"Borderline Personality Disorder controlled my life and relationships for years"

·9-min read
Photo credit: Julia Jaskulska  - Instagram
Photo credit: Julia Jaskulska - Instagram

TW: Suicide, self harm, eating disorders.

I first suspected something might be different about my mental health when I was 12-years-old. I was battling an eating disorder, on top of depression and anxiety (which is already more than most people at that age), but what really stood out to me was how extremely I reacted to certain situations when everyone else around me was so... unbothered.

If I had a disagreement with a friend, I'd skip school for a week. Or if my mum didn't make the dinner I wanted, I'd cancel all my plans. At that age, having a fallout with your pal isn't really the end of the world, but that's truly how it felt. Nobody understood why I reacted the way I did, instead branding me an 'attention seeker'.

As this became more frequent, I questioned my ability, or rather my inability, to process emotions – why was I constantly on the brink of a breakdown over things that were, in reality, so minor?

The more I didn't deal with my feelings, the more overwhelmed I felt. My emotions were all over the place – and that's when (and why, I think) the bullying at school began. Everyday was a nightmare, with the bullies even invading my 'safe space' at home, by inundating me with nasty DMs and making comments online.

Their non-stop cruelty, combined with my intense mental health, meant that by the age of 13 I began self-harming. At the time there were also plenty of glamourised images of self-harm on social media, meaning I could barely turn my laptop on for more than five minutes without being confronted with idealised self-harm content.

Hurting myself in this way went unchecked – and unnoticed – for a long while, at some points, sadly, becoming my only source of release. I felt as though if I couldn't deal with my emotions, how could I communicate them to anyone else?

Things really peaked when I turned 14 and attempted suicide for the first time. A group of older kids messaged me online, threatening to hurt me if I came into school the next day. I didn't know what to do, so I sat in my room, alone, spiralling for hours. In the weeks leading up to that point, I'd already been thinking about ending my life (my emotions were so uncontrollable I didn't know what else to do), and that night was the tipping point. Perhaps other teenagers would have told their parents about the threat, or confided in a teacher – but that requires the ability to logically process emotions, which I simply couldn't.

Eventually, I thought the only way to escape would be to send a 'goodbye' message to a friend of mine in America, and then take an overdose.

What happened next went by in a blur as I drifted in and out of consciousness, but thankfully my friend had contacted the police who spent the night tracking me down – they burst in at 4am and I was taken to hospital.

Photo credit: Julia Jaskulska  - Instagram
Photo credit: Julia Jaskulska - Instagram

A week on, I was assessed by the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) team. Under the impression that I was an 'attention seeker' like I'd always been told, I was terrified they wouldn't take my mental health seriously enough to offer me the help I needed – despite just recovering from a suicide attempt. On the other hand, I was equally as terrified that if I did open up, they'd make me stay in hospital longer. So, I simply said all of the things I knew they wanted to hear in order to go home.

Two days later, I went to my first therapy session. Worried that my feelings would be dismissed as me overreacting, as they had been by those around me my whole life, I refused to open up. Within a month I'd seen three different therapists, each thinking they'd be the one who'd 'fix me'. Eventually, I blurted it all out. Everything.

Deemed to still be a risk to myself, the CAMHS team told my parents – but, just a few weeks later, I attempted suicide again.

The second time around, things were a lot rougher, and my brain has almost completely blocked out the months that followed. Once I'd recovered from the second attempt, I was sent back to therapy, but somehow my mental illness (which I now know to be Borderline Personality Disorder, also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder) and an eating disorder went undiagnosed for a further two years.

In that time, the kids at school continued to mock my self harm scars or point out how skinny I was; they'd laugh and tell me how much of an attention seeker I was, just like they always had. After a while, I began to accept it as a 'fact' myself.

To cope with it all, at 16 I started a private Instagram account where I vented about my mental health and anorexia like a diary. I also used to it post 'body checking' photos – a habit which saw me constantly overanalysing my appearance.

I didn't pay much attention to who was following the account, seeing it solely as an outlet for my emotions, but I had one friend on there who repeatedly reached out wanting to help me. I'd been ignoring her for a while, hoping she'd just give up – now I realise that I probably would have died if she did – but after several failed attempts at persuading me to seek medical advice, she took screenshots of all the photos on my secret profile and sent them to my family.

My parents immediately took me to our GP who classified me as 'high risk' and referred me for urgent treatment. Within four days of my friend contacting my family, I was put onto an intensive eating disorder programme and finally, after keeping so much bottled up from my family, we began to have some difficult – but honest – conversations about my mental health.

With my eating disorder being acknowledged for the first time in my life, I took the opportunity to open up about the other aspects of my mental health. Over the course of my therapy sessions I revealed more and more about my inability to process and regulate my emotions. I explained how self-harming and restricting my eating had been ways for me to control my life when I wasn't able to control anything else, particularly my feelings. To me, it was logical.

Connecting the dots and putting all of my symptoms together, my therapist gave me some DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) workbooks, which are specifically for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. That was the first time BPD was put onto my radar, so at home after my session I Googled it and everything clicked into place. I read article after article, and the more I read, the more I was convinced this is what I had. All of those articles could have been written about me.

Photo credit: Julia Jaskulska  - Instagram
Photo credit: Julia Jaskulska - Instagram

I assumed I'd be diagnosed right away, but if you're under 18 (and I was only 17 at the time), to get an official BPD diagnosis you have to meet strict criteria, like displaying symptoms to a therapist for at least a year. So I had to wait.

But although I couldn't get a formal diagnosis yet, just knowing about BPD was validating enough. Up until that point, my feelings had been repeatedly dismissed by those around me – so reading about these very real symptoms was a relief, it meant I hadn't been making it all up.

My eating disorder treatment and regular therapy sessions continued, but after moving to a new city for university, I suffered a set back. Small things like my boyfriend not replying to a text right away tipped me over the edge once again, leading to a further breakdown. I was then admitted to a psychiatric unit almost every other week for the first year of my degree, eventually resulting in my official BPD diagnosis.

That was two years ago, and since then I've completed a DBT programme, which I can say with certainty has saved my life. Through the course, I've learnt the skills I need to deal with my emotions, how to regulate them when I do end up in tough situations and how to reassess situations, check the facts and be considerate of other people’s feelings – I now think 'has my friend really abandoned me, or are they just too busy to answer this text right away?'. I now know that while I can't change what's happening, I can change how I react.

Despite the progress I've made, I can't help but think about the life I would have had, if I'd been diagnosed with BPD sooner – but I can't dwell on the 'what ifs', so I'm channeling that energy into helping the NHS improve their mental health services. I've recently been asked to come onboard as an 'expert by experience', meaning I'll be meeting with medical professionals to help them understand what works and what doesn't work when it comes to handling and treating BPD.

Most importantly, I want to show others who are suffering that you can find a way out of a dark place – I know, because I've been there. It's been several months since I last hurt myself, and I haven't been admitted to hospital for my mental health in two years. I'm so proud of that, and I know that by sharing my experience, I can help other people with BPD be proud of theirselves too. I'll never be cured of BPD, but it no longer controls my life. I'm the only one who does.

What are the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder)?

According to the NHS, the symptoms of BPD can be grouped into four main areas:

  • Emotional instability

  • Disturbed patterns of thinking or perception

  • Impulsive behaviour

  • Intense but unstable relationships with others

The symptoms of BPD may range from mild to severe and usually emerge in adolescence, persisting into adulthood. With treatment, such as DBT or other talking therapies, many people with BPD overcome their symptoms and recover.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call Beat's helpline on 0808 801 0677 or visit their website for more details.

For mental health support, Samaritans are here to listen, day or night, whenever anyone needs, providing a safe and confidential space to talk openly and honestly. Whatever you are going through, you don’t have to face it alone. Call Samaritans free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org.

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