“BPD impacts my life in every way” – Gabby’s story
Prior to studying at the University of Sheffield, 22-year-old Gabby studied at University of Leeds for one semester before taking a full leave of absence due to her mental health difficulties. Gabby is on track to graduate this year and upon finishing her degree, she is hoping to undertake campaign work to raise awareness and educate others about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In this blog, she tells us more about her experience of living with the condition and why it is so important to fight the stigma that surrounds it.
Throughout my adolescence I struggled with my mental health and bounced from service to service, receiving subpar support and leaving even more confused about where to go next. I’d been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, but I knew that it didn’t fit what I was experiencing daily. I’ve had depressive episodes and I experience periods of intense anxiety, but I could sense underlying issues beneath these symptoms and I searched long and hard to figure out what was actually happening inside my mind.
I received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) when I was 21 and I found it completely liberating. BPD is shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding and is unfortunately trailing behind the societal conversation about mental health.
BPD is a disorder of instability: instability in emotions, thought patterns, beliefs, behaviours, interpersonal relationships and sense of self. My BPD impacts my life in every way, every single day. This fact has made recovery unbearably daunting at times, but learning to manage and live with BPD is completely doable. I’ve begun to witness and observe my BPD, instead of becoming attached and entangled with my disturbed emotions and thoughts.
I live with a type of BPD called Quiet BPD. The symptoms or traits of BPD can be presented in different ways, which are encompassed by the four unofficial (i.e. not in the DSM-IV) subtypes of BPD. Quiet BPD is characterised by internalisation of the volatile emotions with a high degree of sensitivity and self-blame. Somewhere along the line I learnt that suffering in silence was the best way to survive. My awful self-talk can spiral into intense suicidal thoughts and solid beliefs that everyone would be better off without me. When I’m struggling to manage my BPD, I can display people-pleasing and self-sacrificing behaviours. And I always feel worse for it because no matter how comforting someone is, they’ll never fulfil my chronically unmet needs.
Splitting, the rapid switch between idealisation and devaluation, is presented differently with quiet BPD. For me it can manifest as passive aggressiveness, sulking or becoming withdrawn. People can become either good or bad and the polarised thoughts which follow cause horrible secondary feelings of guilt. The thoughts I have don’t feel like my own and my self-awareness causes more pain and confusion. I can experience rigid black-and-white patterns of thinking – I struggle to see the shades of grey which constitute reality.
Since starting Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) a year ago I have learnt skills to regulate my emotions and tolerate distress – skills which I desperately needed. I have practiced meditation on and off since I was about 16, but the benefits of mindfulness have become evident from DBT. Diffusing my awareness from my emotions and becoming more present is so vital for my mental health. This space allows me to pause, ground myself in the present moment and decide which DBT skill I need for the situation that I’m in.
Structure and routine are also key to managing my mental health. My relaxing morning routine sets me up well for the day ahead, and I make sure to go on at least one walk every day. I’m very fortunate to live in Sheffield where I’m surrounded by nature, beautiful views of the city and the Peak District. Implementing these skills into my life has been much more difficult during the pandemic and over the past year I have had periods of daily suicidal thoughts and abandonment crises. Healing isn’t linear and I don’t view these times as setbacks. I’ve learnt and grown from every struggle and I’m now much more well equipped to deal with whatever life throws at me.
Gabby plans to campaign and fight against the stigma surrounding BPD. Follow her on Instagram: @debunkingBPD
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