It Is Possible To Recover From Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder makes discerning when feelings are real and valid a constant struggle. The hardship is worth it.
You could put a gun to my head every day of my life and it would scare me less than telling you that I have Borderline Personality Disorder.
If you don’t know about Borderline: congratulations. If your only understanding is when people joke about Donald Trump having it, you should know that’s probably not his diagnosis. Joking about it just perpetuates misconceptions and hurts people who are actually living with it. Mental illness isn’t what makes Donald Trump unfit to be President.
Most people do not have good experiences with people who have Borderline.
Okay, that’s an understatement.
I understand that and I empathize. I don’t share any of this to diminish the pain of anyone affected by someone with Borderline. I just want to tell you some things.
I was diagnosed in a psychiatric unit where I checked myself in because I wanted to kill myself with Vicodin, but I didn’t have enough pills.
I can give you the clinical description. Or you can just Google it. Here’s what it feels like to be me:
I feel like I’m living without skin. Routine makes me feel safe. When a pattern of behavior or communication changes, I feel actual terror. In my body. On a normal day, what someone else considers a minor annoyance could send me into a rage spiral. When someone takes longer than a few minutes to return a text, I revisit our last twelve interactions to make sure I didn’t do anything to offend. When I am in an episode, I can’t breathe and I can’t move and my body feels like it’s going in all directions. I’m so scared of the pain that I will do almost anything to avoid it.
No — that’s not true. I will literally do anything to avoid it.
Sometimes when I tell people this, they say, “Oh, that sounds like me! You’re totally normal.”
I understand this is an attempt to relate or make me feel better. I appreciate the intention. I do. It’s kind. But honestly? It feels like shit. The super normal anxiety and sadness most people feel is different from the kind that feels like your whole body is on fire and the only way to stop it is to jump off a bridge. I don’t want to have to defend the severity of a mental illness I wish I didn’t have.
At first, recovery was just a lot of self-flagellation. I constantly told other people what a piece of shit I was. I was a real party. When I was mad or hurt or embarrassed, I kept it to myself. I believed that because of my illness, my feelings weren’t real.
I am in year four of recovery. It’s fucking hard. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done in my whole weird life. Every time I think I have it licked, something comes along to let me know otherwise.
I have been in weekly Dialectical Behavior Therapy for most of the last four years. I take medicine. I have a bad habit of cycling off and on because I don’t like how it makes me feel. I have taken it every day for the past three months and I am very proud of myself. I do transcendental meditation. (To be fair, this could also just be because I am an actor in Hollywood.) I name countries and count objects when I am on the verge of a panic attack. I exercise. I tell the truth all the time, even when it’s scary. I use “I feel” statements and take one or two hours before responding to most texts or emails so that I am sure I’m responding from a non-impulsive place.
I’ve made amends to people I have harmed with my destructive behavior when I believed it would not adversely affect either of us. For all the others, I make a living amends by working on my recovery every day.
At first, recovery was just a lot of self-flagellation. I constantly told other people what a piece of shit I was. I was a real party. When I was mad or hurt or embarrassed, I kept it to myself. I believed that because of my illness, my feelings weren’t real. My lens was broken, I thought. I couldn’t trust myself. I was probably blowing it out of proportion, like always. Best to stay quiet. Just being my friend meant putting up with enough.
A couple years in, I found myself in a relationship. When he joked about liking “crazy girls,” I laughed along. When he told me that he understood my triggers, I felt lucky. When he seemed to actively press on them, I wondered why, but only for a moment. I was overreacting, obviously. When he gave me the silent treatment, I apologized until he talked to me again. He was doing me a favor by even considering loving me, I told myself. I was lucky to have anyone.
When it ended, I blamed myself. My body felt like it was coming apart as I cried in the shower. I begged the Universe or God or anyone who would listen to fix this thing in my brain that made me so awful and ugly that I didn’t deserve love. I just kept repeating that I was sorry. I don’t know what I was apologizing for. Existing, I think. I resigned myself to being alone.
This piece was supposed to be about how other people mischaracterize my Borderline, but I realize now that it’s actually about how I have mischaracterized my Borderline.
The truth about me is that I am strong and kind and I practice empathy and when I hurt someone I apologize. I talk too much when I’m nervous and I cry when I’m angry and I laugh really loud when I think something is funny. I am tone deaf and two voice teachers have told me to quit singing, but I still really believe I’m going to play Fantine someday.
I spent years listening to the voices that told me my illness made me broken. “Cruel.” “Too much.” “Crazy.” “Unlovable.”
I believed them.
I don’t believe them anymore.
I have started dating again. I do not date people who hurt me. No one is doing me any favors. I do not rush. Rushing is just another way of saying, “Please don’t leave me.” It’s not, “I love you, I value you, I see you.” That takes time. That requires information and vulnerability and moving through fear. True partnership requires honesty, patience, and risk. These things used to terrify me. They still terrify me. I try anyway.
This is how I know my recovery is working. (It’s still fucking hard though.)
My Borderline isn’t my shame, and I’m not doing anyone any good by making myself small in the face of it.
The truth about me is that I am strong and kind and I practice empathy and when I hurt someone I apologize. I talk too much when I’m nervous and I cry when I’m angry and I laugh really loud when I think something is funny. I am tone deaf and two voice teachers have told me to quit singing, but I still really believe I’m going to play Fantine someday. I make mistakes. I am really scared of hurting people. I love what it feels like when I dive into a cold pool on a hot day. I write dirty jokes on the internet. I follow four kitten accounts on Instagram. I have hope. I never thought I would be able to say that. I also happen to have Borderline Personality Disorder.
And I’d make a damn fine President.