Growing up with BPD

Growing up with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) resulted in scarce, jumbled memories of my childhood. Every moment was saturated in intense emotion. Facts, people, and events are difficult to recall. I remember life as how I perceived it as a child, filled with false beliefs, interpretations and assumptions. As a young girl, I was consumed with sadness, rage, and confusion daily. I literally felt like I was up against the entire world by myself. I assumed most teachers disliked me, I believed my peers thought I was weird, and I was convinced that my family’s collective goal was to make me miserable. I lived my life constantly distracted. I buried my head in books when I walked the hallways at school so I wouldn’t have to face my classmates. Books were my gateway to a different person and different life. Most days when I got home from school, I locked myself in my room and cried for hours. I didn’t know why I was crying, but I remember always hoping that someone would come in my room and comfort me. No one ever did, which made me even more upset. Each day, I spent hours pouring my emotions into my journal. I personified my journal and she became my closest confidant and main source of comfort. I kept a collection of over 20 journals in a large box until I realized the pages only contained painful memories and I threw them all away. Each page crinkled from tears, torn from angry pen scribbling, and had unhappy faces drawn on the covers of each notebook.

One of the symptoms of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) I experience is unstable relationships. Many of my unstable relationships stemmed from my concepts of myself and others as “all good” or “all bad,” also known as overvaluing and devaluing. As a child (and even still as an adult), I subconsciously overvalued and devalued people. I had teachers who were angels sent from heaven to be shining lights of perfection. I also had teachers who were terrible monsters, resolute to cause my suffering. My parents were distant god-like figures who were tyrannical, frightening and omniscient. I believed that my bratty, petulant little sister was the source of all my problems. However, my perfect, intelligent older brother could do nothing wrong. Growing up, I held erroneous and damaging beliefs about myself that I conjectured from what I thought was my parents’ and others’ views of me. I convinced myself I was a “bad” child. I never expressed this belief to anyone, so I knew nothing else.

I grew up in a rather strict Christian household. I knew what the Bible said about God’s love for his children and that Jesus died so I would be able to go to heaven. But the idea of a God who loves me despite my imperfections didn’t make sense to me. Either I’m perfect and God loves me, or I’m bad and God hates me. I chose to believe the latter, because I couldn’t understand the former.

A child with Borderline is one of the most fragile human beings, and I was one of them-unbeknownst to my well-meaning parents. I believe there are cases when spanking is necessary and beneficial. However, I’m describing my personal experience, which was very different from my siblings. One of the most distressing experiences in my childhood was my dad spanking me. As a child, I never understood why I was being spanked, and I couldn’t recall what I did wrong. I never asked because I thought I knew the answer. I genuinely believed my parents disliked me and wanted to humiliate and hurt me. I thought that I was a terrible child. I felt humiliated, misunderstood, and neglected from a young age. I held inside a deep hatred for my parents that I never told anyone or expressed for fear of more punishment. I thought it was wrong of me to hate my parents, which is why I thought that God hated me even more.

As an adult, I have stable, loving, and understanding relationships with my parents and my siblings, but it took me years to heal from the pain of feeling hurt and neglected. God is still working in me so I can completely forgive those who unintentionally caused me pain.

Another symptom I experience from an early age was unstable self-image. I remember in elementary school feeling like a different person every week. One week I was the nice, sweet care-free girl, then the sporty, tom-boy, skateboarder, then the quiet, goth girl who only wore black, then the nerdy bookworm, then the flirty girly-girl who wore too much lip gloss. This constant shifting was a source of confusion and frustration for me. I envied my peers who seemed much more self-assured in who they were than I was. As a young adult, my self-image issues have intensified as I face more critical life decisions such as college, relationships and jobs.

Another symptom I struggle with is suicidal thoughts. When I was in fifth grade, I cut for the first time. I reasoned that since I was feeling badly, I should hurt myself. I found that I didn’t feel better afterwards, but I tried a few other times in the future because I was feeling suicidal. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I distinctly remember the first time I ever wrote down in my journal my desire to die. I wouldn’t dare tell anyone about my secret wish, but writing it down was a huge step of admitting it to myself. I thought that no one cared about me anyway, and my life wouldn’t get better so why continue? These thoughts and desires scared me and I didn’t know how to get rid of them. I felt like I was screaming for help, but couldn’t get out a single word. I wanted reassurance from someone that I wasn’t crazy or a terrible person for feeling that way. But I kept everything inside.

When you struggle with mental illness, it’s easy to feel alone. Feeling stuck in your own thoughts, fears, and anxiety, it can seem like a prison you can’t escape from. I’ve been feeling alone and misunderstood since I was a child. However, as an adult, I’ve learned that no matter what I’m going through I’m never truly alone. It helps to know that there are others who feel the same way as I do. I’ve met some amazing, strong, and determined women in my group therapy that inspire me to keep fighting even when I can’t see to the next day. It’s taken many years, but I finally feel like I can ask for help when I’m struggling and see the strength in reaching out. There’s a huge difference between someone who has resources and doesn’t use them, and someone who has resources and uses them. I’ve created a support system around me of people who care deeply about my well-being and want to know how I’m doing. I’m blessed to know that I always have at least one person to turn to when I need it. These wonderful people (you know who you are!) surround me with love, compassion, and acceptance every day. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidality, I encourage you to reach out to someone and you might be surprised by the results.

“Share in each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

 

My Story

sad-girlBorderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is complicated to diagnose because the symptoms are often mimicked in teenagers going through identity crises and rebellious phases. Usually, these problem behaviors and thinking patterns eventually dissipate. I realized I was not going through a rebellious teenager phase when I was in my early twenties and felt like my brain was being controlled by an internal self-destructive monster.

My journey to getting a formal diagnosis of Borderline took 21 years. Throughout my childhood I experienced unstable relationships, chronic feelings of emptiness, unstable self-image, intense emotions, and fear of abandonment. I thought every kid cried themselves to sleep at night. I thought every kid wanted to die sometimes, even if they had no idea why. I thought life was just as miserable for everyone as it was for me.

From a young age, I secluded myself fearing rejection from people. I lacked adequate social skills. At age 13, I became massively depressed from socially isolating myself. I would lie in bed all day, eating Nutella and watching “The Office” episodes on my laptop. I wouldn’t shower for days and I wanted to die. After almost 2 years of this, I decided I wasn’t going to allow depression to ruin my life anymore. I started exercising regularly and was accepted into a performing arts high school as a theater major.

Theater became my way of slowly building social skills with people who had a common interest with me. Acting also served as an outlet to express my intense emotions. My life was starting to get better for the first time in a while. I was starting to make friends and I wasn’t depressed anymore.

Growing up, I was the “goody two shoes” pastor’s daughter who never did anything bad. I was terrified of falling into sin, so I took extreme measures to shelter myself. I refused to talk about or participate in anything “sinful” and refuses to be around people who did. I never did anything impulsive. When I turned 18, everything I did was impulsive. I started sleeping with strangers, driving recklessly, telling off my parents, and developed an eating disorder.

One of my many impulsive decisions that I made as a young adult was to join the army. I joined because I had been acting out for a year or 2 and parents decided not to co-sign my student loans. I believed college was the only thing going for me at that time. I desperately needed financial support to go. When I found out the army would pay for my college, I ignored all precautions and signed an 8 year contract with a recruiter two weeks later.

The army was not a good decision for me. They verbally abuse the soldiers to break down the individual so they can build them up as a unified group. The problem is, they do nothing to build the soldiers up. I suffered through anxiety attacks daily and would have suicidal thoughts upon waking in the morning.

After a suicide attempt I had 5 months into my army training, I was hospitalized in Texas. I received a diagnosis of anxiety, depression, and Borderline symptoms. I remember hearing a psychiatrist use the word “Borderline” to describe me and I immediately reeled. I collapsed into a violent crying tantrum. I yelled, “How dare they even suggest I have Borderline Personality Disorder! That’s so insulting!” My outburst earned me a lonely 24 hours in the isolation room. During my hospital stay, I read a few books on Borderline including I Hate You-Don’t Leave Me, Get Me Out of Here, and The Buddha and The Borderline. Most of it upset me because the people in the books sounded crazy and I was NOT crazy like them. When I was discharged from the hospital and the Army, I immediately had another suicide attempt that landed me back in the hospital. I continued to reject any possibility of BPD.

A year past after my suicide attempt and I continued to behave in self-destructive ways. My severe lack of coping skills under stress shocked me. I couldn’t ignore the truth any longer. There was something else going on. Slowly, the reality that I might have BPD sank in. I felt relief because much of my life began to make sense. I was also heartbroken and felt I was irreversibly broken. I decided to enter into a therapy program specifically designed for people with BPD called Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT). I’ve been in this therapy for about two months, which is where I find myself now. From before I began DBT to now, I’ve grown and learned so much. With this blog, I hope to share practical coping skills to deal with BPD symptoms. In future posts, I will address prevalent symptoms of BPD and how we can cope using both a Dialectical and Biblical approach.

Our Identity in Christ

“As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God.” -Saint Teresa of AvilaMe-and-God

An unstable self-image is one of the 9 major symptoms of living with Borderline Personality Disorder. Despite my years of therapy, I still lacked a solid sense of identity. It was not until I turned to God and His Word for guidance that I found my answers. For me, and many others with Borderline, the quest for identity is consumed with confusion, pain, and sporadic deviations. Growing up, I constantly sought external validation from anyone who would give it to me. I would change myself to whatever the social situation required of me. I would throw myself passionately into new future career goals only to abandon them months later. I questioned everything about myself, morals, sexuality, values, goals, purpose, and religion. Every time I came to a new conclusion about who I was, I was convinced that that’s the way I’ve always been. Soon later, I change my mind again. Living with an unstable sense of self is exhausting.

I would have a new guy every month who occupied the entirety of my feelings and attention. My happiness depended on him. I would change everything about me to align with my new identity and the new man. I would alter my hair, body type, what I ate, the music I listened to, the way I talked, and my values. I didn’t know how to exist without being attached to another person. I felt like I was going to float away.

In a desperate attempt to ameliorate the pain of my toxic relationships, I jumped into even more unhealthy relationships. This caused self-loathing and confusion which made it almost impossible for me to develop an accurate self of myself. I hurt many people along the way as I struggled to fill the gaping hole in my life that only God could fill. I tormented myself for years over my behaviors.

I became convinced God had rejected me. I knew all the verses about God’s unconditional love and how he will never leave me or forsake me. I thought those verses about Christians being “redeemed” and “in God’s image” didn’t apply to people like me. I believed I was a horrible, selfish, disgusting person. My emotions clouded my judgement to the point where nothing anyone said could penetrate my beliefs. I thought, “I feel it, therefore, it is true.” The feelings of worthlessness were so strong that I began to speak them, believe them, and treated myself as such.

I am an evil, stupid, dirty person.

I hurt everyone I get close to.

God is mad at me for all my sins and is punishing me; He likes to watch me suffer for my selfishness.

I reached a powerful realization, my own emotions often led me down the wrong path and I needed to find an outside source to of truth. I need something that won’t change. God’s love, compassion, hope and security is constant because God is constant and doesn’t change. I started to correct these negative thoughts when I looked closer at God’s Word.

I decided to combat these strongholds in my life with the Truth. I started to ask myself, “When a thought surfaces, is it supported or rejected by the Bible?” It will benefit us to hold every single one of our thoughts up to the scrutiny of the Bible. “Test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Thoughts can quickly become strongholds in our lives and dictate the way we view ourselves and God. “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23) We must constantly guard what thoughts we allow in our minds. The only way to ensure we know our identity is to not follow any other messages except those from Jesus.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) Paul writes in Romans that we should let God transform us. However, how can we allow God to transform us into new people unless we are regularly in the Word, learning it, absorbing it and putting it into practice? One of our most valuable tools as followers of Jesus is the Bible, regardless of what we’re facing. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Life is an eternal journey to find God and our identity. These two quests are not mutually exclusive. Our view of ourselves reflects how we view God. And how we view God affects how we view ourselves.

My Dad wisely told me, “The cross is the ultimate revelation of Christ.  God loves you so much that he died for you.  You are loved and accepted just as you are unconditionally.  This can enable you to come to God for forgiveness when you sin.  On the other hand, you are so sinful and flawed that it took the death of God to redeem you.  This keeps you humble and dependent on God because only he can truly transform you.”

“Your real, new self will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” -C.S. Lewis

Books I used for reference to write this blog: ID: The True You by Mark Batterson and the Bible.