“The stigma attached to BPD is hurtful, and still present. We are often compared to murderers, abusers.”
Alex explores the reality of living with BPD as a woman – documenting the creative positives alongside the symptoms.
For a long time, I knew something wasn’t quite ‘right’.
The extent of my reactions to small things: noises, a line someone had said. Feeling like I was going to explode, but unable to let it out. Unsettling symptoms: paranoia, intrusive thoughts, how quickly I could change my view about others, and about myself.
I later learnt that this is ‘quiet BPD’: a subtype of borderline personality disorder (BPD) where very intense emotions are expressed inwards.
There aren’t shouting matches, fights, or confrontation. It bubbles and bubbles and bubbles, feeling like a bottle about to burst with the lid still on.
Throughout school I felt entirely detached from myself and my surroundings, experiencing derealisation and depersonalisation. It got so bad that I had to always play with a tangle in my hand – even run my fingers against the walls – to feel more grounded. Chewing gum and perfume were a must, as well as wearing heavy Doc Martens to weigh myself down. I’d easily forget conversations, feel almost drunk with the haze – hearing people’s voices as though I was trapped in a bubble.
I was told this was just a freeze response from chronic anxiety. Still, something was missing – literally. I felt bored a lot – really bored. I now know it is chronic emptiness, a symptom of BPD. Feeling fulfilled with life is very difficult. Being happy with friends, family, a job, yourself, where you live: it seems near impossible to know what you want, deep down.
I remember times where I would see a friend with someone else and feel an overpowering stab in my stomach of jealousy. This was even worse with attachments who were ‘father-figures’ whenever they spoke to someone else. Attachments are intense and take up a lot of space in your mind. As school was coming to an end, I felt like I was plunged into a deep, dark grief because I wouldn’t ever see this or that person again.
I thought, surely this just isn’t normal? Again, I was told it was just anxiety. I had no idea I was showing the fear of abandonment until years later.
One of the hardest things about living with BPD is the intense mood swings within a single day. Being unable to explain why you feel extremely low and depressed, when just a few hours ago you were extremely talkative, laughing until your stomach hurt, and had all the energy in the world, as if you just ate 10 bags of sweets. I either speak too much or not at all. This was highly confusing to others around me.
It isn’t just highs and lows – known as ‘splitting’, the world is either awful or great – but everything inbetween. Anxiety that makes me feel like I’m going to die; agitation that feels like extreme internal itchiness everywhere; paranoia that makes me question what is real, or just in my head.
I was diagnosed with BPD at 19, while speaking to a different professional about ‘depressive episodes’. My mood was very unstable – the “depression” would actually last for days, or even minutes, before switching again. Feeling was always too much of one thing or another.
Processing the diagnosis was a lot. When telling family and friends about it, I was reluctant to send a link about it because of stigma around BPD.
Online, it’s often talked about as involving ‘reckless behaviour, impulsive, explosive anger’. I relate to none of these. I feared people would doubt that I even have it. I’m the quiet one at the back of the class, I’m the one reading a book in silence: surely I don’t have a personality disorder?
But people display their combination of traits so differently to one another.
The stigma attached to BPD is hurtful, and still present. We are often compared to murderers, abusers. I have even seen comments online telling people that if they ever come across someone with BPD, to run. It hurts a lot to be misunderstood, with any mental illness.
There are some positives. I feel intense emotions from experiences such as connecting with music, hearing live music, watching films, being empathetic. Feeling strongly about certain subjects meaning you can be part of campaigns, and the euphoria and ‘highs’ feel amazing before the massive drop in mood. I can be really productive, motivated, engaged in things, determined, and view things differently.
You want to help others, or express difficulties creatively: through poetry, music or acting. Many people with BPD become involved with the creative arts as a medium of expression, and can be incredibly successful using this creativity.
I hope sharing my experience of BPD will help others going through similar symptoms to feel less alone – and to shed light on what it’s like to those who aren’t familiar with BPD, or who simply couldn’t understand.
I am determined to not make it my identity, and to separate it from who I am. Because I am not BPD, I have BPD, and it’s important to acknowledge that. It’s bittersweet looking back at when I struggled all those years – struggling with it, just undiagnosed.
Labels don’t define you: they just explain what’s going on.
Here’s to hoping that the stigma will decrease, that waiting lists will get shorter, and that more funding will be put towards mental health. There are many voices waiting to be heard and we desperately need better access treatment.
The more our experiences are spoken about, the more likely things will improve for the better.
Alex can be found sharing further mental-health related content, and their day-to-day experience of living with BPD, on Instagram @thementalhealthhelper .