“I lost my goddamn mind…it happens all the time.” – Falling in Reverse, The drug in me is reimagined.
So, borderline personality disorder. Commonly known as BPD, often confused with bipolar disorder (also commonly known as manic depression). I only know about bipolars in a superficial psychology level, but I know for sure that one thing they have in common with borderlines is that both disorders are torturous. These are both the kind of disorders that people think of when they refer to others as “crazy”: mood swings, breakdowns, very fast analytical thoughts and scenarios that can be away from reality. Needless to say that calling us crazy doesn’t help us, and it doesn’t help you or your friends identify us and our personality either.
A typical borderline behaviour that is being referred to as “crazy” or “overreactive” is when we assume that people close to us dislike us or have an ulterior motive for being our friends or partners. This happens because BPD is a condition that directly affects the way people who have it feel, think, or behave. We have thoughts that upset us, which in turn make us unstable, and make us interact with others without thinking logically. We are not always aware of this. Even when we are though, our emotions take the best of us. If we think someone has wronged us or done something to hurt us, we cannot sit back and be patient. Instead we feel a volcanic mixture of emotions such as sadness, anger (and simultaneously all of the other things we can feel) with no option other than erupting. And we feel way more and way faster than a neurotypical person without a mental illness. And as much as this is a burden to the people close to us, it is first and foremost a burden to ourselves. We don’t love “making a scene” – it’s the way our brain is wired.
Emotional breakdowns are not like panic attacks – we are not sure when they will pass. And what if what we think is actually true? This is the biggest fear, because even though the exact cause is unknown, BPD mostly stems from neglect, abuse, trauma, and abandonment. People have left us many times before – why wouldn’t they again? Are we making it up? Or have we sensed something that is true? Our thoughts are like a rollercoaster even if we have trustworthy friends and partners. And sadly, most of the times when we feel something is wrong, it is. Borderlines are also very sensitive on instinct and mentalizing others. It’s like you get borderline but you also get that gift for free. That is why it’s so hard to “just brush off” these thoughts and feelings. We feel trapped. However, I need to stress that it also depends on the person we interact with – some people are unsuitable for us and are therefore triggering it more, whereas with others we feel safer.
One time I was taking notes of my moods and thoughts for my therapist and I shared them with a friend who wanted to see what it was like in my head – her response was “how are you still alive?”. As hard as it was for her to comprehend how a person can have so many thoughts and feelings all the time, it was harder for me to get into a healthy person’s mindset. Thankfully, therapy has helped me with that. BPD is best treated with psychotherapy and not medication because a medication exactly for BPD has not been invented yet, since what’s causing it is unknown. People can take medication like mood stabilisers or anti-depressants (if they have depression too) but it is not suggested or it is suggested for only a limited amount of time. That makes me angry too sometimes because it is a disorder that has been around for 70 years or more, and science should be advanced enough to recognise the causes and perhaps create treatments. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford therapy. But for those who can, it becomes more viable to be aware of their own feelings and to recognize when they stem from a logical place and when not. This also leads to picking more suitable partners and friends, and the circle someone has is always linked to their quality of life. The more trustworthy partners and friends we have, the best we behave and the less BPD takes of us.
I always thought that my friends should be people who have BPD or something similar because otherwise they wouldn’t understand me. That is wrong. My closest friend environment consists of a person with BPD and a person with ADHD, and these two understand me more in terms of experience and details. But the rest of them are perfectly healthy people who not only are absolutely trustworthy but they are not scared by my breakdowns either. They are capable and willing to handle almost anything, because they grew up in a loving healthy home. I had a partner long before I was diagnosed who didn’t think of me as weird or crazy, he just thought I needed different treatment than the circle he usually was affiliated with. To tease me, he called me “weirdly unique”. He was very patient and nice to me, but most importantly, he was extremely loving. At that point, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that I might have some illness, and thinking in hindsight, it is very rare for someone to simply accept something so many people would later make me feel guilty for.
I have a friend who’s a psychologist and often, when I am too much in my head, I go to hang out with him because he can snap me out of it and he’s giving me the perspective I need and can’t give myself. One time he told me that I just need different treatment than others, and that the only difference is that my “flaw” has a name. And he was right. I don’t undermine the severity of BPD at the slightest. But I am not a walking disease. I am so much more than that. My mental illness is a part of myself, but it is certainly not everything, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. I know the people around me think I am loving, caring, and fun. I know they genuinely love me and trust me even when I fail to acknowledge it myself. I was lucky enough to find people who helped me break an important part of the pattern of abandonment, hurt, and betrayal I’ve experienced. But what about others with BPD who are not as lucky?
I am not an advocate and I cannot speak in behalf of all borderlines. Some people have it in a lesser degree, others much more. And there are people who cannot afford therapy, and who haven’t established trusted long-term friendships with anyone. These people know it’s possible to have trusted and long-term relationships, but how do they do it without the slightest bit of the help needed? It is a torture to fall into the same trap again and again. After a while you just blame yourself because you are too needy and you can’t maintain a friendship or a romantic relationship even if you try. Others hate this, but we hate it more. Because even when we’re aware, we still make mistakes that will drive others away.
Very often when I talk to my borderline friends about their problems, I notice a pattern. The communication is wrong, but the need isn’t. I have seen from myself and from others that abandonment occurs often when you ask for basic needs: affection, compassion, understanding, attention. These are needs that if any healthy person would express, people would say they have standards. When we do, we are “dramatic”, “clingy”, “crazy”, and it is being blamed on our BPD. That is why a lot of borderlines have given up on trying to express how they feel.
Ten percent of people with BPD will commit suicide. And even though BPD is mostly appearing in women, a lot of men have it too. Now imagine having a disorder like that and be a man in the society we have grown up in, where mental illnesses are for “pussies” and will go away “if you don’t think about it”. Another fact is that a lot of women get misdiagnosed with BPD before they get their true diagnosis of autism, and the opposite happens to men because they are most likely to be diagnosed with autism rather than BPD (even if that’s not true).
The misconception that hurts me the most though is when people “hear” or assume that borderlines are abusive. I am sure there must be some people who have borderline and are abusive, but it is not a causal effect. Nobody gets abusive because of their mental illness, and using this as an excuse to “back away from the crazy” is pretty hurtful. Borderlines just feel and think of way more things than the average person, and for the record, every abusive person I’ve known wasn’t a borderline. Having a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re an asshole and neither that you get a free pass to be. I know I am not and my friends aren’t either. In fact, all of us are trying very hard through therapy and medication to be better every day. “Fun” fact (hint: not so fun): because of the borderline we will think and observe our actions again and again and perhaps start blaming ourselves for things we’re not at fault for, something that a lot of people take advantage of. So it’s a double task in therapy to learn to know what’s right and stick to our standards instead of being gaslighted. A lot of people find that because we are more empathetic and aware, they can trick us into thinking it was our fault something happened, or make us feel guilty for feeling a certain way when they have actually done something wrong. Both me and my friends have been in situations where people have done exactly the thing we felt they were going to do. They said we were being suspicious unnecessarily because of the borderline, but then we find out we were right anyway.
Now let’s travel to the other end of the spectrum: the glamourization. A lot of people will think that because we are ill, we are more artistic or we have a “beautiful” view on things and therefore, we are tragic heroes of the tale that is called life. Sometimes I think these people are sicker than I am, because there is nothing fabulous about BPD. I know it, the world knows it. I definitely don’t want to be judged and abandoned because of it, but it hasn’t made me special, and it certainly isn’t a force that has driven me to be an artist of any sorts. “The most talented people were depressed or crazy”. Do I need to tell you what’s wrong with this sentence? I am not crazy and I do not believe in talent anyway, I believe in hard work. I can find the positives in being able to feel too many things and being very compassionate and empathetic, but I am not a damsel-in-distress who needs saving. I need people to be normal towards me and my fellow borderlines.
We know that it is a tough task to be with us sometimes. I am not going to oblige anyone to tolerate me. I do not deserve to only be tolerated, I deserve to be loved, appreciated, and cared for (and so does everybody else). Thankfully I am. We need people as strong and compassionate as us. And it’s ok if you’re not that way. But no matter who you are and what your intentions are, you can always refrain from calling someone crazy, dramatic, or overreactive. It is extremely important to be able to see behind someone’s words and actions. Even if it is done in a “wrong” way, when someone asks you to be more understanding with them, they’re not crazy. You’re cruel for going around telling everyone they’re crazy. It’s okay if you choose to not be friends or partners with a borderline because we need stable people to rely on as well. But it is within your sphere of action to be kind and not judgmental. I promise you we would all love you a bit more if you did that. <3
Written by Sapfo Spyridakos
Image by @thebpdartist