I wanted to take an opportunity to shed some light on a mental illness that isn’t as common nor discussed as openly as the likes of anxiety and depression. For about 10 years now, I have struggled with what doctors originally diagnosed as depression and anxiety. I have been on six different types of anti-depressants, none of which seemed to work for me. The side effects of each were intense and included weight gain, excessive tiredness, headaches, excessive sweating and dizzy spells (I’d fall over and faint quite a lot). I was still anxious, I was still depressed and I still felt unstable.
Last year I was in a pretty bad place, I was feeling the worst I ever had. My relationships with my friends and family were falling apart, and I treated my incredible fiancé like shit a lot of the time through no fault of his own. My three best mates staged an intervention and begged me to look after myself more and seek further treatment. They told me that they were struggling to speak to me and spend time with me due to my extreme mood swings and intense emotional displays. I was at risk of losing the people I loved the most.
One of my friends did some further research and stumbled across an article on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I displayed almost all of the signs and symptoms, so I went hunting and found an incredible GP who I felt actually heard and understood me. Instead of doing what other doctors had done and upping my meds (I was already on the highest dosage that is allowed), she referred me to a Psychiatrist who confirmed what I thought – Borderline Personality Disorder. In a nutshell, BPD can be inherited or can stem from childhood trauma or abuse. It creates an extreme fear of abandonment and makes it really difficult to control my reactions to what I perceive as threats of abandonment.
My symptoms include:
* Depression, anxiety and panic attacks
* Extreme reactions to what I perceive as a threat of abandonment
* A history of very rocky relationships with friends, partners and family. Some days I would absolutely adore someone and rave about how perfect they were, only to wake up hating their guts the next. If relationships ended, I would enter a downward spiral and try to do everything I could to win that person back
* Reckless behaviour – for me this included excessive spending, dangerous driving, substance abuse and binge eating or on the flip side, starving myself or purging after meals
* Distorted and unstable self-image – I was constantly changing my mind about what I wanted to do in terms of my career and study. Some days I was going to be a lawyer, on others, I was applying for retail jobs and to do makeup and dog grooming courses. I suffered from eating disorders and body image issues, with my weight fluctuating between 65 and 110 kilos over a period of 10 years
* Intense moods which ranged from extreme sadness to uncontrollable rage. These lasted anywhere from a few hours to a few days!
* Feelings of emptiness and loneliness
* Problems controlling my temper and displaying my negative feelings by lashing out in anger – I often threw things around the house or even at people in fits of rage
* Extremely paranoid thoughts
* Feeling disconnected from myself and like I was losing my mind
It’s a long and intense list of symptoms that made me feel incredibly unstable the majority of the time. I was always afraid to go out with friends or family because I knew there was a high chance of me having an episode and acting out, so I ended up retreating and rarely went anywhere. I would try to speak and express my feelings consciously and appropriately, but what I planned to say never came out. I call it brain dyslexia, what I thought I was going to say or wanted to say and what I actually said would be two completely different things. My friends and partner were afraid of me, even my mum got anxious when we spoke or saw each other. I took everything people said to me as a personal attack and was constantly in defence mode. I was terrified of myself and the damage I was capable of. I hated who I had become.
My psychiatrist prescribed me a mood stabiliser and it is the first medication I have taken that works for me. He also referred me to a psychologist, who I see regularly. My GP, psychiatrist and psychologist have all worked collaboratively to help me get better. The medication took the edge off a lot, which gave me time to learn how to manage and work through my symptoms and extreme behaviour. I finally began to come to grips with the potential causes of my BPD and started to be more aware of my feelings in certain situations and the reactions that they provoked. Specific words or topics can still set me off, particularly anything that has to do with money, food, diet and exercise. What I have learnt through therapy has helped me to react more appropriately when discussing these topics.
I slowly began to reveal my diagnosis to people I trusted and felt safe with, which meant I had the chance to explain the reasons for my erratic behaviour. We developed a kind of collective awareness and anytime I started to act out of sorts, I was gently reminded that I was in a safe space and that no one around me hated me or thought I was a psychopath. I also started a type of therapy called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy which was specifically developed to treat BPD and other personality disorders. It focuses on learning how to appropriately manage past trauma and the emotions associated with it and helps me to manage sudden or intense emotions without lashing out. I complete worksheets, I journal about my reactions to different situations, I have learnt about breath control and how to regulate my emotions and express them appropriately. I also started yoga, which has been another huge catalyst in my recovery. I commit to an hour of practice at least 4 days per week. Taking time for myself helps to improve my self-worth and slow down my thoughts. Learning about the ego, the importance of letting go of negative thoughts and showing respect to myself and others has been really beneficial to me.
I’m really hoping that my story can be used to help other people who suffer from a personality disorder. We are not alone in this battle, and we are not unstable or crazy. Sometimes we can act and feel unstable, but that does not define our personalities or define us as people. We can be sensitive, we experience a lot more emotional shifts than others, but that doesn’t mean we can only express ourselves in a negative manner. By learning to better regulate my own emotions, my sensitivities have helped me to become a more caring person. I have found that my experience of inner turbulence has taught me to show high levels of empathy and support to others. I’m aware that it’s a slight contradiction to have this posted anonymously, but unfortunately, I still worry about the stigma that may come with it and the effect that stigma might have on my career.
The biggest part of the battle and getting better is seeking the right treatment and finding the right doctor/s. It can take time to find the right doctors, so shop around for the right fit. Once you get that match right, the door to understanding yourself and getting better opens. It is essential to commit to this recovery through regular psych appointments (well, as regular as you can afford to) and follow through with the exercises you learn in those sessions. Persistence and patience are key. Recovery definitely doesn’t happen overnight, and even if it feels like things are getting better really quickly, it is important not to become too complacent or decide that you are cured and can magically drop all of the supports that have been provided to you. The recovery from BPD can take anywhere from 12 months to 10 years, sometimes longer.
To anyone who suffers from mental illness, particularly BPD – you are not alone in this battle and you can absolutely recover. Never give up. You’ve got this. We’ve got this.