The Real Faces of Mental Illness is a monthly interview series from real people sharing their personal stories and experiences. I want to show people what it’s really like to have a mental illness and not hide behind medical terms and symptoms. I want to share what it’s like to live with these diseases, on a day to day basis and how it really looks and feels and what recovery really involves. I want to share the real face of mental illnesses.
Quick note from Kendra: This is one of the longer interviews I have had but I have to tell you, it’s worth it! There is a lot of interesting things and perspectives talked about here, so please read through it.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? (name, age, job, hobbies etc)
I use the name savemefrombpd through my blog and on other websites. I am a 29 year old female originally from London, UK, and have now been living abroad for 8 years. I am employed in a protected workshop for people that are in the rehabilitation process dealing with mental health issues. Due to my mental health, I am unable to work a full time or even part time job in an office with/and/or set hours and commitments I need to make. I love writing poetry and creating art also.
For those who don’t know, what is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behaviour, and relationships.
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
Identity disturbance, such as a significant and persistent 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
Emotional instability due to significant reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
Chronic feelings of emptiness
Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms
Info above on BPD from Psych Central
What does feel like for you?
Borderline Personality Disorder affects so many areas of my life. I have been in a breakdown for 4 years now and it started with anxiety and then clinical depression and then after several months I got the diagnosis of BPD too. I have been hospitalised a lot over the past 3 years. I’ve spent more time in hospital than out of hospital. I even did ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) whilst hospitalized due to the depression as it was getting that bad that I became actively suicidal.
Here is something I wrote which expresses a lot how I feel…
A plant. It has it’s roots. It has it’s stem. And many leaves attached to the stem. Reaching up at the top is the beautiful flower of life. The real beauty. The real main part of the plant. Without this, it isn’t much to look at.
The plant has weak roots, nevertheless, has some. The plant hasn’t got leaves. Someone or something has picked them all off and the stem and plant is bare. And reaching at the top is a sudden halt in the plant’s stem. Nothing. Not only has its leaves been picked off, something horrible, someone horrible has snapped off the beautiful flower of life.
What is left is nearly lifeless. The plant is alive, but is struggling. It needs to expand on it’s roots so that it can stand stronger and prouder. When the wind comes, it is strong and stubbornly doesn’t allow the wind to knock it down.
The other parts of the plant, the leaves, have been eaten away, picked at, and are gone completely. Picked off one by one. The plant cries out every time a leaf is taken. The plant becomes bare and more and more fragile to the extremities it faces. The leaves gave the plant it’s balance too. Both in the way of beauty and both in the physical way of it standing strong and determined not to fall.
The plant needs water. It needs tender loving care. When the earth dries up, the plant cries out again for care. And so it is watered. But it cannot be watered all of the time. Sometimes the plant needs to stand strong for itself. The strongest it can stand in such conditions. It may be a façade, it may be a mask, but the plant must show power otherwise it will be eaten up and totally destroyed by its surroundings.
The plant is not giving in, but it is struggling. Very much struggling to stand up strong in the face of adversity. The water of course is one of the lifelines of the plant’s existence but that’s not the only answer to it being able to fight and grow back in to being a beautiful plant with a beautiful flower at the top of it. Things can’t change overnight.
The plant needs patience. It is going to take time for those roots to strengthen, for the stem to strengthen and release those powerful leaves that gives it a sense of hope and a sense of beauty and makes the plant feel mixed in with the other plants, not sticking out from the others, totally out of place.
The flower is the last thing to blossom. This blossoming of the flower takes much time and effort. The plant knows what it wants and it is fighting to get it. It wants that beautiful flower right at the top of it’s stem. It wants to not only feel but BE complete.
The plant fears a terrible drought or terrible flooding in which it will not be able to survive. The plant feels like it could happen at any time, within a matter of hours or days. It also relies on it’s fellow plants to surround itself and protect the plant from extreme conditions. There is support there but the plant needs to request it and cry out for help in order to carry on living.
The plant doesn’t have much patience. But the plant knows that in the end it needs this patience in order to blossom like the beautiful plant it can and will be.
And a quote that I very much relate to is: “All my life, my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name.” André Breton
What do you wish people knew about BPD?
I am in no way saying that people with BPD suffer more than everyone else on the planet, oh no. But BPD is utter torment. The changes in moods are drastic and sudden and you never know what will happen from day to day, even hour to hour and minute to minute. I would like for people to know that and to also know that we do not want to feel and live like this. We are so desperate to get better.
I’d also like for people to know that people with BPD are dealing with much stigma. One example is how people with BPD are represented to be the ones that antagonize others and hurt others whether intentionally or unintentionally. But the truth is, the statistics show that we are more likely to be hurt than to be the ones hurting others. A small example here is that I was raped in December 2013 and it was an aggressive attack which is still going through the police to be investigated. And I am dealing with trauma. Oftentimes, people with BPD have experienced sexual/emotional/verbal/physical abuse in their lives.
When did you first realize that you were struggling with ?
I had been self-harming for over a decade before I got the BPD diagnosis. That’s not to say that all people who self-harm have BPD. But self-harming in those people who are diagnosed with BPD (having other symptoms too) is quite common. So I was aware that something wasn’t quite right for many years. I was very unhappy but seemed to be functioning and was actually functioning quite well.
Once I received the diagnosis, I have to admit, I had never even heard about BPD and what it is. This is where the need for education comes in to play. I didn’t learn a single thing about mental health in school growing up. I had to educate myself and through reading about BPD, I could therefore relate to a lot of the symptoms and it became very clear to me that the diagnosis was correct.
Have you been officially diagnosed by a doctor? If yes. what symptoms or events in your life led you to being tested? How has the official diagnoses affected your outlook on yourself, and your treatment?
Yes, I was diagnosed nearly 4 years ago now. I thought that I had just anxiety and depression but then my psychologist at the time sent me to a top psychiatrist in the city and he confirmed what my psychologist thought, that I do have BPD.
It however seemed that the main issues were the depression and anxiety at the beginning so I was told that most likely medications would help alongside therapy. I was told that I had kept so much inside of me from a young age, and now was the time to open up and talk about it all. But as time went on, the BPD symptoms seemed to become more and more severe. As the reason to why, I am not sure. But everyone started to see the BPD as actually being the main issue. But it all mixes together to be honest. It’s very difficult to decipher what is what when you are dealing with co-morbid diagnoses and symptoms also.
Have you sought treatment? Are you currently in therapy or on medication? How does that help your illness and day to day life?
I cannot have tried any harder than I have done in order to ‘overcome’ BPD. Unfortunately so, studies and professional opinions in fact state that it is impossible to ‘cure’ BPD.
BPD often stays with a person way in to their 30’s and 40’s until it has been shown that the symptoms lessen within time. But all people can really do with BPD is learn how to deal with it and therefore suffer less.
I currently have a lot of help of which I am so appreciative of. I rent my own apartment but I have a care worker that I meet with 3 times a week, I meet with my social worker once a week, psychologist (psychotherapy) once a week, psychiatrist every 2 weeks and have some other general support and also try to help others via a mental health group that I go to that meets twice a week. I also am on an array of medications but it’s difficult to know whether they are helping or not. That’s the blurry, confusing part as medications can help with certain symptoms, but a lot of symptoms cannot be helped with medications.
But again, not every person with BPD has all of these symptoms. Everyone knows that I am in desperate need for this therapy but I am on one of those long waiting lists that I don’t know when I will get a place basically. I’ve been on the list for a year so far. Not just in this country, but around the world, DBT is very difficult to get access to. But people have reported that this therapy has helped them greatly and in some cases, even change their lives. So there is hope still. I don’t wish to make it sound like all doom and gloom.
How has BPD affected your life? What routine event do you find you have the most trouble with? (example: day to day daily habits). How has it affected your relationships (with your family, your friends, your significant others)?
With the BPD, I have offshoots for a wish for a better terminology. The professionals have stated that the depression I have is separate from the BPD and is clinical depression and some have said that it is part of the BPD.
In either case, I have very low energy levels, I suffer with insomnia, I am dealing with crippling anxiety a lot where I can’t even eat for the first several hours of the day. I am always very confused in my own mind and find it difficult to make decisions, I feel empty so then hopeless and helpless and that has taken me down extremely dark paths until I got to the point of being actively suicidal and I am lucky to still be alive. Generally, functioning on a day to day level is difficult and this is why I am in the rehabilitation phase with a big network of support from many professionals.
My illness has also affected my relationships with my family. Albeit I have a very small family due to my mother leaving the family home when I was 15 years old and her side of the family disappeared too. I have one sister that lives 10 minutes away from me but she is very busy and has 3 kids under the age of 4! (That includes a newborn). I feel like I’m either feeling too much and crave and need my family and am so alone because I have no friends too, so I just want to be with people. Then there is the other side that isolates and tells myself I need quiet and my own space but most of the time that works against me.
But it can be a very hard situation to be in because I can feel numb and in turn, I feel no love or anything for my family and that is a horrible thing to feel, or in this case, not feel.
There is SO much to it, there really is.
What are your personal triggers? How have you learned to deal with them?
Some triggers are very apparent and some are not. I am trying to learn to deal with them through the DBT, but am waiting on this therapy at the local mental health centre. I do find myself, however, getting better at realizing what my triggers are and trying my best to not have such a strong reaction to those and use whatever coping techniques I have to avoid any negative or dangerous actions on my part.
What coping mechanisms have you tried and what has worked the best for you personally?
I own a DBT workbook that I am always trying to put in to action and for it to hopefully help me, but I can see that it’s very difficult to carry out these coping techniques and all the rest of it, alone. When you do proper DBT, you meet once with a small group of people and the therapist who gives the information and skills to the group. Then you meet with a therapist once a week that is trained in giving DBT and you then relate it to your own lives and see how you can use the therapy in day to day situations you may be facing.
As I have unfortunately been able to start the DBT yet, I still try to use the coping techniques and skills that are included in the workbook. I find that it’s ever so important to not let myself get so deeply involved in intense thoughts about certain things, mostly negative, because I go off on a roller coaster of a ride and it can end up with me self-harming or doing very unhealthy things. So I try to distract myself and do things like writing poetry, doing art, watching YouTube videos on my laptop and I also have a blog that I write on at least a few times a week. I find that is a great release and it helps me to arrange my thoughts and actions and I also have a number of followers that also are bloggers that have mental health issues so we all try to support each other and be there for each other which is very nice indeed.
There are a lot of good people out there. A lot of sincere people. A lot of people suffering. A lot of people working on things via therapy and with their psychiatrists adjusting medications. Just trying to fight through every day the best they can. Sometimes for me, a successful day is me getting out of bed and brushing my teeth!
How do you define the word ‘wellness’? How do you focus on your personal wellness?
Wellness to me includes having the basics in life such as a roof over my head, clothing and food. That’s a good start.
And moving on from there, relationships. I want loving and caring relationships with my family. I want to have friends where we are there for each other not only in the difficult times, but to be there to have fun with and enjoy doing things together.
Having hobbies too and having interests in things. I very much try to see the glass half full than being half empty. I try and see the good even in the little things in life like a butterfly flying past me or the giggling of my nieces.
Have you experienced stigma or bullying? How do you deal with it?
I’ve experienced a lot of stigma yes. And this is stigma from even psychiatrists who simply don’t understand and have the most awful attitudes towards BPD. I had one head psychiatrist tell me that I shouldn’t be in hospital (after I made a serious suicide attempt) because, quote on quote “hospital is for sick people. They are a danger to themselves and/or others in most cases”. My reply to this was then why am I so much different? Just because I am aware of what I am doing means that I am not really sick? I AM A DANGER TO MYSELF AND I AM TRYING TO REACH OUT FOR HELP. And the psychiatrist said nothing back to that. Perhaps I managed to get something in to her skull that will actually register what I said and stay there.
How has having BPD changed your perspective about life, creativity, love, etc?
BPD is a craze of feelings and emotions. At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself when I became overwhelmed so I self-harmed most of the time. The self-harm got worse last year, but since then has been less frequent, very much so.
I am managing, I think, to express myself in different ways. I create art and write poetry. I tell myself it hasn’t got to be a Picasso painting and that I can just doodle or throw some paint in to my sketchbook. I have a sketchbook (this is my 3rd in fact) where I include my poetry and art in to and whatever I feel expresses what is going on with me at the time. I find that it helps a lot.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with BPD?
As much as it seems like there is no hope in the world… There is. OK, the statistics are harsh and it is a harsh illness, but help is out there and you just need to keep reaching out until you build a network of support.
I also find that it helps me when I try to help others as I get out of my own headspace and can focus on something else, and it’s very rewarding just being there for someone else. Also, volunteering is also on the same lines and is very much recommended for those suffering with an array of mental health issues. And keep busy. At times, it feels impossible, but keep on trying.
After months of not being able to do art in my apartment by myself, I have now started again and it gives me such a relief. So go and do some art even if you think you can’t do it, write poetry, start a blog, write a personal journal, involve your families if you can in to your rehabilitation, reach out to those friends that are ready and there for you if you need them and vice versa.
Stay strong and don’t give up.
What resources (books, websites, doctors etc) have been the most helpful in educating yourself about your own and other mental illnesses?
There are many books on Amazon that include workbooks for the DBT which as stated, are not so easy to work on by yourself, however, I would still recommend to read and get yourself to know this type of therapy and what it includes.
There are also many memoirs from writers who have gone through their healing processes and their stories are pretty mind-blowing.
I believe that it is very important for people diagnosed with BPD to read up about the basics of the illness online and read about the treatment options so that they can become a person involved in that because that is extremely important. From there, I think one can get too involved and caught up in the diagnosis and read the statistics and freak out and start to become very hopeless and helpless. I went through this myself and highly recommend people to try and avoid this. There is so much negativity out there about BPD and such little positive stories of people who manage to learn to live with it so that they are pretty much fully functioning day to day. I do hope that the stigma can be changed about BPD. I know that there are a lot of bloggers out there trying to make change and speak up about their own personal experiences with having BPD and even having friends or family members suffering with BPD so it opens up the necessary conversations that we so desperately need to have concerning BPD. There are many charities and organisations also who are working very hard to change people’s attitude towards BPD.
And excellent blogs like these whom are not scared of trying to get the message out there and interview people like myself and therefore get some more information and understanding out there. So thank you for this too!
How do people react when you tell them/they find out you have BPD?
A huge majority don’t know what BPD is. I am quite honest and open about it and have no problem in saying a couple of sentences about BPD and what it involves. In other cases, I do not wish to go in to the whole shebang and so I say that I just suffer from depression and anxiety, which is not a lie anyway! And unfortunately, the reason I do this is because of the known stigma that is attached not just to BPD but other so-called ‘personality disorders’ too.
What are the biggest misconceptions you’ve encountered when talking to people about BPD?
That people with BPD are outwardly angry and have physical fights and actually seek this out. Not true. There are many ‘quiet Borderlines’ that are suffering inside and you may never even see from the outside what is going on in the inside.
Also, it’s a misconception that people suffering with BPD are doing things in order to get attention. Attention seeking. I’d say in a majority of cases, the person is struggling so much so, that their actions can be a cry out for help. The pain and torment of feeling like you are not being understood and people are not knowing what is going through inside of you is extremely difficult. However, if I may give one example back to the people who hold the terrible attitude that people with BPD are attention seeking… I self-harmed from the age of 13 until the age of 25 until I told even one person. I never told a soul in-between the ages of 13 and 25. I hid my scars and only revealed them when my first psychologist asked to see what I had been going through for all of these years. So does that sound like attention seeking to you? Absolutely not. I wasn’t walking around with self-inflicted injuries and saying ‘look at me, look at me!’.
Do you know anyone else with the same mental illness as yourself? If yes, how do you find your symptoms, experiences and treatments differ?
I am active in the blogging world and read a lot of other people’s blogs and so I read about their experiences and day to day living. I have found that BPD does usually centre around the same themes, but experiences can be actually quite different when some symptoms are worse for some people than others. And then the original person struggles more with something else and so differences between people can be quite vast. I relate hugely with some bloggers and their writing and poetry, whereas I do not relate so much to others too.
Do you use creativity in any form to improve your mental health?
As mentioned previously, through art and poetry. I believe that it is not good to be so caught up with so many thoughts in your head and not to release them. Sometimes even with all the help I get, I still feel the need to release strong emotions and thoughts about things. I often find that in the creative process, I can actually start to make sense of what triggered me perhaps or question myself as to whether I was right to have said or done something or if there was perhaps a different route I could have taken.
I’d like to share with everyone a piece of graphic art I did that explains my own mind and I imagine quite a lot of other minds of those with BPD too.
Do you see having a mental illness as a curse or a gift? Or both? Why?
I can only be honest here and say that. It is extremely difficult to live with. But people suffer on different levels so it doesn’t mean that it is a curse for everyone. The only positive thing that can come out of the therapy process is being able to build and work on yourself which a lot of people never have the chance to do. Life isn’t tough just for people with BPD. Life is pretty tough for most people!
I am a 29 year old female born in the UK and suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I have dual diagnoses and or symptoms also such as major depression, anxiety, PTSD, insomnia. I have been dealing with unhealthy coping techniques for many years such as self-harming and substance abuse. All of which were to try and escape reality or release certain feelings at the time such as anger and frustration.
I was raped back in December 2013 which has deeply affected me also on top of the other issues I was already dealing with. Life is far from easy but I have all the support and help I need put in to place so I do hope to continue to recover from things I have been through and deal with issues from the past, present and future. It’s a very trying experience but I do believe it will be worth it in the end.
If you wish to read further in to the lives of those dealing with BPD, you can visit my blog. Please feel free to make comments on my posts and get involved in the conversations with others.