Symptoms of BPD
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
My name is Catherine Taylor and I have Borderline Personality Disorder (also known as BPD). Not sure what that is? Keep reading and I'll try to explain it to you.
Coping with Borderline Personality Disorder isn't easy. I don't know what's harder. Living with the BPD symptoms or trying to pretend that I'm normal. I mean, I try to explain it to people. I don't try to hide it. But it's not something that can be easily explained. I can't just go through the checklist of bpd symptoms because... well, do you know what affective instability or paranoid ideation is? I didn't think so.
I guess the easiest way to explain it is to just tell you how each BPD symptom affects my life. This means opening up to you in a way I've never done before and it's not easy. I know when you're done reading this, you'll probably think I'm crazy and you'll thank your lucky stars that you don't know me. But you'll also be well informed about Borderline Personality Disorder and that's all that matters.
If you have BPD
I know reading about certain things can be triggers, so please be careful reading this. I talk about how it feels when I self harm, so if that's a trigger for you, please skip that section.
Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
- Pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation (generally called splitting).
- Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
- Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).
- Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.
- Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood.
- Chronic feelings of emptiness.
- Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.
- Transient, stress, related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.
People with borderline personality disorder are always in a state of uncertainty; one minute they are upbeat and happy, the next they become sulky and highly irritable.
Borderline Personality Test
Everyone has all these symptoms
to a certain extent. To indicate
BPD, 5 or more of these symptoms must be long-standing, persistent and intense.
If you see yourself exhibiting
many of these symptoms, it
might be helpful for you to take a
Test for Borderline Personality Disorder.
And if necessary, make a doctors appointment for a full test.
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
I'm always wondering when my husband is going to leave me. When is that day going to come when he decides he's finally had enough? And because it's always on my mind, I translate everything he does to mean he doesn't want me anymore. When he goes to his friends house, I think he's trying to get away from me or that there must be a woman at his friends. If he walks away while talking on the phone, I think he's talking to (or about) another woman. If he's late coming home from work, I think he doesn't want to be around me or I wonder if he's cheating on me. If I put on make-up and he doesn't say anything, I think he doesn't even care enough to notice me. If he accidentally falls asleep on the couch and doesn't come to bed, I think he must not want to sleep with me anymore. If he wants to go to the store by himself, I think he doesn't want to be seen with me.
Because these thoughts keep roaming around my head, I've tried to control my husband. I thought if I controlled him, those feelings would go away. I asked him to spend less time with his friends, so he did. I told him he had to quit walking away while he was on the phone and he did. I told him to come straight home from work. And he did. I told him to stop falling asleep on the couch so he started sitting up in the recliner instead. I told him if he was going somewhere, I wanted him an automatic invitation. And he let me.
I know you were reading this and thinking "Poor man!" so you'll be happy to know that since I got help, I'm not near as smothering. Yes, I'm still worried my husband will leave me. But now I'm able to think rationally about his actions and not attribute everything he does to mean he doesn't want me.
Pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
Wow! Could that be any more confusing? That whole big sentence up there can be summed up in one word: Splitting. It's sometimes also called black and white thinking. This means I see everything and everyone as either good or bad. There's no middle ground, no grey area. I have an extreme sense of wrong and right and I use that to determine who's good and who's bad.
If I see you as a good person, you'll have my utmost respect and I'll do absolutely anything in the world for you. However, if you do something wrong, I won't want a thing to do with you. You'll be dead to me. And when this happens, I won't feel a thing. There's no tears, no sorrow. My only thought will be to wonder how I ever lowered myself enough to be your friend.
But no worries. I might change my mind and put you back in the "good" category.
Can you see why this is makes friendships and relationships so hard? Even with help, I haven't been able to break this pattern of thinking.
There are a few people in my life that I just consider fundamentally bad and there's nothing they can do will change my mind.
My husband gets mad at me because one of these bad people is his Dad. His Dad is in a perpetual state of unhappiness so he tries to bring everyone else down too. He picks arguments. He complains about everything. And he says things just to hurt us. His actions bring people to tears. Because I think he's bad, I don't do anything for him. When I cook, I don't make anough for him. When I do the laundry, I leave his unfolded on the bed. I always make sure I'm too busy to help him find a phone number or read a restaurant menu. I just don't think he deserves my help.
So when he tells my husband to help him and my husband does it, I get upset. When I ask my husband why he helps someone who's so mean, my husband says "Because he's my Dad".
The sad thing is, I still don't understand and I sometimes wonder if I ever will.
I think I should point out that this is one symptom I enjoy. Don't get me wrong. I don't like seeing people as good or bad, but I like that I have such a strong sense of right and wrong. I think it helps me make better choices.
Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
I have no sense of self because I'm an emotional roller coaster. I'm up; I'm down; I'm happy; I'm depressed; I feel like I can accomplish anything; I feel worthless. Being in a constantly shifting state between mania and depression sometimes make me feel like I'm 2 different people. In fact, if you ask my husband, he would tell you I act like 2 different people.
Let's look at manic me. I'm happy. I'm loving life. I look at myself and I notice my eyes are pretty and that I'm having a good hair day. When I sit down to write an article, the words come so fast I almost can't write fast enough. And when I publish it, I'm oozing with satisfaction and pride at the results. When I decide to build something (wood working is a hobby of mine), my mind comes up with all these creative ideas that I'm positive I can complete and the finished product is always a thing of beauty. I start conversations with people and I really enjoy talking to them. I feel so content with my life that I go out of my way to help others.
Now let's look at depressed me. I'm sad. I wish I could just go to bed and stay asleep forever. When I look in the mirror, all I see is how much weight I've gained, how big my nose is and why does my hair always have to be this frizzy? Most of the time I won't even bother trying to write anything because I know it's going to turn out like crap. But if I do attempt an article, I can't think of anything to write. I don't build much either. I know my furniture and shelves look like crap so why bother? I don't talk to anyone because they don't want to talk to me anyway. And don't even think of asking me for help. My life's so crappy, why should I do anything to make your life better. Just leave me alone.
Now do you see what I'm talking about? I'm two different people. And do you think these 2 different people aspire for the same career? The same life ambitions? Or that they even have the same opinions? I go through life knowing that who I am today could be completely different from the person I'm going to be tomorrow....or even 5 minutes from now.
And it doesn't end there. When I spend a lot of time with someone, I'll start to absorb parts of their personality. I'll adopt their mannerisms or if they have an accent, soon so will I. But it goes even deeper than that. Borderlines are very tuned in to the feeling of those around them. So if something happens that elicits a strong reaction from them, I'll have the same reaction. It's confusing not knowing if I'm experiencing my own feelings or someone elses. I've also experienced this same reaction while reading books.
My self image is also on a teeter totter. I know deep down I'm a good person. I have good values, good morals, good standards. I'm honest. I'm open. I'm smart and have a unique sense of humor. If I were you, I'd want to be friends with me. But like I said, I know all that deep down. Closer to the surface is a little voice telling me I'm a bad person, that there's just something wrong with me.
Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).
I've spent the last 14 years ticking these off my list one by one (and sometimes going back for repeats). I bet every Borderline has. In fact, I bet everyone has done at least one of these. I see you're shaking your head no. Well, answer this.
Have you ever felt a little depressed, so you went to the store and bought something you've been wanting for a while?
When you and your ex broke up, did you go out and drink a beer to try to forget them?
Have you ever been upset and ended up driving just a little faster than you intended, possibly without realizing it?
When you were denied that promotion you worked so hard for, did you go home and end up eating an entire carton of Ben & Jerry's (one spoonful at a time)?
These things are all normal reactions and doing them every once in a while isn't bad. But a Borderline can't just do it every once in a while.
Why? Because we always feel worthless and bad about ourselves and we're desperate to find that one thing that'll make us feel better about ourselves. So when we realize how good we felt after buying that pair of shoes or eating that ice cream, we want to feel like that all the time. So we buy more pick-me-ups and eat more comfort foods. We drive recklessly all the time and we drink beer at every chance.
Then we end up in serious debt. We end up with an eating disorder. We end up with a suspended license (or like me, in the hospital, lucky to be alive). And we end up an alcoholic or even addicted to drugs. And when each of these destructive behaviors ends, we move on to the next.
Recurrent suicidal behavior or self-mutilating behavior.
Suicide is always a thought in my mind. I've been attempting it since I was a teenager. Most of the time I take an overdose of pills. But I've also slit my wrists and my most recent attempt was by hanging myself. Obviously I haven't been successful.
Why do I turn to suicide? Because I feel like there's no other option. There's been times in my life where I've hurt so bad on the inside, I swear I could feel it on the outside. I just wanted the pain to stop. When I'm feeling this way, I'm convinced my family and friends would be better off without me. I never think of how traumatic it will be for whoever finds my body. I never think of how painful it would be for my family. These thoughts just aren't there. The only thought is that everything will be better when I'm gone. Sometimes these attempts were triggered by a specific event. Sometimes they were just triggered by a severe depression.
After getting help, I went 3 years without attempting suicide. Then in February 2011, I hung myself from the ceiling with the belt from my robe. As I was hanging there, I realized tomorrow was my daughters birthday and I just couldn't do that to her. I cut myself down just before blacking out. That's the first time I had acknowledged what my family would go through if I died. I swore then and there that I would never try it again. And I hope that's a promise I can keep.
Self mutilation (or self harm) is something I've been doing for a long time. I get really upset when people say a self-harmer is just doing it for attention. Yes, some do. But a lot of us are doing it to make ourselves feel better and we don't want anyone to know. I go to great lengths to keep others from knowing. I wear long sleeves in the summer, tattoo over the scars and if someone notices a fresh cut, I say the cat scratched me or I fell down and cut myself.
I cut myself as a last resort to try to reign in my anger (you'll read about my anger in a little bit). I don't like losing control of my anger. It's embarrassing and it upsets people. So instead, I cut. I also cut to try to make myself feel better when I'm depressed. But mostly it's because of anger.
It's hard to explain what I'm feeling when I cut. When I get to that point, I'm usually trembling from anger. Sometimes, I can hardly keep hold of the blade. But the second I feel the blade on my arm, I calm down a little. And when I feel it slicing through my skin, I feel a tingling warmth wash over my body. I feel so calm. I feel so exhausted. So exhausted I can't even hold my head up. So I sit back and revel in the calm for the few minutes it takes for the anger to come back. Then I sit up and and cut myself again. It usually takes 16-20 cuts to make me feel good enough to stop. Then I clean up the mess, dress my wounds and vow to wear long sleeves until the scabs are gone.
Even though I'm a shallow cutter, I have scars all up and down my arms.
Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood.
Have you ever heard of mania? It's common with Borderline Personality Disorder (and also with BiPolar Disorder). Mania is where your mind is anxious, hyper alert and racing. Sometimes my mania is triggered by something (like leaving the house or talking on the phone) but sometimes I get manic for no reason. Sometimes it last a few hours, sometimes a few days. Sometimes being manic makes me happy and productive but other times it makes my mind race so fast, I can't comprehend what's going on around me.
When I'm in a manic state, I'm in GO mode. I have loads of energy and I need little to no sleep. I usually get really creative ideas for building stuff or for writing. I talk so fast, I trip over my words and sometimes I can't even form a sentence. If I'm super manic, I forget to do basic things like eating and drinking. After a while, my body starts shaking and my vision gets blurred. Sometimes I experience partial blackouts. I forget whole conversations. I forget little trips (like to the store or the park). I've even written articles and didn't realize it until days later. While this all sounds horrible, I usually enjoy being manic because that's when I feel good about myself. That's when I feel happy and on top of the world. That when I like myself.
Unfortunately it's not always like that. Sometimes mania produces irritability. I hate those times because they like to sneak up on me. One minute I'm fine and then all of a sudden, everything is wrong. My husband calls it super-pms. I'll nitpick about the dumbest things and use any excuse to start an argument. Sometimes I get fixated on something and won't let it drop. Do you know what the worst part is? While all this is going on, while I'm doing all this, I know I'm behaving irrationally and that I should stop. I know my husband doesn't deserve to be treated like this. But I feel a complete inability to do anything about it. I feel like it's out of my control.
Chronic feelings of emptiness.
It's really hard to describe how it feels to feel empty. It's basically a feeling of nothingness, like nothing matters.
When I feel empty, I don't feel pain or sadness. I don't really feel anything at all. No. I take that back. I feel numb. And I feel alone.
I don't have any opinions or wants because I feel like nothing really matters. I don't make plans or wish for things to happen because it all seems pointless. I don't laugh at jokes, I don't cry at tragedy. I don't have the ability to actually feel anything (or the ability to know what to feel), so sometimes I'll copy the reactions of others. It's almost as if I'm in the world, but I'm not interacting with it; like I'm watching myself. I feel like I'm on auto pilot. If I do something, I'm just going through the motions.
Sometimes this empty feeling will turn into sadness. There was one time when I felt empty for 3 weeks. During the day I just sat on the couch, staring at the walls, thinking my thoughts. But at night when I'd go to bed, I'd feel an overwhelming sadness and cry myself to sleep. That's the longest an empty feeling has ever lasted. Usually it's just a few hours.
During this time, I just want to be alone with my thoughts. But even if my husbands here and sitting right next to me, I barely notice him.
Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.
The thing about Borderlines is that our emotions are so strong. We love with every fiber of our being. And we feel hate and anger right down to our core. Sometimes it's hard to control.
When my anger explodes, it usually isn't because of something huge. In an effort to control my anger, I let things pile up in me and then when that one last little thing happens (like the straw that broke the camels back), I explode. At first, I start to feel hot. Then my thoughts start getting confused, like they're all jumbled up. I can feel the room closing in on me. I have trouble breathing. I can feel all that anger all that HATE building up inside me. It's like a volcano just under the surface. Then my vision gets cloudy (sometimes I see double) and the room starts to spin. I find it hard to walk straight or to stand without swaying a little. By now, I'm trembling and my hands are in fists. I try to breathe deeply and I tell myself to calm down but at this point, I'm too far gone. So I either grab a blade and cut myself or I lose control.
If I lose control, I destroy things. I grab whatever's nearest and I throw it. Then I grab something else and I throw that too. I keep grabbing and throwing until either there's nothing left or until I've calmed down a bit. And if someone's in the room, I scream uncontrollably at them (although I should point out that I've never hurt anyone while in a rage). Sometimes these rages get so bad that I black out and don't remember what I've done. When I finally calm down, I go into a deep depression and stay there for days.
After getting help, my rages have calmed down and now they rarely happen. Instead of 7 or 8 times a year, now it's barely once a year. And now I'm able to stop myself before I break too much and sometimes before I break anything at all. This is huge progress for me and I'd say of all the things I've changed over the last few years, my husband is probably most happy with this one.
Transient, stress related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.
I get stressed very easily. Part of that is because BPD is a very hard condition to live with. And part of it is because it's not the only condition I live with (and mental conditions like to feed off each other). When I get over stressed, I get paranoid. No, you won't find me hiding in the bathtub wearing a tin foil hat and no, I don't think there's a government agency recording to every word I say (at least not all the time). But I do get paranoid of the people around me. I think people do things just to cause me unhappiness.
If two people are talking too low for me to hear, I know they're talking about me (and it's never good talk). I have to have my purse right next to me at all times because I'm scared someone will get into it. When someone does something that irritates me, I know they did it on purpose. And my biggest paranoid fear? That people can tell I'm not normal just by looking at me.
Right now, I'm not stressed, so I'm not paranoid. So this all sounds utterly ridiculous (admit it. You had the same thought). I mean, do I really think my hubby leaves his half empty soda cans everywhere just to annoy me? No. I think he just sets them down somewhere convenient and then forgets about them. But when I'm paranoid, I know he does it to upset me. And when I'm in this paranoid state, nothing you do or say will make me think otherwise.
What makes BPD so different from other mental disorders?
Most mental conditions are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. That means if you take the right medication, your mental imbalance is restored. However, Borderline Personality is different. Most of the time it's caused by trauma during childhood, trauma so significant that it essentially rewired the brain. As of today, there are no medications to treat BPD as a whole. You can take different medications to help certain symptoms, but that's like chopping off a finger and trying to fix it with a band-aid. The only real fix is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (or DBT).
DBT is an intensive therapy designed to reteach your brain how to think, feel and react. It includes practicing a bunch of mental exercises over and over again to prepare our brains to handle certain situations. It teaches someone like me how how to manage all the overwhelming emotions I feel. It's not easy and it's not fun, but it's rewarding.
Help for Borderline Personality Disorder
After years of riding my emotional roller coaster, I finally realized I needed to get some help. So I started searching for doctors that offered DBT. Unfortunately, the closest one is 500 miles away and even if I could get there, I couldn't afford the treatment. So I started searching for alternative treatments. What I found was a book written by the founder of one of the leading BPD clinics. I'll be honest. I laughed at the thought of a book helping me. I mean, I'd always heard that it took years of intensive therapy to beat BPD. But after seeing that 99% of the reviews were positive, I decided to give it a chance.
When I first got the book, I read through it and was once again skeptical about it helping me. It seemed too easy and some of the exercises sounded silly. But like I said, I was going to give it a chance. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
Through the exercises in the book (which, by the way, are NOT easy or silly), I've learned to better understand my symptoms and why I'm like this. I've learned to think rationally about certain situations. I've learned how to spot my triggers and see my warning signs and prevent certain episodes from even happening. The biggest example of this is my anger. I know that when my thoughts start getting jumbled, that's a sign for me to take a step back and do something that calms me down (like laying down or taking a walk).
Am I cured? Yep! It only took a month! No. I'm just kidding. I'm a long ways from being "cured" but I'm a lot closer than I was a few years ago.
Is it easy? I wish I could say yes, but it's one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Day one started with me recalling certain tramatic events in my life, figuring out how I feel about them and then working through those feelings. Writing them down, realizing they (and the people involved) are part of the reason I have BPD and then working through those feelings is incredibly difficult.
Is it a quick fix? Once again, I have to say no. I read the same sections over and over. I practice the same exercises again and again. I've been at it for years and I'll keep doing it for years to come. Why? Because it's helping and that's what matters.
Getting More Help
A couple years after getting The Angry Heart, I decided to look into DBT again. Big surprise: I still couldn't afford it. But during my search, I was told about another self-help book for Borderline Personality Disorder. After having such great results with the first one, I had no qualms about trying this book too.
While it's similar to The Angry Heart, this book shows focuses more on DBT exercises. I'm using both books now, practicing exercises from both. I've realized that the more I practice, the better prepared I am to use that technique when the need arises. Of course, right now I'm still at the point where I have to consciously tell myself how to act and react, but I hope someday that using the techniques in these books will be like second nature to me.
Video about Borderline Personality Disorder
This video makes me cry every time I watch it. It's just so honest and raw. The owner was scared about putting it up because she thought it was too depressing, but it's not. It's beautiful.
I know after reading this, you probably think I'm completely nuts (which is true) and that my husband is a saint (which is also true). Some of you also might think that because I'm so aware of my disorder, I should be able to just change my behavior. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.
When I was a child, I suffered through horrible abuse and mistreatment that basically rewired my brain. It took years for that to happen and it won't just go away because I want it to.
To put it another way: Suppose you're left handed but you want to be right handed. Just because you know you're left handed, doesn't mean it's going to be any easier to teach yourself to do everything right handed.
I hope this article brought you a little closer to understanding the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. You don't have to sign up in order to comment. Feel free to ask any questions below.
I've received many comments from other Borderlines who feel so alone in their struggles. First of all, I'd like to thank you for having the courage to tell your own stories. I'd like to help, so if you'd like, you can friend me on Facebook and I'll put you in touch with the support group that's helped me more than I ever imagined possible. Make sure to also send me a FB message telling me you came from this article. Otherwise I'll probably think you're a pervy stalker and turn you down :)
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