Conversation #7
Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is a tricky illness.

Often, it takes years before sufferers are diagnosed with this particular personality disorder. Until then, they are often described as attention-seeking drama queens, who are needy and selfish. A lot of people don’t even know that BPD exists, although awareness is on the rise thanks to tv shows like “Crazy ex-girlfriend” and comedians like Pete Davidson, who is open about his own disorder. 

People who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder, often feel emotions very intensely and their mood can change drastically in a very short amount of time. Symptoms are often very low self esteem, feelings of emptiness, loss of self and problems with stable relationships. A lot of people with BPD use coping mechanism to deal with their overwhelming emotions, like self-harm and parasuicidal actions. And although the cause of Borderline Personality Disorder is not yet clear, there may be certain risk factors such as family history, childhood abuse or other traumatic events during childhood. BPD has a high chance of comorbidity with other mental illnesses such as eating disorders and depressions (often resulting in misdiagnosis and/or a lengthy period before the correct diagnosis is reached).

For a long time, BPD carried the stigma of being untreatable and incurable. Most personality disorders are not curable, however they are often treatable. One such treatment, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, has been proven to be very effect. It was developed by Marsha Linehan, who herself suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. Also addressing underlying traumas through psychotherapy has shown great success in treating patients. Early diagnosis and proper treatment are key factors in living a happy and stable life. The problem being that more often than not people hesitate to get diagnosed or treated because the stigma around mental health is ever present. Even within the mental health sector, many professionals are often unable to properly diagnose or treat the personality disorder, despite it being one of the mental illnesses with the highest suicide attempt rate. 75% of people suffering from BDP will attempt suicide at least once and 9% manage to end their own life.

Therefore it is really important to raise awareness and talk about the disorder. So that’s what we did:

Conversation #7 about Borderline Personality Disorder

[Trigger warning: this interview discusses suicide, suicidal thoughts, and describes suicide attempts. If you suffer from suicidal thoughts yourself, you may want to refrain from reading this conversation.]

What would be the title of your autobiography?

“Penetrating Madness”

When did you realise that you struggle with something not everyone struggles with?

If it is was something that affected just me, I’d have to say it was my first suicide attempt when I was about 24 or 25. I had no idea anyone could be this depressed, I’m not sure I was even able to label this feeling as severe depression. I took a knife from the kitchen and tried to cut my wrists, although I found it too painful to go deeply enough to kill myself. In the course of the suicide attempt, I discovered cutting as a coping mechanism, which is a hallmark of borderline personality disorder, which I was later diagnosed with. I thought I was the only one who cut myself repeatedly.

How does it affect your everyday life?

I stopped cutting, though I still have scars. I wonder if people notice and just don’t say anything, especially in the hot weather because most of them are on my upper arms and forearms.

How did your family & friends react when you told them? What impact did it have on you?

I never told anyone about the first suicide attempt until years later.  Family and friends were quite upset about subsequent suicide attempts. It took me a long time to gain enough insight to realise how much I had been hurting those close to me with my self-destructive behaviours.

What was the most valuable advice anyone has given you?

I was told this over and over, but I think one must have some maturity to take it to heart.  Not to care about what anyone else thinks about you.

What did you discover to be a helpful coping strategy?

One activity that at a specific time in my life turned out to be an instrumental part of my healing process was writing.  Not just writing in isolation – taking classes, reading my work aloud in workshops, feeling accepted and not judged.

How did it feel to reach out for help? Did anything make it easier for you to do so?

When I was 23 years-old, it took me six months to work up the nerve to tell my father I’d started therapy.  I’ll never forget what he said. “What took you so long?”  A friend, who was coaching a softball team I was playing on at the time, had encouraged me to seek therapy.

Could you describe in one sentence what’s it like to live with Borderline Personality Disorder?

I keep wondering when the next bombshell will be.

Is there anything that still bothers you about having to live with BPD, but you made your peace with it?

I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve made peace with this, but rather accepted it.  Most likely I will never be in a romantic relationship because due to events in my early childhood (and not sexual abuse), I’m incapable of a physically and emotionally intimate relationship.

What’s something you want people to know about your condition?

That recovery is possible, despite the stigma that continues to surround mental illness and especially BPD.

What’s a positive thing about your illness? How did it have a positive impact on the person you are today?

It’s made me incredibly resilient.  I probably would not be a writer and blogger about mental health and recovery. I have been able to reach all the people I have with the story of my illness and recovery.

Thank you!

If you recognise yourself or a loved one in this conversation, please don’t hesitate to seek help by a professional. Psyonline is a website that helps you find a therapist. In acute crisis you can call the Kriseninterventionszetrum or the Psychosozioale Notdienst. 

Picture Credits: Merlin Dickie 

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About Julia Unteregger

Julia is a writer and a mental health professional. In her free time she likes to hike, even though she fears heights. She also drinks a lot of coffee and plays an excessive amount of solitaire.

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