People with borderline personality disorder struggle to process and regulate emotions, meaning they may fluctuate from feeling happy and elated one minute, to sad or aggressive the next – and it’s completely out of their control.
Compared to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, awareness of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is low and, as a result, stigma is rife.
A diagnosis certainly doesn’t spell the end of ‘normal life’. In a bid to reduce some of the stigma and increase understanding around BPD, we asked several people who live with it what they want others to know.
People misunderstand BPD. Most people have a fairly good understanding of anxiety and depression, but sadly this isn’t the case for BPD – and it can lead people to assume the worst. “The term is heavy with negativity,” says Nicole, 38, from Brighton. “It’s so close in name to anti-social personality disorder, so people are often scared of it – and because people with BPD are intensely emotional, it can be a lot to comprehend.”
People assume BPD is just “feeling a lot” – but there are so many other things they experience, says Beth Gibson, 22 from Sheffield. “Sometimes when I tell people I have BPD they say: ‘oh maybe I have it too’ because I feel quite intense sometimes. And that can feel quite invalidating.”
Having BPD is never a choice. A big misconception around BPD is that people choose to act this way. “Just because the development of the disorder is different to other mental health conditions, doesn’t mean I’m behaving the way I am out of choice,” says Lorna, 25, from Shropshire. “I’d give anything to be normal, and be able to regulate my own emotions – but I can’t. I’m doing the best I can.”
Those with BPD feel emotions more intensely. Those intense emotions can last from a few hours to a few days – and can fluctuate very quickly. “Someone living with BPD might feel an overwhelming sense of rejection, if their partner goes out with friends at night for example,” Emma Carrington, advice and information officer at Rethink Mental Illness, tells HuffPost UK.
Hannah Davis, 27 from Shropshire, says it’s like her emotions are “amplified 10 times” – whether that’s pain, love, stress or joy. “If something stresses me out at work, it can spiral into suicidal thoughts and self harm – or if I have a crush, it’s life-ending and completely consumes me,” she explains.
Paranoia is not uncommon. In some cases, people with BPD might experience paranoia or dissociation, where they feel disconnected from the world. “I’m really attuned to people’s tones or the way they text or act,” says Beth Gibson. “If it feels out of tune with how they usually are around me, I notice it and become really paranoid.” It’s helpful when people are patient with her, she says, and when they don’t take things personally.
Those with BPD can hold down relationships. But it can be hard. The NHS says people with BPD may have “intense but unstable relationships” with others. Joanna Earle, 35, from Kent, admits BPD has a huge impact on her relationships – whether romantic, friendships or family – as she is always in need of reassurance. But since seeking therapy, things have changed. “I was able to give [people] the tools they needed to speak to me in the right way and make them understand my triggers,” she explains.
Hannah Davis wants people to know that although navigating relationships can be hard, it is possible. “We’re scared of being abandoned and every little problem feels like it’s world-ending,” she says. “But with support, love and understanding, relationships can be the biggest source of comfort.”
It’s not all bad. When Billie Dee Gianfrancesco was first diagnosed with BPD, the results that appeared on her screen after a Google search frightened her. “I read accounts about how girlfriends with BPD were a nightmare, with advice on how to leave them,” recalls the 29-year-old from Walthamstow, London. “Everything I read just said: get these toxic people out of your life. I was mortified.”
But a lot of what she found online was incorrect. “I am a kind person who can’t do enough for others,” she says. “I can be a bit emotionally intense or irrational at times, but I am loyal, charismatic, friendly and have an enormous capacity for love. I can be difficult during an episode, but I am high functioning – and stable, with the help of medication.”
BPD can be managed. Billie Dee Gianfrancesco says three years after her initial diagnosis of BPD, she has improved so much. She goes to therapy one or two evenings a week, and attends group recovery meetings. She had to completely change her lifestyle and cut out unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol, drugs, co-dependent relationships and self-harm – and worked to replace them with healthy ones like self-love, mindfulness and reflection.
“I know I’ll always have to manage aspects of my illness, but my immense progress has showed me that recovery is possible,” she says.