with BPD, so we need to do our part to talk about our needs.
Side note: I used to make the assumption that “If they love me, they will know what to do because it’s common sense,” as awful as it sounds. I’d put conditions on people that loved me… if he truly cares about me he won’t leave when I’m at my worst… oh he walked out, that means he doesn’t love me. This was my way of “testing” whether someone actually cared about me.
And it’s not a good strategy at all. It isn’t respectful and it isn’t fair.
So now I tell people how they can help and give them the option to help or walk away.
7. Victim or Survivor? Your choice.
My psychologist says I have “a lot” of PTSD, stemming from an abusive childhood that included sexual and physical assault. When I left the house, I projected my father’s behavior onto the males I’d date and I would repeatedly find myself in situations that mirrored my upbringing.
I felt bad for myself. I dated abusive men because “I didn’t deserve any better.” I didn’t have any friends because “no one will ever like me.” I acted out and embarrassed myself because “I need the attention so badly.”
Not all borderlines have dealt with trauma, but so many of us have… and in turn, we learned to lie, manipulate, and cheat until we get out of those situations. We learned to walk on eggshells around abusers and tell them what they want to hear. It became a part of our disordered personality.
But victimhood is a cycle. We fall into a trap of being treated like shit, treating others like shit, and overall just living in shit.
To survive is to abandon the world of victimhood. It’s to take what other people have done to you and have the strength and compassion to say you will never allow it to happen again, whether to you or your loved ones. Surviving is knowing it wasn’t your fault you’ve been abused, but you are responsible for how you handle the aftermath.
It’s to stop repeating these cycles of abuse to those you love.
Going to therapy and getting medication.
Living your life on your terms and cutting out the people who want you to stay the same- pitiful, victimized, and helpless.
It’s being brave enough to stop feeling sorry for yourself and to force yourself to create the life that you want to live.
8. Find support groups.
Living with borderline personality disorder makes me feel alone. It feels like I’m a psychopath living in a world of peaceful people and I ruin everything I touch. That’s the victim-mindset speaking.
But there was a sense of sweet relief, when I found online support groups. There aren’t any local to me but there are online support groups where I could safely vent and ask questions, and I was never judged.
Peer support groups are the best… they’re “for us, by us,” so advice is in the lens of another borderline.
I urge every borderline to have some sort of support system because:
We can feel so lonely in a world of others who don’t live with our disorder
It’s good to get a grounded, second opinion, of something
It feels nice to talk to others who know exactly how you’re feeling
When talking to my friends and family, I often feel like I’m speaking a foreign language. I have to translate everything from BPD-speak to their language. For example, if I say, “I feel like death,” I literally mean that I feel like I’m dying and today’s my last day on earth. To my loved ones, they think “She’s just having a bad day.” In a support group with other borderlines, they understand what I say without assuming I’m exaggerating or being dramatic.
And it’s like a breath of fresh air to be able to speak freely without having to explain what I mean.
9. There may not be a cure right now… but there’s lots of ways to manage borderline personality disorder.
One of the most disheartening things about borderline personality disorder is that “there is no cure.” Also, there are medications that handle our “symptoms” but no direct medication that can “fix” or “cure” borderline personality disorder.
At first, I felt like this was a death sentence. I am forever doomed to be this broken sad girl that cuts herself and can’t control her emotions.
This comes with a choice. Do you want to mope over the lack of a cure or do you want to live a decent life, despite the diagnosis?
After several years of feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I wanted to live better. Feel more joys. Stop hurting myself.
One of the greatest resources of managing BPD is Dialectical Behavior Therapy. For me, I don’t have someone local who hosts DBT groups, so I ended up buying a workbook to do on my own.
Going to therapy and finding a therapist who specializes in BPD, has been wonderful. I see my therapist every week (sometimes twice a week on the bad weeks) and I continue to allow her to help me reframe my experiences and decisions to something positive for me.
Medication has also been a godsend.
However… and this is important to remember… medication and therapy is a lot like dating. You are lucky if your first date is your forever person, but most of us have to date around before finding something that works. Also, what may work for a few months can eventually stop working.
As a teenager I once saw 5 different therapists in a span of 2 months… because they kept referring me to someone else after the first appointment. When I tried again as an adult, I was again, referred to many therapists over five months, until I found one that said she loved working with personality disorders.
In terms of medication, I tried three different medications before finding the one that worked for me. And even so, I needed a higher dose and another medication to help me counter the side effects.
Living with borderline personality disorder isn’t easy, but it’s manageable. It takes hard work… but the pain is worth it.
Side note: A lot of borderlines have told me they’re fearful of medication because it might make them “different.” It could “stifle their creativity” or “make them feel less intensely.”
Personally, I felt like medication didn’t hold me back from who I used to be, but it refined me to be the person I am meant to be. I don’t want to live my life terrified of driving, having night terrors, or destroying every positive thing in my life. Medication and therapy, combined, have helped me take my life back and stop tearing my own life apart.
I’m not less creative. In fact, I’ve been more consistent, hence this blog not being deleted by now.
I’m different for sure… I even feel like I’m more tolerable to be around.
10. People coming and going is a fact of life.
Let’s talk abandonment issues because we can’t have borderline personality disorder without a big dose of “please don’t fucking leave me,” right?
And since we’re being transparent, yes, I too, have tried to guilt trip and “test” people to see if they’ll leave me. The wild accusations. The “would you leave me if…” questions. The “promise me you’ll love me forever.”
The thought of someone leaving… especially that wonderful favorite person or special person, is enough to shatter our world. To make us need to hurt ourselves so we can feel any pain but the pain of thinking we are going to lose that person.
Because everyone eventually leaves, right?
And that’s a fact of life. People do leave. We lose contact. Forever doesn’t exist.
What has helped me overcome my abandonment issues is: gratitude.
It’s to say, “Hey, you might not be around forever, but I am so grateful you’ve chosen to spend this very moment with me.”
Not having expectations and not allowing anyone to make you any promises, also helps. Don’t expect people to stick around. Don’t force them to promise you forevers.
Love them in the moment and be glad how great everything is now.
The thoughts of abandonment are intrusive. Every time your brain says, “They’ll leave you like everyone else,” fight back and say, “Okay, brain, but they’re here right now and that’s what matters. The right now.”
Because in life, the good times come, but so do the bad times. And with the bad times, we find our glimmers of joy and hope to help us get through its harshness.
And to love someone unconditionally, is to allow them to be in our lives for however short or long they choose to stay. Each relationship is a lesson and an exercise in gratitude.
Talking about abandonment fears also help. Telling someone, “I need constant reassurance that you’re still here and you still care,” is better than splitting on them and accusing them of not caring enough. Asking, “Do you still love me?” is better than “testing” their love with silly games that our borderline brains may concoct.
11. Self-Care is taking a shower, not eating cookies.
I used to be big into the “self-care” scene. Feel like shit? Eat some ice cream. Worked too hard today? Binge watch Netflix. Then I realized that I was doing this every single day. I was using pseudo “self-care” as a way to distract myself or numb the pain of whatever problem I was dealing with that day.
I’ve since changed my mind on what I consider self-care to be. Instead of lounging around, doing nothing, and shoving my face with cookie dough, I’ve opted for doing more productive things for “self-care.” For example, I’ll put some dishes in the dishwasher. I’ll go outside and read a book. I’ll schedule an extra appointment with my therapist.
Sure, having a cup of ice cream to take the edge off, is fine, but maybe not eat the whole tub. Buying yourself a new eyeliner is fine, but maybe not a whole new set of make-up. Self-care should make you feel better in the long run. It’s not indulging now and regretting/feeling bad about it later.
12. There is no “reset” button. Play the hand you’re dealt.
I’ve fantasized so much about “starting over” that I’ve moved every three years, since I was 17 years old. I’ve changed jobs. Changed my hair. Got a new boyfriend. Made new friends. And you know what? The BPD doesn’t just go away. It sits and festers until the ugly comes out again.
No matter how much we daydream about a new life or how badly we want to “start over,” it doesn’t exist. Eventually, the BPD catches up with you and you become the same old person doing the same old things, except with a new haircut and new people you’re doing it to.
We don’t get to abruptly end one chapter and start a new story in the next one. The plot carries over. Past events foreshadow the future.
So we need to tackle what’s really eating at us. We need to get help, seek support, get therapy, start medication. Changing our environment doesn’t change who we are on the inside.
That being said, if you are in a toxic relationship or living in an abusive home, yes, get out. If you’re stuck in a situation where it breeds more pain, get out. But it’s common for us borderlines to leave one situation and jump into an identical one. That’s why we need to change what’s inside. You’re worth more than a shitty, abusive partner and you are allowed to have standards for who enters your life.
Set new boundaries. Cut off people who don’t contribute anything positive in your recovery. BPD sucks, but you have to learn to navigate your life around your symptoms. Make small and big changes to your life.
But, there’s no restart button.
13. The end is unwritten.
This realization came to me when I was laying in my hospital bed, a few days before my 27th birthday. My stomach was filled with holes, due to my alcoholism, and I needed to take three different meds, three times per day, in order for me to even drink soup.
I was going to be another statistic. Another abused girl with mental illness that didn’t make it. Was this really how I wanted my story to end?
But the thing was, I wasn’t dead yet. Sure, I fucked up my stomach and I had a serious alcohol problem, but I was still breathing.
And I realized that this is not how I wanted to go out. Borderlines, we go through so much shit and live through so much terror, and it has made us resilient. \
We have the option of writing our own endings. It’s never too late to chase a passion. To start the process of recovery. To meet someone wonderful. To start a family. To be something other than “a borderline.”
For the next 13 years…
I hope that I’m still on my medication and going to therapy. Personally, I never want to give those up because they now serve as a preventative for any bad things that could happen. It’s like taking a multivitamin before I can get sick, rather than taking medicine because I’m already sick.
In the next 13 years…
I hope to stay in a loving relationship with mutual love and respect
I want to write a book on living with borderline personality disorder
I should be 13 years sober and self-harm free
Maybe I will no longer meet the DSM requirements for BPD
I want to live with more gratitude and mindfulness
What about you?