WARNING – This post may contain triggers for some.
There’s no better place to start with an illness than the symptoms. In this first instalment of the basics of BPD I’m going to break down the symptoms on mind.com and my own experiences with them. I’m using Mind because I can find it really difficult to put the symptoms into words that make sense without rambling, so they’re a lot clearer than what I could tell you
Feeling very worried about people abandoning you
This is a huge symptom for most sufferers of BPD. I do get quite argumentative, however, I’m always terrified that the person I argue with is going to leave forever, sometimes I worry so much it leads to a panic attack. It even happens if a friend is having an off day; I’ll blame myself and wrack my brain looking for reasons they could be annoyed at me, therefore feeling like they’re going to leave. The thought of someone I love or a close friend leaving is the worst, and it often causes physical pain like headaches and sometimes chest pains.
Very intense emotions that last from a few hours to a few days and can change quickly
This was the main symptom which pushed me towards a second opinion on the depression and anxiety I had already been diagnosed with. For the first few months, I actually thought I had bipolar disorder which BPD is often misdiagnosed as, however, after reading into medical journals and reports, I finally came across BPD which changed my outlook on my mental health forever.
At one point, my emotions were changing so rapidly I could experience a few swings within the space of an hour, and I could literally feel my mood dropping and changing throughout the day. It’s not just bad moods that are intense, though. My high moods make me incredibly productive and saw me finishing my college coursework which was meant to take weeks in a one hour lesson (I still got a B). They can also make me incredibly annoying and hyperactive, intensely angry, and sad to the point where I can cry uncontrollably for hours on end.
Don’t have a strong sense of who you are
I didn’t realise I was suffering from this symptom until a few months into my diagnosis. All my life I have jumped on hobbies I thought I loved and ended up giving them up just as quickly. When I was younger, it was the Scouts, then dancing, then hockey, then drama, and as I got older I was joining sports and theatre groups just to give them up as soon as I faced a bump in the road. I realised a few months ago that I do this to try to build a personality I don’t feel I have. I have heard others with BPD also say they take on the personalities of their favourite characters from pop culture and adapt them into something they can use in real life, when actually, we probably all do have a personality people around us love, we just can’t see that.
Find it very hard to make and keep stable relationships
I am so lucky to have the support group of friends that I do who know I can be flakey and I don’t talk for days, sometimes weeks on end otherwise I’d be losing friends left right and centre. When I was younger, I found it very difficult to make and keep hold of friends, and found myself flitting around friendship groups in high school and college. I kept the friends I made in different areas far away from each other to ensure they couldn’t all leave at once (see fear of abandonment). Even when it comes to romantic relationships, I struggle to maintain a slow pace and either fall way too fast for someone I barely know, or I get bored within a matter of days and move on to something better. I think this symptom correlates a lot with the others, and it is because I have unstable moods and a fear of abandonment that I struggle to maintain relationships and think rationally about how other people behave around and interact with me.
When I’m not having volatile mood swings, I do often feel empty and have no emotions at all. You may think this would be a welcome break to feeling all the emotions all the time, but it can actually be pretty scary. I can watch horrific events on the news and feel nothing at all towards them, or a friend can tell me some incredible news and I have to fake how I feel as to not upset them. It can be quite weird looking back on times when I have felt so empty I can’t react to what is going on around me, and it makes me realise how patient my support network must be.
For some this includes illegal activity like shoplifting, drugs and violence, for me, my impulsive spending gets way too out of control. Pay day gives me a rush every month and I often go way over budget when trying to plan out my disposable income. I will often tell friends and family I can’t afford to go out or buy something important, but will gladly spend frivolously on things I don’t need at all. A few years ago I was accepted for a credit card and almost hit my limit within 2 months. This is the main symptom that causes me actual damage and the main one I am trying to work at to calm down.
Self-harm and suicidal feelings
Self-harm is something I struggled greatly with during my time in college. The scars on my arm remain, but I am now 2 and a half years clean from self-harming and I have found other methods of coping when I get overly stressed or upset.
I wish I could say the same from the suicidal feelings. These come when I get to my most depressed points and make me feel scared and alone. The condition tells me that nobody would care if I wasn’t around anymore, which even if everyone told me was untrue, I still wouldn’t be able to see it. Fortunately, I have always been too terrified to act of any of the thoughts I get, but if you do experience these yourself, please seek help with your local GP or trusted friend.
Intense feelings of anger
To me, this comes under the intense mood swings, and whilst the anger is the one that is most difficult to control, I’d just be repeating myself if I went into depth with this. Please see above for more information on this one.
Paranoia and/or dissociation
I get paranoid about EVERYTHING. Whether my friends like me or not, whether I’m safe at my job, whether I look okay when I go out, and it leaves me second guessing all the time. I read far too into what people are saying and leaves me frustrated and panicky a lot of the time.
I didn’t know a lot about disassociation before looking into BPD but I definitely experience it. It is basically the brain’s way of coping with too much stress and it just shuts down, leaving you to zone out and things become hazy. In more severe cases, it can lead to people having issues remembering chunks of their life (this has happened to me before and can be incredibly scary when people try to prompt you to remember things that have happened) and even forgetting your identity and building a new one (this one I haven’t experienced).
I hope this guide has helped de-bunk some of the misconceptions about BPD and what it feels like for someone with it. If you have any questions about Borderline, my inbox and comments are always open, or check out the Mind page which helped me write this guide.