9 women reveal what it’s really like to live with borderline personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a condition you may have heard of, but perhaps don’t fully understand. Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson has helped to spread awareness, since he’s publicly discussed what it’s like to live with the disorder. But the truth is this illness affects far more women than it does men — indeed, about 75% of people diagnosed with BPD are women — which is why we decided to amplify the voices of nine women here. They revealed to HG how living with BPD affects them, explaining powerfully how the condition has changed (and not changed) their lives.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines borderline personality disorder as:
"A mental illness marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behavior. These symptoms often result in impulsive actions and problems in relationships. People with borderline personality disorder may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that can last from a few hours to days."
Symptoms vary, but people with borderline personality disorder often see the world in extremes. The NIMH notes that it is difficult to treat, but one evidence-based treatment that has led to improved quality of life for some is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which utilizes mindfulness and other strategies for controlling emotions.
While each woman who spoke to HG has her own story to tell, they all give insight into what it’s like to live with this disorder.
1Every day is a constant battle.
“Living with BPD is hard to explain. Every day is a constant battle between what my brain wants me to do in a situation and what the rational reaction would be for someone without the disorder. I don’t talk about my diagnosis. I don’t want to be met with the looks.
Just remember: I’m not a monster. I’m not intentionally manipulative. I don’t want to or mean to hurt anybody. Each day I do the best I can with the skills I have. Some days, it just isn’t enough, but I’m still learning. I want to be better, I want to be healthy, but it’s so hard when every fiber of your being fights it. It’s like taking a blanket away from a toddler — you cry and you fight because for better or worse, it’s all you know.”
— Melanie, 29, Canada
2I feel like a passenger in my body.
“It’s isolating. The things I do to get close to people are the same things that end up pushing people away. And the fear of rejection sometimes causes my symptoms to be so strong that I end up losing the opportunity to form connections before I even get the chance to start.
Sometimes I feel like a passenger in my body and someone else is driving. I dissociate a lot. As easily as I can feel intense about something, I can also detach myself and not feel anything. However, I have no control over which things I feel intense about or detach from — it just happens. I have suicidal thoughts almost daily, but have never attempted it. I am on medication and would love to do DBT, but I currently have no insurance. Even with insurance, it can be pricey.”
— Elizabeth, 33, California
3Every emotion is at its fullest.
“I am scared of committing to someone. I don’t accept the idea of me being liked, so I just lose interest in that person and leave them. I either feel absolutely nothing — reactionless and numb — or feel 25 emotions at once, making me physically and emotionally exhausted. Every emotion is at its fullest. When I am depressed, I am very depressed; if I am happy, I am very happy. I can be thinking that everyone in my life is bad, so I cut them off, and then I complain about being ‘lonely.’”
— María, 17, Dubai
4It all seems so absurd.
“I am an Asian-American lesbian who has been going to DBT for almost two-and-a-half years. While many of my symptoms have improved, I still have progress to make. I still struggle with my abandonment issues. I can be so paranoid about people betraying me and yet I latch on in the blink of the eye. There are still those times when my emotions will overwhelm me and I lose sight of what I truly want. Then that rage will vanish and I will be content, happy even, as soon as I am appeased. It all seems so absurd, to be honest. But I remain hopeful.”
— Lauren, 24, California
5A lifetime of struggling to feel validated.
“After decades of weekly psychotherapy sessions and a lifetime of struggling to feel validated, accepted, understood, and not ‘too much,’ I received the diagnosis of BPD. At first, the label gave me an excuse to act out because I was ‘broken.’ I burned down the forest of my life: ended my marriage after years of cheating, stopped going to psychotherapy, and decided to give into my lifelong feeling that I was ‘bad.’
Then I met a spiritual teacher and realized I was never broken. I simply did not understand myself. I now know I am an empath, I discovered my boundaries, and I learned skills to manage the flow of emotion and energy through me. I transformed the word ‘borderline’ into ‘boundless,’ and that is how I live today.”
— Kerri, 48, Texas, author of Awakening to Me
6The default is to always assume the worst.
“The biggest obstacle with BPD is recognizing things as they happen. I’m very prone to black-and-white thinking. I could be friends with someone for years and if they do one bad thing, now they’re bad in my mind. I could be enjoying a vacation and if it rained on the last day or I missed my bus, then, in my mind, a dark cloud hovers over the entire trip. I love my boyfriend, but if he insults my outfit, I immediately start thinking about how much better I would feel if I was single. If he brings me chocolate, he’s the best man in the world and I’d marry him that night.
Sometimes I’ll get depressed for what feels like no reason. After it’s over, I’m usually able to identify the cause — but while it’s happening, it feels like I’m broken and there’s no reason to go on. I fall into the deepest pit imaginable and the only thing that keeps me alive is having gone through it before and knowing that it will pass. On the flip side, whenever I’m happy, my brain gives me a gentle nudge to let me know it won’t last. I don’t feel confident in myself without some kind of crutch, whether it be a boyfriend or some other comfort.
The default is to always assume the worst in everything. I basically have to rewire my brain for every interaction. It’s just something I have to live with. I know there isn’t a cure and I will likely always feel irrational at times, but I have to hope that things will get better and I will continue to learn more about my mind to better control my symptoms.”
—Bethany, 24, Pennsylvania
7Everything seems to be in conflict with itself.
“I feel like I’m too crazy to be sane, but too sane to be crazy. Maybe that’s why it’s called borderline — the line between crazy/sane. Everything seems to be in conflict with itself. I’m too crazy to hold down a stable job, but I’m too sane to qualify for disability. I feel lonely, but I can’t stand people. I hated living with a roommate, but now that I have my own place, I miss the roommate. I’m easy to please, but I’m extremely picky. I know I need help, but I don’t trust professionals.
A recent breakup with a narcissist has shown me that BPD has its perks. Switching can protect us from staying in/going back to toxic relationships. It also allows us to move on more quickly than the average person.”
— Lettie, 35, Canada
8It’s feeling like you can never trust anyone.
“Living with BPD is to exist in a world where anything and everyone can and does hurt you. Living with BPD is holding in all these hurts, feeling you deserve them, and then unleashing the hurt on someone you love. It’s feeling like you can never trust anyone because you can analyze everything they do and find a reason as to why it means they don’t care about you. It’s feeling completely isolated and unwanted, while aching in your bones just to have someone who will stay.”
— Yuna, 26, California
9You can’t help but always be hurting inside.
“Living with BPD is like feeling everything 10 times more — especially emotional pain. The amount of reassurance I need, the amount of times I have to ask if someone is mad at me, the amount of times my feelings get hurt…it’s honestly never-ending. I know it’s not normal, and I know my brain chemicals are just different, but it’s easy to forget that most of the time. You can’t help but always be hurting inside, while also being aware that you are annoying the people in your life with the extra mental care you need.”
— Mary, 30, New York
These interviews have been edited and condensed, and some names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
If you or anyone you know is dealing with thoughts of suicide, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone.