The other week my husband brought me home a warm, snuggly sweatshirt that had a saying on it, “The Struggle Is Real”. We both shared an awkward chuckle as I embraced him, thanking him for his realization and cognizance of the fact that, the struggle (any struggle) is real. I often wear it to Doctors appointments as a reminder to them too!
Mental illness is for many, a taboo subject- something condemned, never mentioned. I have often written about wearing of a Mask that comes with having mental illness. Many sufferers do so in silence, as God knows what could happen if the information enters the wrong hands...such as your workplace. For others, it is something to embrace, a part of your identity, should you choose to recognize it as such. The stigma surrounding mental illness has been going on for centuries and despite advancements, there is still the inclination to hide behind the Mask today.
Even with discussion today, the most brought up disorders are the safer ones to talk about, such as anxiety or depression, simply because these are the most common. For this reason, organizations, like NAMI (National Alliance for Mentally Ill) focus on these two the most, leaving the other disorders in the dark for awareness.
Among those forgotten and not often discussed are the Personality Disorders. These Personality Disorders are typically broken up into three Clusters. Cluster A, Cluster B, and Cluster C. Borderline Personality Disorder falls under Cluster B. Borderline has been long characterized by dramatic, overly emotional, or unpredictable thinking or behavior. I have lived with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) for over 50 years. "They" say that, if you make it past the age of 35, you are good to go. The reason being is that the worst of the symptoms appear to be present stronger during the earlier years. Many sufferers of BPD commit suicide in their teens or twenties. I can attest to the fact that some of the symptoms of BPD get better and wain, but some might get worse due to the buildup and tolerance level of the psychiatric drugs used to treat the symptoms of BPD. I have written in Blogs before on this topic about the fact there is no “one drug” to treat BPD.
What a psychiatrist must resort to is a Hodge podge of other drugs (antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and mood stabilizers) to come up with just the right mixture for the BPD sufferer. As for BPD itself, there is no known cure...yet.
Unfortunately, BPD tends to get a bad rap. No one in the mental illness community should be singled out or made out to be a villain simply because of their symptoms. Society in general is unaware of the symptoms of BPD. If one or two symptoms are discussed, like BPD rage attacks, or suicidal ideation, the truth is it does get a bad rap. What we need in the realm of Borderline is less stereotyping and generalization, more empathy and education.
I have noticed over the years an influx of a high occurrence of new cases of BPD. This in my opinion could be due to a number of factors. More actual diagnoses made, earlier in life, as the Mental Health Community is gaining more education about BPD. There is a more open climate to “coming out” about living with BPD. It seems to be the most recent “flavor of the day”’ for the late teens and early twenties. On social media, I often see countless picture of teens flaunting their self-harm (such as cutting their arms or legs with a micro blade) as if to say, “I dare you to top this!” Some even mark on their page “Don’t Try to Help Me”. The prevalence of wearing the badge of BPD for the younger generations on social media sites such as Instagram is there for all to see, along with the bitch and moan sessions of living with the symptoms of BPD.
After joining BPD “Groups” on Facebook, I’ve found that no one really seems to want to speak to the reality or core issues of BPD. They would rather do a “distraction post” and have everyone share their favorite color, or where they are from, then talk or share about ways to overcome their symptoms. I shake my head in wonderment and dismay at this display of immature fodder. To bring more awareness to what having BPD really means, we need to increase the conversation worldwide and speak out in terms of the reality of the symptoms. A bonafide path to recovery can take years of hard work - on yourself - and introspection. It is a disorder whereby it is very beneficial if the family also gets involved. The more known of the symptoms and/or triggers (the person, place or thing that ignites a firestorm in someone with BPD or PTSD), the better the outlook for stability in the life of a Borderline.
Through my personal Blogs on my website www.searchingforgrey.com/blog, I’ve only scratched the thin surface of what Borderline Personality Disorder is and the inconveniences of living with it. If you truly think you have Borderline, you will want to look much deeper than a Facebook Chat Group. Get psychologically tested for it and acquire some accurate information.
Those of us who live with BPD see things as all “black brain” or all “white brain”. The psychiatric term for this is called splitting. We split all day long between white/black brain. Our emotions are a constant roller coaster being either extremely high or low, never seeming to find the middle, or the “grey”, in a situation. The worst thing is that we lack the capacity to get off of the roller coaster. This is why I titled my upcoming book Searching for Grey.
A walk down the mental health aisle of Barnes and Noble will show a plethora of books on BPD targeted towards “do YOU have a relative with this scary mental illness?” Or, topics on how to “survive” having a wife, daughter, son or father who is diagnosed with BPD. We are painted with words such as narcissist (yes, some with BPD are narcissist, most are not), manipulating, raging monsters of physical and emotional abuse. Not only does this increase stigma, but it gives false information to those associated with us, molding us as these monsters who will only make our loved ones suffer. We are not evil people and we are not purposefully out to harm anyone physically or emotionally. Unfortunately, the truth is, that you do have a good probability of being harmed physically or emotionally by a person with BPD. The truth is that someone without BPD can harm you in the same manner; and this is one of my reasons for choosing to lend my voice to this topic. I believe that we are all capable of having “good” or “bad” sides. We are also all capable of change! Take the children’s Holiday cartoon “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”. This simple cartoon is a perfect picture of the ability of human nature to change, for the better, due to circumstances and education.
It can feel for me at times, as a mental health survivor and advocate, that there is no one who can handle hearing or trying to understand the REAL truth or the rawness of mental illness. I can be an advocate but I am also a victim. In certain ways, it gives me more passion and insight into living with mental illness. In other ways, my opinions can be skewed or my reactions out of alignment. For those reasons, I find it necessary to have ALL of my writing looked at or examined first by my family or close friends. They give me honest feedback that is much needed. I try to be as impartial as possible yet the fact remains that I will always write from the slant or perspective of having Borderline. Add in the fact that I have other co-occurring disorders such as, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Bipolar 2 (not 1), Panic Anxiety Disorder, Treatment Resistant Depression, and Complex PTSD (trauma that has occurred over a prolonged period of time vs. one specific incident), and you have the writing of a person with a huge mix of personal and acquired knowledge. I have come to the realization that my “job” as an advocate for those with mental health issues, can be debilitated by the symptoms I have and continue to experience. On the other hand, it can also be enhanced. My objective is to come across as transparent and authentic as possible, in an educational manor that will help the sufferer and their loved ones in this journey.
A recent discussion with a friend of mine who also suffers with BPD led to the unveiling of a very ingenious way to help those who suffer and their loved ones. What she did was to make a Symptom/Trigger list. Although many of us who suffer have much the same symptoms, we are each different in how they display. It is imperative not to assume all people with BPD will display a particular symptom the same way. With this list, she took a trigger symptom and explained what a loved one should do if she started to display the signs of this symptom.
For instance, what to do for a “rage attack” over an issue emotionally magnified for those of us with BPD. Intense, inappropriate anger is one of the hardest, most troubling symptoms to manage with BPD. The issue is the level of anger a BPD displays seems to be more intense than is warranted by the situation or trigger. The Borderline may respond with unhealthy anger, such as yelling, being sarcastic, verbally or evenly physically abusive. The other factor with BPD, is that the anger does not dissipate as quickly as those who present “normal”. BPD anger (and moods in general) tends to have a much longer duration and intensity. Then there is the fact that BPD anger may trigger rumination (when someone thinks repeatedly about the experience). BPD rage, is thought to be rooted in abandonment issues, usually from pre-verbal times in a child’s life. I can personally attest to having experienced rage issues as young as four or five yrs old.
Back to my friend's list, when a loved one, or she herself, senses an anger issue on the horizon, she explains on the list that she must be immediately calmed. This, for her, means to wrap herself in a blanket and snuggle. Physical touch and a soothing voice are very important for her. She also likes her hair or back to be stroked. She wants the opportunity to “cry it out” with a safe person and not have the person refute or comment on what she is feeling. When a person with BPD is in this state of mind, which is considered to be “black brain” as opposed to “white brain” (also known as splitting), it is useless to try to logic or reason with the Borderline. The feelings of hurt and anger may seem way over the top to the “normal” person, yet to the Borderline, we are actually regressing, in our mind, back to an age of trauma experienced as a child. We may display with the personality of a toddler with a temper tantrum during the rage attack. Recent discovery shows that much of what happens when a BPD is in “black brain” may not be remembered by the Borderline, by something called “black brain amnesia”. They may be shocked at hearing about their displays when they were in “black mind” and feel much shame and anguish over not being able to control the primitive emotions they were feeling at the time. After the episode ends, Borderlines tend to isolate, cry an ocean of tears, can suffer a migraine from the intensity of emotions displayed, or self-harm out of guilt and wanting to “self-soothe” from the kick of the endorphins our bodies experience as a reaction to acute pain.
People often ask why BPD’s harm themselves physically. The best explanation I have to explain is that the emotional pain Borderline brings us is so intense and unbearable, that the physical pain is sometimes the only thing that can distract from and stop the cascade of emotional pain we live with. How bad would things have to get before a “normal person” feels they want to kill themselves? Many BPD’s liken the pain that is felt from their emotions as to the death of a loved one, or living with terminal cancer. Unfortunately, for those with BPD, we feel these feelings on a daily basis.
Those of us with BPD also suffer from an extreme self-loathing and hatred of ourselves. We fear our existence as we realize the volatile emotions we are capable of displaying. We live on the edge of the next thing that will trigger us and cause us to live out the Jekyll/Hyde splitting of our persona. The thing we fear most, abandonment, happens to us all too often due to our inability to control our bad or “black” side of our emotions.
What you will find, in having a relationship with a Borderline is that people with BPD see everything as a huge problem. From dropping a pen, an unanswered phone call or text message, to losing a loved one, it might as well be the equivalent to the apocalypse. This is due to back to the “black and white” notion, and if you know someone with BPD, you’ve probably experienced it more than once. Please, be patient with us; we assume the world is across enemy lines, and we are standing in the open unarmed.
I want to encourage those who live with Borderline to make the list my friend made. I know I will be. I will sending it out to all in my inner circle. The key essence of BPD is knowing HOW and WHEN to stop a symptom before it goes into a full-blown trigger situation. I have mentioned often the use of Dialectical Behavioral Counseling (DBT) or Cognitive Behavioral Counseling (CBC) via a licensed, trained therapist. Unfortunately, a Church Counselor or regular therapist may not have the skill set needed to treat a person with Borderline. Find a therapist that does and see them on a weekly basis. If psychiatric medication is needed, please do not fall into the mindset of pill shaming. Diabetics, people with Cancer, Heart Disease, all take certain medications to stay alive. Such is the situation for those of us that suffer a brain disorder. I always advise that your medication be held (in a secret place) dispensed by a loved one you live with. The obvious reason being two fold, the BPD's propensity to have suicidal thoughts or ideation, and or the inability to remember or want to take the medication on a regular/timely basis in order for it to work.
Just like living with any disorder or physical disability, we must learn to radical accept our symptoms and limitations. It is not a death sentence to have BPD. I ended with the quote below, as it is true that to feel every emotion to the fullest can be very rewarding. The tagline I chose on my website is “empathize, educate, advocate”. In doing so, you will find a much more rewarding existence living with Borderline for you and your loved ones.
With You On The Journey, Alice
“BPD is the best curse. To be able to feel every emotion to the fullest can often be very rewarding. However, we feel the bad to the fullest, too. The smallest problem could feel like the end of the world. Personally, I have lost a lot of people because I’m ‘too much to handle.’ The struggle is real, but guess what? Without struggle there is no progress.” — Tia Mari