Interview: Supporting a Friend With BPD

[Image description: a photograph by Victoria Slemer of a hand cupping a mug with a storm inside and a blue background.]

Article by Emily Bourne.

Trigger warning: Talk of mental illness and su*cidal thoughts.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a condition that affects the way a person processes everyday emotions and reactions, notably finding it difficult to return to an emotional baseline.
People with BPD often act out of impulse and emotion. They have intense episodes of emotions, much more than the average person. These episodes can last several hours and be followed by a more stable period, or they could last several days, negatively affecting almost every section of the person’s life. Some people with BPD can be prone to self-injury, suicidal thoughts and/or physical fights.
[Image description: images of the interviewees, from left to right: Tatum, Catherine and Georgia. Above the images are their names and the title ‘Meet the interviewees’]

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Emily: Hi, everyone! To start off, could you explain how BPD manifests itself in you/how you notice its presence day to day?

Catherine: Hey! For me, BPD feels like I’m constantly dying and then being reborn all over again - every time after an episode, my emotions reset. My BPD, personally, only affects romantic relationships, not friendships (I’m not sure why this is!) and I mostly have a massive fear of abandonment. Day-to-day it’s less noticeable for me since taking medication, but if I didn’t take my meds I would be a big puddle of emotions!

Also, a lack of emotional permanence is a big thing with me: I’m always forgetting how bad things have been for me and the pain I've endured, so every time I have another breakdown, it feels like the most painful thing I’ve ever endured because my trauma responses mean I forget how bad the last breakdown was.

Tatum: Hi everyone! I totally agree with what you said, Catherine. Although, for me, it affects all relationships; the worst way it comes up is when I'm bored (because I have no distractions). I will be constantly analysing things about my friend’s messages. I can remember the time it usually takes for them to reply and if it’s longer than that time I’m instantly having a meltdown because I think they hate me. But then two minutes later I’m fine and wonder what I was worrying about.

Georgia: Hi, girls. So, I completely agree with Catherine, a lack of emotional permanence is a big thing for me as well. I notice it especially in therapy - when I'm in my therapy session, I can apply what they are teaching me, but as soon as I'm left alone, it’s like I have forgotten everything they’ve taught me and I carry on the way I was before. 

I tend to expect everyone to leave me or hurt me so when people eventually do, I congratulate myself because ‘I knew they would do this to me’ even though I feel like I directed them there. 

BPD is very confusing and I often feel very empty. My identity is so fluid, even though I'm very pink at the moment, I feel like I’ve been so many different people, which often makes me feel disconnected from myself. Additionally, I struggle with splitting a lot.
[Poem written by Georgia Hutton printed on white paper with yellow flowers placed in front of it.]

Emily: From what you girls have said, I can imagine it must be difficult navigating friendships and relationships. How do you deal with the fear/resentment/upset that someone will not want to be friends with you after a crisis or because of your BDP - especially when, as Georgia said, you feel like you may have ‘directed them to’ leave?

Tatum: When I’m having a crisis, the only kind of comfort I want will be from my ‘favourite person’, so either they deal with it and comfort me or get angry and ignore me. It just makes me really, really, really sad. I often experience suicidal thoughts when this happens. I try to cope through distractions, even though it’s very hard because the pain is so bad that it becomes physical. I do find it comforting to remember that my emotions change so quickly and later on I will feel okay again. 

Georgia: This is definitely a very ugly symptom but when people make me feel hurt in any way or make me feel like they’re rejecting me (even if they don’t say anything, they just read and ignore my message), I have to internalise it in order not to lash out. This, in turn, often leads to self-destructive behaviour. After I’ve split or had a crisis, if people don’t react the way I need them to, my symptoms just keep spiralling out of control and I have to avoid or ignore the people closest to me.

Tatum: Totally, totally feel the same Georgia!

Georgia: Sometimes I have to distance myself from people in my head to cope with splitting because if I let myself be around people, I would ruin every aspect of my life. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s the best way I can explain it.

Emily: I’ve heard it mentioned a few times now; how would you all describe ‘splitting’ if it’s something you experience and how you first find out what it was/recognise it in yourselves?

Tatum: Splitting isn’t something I experience greatly, but for me it’s definitely very black and white thinking. For me, there is no way somebody can just like me, they either absolutely love me or absolutely hate me - there’s no in-between. 

I like things to be very certain, so phrases like “we’ll see” or “maybe” are difficult for me because I either need a yes or a no.

Georgia: I experience really intense splitting. It shifts all the time, too. So, in my head, people are either good or bad. Additionally, if the ‘good’ person does something I perceive as upsetting, then they quickly become ‘bad’. It’s also either love or hate, like Tatum said. So, even if a ‘good’ person upsets me at that moment, I hate them. Once the splitting episode is over, I will love them again. 

It’s very confusing for myself and others involved. When someone upsets me I can no longer think about their good aspects or think about how happy they make me, because in that moment the good doesn’t exist. All I can think about is that they made me sad and now I hate them. Alternatively, when I’m happy with them, I can’t notice their flaws at all and they become a ‘perfect person’ who can’t do any wrong. 

I usually fall into a splitting episode because I think about the bad things that have previously triggered me and sometimes I will revisit them on purpose to punish myself.

Catherine: I don’t experience splitting a huge amount, but when I do experience it, it only ever involves romantic relationships/love interests. For some reason, I’m stable around my friends (perhaps because, subconsciously, I hold them at a distance). Whereas in romantic relationships I can switch very quickly from loving the person to resenting them and believing they hate me.

I also sometimes split on myself - constantly switching up my identity and rejecting old identities as ‘bad’ and ‘evil’... It’s hard to describe, but it feels like constantly resetting my whole identity and interests. 

Georgia: Yes, I get that too! And then I feel left with a weird empty feeling because I can't connect emotionally with a ‘old’ version of myself, even though I still feel like I’m trying to figure out a new sense of self.

Tatum: I get this as well! That’s why I feel that I need to reset my whole identity constantly.

Emily: Finally, what advice would you give to someone who thinks they may have BPD and are having a hard time at the moment?

Tatum: Things DO get better. There is a whole community of people out there experiencing exactly the same thing and we are all here to help each other. 

Something that comforts me is the knowledge that even though mood swings are intense and sometimes painful, the good thing is that they are SO quick, and I am almost certain every time that it will be over quickly. 

In addition, make sure to speak to a GP/counsellor/mental health professional about your concerns!
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Resources:

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Links:
Tatum - Instagram
Catherine - Instagram, Blog
Georgia - Instagram
The author, Emily - Linktree

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Special thanks to my friend Eleanor for being so strong always; to Tatum, Catherine and Georgia for speaking out about your BPD, helping others to understand it; and @bpd_warriors for helping me out with some resources!