“On the Borderline of what?”

Trigger Warning: some mention of self harm


Despite my enthusiastic response when I was asked to write this piece, I actually contemplated hard about whether I wanted to. My friends will tell you that I talk to them about Borderline ALL the time, that I LOVE to talk about it. The astute ones will tell you that it’s my way of making you understand why I behave as maddeningly as I do; and of apologising for it. I found writing this much harder, but after reading stories from the Liberate Yourself website I started to see the good that it could do; for those who have BPD and hate it, for those whose friends or loved ones are BPD and don’t understand it, and for the majority who’ve never even heard of it. Anything that’s good about this article I owe to being inspired by some of the amazing courage of others to share their stories.


So it begins…


When I tell people that I have Borderline Personality Disorder their response generally falls into one of three categories; they haven’t heard of it, they assume that it’s a non-disability or

they believe that it’s a milder version of something else altogether; perhaps schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, with which it can share common symptoms and often occurs co-morbid. Hence the name of this article. Yet, despite the fact that only 2% of the population are thought to have BPD, it accounts for more than 20% of all psychiatric outpatients. The suicide rate is approximately 8-10%. It’s critical that society becomes more aware of BPD and stops alienating those who suffer with it.



So before I go on to talk about my experience of having BPD and how it has affected my university life, these are the diagnostic criteria that many people with Borderline have in common with one another:


A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).

5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior

6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).

7. Chronic feelings of emptiness

8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)

9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms


See: http://www.borderlinepersonalitytoday.com/main/dsmiv.htm for more information.


I know that there are going to be activists weeping in despair because I put the diagnostic criteria on here, and I totally understand their perspective. But in my experience it has enabled other people to relate to me and communicate with me more effectively, so forgive me for the faux-pas.


So what does all this mean in practice?


I started university for the first time in 2008. Since then I’ve done three years and three different courses. When I arrived at the University of Manchester I was in a stable, long-term relationship that I ended impulsively, had what common parlance would label a ‘breakdown’, was sectioned and, after a year of communicating with virtually nobody, I passed with a first. I moved house, stopped turning up to university, developed a serious binge-drinking problem and started using self-harm as a way to punish myself and other people. I drove my house mates to distraction with displays of anger in which I spray painted the kitchen walls, smashed up furniture, hid their food in the washing machine and punched one of them in the face.


Sometimes I don’t even do these things out of anger but because of prevailing feelings of boredom and emptiness, which I cure by wreaking havoc and destruction, by hurting myself or by immersing myself in potentially damaging situations and relationships. I am literally ‘a different person from one day to the next’, and I cling desperately to the values and beliefs that I hold because from one hour to another I’m not sure about anything I thought before. Clearly, all of this has had a big impact on my academic performance and on my social relationships whilst at university.


In my mind it’s quite obvious that all of this makes me a Bad Person. If this is the case then the breakdown of my relationships is an inevitability. People will abandon me. People will reject me when they realise how awful I am. I see the potential for abandonment every time someone fails to turn up when they’re expected, when they say something hurtful in temper and when they don’t text me back. In this situation I realise that, actually, I’m a Good Person and they are Very Fucking Bad, and I might respond by cutting them out of my life altogether. Why? Because feeling like I’m a bad person all of the time would be unbearable. Because it’s important that I reject you before you reject me. Because any change to my inter-personal relationships and to my environment makes me feel like all of my internal and external structures are about to come crashing down.


When you ask me how I’m doing I always give you the standard response. In reality I’m never feeling ‘standard’ emotions. But I can’t express myself properly and, even if I could, what would people call me for my honesty? An attention seeker? And anyway, during emotional peaks I often feel nothing at all. And that ‘nothing’ is scary as hell. It’s not just me that’s empty but the whole world. All of reality, all of time, starts to feel thin, and every nightmare your imagination can conjure up could force it’s way through into ‘reality’ at that point. During these episodes I might see or hear things that aren’t there, or engage in compulsive behaviours to make myself feel safe from imagined dangers. If I had to pick one word that characterised BPD, I’d dismiss ‘instability’, ‘intensity’ and ‘anger’ and choose the word ‘fear’. People with BPD are almost always afraid.


Over time I’ve developed a number of coping mechanisms that will hopefully be of use to other Borderline people out there, so here’s a couple that help me get by on a day to day basis-

  1. I’m a compulsive author of ‘To-Do’ lists, usually writing as many as four or five a day. It sounds ridiculous but it gives me a clear sense of structure and seeing my day filled up like that makes me feel like I have a PURPOSE, which is the opposite of emptiness, which is the fast track way to depression and self-harming behaviours.
  2. As an ongoing project I am constructing an ‘identity collage'; a collection of photographs, images, quotes and poetry that are stuck to my bedroom wall and constitute my sense of who I am, what I stand for and who is important to me. It is a visual depiction of my core sense of self and it makes me feel calmer and more secure even when my environment is changing. It also occupies my mind with something creative and productive.
  3. When my interpersonal relationships or my environment are altering I sit and map out my life spider-diagram style on a piece of paper so that I am assured that the structure will still hold.
  4. I ensure that even my alone time is spent in or near company, so that those feelings of emptiness can’t creep in.


I don’t want to finish this article so soon after painting such a bleak picture, however. There are all kinds of things about university that are not conducive to stability in Borderline people; the lack of clear routine, the exposure to multiple relationships, the availability of drink and drugs. Despite that, university has proved to be one of the best and most formative experiences of my life so far. Here you will find people with progressive ideas about disability and progressive methods of campaigning and fighting for your rights. People with a different vision of how society should be organised and how to get there. If you have BPD I can’t promise that you will find people at university who do understand, but I can guarantee that at university, above everywhere else, you are certain to find people who will try to understand if you look for them hard enough. I did. And it’s made a whole worlds worth of difference.


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