For World Mental Health Day, my girlfriend wrote a short narrative about her experience living with borderline personality disorder.
For newer readers, you can catch up on Jasmin’s BPD updates in the “How I Met My Girlfriend” series in parts 9 and 19. Here is a page for BPD resources, mostly aimed at people who are close to a loved with BPD. This post contains a trigger warming for reference to self-harm and mental health-related content. Without further ado, here is my girlfriend.
Getting my diagnosis
As Jess talked about in the HIMMGF series, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2017. The doctor’s appointment that lead to this diagnosis resulted from a combination of things. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been very emotionally or mentally stable, so it wasn’t easy for me to pick out a point where I was “unstable enough” to seek professional help, especially since I’d already been discharged from mental health services after inadequate treatment for anxiety and depression as a teen.
My instability makes me spiral pretty easily when I’m under stress, and I think college tipped me over a little to the point were just one thing in the day would panic me over the edge. An appointment with a doctor set in motion when a college employee noticed a bandage on my arm while I was having a panic attack. They talked to student support, who then sorted the appointment for me. The doctor referred me to an assessment after that.
Before my diagnosis, I struggled for years (and I still do). I’ve been struggling with my mental health for as long as I can remember. I always thought my personality and reactions weren’t normal, but I put it down to my past. It wasn’t until I had the breakdown at college with their push to get an appointment that I decided to go back to the doctors. Thank god I did, otherwise I still may not know my diagnosis.
I wasn’t told my diagnosis face-to-face. I didn’t have any medical professional to speak to regarding the diagnosis, and when I did finally get to speak to a mental health nurse about it, she didn’t really make space for my concerns. I was quite shocked when I read the review letter declaring I had BPD. I’d been annoyed in some ways because I thought BPD was given to people that just didn’t have a clear diagnosis, and I thought “wow great?!” It wasn’t until I did further research that I realized, “Actually no. Everything in my life makes sense. Like, how I am makes sense.”
I wouldn’t really say I have a treatment plan other than medication, because the therapy I do have wasn’t referred to via the doctor, and it’s just a support group–not real therapy. So, it wasn’t really a treatment plan I had in place from a medical professional. It was through a self-referral. However, the support group is helpful and I’m happy with it so far.
For medication and proper therapy, I’m not happy with it because I’m not getting it. I’m not getting heard when I say I want different medication or that I need extra support. When speaking to a doctor, I get met with, “You need to do this first or that first.” And even when I jump through these hoops, I’m still not getting what I need.
There was a time I wanted to change my medication and the first doctor said point blank, “No. This is the only medication for you. I’m not going to change it.” This was a doctor that I’ve never met with or spoke to before. When I managed to get to a doctor who was familiar with my case, she said, “I get you want to change it, but you need to try therapy first.” So, I did the 4-week anxiety course and that was it. No further contact from the therapy group or the doctor or opportunity to change my medication.
With my Waves program (the support group for people with BPD), all of it has been helpful. It’s been nice to be in a setting that’s not as medical or official. When you have counseling, it’s a different relationship with the counselor. With Waves, it’s different. They’re your friend and your teacher, and there’s boundaries there.
With counseling, there are boundaries, but sometimes they are too high, and it makes the environment too work-oriented. It’s hard to know what’s okay to say and what’s not. The power dynamic is too strong in traditional therapy for it to be very beneficial for me, I think. Obviously, there are different types, but the standard is pretty hard for me.
There’s no specific project from Waves that’s helped, as such. The one-to-one sessions are helping a little, but I only get 30 minutes every other week, which is very rushed. I need a lot of building-up and bonding with a person before I can be vulnerable, so that isn’t very much time to do that.
Relationships while living with BPD
When I first got diagnosed, no one actually cared that much. Because I’ve been mentally ill through my teenage years, they were just like, “oh.” No one reacted much differently. My girlfriend didn’t react very much either, because she already knew about my behaviors and other mental health issues, so she just kind of took it in stride.
With her and some friends, like Harri, we set boundaries in place and kind of know when the is right time to stop pushing me and vice-versa. They are very understanding of the space I need and that I’m not always in the mood for talking and that it’s not personal. They reassure me that they understand. That’s what helps a lot.
I would say some close friends didn’t readjust to the new diagnosis, just because they didn’t understand it or try to understand it. But they would just know how it affects me from when they’d ask about it. And just kind of look at me like I’m crazy when I did talk about it, so I tend to avoid it, which closes me off to them in a lot of ways.
People set me off all the time. It’s really frustrating when people in my life refuse to understand my BPD and my actions, especially when I’m trying to explain why I react to things a certain way and why my insecurities are so deep-rooted. When the person treats my reactions (as a result of the BPD) as an overreaction, then it actually does cause problems and make it very hard to be close to that person. It makes me feel like they aren’t trying to understand me or the illness.
If you’re close to me and want to have a close relationship with me, then you should ask me things and look into it. If you’re close to me and want it to stay that way, the illness is likely going to affect you at some point.
Challenges with BPD
Having BPD makes it hard for me to make and keep friends. Because I’m so self-aware of the illness and know my negative traits, I think “Well I can’t keep a friend if I’m acting like this. That’s not a healthy relationship.” And I’m just going to feel like, why should I bother trying if that’s always going to be the outcome? If how I am is always going to be the way I am with these negative traits, I can’t possibly make this friendship healthy. It’s really difficult to overcome feeling my own negative traits and not painting myself as a toxic person. The black and white thinking associated with BPD definitely affects how I view myself, too.
I also struggle with setting goals for myself and achieving them. I find that because my BPD is so up and down and unpredictable, making goals is really hard. I can say “I want this done by Wednesday,” but I don’t know how my BPD is going to affect my mood during the days beforehand or on that Wednesday, so I have no way of telling if the goal is realistic or not. I also put a lot of pressure on my goals, which then causes negative emotions. The pressure itself stops me from achieving the goal a lot of the times.
Not really seeing goals as goals, and not seeing as anything at all can help me achieve goals better, I’ve noticed. If I just say, “I want to do it” and “I hope to do it,” instead of, “I have to do it,” it’s easier for me. If plans do change or my mood makes it impossible, it’s okay. Just the mindset of being like, “It doesn’t have to get done, but if it does, it’s a bonus.” It takes a lot of the pressure off.
I do have a tendency to get very attached to certain types of people because of the BPD. I pretty much put them on a pedestal. Any good thing they say it’s like, “Oh my god, they’ve cured me.” But they could also say a negative thing, and suddenly I just want to be like, “Bye. I don’t need you.” Sometimes the lines get blurred, which can at first be seen as a good thing because it’s not so black and white.
When you have an attachment issue, you can expect a lot of person, expect them to be your friend or your mother or other shoes not being filled. And it creates really high expectations for that person–probably expectations that can’t be fulfilled. When I get this way, I get quite self-sabotagey in order to get that person’s attention or approval. At that point, that person is my god and validation from them is most important. It’s a cycle that I haven’t been able to break very well.
Benefits of having BPD
I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but in some ways, I don’t know who I am without BPD. (Nor do I really know who I am with it.) But one thing BPD has given me is empathy. Sometimes, I get a little too empathetic to the point where I can’t say no to people. But that empathy makes me see behind people’s lives with those who are hiding their pain, because it’s something that I’m very good at too. Meeting and befriending other people with BPD has been helpful to joke around with and make light of our situation in order to get through the heavy aspects of it. It’s not a “bright side” situation, but it’s one I’m going to keep trying to live with.
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