After receiving a host of diagnosis in childhood and adolescence, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It was euphoric to fill in the blank spaces invading my brain. What I didn’t know was how borderline personality disorder symptoms manifested, how serious my illness was and how difficult it would be to treat.
Instead of immediately attending college after high school, I landed an internship at a preeminent public relations agency. This three-month stint transformed the rest of my life. My now-former boss quickly became an unparalleled mentor and friend, unlike I had had ever before. She empowered me to always do my best. She instilled me with the confidence to believe in my aptitude. And, she epitomized the ‘strong and successful woman,’ who I had always aspired to become.
From there on out, I went from being hopeless, to eventually graduating from Harvard University.
I subsequently thrived beyond the Ivy League gates. Although my former boss committed to mentor me indefinitely; my impulsivity, instability, irrationality and other BPD symptoms infringed upon our relationship. As a result, my mentor refused to meet with me for a decade, yet I never forgot about her. Of course, I was heartbroken to feel ‘abandoned’ by a person of unconditional importance. But, in spite, of my feelings, my mentor’s kindness, generosity, tenacity and compassion — never subsided.
Finally, after many years of periodically contacting my mentor, she agreed to reunite with me. And, I was ecstatic to complete the unwritten chapters of our story. However, we encountered some additional tribulations, due to my BPD. I ended-up unintentionally messaging her excessively out of fear and desperation for acceptance — not greed, cruelty or manipulation. I’m not going to legitimize my wrongdoings or how I made my mentor feel, which is inarguably inexplicable. Nonetheless, my mentor’s devastating allegations — proliferated my emotions into overdrive. I’d never intentionally harm anyone, especially someone who’s very dear to me. But, regardless, of my mentor’s disappointment, I’m indebted to her for enabling me to accomplish beyond my wildest imagination.
Most people mean well, I recognise that
Yet, I wish more people understood BPD and other severe mental illnesses. I also wish people responded to my histrionics by walking in my shoes. It would be more helpful if they offered the opportunity to educate them about my illness. There’s nothing I hate more than being written-off as ‘bad’. I can’t blame people for requesting personal space. My illness is unfair to everyone. I’m so desperate for my family and friends to acknowledge that I don’t have an ounce of animosity within me.
Although BPD is very common, most people don’t know what it is and how it impacts those living with it. In fact, I’m actually waging a war against internal demons. Which sometimes seize the last vestiges of my courage and strength. So, here are three things, I’d like everyone to acknowledge about mentoring and befriending a person with BPD .
1. EDUCATE YOURSELF ON BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER SYMPTOMS
Borderline Personality Disorder is a serious mental illness. It is characterized by unstable behaviours, volitile moods and poor self-image. This can inadvertently perpetuate detrimental actions and unstable relationships, along with bouts of severe anger, anxiety, depression, dissociation, and/or impulsivity. Unfortunately, my psychologist attributes the root of my BPD — to my childhood trauma. This includes severe bullying — emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Unsurprisingly, loving anyone with such a severe mental illness can be tumultuous. And those suffering are all too aware. In my personal relationships, I’m prone to unintentionally making people feel that I’m attacking them with my words and emotions. However, my impulsive actions aren’t a form of “bullying or harassment” by any means.
They come from a deep fear of being abandoned
Thus, I’ll sometimes uncontrollably go to any extent to prevent this from transpiring. I’m highly sensitive to my surroundings and the reactions I receive from other people. So, whenever I’m accused of committing an egregious act, it can rip me apart because I’d never intend to behave in such a reprehensible way. In personal settings, I sometimes struggle to manage my mood swings in order to defend my own worth and prevent other people from abandoning me. It’s imperative to realize that I’m not malicious. As a matter of fact, I’m extremely loving, caring, empathetic, and apologetic about the catastrophic implications that my illness has had on those I love the most and I’d do anything to eliminate the heartache that I’ve caused way too many people.
Thus, in order to successfully be friends with a person with BPD and/or most people with a serious mental illness, it typically requires unconditional empathy, kindness, patience, and understanding. In my particular case, unconditional empathy includes placing yourself in my position and vicariously feeling the turmoil I suppress to survive another day. If you could acquire such profound empathy, you would see how much I love and care about other people.
Even if you think I’m being unreasonable, please try to acknowledge the magnitude of my inner-battles. Please enable me to directly address your concerns instead of going behind my back or slamming the door in my face. If you neglect me, you’ll likely amplify my anxiety, fear, impulsivity, and obstruct my self-esteem.
2. NEVER GIVE UP
Throughout my life, I’ve struggled to maintain close relationships. I’ve always intrinsically believed that I was never good enough and that my best efforts would never be good enough for anyone. I sometimes lie not by choice, yet out of desperation to conceal my inner turmoil and to gain acceptance from other people — it’s never about manipulation. I’ve tried attempting suicide more times than I’d like to remember. But, my mentor never gave-up on me, she’s the reason why I eventually kept going and learned to never give-up on myself.
Once again, it can be extremely nerve-racking to have a relationship with someone suffering from a severe mental illness. Hence, many people consequently give up on helping those with such significant struggles. However, losing my ‘support system’ is much more harmful than helpful, it can sometimes make me feel as if there’s no purpose in waking-up tomorrow.
Yet, it’s nearly impossible not to give up on myself, especially when I believe those who love and inspire me have all given up on me.
Nobody wants to be ostracised
I plead to be normal every second that I’m awake. I plead to gain back everything that I’ve lost. And, I’m very ashamed that my illness can impose repercussions upon my friends and family. I respect and acknowledge that some people need their personal space, yet it’s petrifying when my existence has been eschewed from anyone’s agenda. This only exacerbates my emotions and my pre-existing fear of being abandoned. Although you might be tempted to give up on me, I urge you not to do so. While I have a treacherous journey ahead, I’m committed to recovering and fighting this beast. If you stay committed to supporting me, you’ll witness my unwavering determination to exceed my goals and improve the lives of other people.
3. UNDERSTAND YOUR LIFE-CHANGING IMPACT
A mentor is not expected to substitute a parent or therapist. My personal mentor further argues that the best mentors are exceptional listeners who acknowledge your obstacles and offer you unique strategies to surpass them. Thus, mentorship is even more important to someone like myself because I have very low self-esteem and I try to refrain from establishing close relationships, in order to avoid potentially hurting other people.
I believe mentorship and friendship can have groundbreaking implications for people struggling with severe mental illnesses.
Given my story, I hope less people will look the other way if they encounter a person with challenging emotional obstacles. I encourage you to look at people from different perspectives, in order to cultivate mutually rewarding relationships. Moreover, helping someone with a severe mental illness can make a life-changing difference that’s considerably greater than anyone could ever imagine. Although I’m not out of the woods, I am absolute living proof of the aforementioned sentiment.
For instance, prior to meeting my mentor 11 years ago, I never believed that I would go to college, yet I graduated from Harvard and subsequently reaped a meaningful career. I believe our stigmas will be replaced by our strengths if we can just see the potential in each other. In addition, I think that if we gauged human potential by our strengths and not our weaknesses, we would help more people be their best and we would be able to accept people at their worst.
At the end of the day, my road to recovery is much easier said than done. Given the seriousness of my obstacles, I’ll likely require prolonged therapy to cope with my symptoms and live a fulfilling life, which I’m determined to bring to fruition. Unlike most mental illnesses, there’s no magic pill to suddenly stop my anxiety, depression, and potentially self-destructive behavioral patterns.
I’m committed to fighting for myself, and for those I have hurt or disappointed.
In fact, the people in my life are the ones who make this arduous battle worth every single sacrifice. And, I won’t stop until I’m ready to return in full-force and put my best foot forward in every facet of my life. Despite my incredulous antics, I can’t stress how crucial it is for you to understand the importance of mentoring and befriending people with severe mental illnesses (not just myself) — and to never give up, in spite of the countless impediments that you’ll most likely encounter.
Although my illness is a highly controversial topic, it’s vital for everyone to ask questions, in order to gain a better understanding of who I am and how I feel, rather than presuming my illness defines me and identifying me in a pejorative manner. Yet, given the unrelenting stigma surrounding BPD, I’m apprehensive that publishing this op-ed might obliterate my reputation, jeopardize my opportunities, and render me to come across as ‘insane.’
Nobody deserves to live in eternal shame
I also believe it’s much more important to courageously speak about my illness instead of suffering in silence — that’s the only way to eliminate the stigma and start a conversation that truly matters.
For those not living with a severe mental illness, it can be insurmountable to differentiate my humanity from my illness. I obviously acknowledge that BPD can overshadow my meaningful attributes and contributions, which make me a remarkable human being. But, if you get to know me, you would appreciate my kind, loving, caring, enthusiastic, and generous heart.
I’m very ambitious, creative, funny, intelligent, talented, and I’m already likely best friends with your dog. Plus, I have an insatiable addiction to fashion, politics, popular culture and travel. Given, my outstanding accomplishments and breakthroughs, I’ve proved that people with severe mental illnesses do have potential to relish a life full of happiness, graduate from university, pursue a successful career, and excel in all aspects of their lives.
In conclusion, I’d like to wholeheartedly apologize to everyone who’s ever felt attacked by my words and/or actions. Most of all, I’d like to thank my mentor, friends, family, and supporters for your unconditional love, kindness, and generosity, all of which have strengthened my humanity.