One woman with Borderline Personality Disorder opens up.
By Charlotte Dingle
1. Nothing. Going to bed in an argument isn’t our style. Even when you’ve casually dismissed it as a minor disagreement and all but forgotten about it, we’re worrying that you hate us and will never speak to us again. So please, stay awake long enough to text us back and tell us it’s OK.
2. “Aren’t you overreacting?” BPD has been described as having no “emotional skin.” We’re psychologically raw and exposed and as such we feel things, good and bad, very deeply. You might see it as an overreaction — to us, it’s an honest expression of what we’re feeling.
3. “OMG, is that like the woman in Fatal Attraction?” Ahem. I’m not going to boil Flopsy alive, I’m a vegetarian. Unfortunately, BPD has become a one-size-fits-all label for “dangerous” women. This is an incredibly unfair stereotype: BPD sufferers are a lot more likely to hurt themselves than they are to hurt anyone else.
4. “But you were so happy this morning — what changed?” BPD sufferers can experience rapid mood swings which appear irrational to the outside observer, often triggered by seemingly insignificant events. If getting a “B” in our class or flunking a job interview seems like the end of the world to us, imagine how we feel when something really serious like the death of a loved one occurs.
5. “Oh, so you’re bipolar?” Bipolar disorder and BPD are two different diagnoses. In bipolar disorder, mood swings occur but the moods tend to last a lot longer, with weeks or even months of intense mania or deep depression. These moods are also less likely to be influenced by external events than they are in BPD. The two disorders can coexist, however, meaning that traits individual to each disorder occur or have occurred in the same individual.
6. “I’ve heard that BPD is impossible to recover from.” BPD is often hard to manage and treat, it’s true. But people can and do learn to live with it. It’s unhelpful to keep telling people with BPD that they may not recover, because it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and may prevent them from seeking help. Please encourage us to try hopefully, even on the darkest days.
7. “I would never date a girl with BPD, they’re way too clingy and needy.” When we love, we love deep – ’tis true. We take arguments to heart and we need a lot of reassurance, which can unfortunately sometimes cause more arguments. We can’t promise an easy ride, but if you’re a sucker for hearts and flowers, then we’re the girls for you.
8. “My friend dated a girl with BPD — she was a total slut and she cheated on him all the time!” Borderlines do not have the monopoly on infidelity, although to hear some people speak you’d think they did. It’s true, some BPDs do use promiscuous sex as a coping mechanism, the thrill of their addiction distracting them for a while from their inner turmoil. But to say we are all inherently unable to commit is unfair and untrue.
9. “You’re not ill, you’re just being an attention-seeking jerk.” If you could feel all the guilt, anxiety, fear, and self-doubt we were grappling with, you wouldn’t say that. It’s true, we sometimes demand what might seem like more than our fair share of air-space, but it comes from desperation, not egotism.
10. “All women are a bit BPD.” BPD is mainly diagnosed in women. However, many people believe that this is less to do with the fact that more women suffer from it and more to do with the ways in which society expects men and women to show emotion. Women are traditionally deemed prone to oversharing, tears, and obsessive “crushes” — and female BPD sufferers are often ridiculed as an exaggerated stereotype of a “hysterical” woman. In a nutshell, many mental health specialists believe that men with BPD often hide their pain until it manifests as a more accepted “masculine” emotion — rage — and this can lead to misdiagnosis.
11. “Why do you scars all over your arms?” Bonus points to the man who once saw my scars, laughed, and asked “Oh, do you have a cat?” Mister, if my cat had done this to me, I’d have a line out the door of zoologists on my doorstep wanting a peek at it. My scars are very old and partially tattooed over, but they’re clear enough that it’s obvious they weren’t accidental. I don’t hide them away all the time anymore because even in Britain the sun comes out sometimes.
12. “Do you think about suicide? Have you ever tried it?” This is an incredibly triggering line of questioning, but people often feel the need to ask anyway. If question 11 has the potential to make BPD sufferers feel really uncomfortable, questions about suicide are right off the scale. Someone has been trusting enough to tell you about their struggles, so let them explain those struggles to the extent they feel comfortable. Don’t push them for more information than they want to give.
13. “I heard that everyone with BPD was abused as a child.” Post-traumatic stress can certainly be a big factor in developing BPD and many sufferers have had disturbing events occur in their childhood or adolescence. This is not, however, true in every single case, any more than it is true that every child who has experience a traumatic event or events as a child will develop BPD. Most mental health professionals now believe BPD usually arises from a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
14. “Why can’t you just stop drinking/spending too much money/cutting yourself?” Drinking, drugs, cutting, shopping, sex addiction — each can potentially provide a temporary relief from the maelstrom within when you suffer from BPD. Healing takes a long time, so it’s no wonder that it’s difficult for many BPD sufferers to kick those addictive behaviors that provide an instant temporary crutch (while at the same time, of course, perversely hindering the process of properly healing). “How can I help you to stop?” is what you should be asking if you’re serious about providing support.
15. “My friend has BPD and she’s never cut herself.” Yes, and I have a strictly teetotal friend with BPD who freely admits that she can’t stop sleeping with strangers for validation and a married monogamous friend with BPD who habitually drinks three bottles of wine in one sitting. How we manifest our “impulsive behavior” or our “self-harm” varies from person to person. Sometimes, it might not even seem as if the behavior in question is impulsive or harmful at all — many BPDs are fiercely ambitious, for instance — but its effects on the BPD individual’s emotional balance can be quite unhealthy nevertheless.
16. “My mom says…” Whilst it’s understandable that friendships with BPD folk can be tricky to navigate, and we encourage you to talk about it with people outside that friendship if it helps you, please try and do so subtly. BPD makes us paranoid sometimes and we might not want to think about what you say behind our backs, even if it’s spoken with love and concern.
17. “Why do you have to tell people you have BPD?” The stigma around BPD is intense. And as long as people don’t speak out about it, of course, the stigma will continue to grow. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had people sit in front of me, peddling stereotypes about BPD sufferers, unaware of my status. I always enjoy the looks on their faces when I tell them that I — walking the streets, free, without a straitjacket or any convictions for murder — have it myself.