– with contributions from Amy, a student at the University of Stirling
“Living with borderline personality disorder is intense. It’s like having third degree burns all over your skin and every slight touch makes you cry, while everyone else is continuing life without that pain.” A student who has asked to be referred to as Amy, has bravely shared with us this illustrative depiction of what life with a psychological disorder is like. She has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and fought it for many years.
Borderline personality disorder can be characterised, in a single word, as instability. So how does one go from just being emotionally unstable, to actually getting handed the diagnosis Borderline Personality Disorder?
The DSM-5 of diagnostic criteria for psychological disorders states which behaviours need to be constant and characteristic – and in cases like borderline personality disorder, where instability is a criteria, they look at which patterns are constant. Not only does it depend on your day to day behaviour or habits, or even what is going on in your head, but your way of handling emotional situations, mostly those involving peers. BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) is largely the inability to regulate or efficiently and logically process emotions and situations.
It is characterised by a heightened social suspicion. BPD is not just the same as bipolar disorder, in grand mood swings, but is one tsunami mood swing that never returns to baseline. In a sense, you don’t know what neutral is. They believe either it’s really good, or it’s really, really bad. Either someone hates you, or they love you, so the world turns very monochrome and extreme. This results in unstable relationships, very often resulting in self-injury and confused or impulsive behaviour in response to stressful situations – mostly those involving decision-making. Some call the disorder attention-seeking, and yes, it demands attention just like any physical illness.
We are too quick to turn one another away when we need or crave positive attention. When we turn people away, or ignore them, it triggers an emotional pain that can be compared to physical pain. With BPD, the pain is unbearable, as sufferers have difficulty understanding and regulating these emotions. If you are confused at what someone is doing, has said, or has done, and get agitated easily by this, then you are not “borderline”. That would be what society calls normal. A continuous inability to cope with what goes on around you or inside you in response, is called Borderline Personality Disorder.
That being said, Psychology as a field of study has focused too long on treating the person who has trouble with fitting in, or into their surroundings, and too little on helping them to understand their surroundings and flawed thoughts. Finally a new therapy has been developed. Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) has been trialed and accepted as a talking therapy form aimed at dissolving the negative internal thoughts which are characteristic of Borderline Personality Disorder, and Amy is currently doing it.
Amy says: “my experience living with BPD has been an extremely challenging journey which has taken various therapies and medications and skills to finally be at a fairly stable and healthy place. One of the best therapies for BPD is called DBT, which has completely changed my life and how I cope with these intense feelings. Medication is something that is a personal choice, and for me it has worked perfectly for managing other mental health symptoms.”
The pain of not knowing things for sure and doubting everything consumes the BPD sufferer’s brain until life becomes a whirlwind of uncertainty, agitation, and instability. Speaking to and getting to know Amy, Brig learns that it takes a lot to suppress the intensive thoughts that have developed over so many years but that it can all be, not perfect, but fine. Amy importantly notes that ‘change has to come from within, and it takes a lot of hard work, but it is worth it to finally live again and not be crushed by the intense feelings that having borderline can bring.’
A good social situation is extremely important to anyone, not just BPD fighters. People with BPD have learnt falsely that they cannot count on anything in this world being forever, or assured. It is true – nothing is forever, but as humans we form habits and want to cling to beliefs. People with BPD seem to have a heightened sense of ambiguity and possibility, to actually live life and structure their brains by the saying that nothing is ever as it seems. They are anxious to form stable connections to others and themselves. Society wants to tell them this is their fault, when it really is not, but the battle against BPD is in accepting both internal and external causes as the source.
If someone you know shows signs of Borderline Personality Disorder, now you will know what to do instead of being angry with the actions you previously did not understand. If we all think for a moment that something may not be right, and that they need to connect, BPD or not, the person will avoid having to feel more lost. Use the contact information below this article to find the necessary support.
To BPD fighters, and everyone else: believe in yourself, practice openness and honesty, give people attention, be kind, and always be aware that disorders are not a permanent label for a fantasy figment of the mind. A disorder is a routined false belief system, and teamwork to practice awareness can subsidise not only the pain of BPD sufferers, but of anyone. A caring reminder from Amy: “If you or someone you know has BPD, remember you are not alone and things can and will get better with time and hard work.”
A final note from us: being kind does not make us a generation of “snowflakes”, because the term snowflakes is only used by people who struggle with their own empathy. Everyone battles demons, some are just more aggressive. If you or anyone that has reached out to you needs support, you can turn to the Samaritans (tel: 116 123), and in the event of an emergency, dial the NHS at 111.
If you are experiencing emotional difficulties, you may want to speak to the University’s Student Services Hub to get arrangements in place – everyone deserves to have a good experience at University, and here at Stirling there is space and accommodation for everyone no matter background or struggles.
To learn more about Borderline Personality Disorder, visit this website.