Tourniquet: Living With Borderline Personality Disorder

As part of our Mental Health Awareness Week at Her Campus Durham, we spoke to a student living with BPD. 


Counsellor: So why does it matter if people don’t like you?

Me: Because then they will bitch about me behind my back.

Counsellor: And why would it matter if people bitch about you behind your back?

Me: Because then they could influence other people not to like me.

Counsellor: And why would it matter if these people were influenced not to like you?

Me: Because they might be my friends.

Counsellor: And why would it matter if your friends no longer liked you?

Me: Because then I wouldn’t have any friends.

Counsellor: And why would it matter if you had no friends?

Me: Because then there would be no reason to live.

18 months ago I was diagnosed with a mental health problem called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In some ways it was a relief, to finally know the reason for a set of bizarre and incapacitating range of symptoms.

Little is known, or indeed, understood about BPD. The term was first used to describe someone on the border between normality and madness, but this is now outdated. Instead, it describes someone who, above all, fears abandonment, whether real or imagined. The thought that my friends might leave me terrifies me and this imagined fear, on its own, is enough to bring on a panic attack and a great deal of emotional pain. As a result I often require constant reassurance from my friends. I get anxious whenever they don’t reply quickly to texts, I read into everything they say and analyse every interaction for anything that might suggest they don’t want to be my friend. If (and normally when) I find something, I will obsess over it for days, convincing myself it means they don’t like me anymore.

My friendships are intense; I have a huge need to spend a lot of time with my friends. If I’m not spending most of my time with them, my immediate thought is that they will abandon me. It is these thoughts of abandonment that fill my waking moments when I am on my own. Everyday is therefore a constant battle in my mind. In terms of emotions, I always describe BPD as the emotional equivalent of a third degree burns patient. We lack a certain emotional skin others seem to have which makes even the slightest touch extremely painful. My emotions, whether positive or negative, are at 100% the whole time and can change rapidly.

The emotional pain I feel over these insecure thoughts builds up and up. Indeed, it is not unusual, when the pain gets too much to cope with, to use suicidal ideation and self-harm to release it. I think the most frustrating thing for my friends is that everything that brings this despair on is in my head. Touch wood, I have never had a friend actually come to me and say they don’t want to be friends with me. All the scenarios I think about are imagined, yet somehow I manage to convince myself that this make-believe world is reality and the fall-out from this can be hugely damaging.

An incredibly difficult part of BPD, for both my friends and me is that I can be incredibly hurtful towards those I care about most. I push people away, telling them I hate them, that they don’t care about me, that they don’t want to be my friend. As irrational as this seems, it’s only because I am so terrified that they will leave. It is this trait that has often led to BPD being described in the single phrase ‘I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me’. The closer they get to me, the more damage they could do by leaving, which causes me to act out. I both love them for the wonderful feelings a close friendship fosters and hate them for the equally horrible, fearful feelings that losing that close friendship provokes.

It’s an exhausting journey not just for me, but for my friends as well and I count myself incredibly lucky to have such a strong group of friendships. Each one of them has, on some occasion, been subjected to one of my BPD episodes. Yet their loyalty to me has never faltered. I have hurled abuse at them for things they don’t even realise they’ve done (like not hugging me goodbye), I have been needy and clingy (such as constantly asking for affirmation of the friendship), pushing them away and pulling them close in equal measure and they have dealt with it all. It is no exaggeration to say that, without their love and support over these past two years, I would not be here today.

But BPD has it’s positive side! We have an insatiable desire to please those who want to be our friends. We are very intuitive, often realising something is wrong with a friend before anyone else, probably because if in that situation, we would also be upset. My friends would say I am far more caring and empathetic than anyone else they know. I care SO MUCH about them and seeing them happy makes me happy and I will do anything to make sure they are, whether it’s running round to their house at 3 in the morning during a crisis or sending a care package during exams.

BPD is an exhausting battle that I face daily. My diagnosis is not widely known outside my friendship group and this can sometimes be hard, with those not so close to me often calling me ‘intense’ and warning people not to get too close otherwise I ‘won’t leave you alone’. It upsets me when I hear people saying comments like that and sometimes I wish I had the courage to come out and tell them why I come across like this, tell them about the struggles in my head. But I keep my mouth shut because I feel that, even today, there is a stigma surrounding personality disorders. We aren’t crazy, we are just like you, we just have a few more obstacles in our way. I just wish that sometimes people could look beyond the behaviour presented and try to think why it might be occurring.