When I first learned of my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I didn’t really have much knowledge about what the illness was. So like most people, I turned to the internet and searched for information. What I found initially, was depressing. Learning that I had a severe mental illness was difficult to accept in myself. As I dug deeper for more insight into the disorder, I often came across what the symptoms were, but struggled to find ways to manage my symptoms. I had to learn along the way through a significant amount of therapy and self reflection. I want to share how I manage my symptoms in hopes that it might make someone else’s journey just a little bit easier.
1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment – managing this symptom has proven to be extremely challenging. I’ve had to let down my guard and trust in the people that love me. With my husband I explained this symptom to him and asked that he help me manage it. I needed him to reassure me quite frequently that he “wasn’t going anywhere”. For people without BPD, they trust that feeling and may not need to hear it as often but it was something I needed. So I asked for it and my husband met that need. If he hadn’t been willing or able to meet my need, I probably wouldn’t be able to cope as well as I have been. Don’t be afraid to let others know what you need.
2. A pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships Until I had progressed in my therapy to be at the point where I can reflect on my past without judgement, I never really thought that this symptom applied to me. I had, after all, only been in two significant adult relationships. But looking back, my life was a series of short and intense relationships with a lot of people….friends, flings, and family included. To help me manage relationships more effectively, I had to learn how to connect with others (which meant trusting them) and then over and over ask myself “do you value the relationship you have with this person?” And if the answer was “yes”, then I would ask myself what I had done to let that person know I valued them? And then I had to turn that question around and ensure that they valued me as well. Checking in with the relationship took practice but I do feel that this has helped me create and maintain “real” and stable relationships. Make sure you value the relationships in your life
3. Identity Disturbance One of the most pervasive symptoms for me is a real lack of identity. In every therapy and assessment that I’ve done, it’s always been noted that I seem to struggle with identity issues. This one will continue to be a bothersome symptom until I am further along in my recovery. To help me with a sense of identity, I try to do new things and see if I like them….things I would never have given myself permission to try before for fear of being judged. I’m learning to say no to the things I don’t like or that don’t fit with my beliefs or morals. I’m learning to set boundaries and control what I can control which is my own Behaviour. I can choose to like what I like and not be ashamed. I tell myself that I’m building the person I was always meant to be and that is a work in progress and takes patience and time. Don’t be afraid to try new things and LIKE what you like.
4. ImpulsivityReckless spending, rash decisions and foolish choices used to be all too familiar. Through therapy, I learned that while I can’t control the thoughts or feelings that lead me to make bad choices, I can control the Behaviour. I still get urges to blow money and not think of bills and responsibilities but I choose not to act on the thoughts. To do this I had to learn to slow down my thoughts and think before taking action. I learned coping skills to deal with distressful or dangerous thoughts in healthier ways. I was taught mindfulness and would highly recommend that if you have the opportunity to learn mindfulness through therapy, you jump on it. You choose your Behaviour. Stop and think before you act.
5. Recurrent suicidal Behaviour thoughts of death, dying, and what it would be like if I was dead go through my head at least once a day, if not significantly more than that. Through therapy, I’ve learned that while I can’t control the thoughts, I could learn the skills necessary to not act on them. I also had to work on losing my judgement of those thoughts and stop believing that I was a bad or shameful person for having them. This took working on my self esteem and using mindfulness again to relax and let the thoughts go away as easily as they came. Let your thoughts leave as easily as they came
6. Emotional Instability< By and large the most significant symptom for me has been dealing with the severe and intense feelings that are part of BPD. Feelings are so strong and intense I sometimes feel overwhelmed by them. In the past, I would stuff the feelings inside as a way of not dealing with them. I didn't have an understanding of what emotions were trying to tell me. I tried to numb the feelings by using alcohol or other reckless behaviours and this was causing significant problems in my life. Through therapy, I learned emotional awareness skills and ways to deal with them that wouldn't be so problematic. Now when I feel an emotion, I allow myself to feel it without judgement and listen to what it's telling me. I remind myself that while feelings are intense, they can't hurt me and they will pass. I had to learn distress tolerance skills to help me be able to sit through the emotion until it had passed. Don’t be afraid of your emotions as they too will pass /strong>
7. Chronic Feelings of Emptiness This one is tough. It’s hard to explain, especially when it appears that I’m living a productive and fulfilling life. But there’s always this invasive feeling that something’s missing and I believe that for me what’s missing is my purpose. I’m a mother, a daughter, a wife and a friend and I do all of those things with passion, but I still feel like I haven’t found the thing that will take away this feeling. But instead of using alcohol or drugs to numb this painful feeling, I’m pushing myself to do things I enjoy as a way to try to find that purpose. Never stop looking for your passion and purpose
8. Inappropriate or Intense Anger or what’s better known as “temper tantrums”. I believe I struggled with this symptom because I was emotionally neglected as a child and therefore my emotional growth was stunted. Emotionally I was still like a child, and children use temper tantrums because they have intense feelings and don’t know how to express them. Again, therapy helped me to be able to identify emotions and express them effectively. Now when I’m feeling something, I label it for what it is. For example, if I feel anger, I let myself know that it’s anger and then I ask why I might be feeling it? If it’s because of someone else’s actions, I let them know how I feel instead of stuffing it and letting it come out later in the form of a tantrum. Learn to express emotions when they happen
I don’t know if I captured all the symptoms of BPD, but I think I touched on the majority of them. Having BPD can be frightening and cause you to feel emotionally overwhelmed, but I want you to know that with hard work, patience and some good therapy you can live a happy and productive life. You owe it to yourself to choose recovery.
Wendy Enberg >