I’ve always been a crier. As a child, my cousins used to visit every week and I cried every time they had to go home. If someone teased me at school, I cried. If I saw a movie that had a sad element, I cried. These were not just tearful moments, they were all-out, slobbering, can’t catch your breath sobs that I couldn’t seem to control. I guess I’m what you might call “sensitive,” and it always feels like my heart is on my sleeve and my emotions are boiling at the surface. It never made sense until I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines borderline personality disorder as “a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships.” It also occurs concurrently with other mental illnesses, like depression, and makes them slightly more difficult to treat. Let me give you some examples of what borderline personality disorder looks like in a person.
During my last breakup, I was a wreck. I was dating a friend and he cheated on me and I was going through a depressive episode when we broke up. Because of the depression, my mind went to a dark place where I thought I’d be alone for the rest of my life. But because of the borderline personality disorder, I couldn’t process the breakup as it was happening because my emotions were too overwhelming. I couldn’t have any rational thought while dude was breaking up with me, all I could process were my feelings. It wasn’t until much later that I actually processed what he’d said to me, long after I stopped feeling the grief and loss — maybe a year after. And then I was mad, but it was too late to express my feelings.
Other than overwhelming emotions, borderline personality disorder is characterized by impulsive and volatile behavior. Consider this other relationship example. I’m sort of seeing this man who’d made plans to get together with me. At the last minute, he had to cancel due to a family emergency and he told me so. My first instinct was to tell him not to bother rescheduling because he obviously didn’t want to see me. I said it completely without thinking. Overreact much? Yes. Yes I do. And then afterwards, I have a lot of regret and have to back-pedal and expend a lot of energy saying what I really mean instead of the first thing that pops into my head.
The good thing about borderline personality disorder is that it is very receptive to therapy, particularly a treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps people identify the situations that trigger their emotions, find strategies to help regulate out-of-control emotions, and practice behaviors that are healthier for the individual and their relationships. Fortunately, I’ve had CBT a number of times and though I slip out of the plan from time to time, I’m getting better at using the tools to make sure that I can feel how I feel and say what I mean to say to others.
Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.