Mental Health Interview Series Pt. 3: Borderline Personality Disorder
If you've been keeping up with my four-part mental health interview series, then you've probably already met Jiggy who shared her experiences with depression and Nicole who opened up to us about her eating disorder and recovery. Both of these ladies have shown incredible strength and resilience in their lives and I'm so appreciative of their support for mental health awareness. It has been really interesting and enlightening for me to read their stories; if you've read my blog before you may know that I have suffered from an eating disorder in the past and my fiance Jesse has had his struggles with depression over the years. When we experience something first hand, I think we tend to generalize that experience and kind of just unintentionally assume that everyone else goes through it the same way. But this is so untrue; two people can see the same movie, visit the same country, or suffer from the same mental illness and have two entirely different experiences. I think it's so important to continuously focus on growing throughout your life and being able to connect with other people over the SAME event and the DIFFERENT way you both experiences it is a great way to do this.
So here we are at week three and this interview is a little different for me to post than the first two - because I interviewed Jesse! In my introductory post to this interview series, I talked a little bit about the series of events that shook up our lives one year ago. Jesse was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility for 81 days. Looking back, these 81 days represented the most scary, confusing, rewarding, educational, worrisome, hopeless, and courageous days of my life so far. There were days that I was sure everything was over; my life, his life, our life, and everything in between. I had nights of crying on the bathroom floor for 10 hours straight and then getting up and going to work to pretend that everything was normal at home. There were some days where our two hour visits were spent holding each other and sobbing, and other days where we played rummy for two hours laughing hysterically and feeling like everything was fine.
And if that's how I felt, I still can't even imagine what it was like in his head.
It felt like a never-ending rollercoaster of emotions, but there was one day in particular where everything got a little less foggy, a little more hopeful, and a lot more promising. After several weeks of inpatient therapy, different medication combinations and countless tears, Jesse was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.
I can't tell you that our lives were automatically fixed that day and that everything has been perfect and carefree since. But I can't even begin to explain how much clearer our lives have gotten since that moment; so I think I'll just Jesse tell you himself.
What was your initial reaction when you were diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder?
Honestly I was kind of relieved. After so many years of wondering why my mind felt so different from everyone else's, I finally had an answer that made sense. It was also frustrating though because this disorder does not have a quick fix. I basically had to, and still have to, relearn how to process all of my emotions.
What do you think are the most common misconceptions about BPD?
I think the first most common misconception is that BPD only affects women because it is a disorder that deals with emotions. Many men are not diagnosed, or are misdiagnosed, because of the fact that it is written off as being acceptable in our society for men to not show their emotions or to just show anger.
Another misconception is that BPD can’t be treated. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is designed to help people with BPD learn how to accept and deal with the emotions that they would typically suppress or not talk about.
What does BPD look like for you?
For me, BPD affects how I deal with different emotions and just generally how my mind processes things. The most common symptom I deal with is feeling that my mind is completely empty, or feeling a sense of numbness. If someone was to ask me what I am thinking, I would literally say nothing because I really am not thinking about anything. From a young age I conditioned myself to push emotions aside and not confront or process them. Fast forward years later and as an adult I don’t know how to deal with sadness, frustration, or basically expressing myself in general. If I am feeling anything but happy, I struggle to deal with the emotion and I withdraw into myself and become quiet, not wanting to talk to anyone.
In what way(s) has BPD most affected your life?
BPD has most affected how I express myself. Because I have trouble with emotions it usually comes off as me having like a “neutral” or “boring” personality. I don’t show emotion easily and if I was to show any emotion it would be anger or frustration because I wasn’t taught to express anything else, or to process that what I am feeling is anything besides anger of frustration. I have noticed that it is hard for people to really get to know me because I honestly have trouble knowing myself sometimes.
Also, because of BPD and how introverted it has made me, I also suffer from depression. When I feel like nothing is in my head or I feel "numb," it makes me feel sad, angry, and frustrated with myself. I usually just want to be alone or do nothing all day and that just fuels the depression even more.
How do you feel when your BPD brings you to your lowest point?
When BPD brings me to my lowest point I feel frustration, anger, and depression. I can tell that something is going on, like I am feeling something, but I don’t know how to express that emotion or even what that emotion is sometimes. It is really frustrating, especially when you are in a relationship with someone who wants to talk things out. The depression comes as a result of the frustration and anger. After being mad at myself for feeling anything but happy, I become sad and just want to be alone so that I don’t have to deal with the emotion that I am feeling.
What do you want people to know about BPD?
BPD is very common and most of the time misdiagnosed. It is also mostly learned behavior, but there IS a treatment. DBT helps me to acknowledge that I am feeling something and teaches me to express it in a healthy way, instead of not talking at all. It has literally helped me to be able to recognize exactly what emotion I am feeling, and how I can process and express that emotion in healthy ways.
I also want people to know that having this disorder does not label you as “crazy”. Yes, it does affect my personality, but I don’t have episodes of being out of control angry or super bad mood swings. I do get emotional; I just have to work harder to acknowledge the emotion that I am feeling.
What is the biggest daily challenge you face as a result of your BPD?
The biggest challenge I face is dealing with the everyday emotions that everybody deals with. Like I said, if I feel anything but happy, I tend to withdraw into myself and I can’t process what I am feeling. This usually comes off as anger or having a quiet personality. It is hard to open up to anyone and it really does affect my relationship with other people every day.
In what ways, if any, have you learned to cope with your BPD?
Although I am very resistant to doing it, studying DBT is the best way for me to cope with BPD. When I am studying DBT and practicing the techniques while I am in a non-emotional state, it helps me to better prepare for when I do have those strong emotions.
Also, it is helpful when Cede points out when I am obviously trying to suppress something and we talk it out using the DBT techniques.
Is your BPD the result of an event in your past, or is the cause unknown to you?
Growing up I never really talked about my emotions. Nobody really sat me down when I was feeling something and talked it out with me. I was also constantly told by my family that I should dress more like a girl, which brought up a whole bunch of emotions (see earlier post for clarification here...). So the combination of not talking about emotions and having a lot of emotions come up, significantly impacted my diagnosis of BPD.
How common is BPD?
BPD is very common but often misdiagnosed, or not even diagnosed at all.
What are the symptoms that you think may be representative of BPD, for those who have not been diagnosed but may believe they are at risk?
I can only speak from my own symptoms, but the things I would look out for are not being able to verbalize how you are feeling, not really having anything going on in your head/thinking about anything, and having your go-to emotion be anger.
Do you think your BPD has held you back in life, or prevented you from doing something you wanted to?
I don’t think it has really held me back. I have been able to do everything that I wanted to do. I did have one setback where my life was put on hold for three months because I was in the hospital for depression and was then diagnosed with BPD, but I kind of believe that I did that to myself in some ways. I actually took myself off of my antidepressant medications a long time ago and was not in therapy; I thought I could do it by myself. But after time, my emotions were becoming so suppressed to the point where I was constantly feeling this numbness and ultimately had suicidal ideations. That’s why it is so important to at least be in therapy or talk things out with someone when you have really strong feelings. I also think it's so important that you are correctly diagnosed with certain mental illnesses, and that the diagnosis and treatment make sense to you. If you can understand and get on board with your diagnosis and treatment plan, you will become so much more successful with it.
Sometimes it’s hard for people to know how to help someone suffering from a mental health disorder – do you have any advice for these people?
I’m still learning how to deal with it myself, but I would tell other people to just be patient. Our minds work a little different than yours and we just want to be treated like a normal person. I don’t expect any special treatment because I have BPD and honestly it would make me feel weird if people were constantly catering to my disorder.
A common belief that many people have is that mental illness is just weakness or an inability to deal with life’s challenges. What is your response to that?
Everybody has challenges in their life and sometimes you need a little bit more help to get through those challenges. You aren’t weird, crazy, or weak for seeking help when you need it. I believe it takes a stronger person to ask for help than to just try and deal with it.
How, if at all, has your BPD affected those around you?
I’m sure that Cede wants to punch me in the face sometimes because of my lack of conversing lol. Ummmm other than that it doesn’t really affect other people. For me, BPD affects the person who has it more than the people around them. The people around them will probably get frustrated with that person, but they have to realize that we process things differently than they do.
Has anyone ever treated you differently because of your BPD?
Well when I was in the hospital people were like extra nice to me and basically catered to my every need, but I think that was because I was also very depressed. Since getting out of the hospital nobody has really treated me differently and I am glad they don’t.
Have you ever tried any type of therapy for your BPD and if so, was it a positive or negative experience?
While in the hospital we had DBT group multiple times a week as well as 1:1 sessions with a therapist 1-2 times a week. I was also put through 8 sessions of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) which I believe truly snapped me out of my depressive state. After getting out of the hospital I went to a partial inpatient/outpatient program and now I am seeing a therapist once a week and taking medication.
I honestly never really liked therapy. I was always very uncomfortable with it and never really knew what to talk about (because of the whole nothing going on in my head thing). I’ve learned that it is a necessity and since being hospitalized because of my disorder I believe therapy has come to be a very positive experience for me. I still would rather not be in therapy or taking medications, but after seeing the effects of not having either of those things, I will make myself uncomfortable to get the help I need.
What is your proudest accomplishment that you’ve achieved despite your diagnosis?
My proudest accomplishment has to be becoming a Registered Nurse. Through most of college I was in a very depressed state and forcing myself to get up for clinicals and classes was a huge thing for me at the time. All of it payed off when I saw that passing score on the NCLEX.
I can't thank Jesse enough for allowing me to interview for him for this post. I think that Borderline Personality Disorder is one of the less spoken about mental illnesses, so being able to provide a relatable story for someone who may be going through similar experiences was really important to me.
I hope this interview provided a fresh outlook and some new information for many of you. Thank you to everyone who has been reading and sharing so far! Mental health is a topic that has grown closer and closer to my heart every year of my life and I'm so blown away reading these interviews each week.
I will be posting the fourth and final interview of this series next week. I will be speaking with one of my closest friends from middle school and high school, Tyler. Don't forget to come back next week to hear Tyler's story and learn about his experiences with mental illness.