Australia → Student & Activist → BPD → Therapy → CBT → EMDR → Medication → DBT.
R: Hi Aimee, tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: My name is Aimee. I’m 28. I blog about my life with Borderline Personality Disorder (and mental illness in general) and I’m working to reclaim my life from mental illness.
R: Where do you live?
A: On the east coast of Australia.
R: What do you do?
A: I’m currently unemployed with hopes to go to university for the first time in the next few years to study Architecture. My previous careers include HR, recruitment and training and business management. I’ve also had retail and writing jobs.
R: What is the adversity that you are faced with?
A: I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – Sometimes known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) or Emotion Regulation Disorder.
“BPD feels like having a bully living inside your head. The bully constantly works to make you feel confused, unsure and afraid. It belittles and berates you and it creates doubt and fear.”
R: In your own words, how would you describe BPD?
A: In my experience, having BPD feels like having a bully living inside your head. The bully constantly works to make you feel confused, unsure and afraid. It belittles and berates you and it creates doubt and fear.
When you try to navigate your thoughts, it tells you that you are wrong. You are constantly doubting yourself and you don’t see things the same way as other people. It can be very isolating.
R: When did it begin? OR Were you born with BPD?
A: When it comes to mental illness, there’s wide ranging debate about whether or not each illness is part of the genetic makeup or developed due to lifestyle conditions, trauma, upbringing and experiences.
Most people feel that it is a combination of both nature and nurture.
Personality Disorders are thought to have more concrete roots in lifestyle experiences during childhood as this is when the personality forms. Adverse conditions during early development have the ability to skew the personality, thus forming the basis of a disordered personality.
R: Do you know where your BPD comes from?
A: Aside from any potential genetic disposition for mental illness I may have, I’ve also been advised that my personality disorder likely stems from my childhood experiences with abuse and invalidation.
“I’m very blessed to have met some wonderful people online who also suffer from BPD. The online mental health/illness community is full of kind, caring and supportive people.”
R: Do any family members have BPD?
A: None that I know of.
R: Do you know other people with it?
A: I’m very blessed to have met some wonderful people online who also suffer from BPD. The online mental health/illness community is full of kind, caring and supportive people. It can be a great relief to be able to connect with those who personally understand the different issues I face in line with my illness.
R: When did you figure out other people didn’t have BPD?
A: I’ve always felt a bit different from others. Since I was young I’ve experienced feelings of disconnection from people, not understanding them and I’ve always been very emotionally sensitive to things that seemed to not affect others in the same way.
“I noticed persistent feelings of unreality, I felt like no one understood me, I felt out of control and struggled to understand myself.”
It was probably in my teens that I most started to notice just how differently my mind functioned compared to others. I noticed persistent feelings of unreality, I felt like no one understood me, I felt out of control and struggled to understand myself.
Finally as an adult, after multiple attempts to improve myself and ‘be happy’ had failed, I started to accept that there was a legitimate reason for my struggles which separated me from other people.
R: Do you feel different to others?
I do. I feel like it’s hard to connect with others sometimes. I see things differently, feel things quite intensely and struggle to form comfortable connections. I feel over complicated compared to other people.
R: How has your experience with BPD evolved? Is it the same as when you were a child up until now?
A: As an adult with a better understanding of my BPD diagnosis it’s much easier to see how my emotions and behaviours throughout my life were connected to my illness.
When I was a younger child I was very sensitive and highly strung. I would get anxious and cry a lot, even over what others would perceive to be small things. I would get in trouble for my reactions and for being ‘over the top’.
“In my early 20’s I mostly felt emptiness. I didn’t know who I was or what I felt. I pushed my emotions away a lot, burying myself in work, attempts to please others and substance abuse.”
During my teen years my prevailing emotions were anger and depression. I felt hurt by all the pain in the world yet detached from reality. I would act recklessly and experienced a lot of rage both internally and externally. It was during my teens that I started to self-harm and first attempted suicide. I felt lost and out of control.
In my early 20’s I mostly felt emptiness. I didn’t know who I was or what I felt. I pushed my emotions away a lot, burying myself in work, attempts to please others and substance abuse.
Since my mid 20’s I have disengaged from society a lot, experiencing severe depression and feeling unable to navigate life, however as I work to reengage with life and manage my symptoms, I seem to be experiencing the full range of BPD symptoms though on a more cyclic basis.
A: BPD is an intense and complex mental illness that disturbs a person’s thoughts, emotions and behaviours. The symptoms of BPD are vast, varying and can manifests in countless combinations.
A person with BPD exhibits at least 5 of the following 9 symptoms:
— Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
— A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterised by alternation between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
— Identity disturbance – markedly and persistently 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 or binge-eating.
— Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behaviour.
— Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood, e.g. intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety, which usually lasts for between a few hours and several days.
— Chronic feelings of emptiness.
— Inappropriate, intense anger, or difficulty controlling anger, e.g. frequent displays of temper, constant anger or recurrent physical fights.
— Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.
Given the number of possible combinations of these symptoms, people with BPD will not always act in the same way as one another. This is something many people do not understand when they stereotype someone with BPD.
R: Describe the negative vs. positive aspects of BPD?
A: It can be very hard to see the positive aspects of having BPD, however over time I have been able to see that my illness has made me highly empathetic, compassionate, protective, passionate and loyal. I also feel it has enhanced my ability to observe the world around me.
“my illness has made me highly empathetic, compassionate, protective, passionate and loyal. I also feel it has enhanced my ability to observe the world around me.”
The negative aspects of my illness are much easier to compile. Effectively BPD invites a lot of pain and struggle into your life. On top of the sadness, confusion and inner turmoil I think the big cons are the instability it provides and the loneliness of being different, stigmatised and misunderstood.
R: How does BPD affect your normal day?
A: I never know how I’m going to feel on any given day or at any given moment.
“My BPD can make it hard for me to focus and I spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed, confused and uncertain. This can make day to day routine and interactions tiring and stressful to navigate.”
I may feel really joyous about something but then an intrusive or negative thought can torpedo my emotional state into depression. I feel things intensely and overthink things a lot. My BPD can make it hard for me to focus and I spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed, confused and uncertain. This can make day to day routine and interactions tiring and stressful to navigate.
R: When you wake, is it immediately present?
A: Yes. BPD is a disorder that effects your entire thought process. As soon as you have a thought, you can expect BPD to be there pervading it.
R: When you go to sleep is it still there?
A: Yes and it often leads to sleepless nights of rumination, stress and fear. When I do sleep I tend to have upsetting and intrusive nightmares.
R: How does it affect your everyday activities?
A: It can be hard for me to achieve what I need to do or have planned to do each day due potential rapid changes in my emotions. Some days I struggle to get out of bed and tasks can feel overwhelming. Conversely at times important things can feel meaningless.
“Even small tasks require a lot of thought and it can be hard not to over think things.”
I can be quite sensitive to my experiences so my moods may change during day to day activities resulting in a need to dedicate a great deal of time into pulling my emotions back around.
Even small tasks require a lot of thought and it can be hard not to over think things.
R: How does it affect your work?
A: I don’t feel that my BPD has always been obvious in my work however I know that it can easily impact on my abilities at any given moment. When my BPD symptoms interject with a task I’m working on it can make it very hard for me to focus. I get easily overwhelmed, overthink things, detach from reality and can completely crash when I feel too pressured. On bad days it can be very difficult to manage interpersonal interactions or take charge of situations as required. At times I’ve found it hard to feel confident in myself, my role and my decisions which can make it difficult to navigate job some requirements.
“I was diagnosed with BPD in 2014 after about 15 years of misdiagnosis and uncertainty in the public mental health system.”
R: Have you officially been diagnosed by a health professional?
A: Yes. I was diagnosed with BPD in 2014 after about 15 years of misdiagnosis and uncertainty in the public mental health system. Finally having this diagnosis has helped me to understand myself so much better and has changed a lot for me.
R: Have you sought treatment?
A: Yes. Over the years I’ve engaged in therapy a number of times, including attempts at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing which didn’t seem to work for me. I’ve also tried a great number of anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications however never felt that they were wholly beneficial.
Since my BPD diagnosis I have commenced a treatment program specifically recommended for BPD called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. I also take medication for my more pervasive depressive states.
“Though only a few months in, DBT is already proving very helpful for me. The program is centred on learning the skills to better manage BPD symptoms and balance out the intense emotions and intrusive thoughts it can create in order to help sufferers better navigate the illness and lead more positive lives.”
R: Did any treatments work?
A: Though only a few months in, DBT is already proving very helpful for me. The program is centred on learning the skills to better manage BPD symptoms and balance out the intense emotions and intrusive thoughts it can create in order to help sufferers better navigate the illness and lead more positive lives.
R: How do you best manage BPD? (Medication, meditation, yoga, alternative medicines, or something else)
A: I’m still learning the skills to manage my illness using DBT however I’ve found that the more active and healthy I am the better I feel. I know it sounds cliché and it certainly isn’t easy to stay motivated sometimes, but it’s true. I also find keeping my mind active and engaging in activities that I enjoy helps me to feel more fulfilled.
R: Do you feel like you’re in control of your BPD?
A: Not really yet but I’m working on it.
R: If you had the option to lose your BPD, would you?
A: There have been many, many times where I’ve wished to be ‘normal’; to be well; to be free of BPD. Having BPD is an overwhelming and consistently painful experience and while I’m aware that there are many strong, positive parts of my personality which are attributed to my illness, I long for the day when I will be able to manage my BPD and it ceases dictating so much of my life.
R: Do you think your life would be different without BPD?
A: Undoubtedly, however as this is an illness of the mind it’s impossible to know how different exactly. It can be hard to distinguish which features of who I am are related to BPD; essentially they are all influenced by it. I have no idea who I would be or where I would be if I didn’t have it.
R: Do friends or colleagues notice it?
A: Over the years I think people who I’ve regularly interacted with may have noticed the impact of BPD on my life however they likely did not realise or understand what they were noticing. I doubt they would have known where the behaviour or actions originated.
“I don’t think it’s always obvious to others that I struggle so much.”
For example: I often withdraw from others when I’m having a hard time navigating my emotions. People may notice that I become suddenly distant and quiet however they probably don’t understand why.
I don’t think it’s always obvious to others that I struggle so much.
R: Does it affect your relationship with them?
A: Yes. Relationships with others are extremely difficult to navigate when you have BPD. Fear of rejection, judgement and inadequacy as well as confusion over not understanding and knowing someone else’s thoughts can create a lot of strain. It’s hard for me not to fixate on the details of a relationship that other people may not even notice. Over the years I’ve sought to people please a lot and required a lot of validation to function in relationships. I’m learning now how to create positive boundaries and create self-validation in order to feel calmer and more in control while interacting with others.
“There are only a handful of people in my personal life who know of my diagnosis. I’ve chosen to be fairly quiet about it largely due to the fear of stigma and misunderstanding. I’m gradually becoming more confident and less apologetic about my condition and learning to talk more openly about it.”
R: Do you tell people you have BPD?
A: There are only a handful of people in my personal life who know of my diagnosis. I’ve chosen to be fairly quiet about it largely due to the fear of stigma and misunderstanding. I’m gradually becoming more confident and less apologetic about my condition and learning to talk more openly about it. What started as only 2 people knowing of my diagnosis has grown to 5.
In contrast, my blog (which I publish semi anonymously) focuses on my mental illness and I aim to be completely open about my emotions, thoughts and experiences with BPD.
R: Have you read any great books about it?
A: After my diagnosis I was very keen to learn as much about BPD as I could however, though I compiled a list of books that are recommended, I haven’t gotten to the point of completing any of them. In the end I found a great deal of comprehensive information online with BPD organisations and by reading some of the many great BPD blogs there are out there.
R: Or seen any movies?
A: I’m aware of a few movies which represent BPD however I have found most filmic representations to be largely inaccurate and stigma enforcing.
R: What are your plans for the future?
A: My primary focus at the moment is my ongoing DBT treatment as well as improving my physical health as much as possible. In the near future I hope to grow my involvement in the community and pursue study. I will continue blogging and hope to make a difference to how BPD is perceived in the larger community.
R: What are your plans for the future for BPD?
A: As I work through the DBT program I hope to become more adept at using the skills designed to better manage my BPD. It’s a treatment that takes time and practice. My illness may never go away but I hope to learn how to manage it better in order to live a more positive life.
“There’s a lot of stigma in the community about Borderline Personality Disorder (as there is with most forms of mental illness) however I would love for the wider community to understand that people with mental illnesses need and deserve empathy, individualised treatment and understanding.”
R: Anything else?
A: The most important thing I can explain to others about BPD is just how differently BPD can effect each person. The way I’ve described my experiences with it are specific to me and may be completely different to the experiences of another person with BPD. It’s a very complex illness.
There’s a lot of stigma in the community about Borderline Personality Disorder (as there is with most forms of mental illness) however I would love for the wider community to understand that people with mental illnesses need and deserve empathy, individualised treatment and understanding.
I would urge people to remember that the actions of one person with an illness do not exemplify the behaviours of all those with said illness and to remember that in the end we are all the same – just people; hoping for love, fulfilment, acceptance and internal peace.
R: Thanks for being so open Aimee.
Rodger Hoefel in conversation with Aimee (Borderline Functional)
Cover image by Aimee
Other images provided by Aimee