Borderline Personality Disorder - the diagnosis and me!

I’m what’s known as a high functioning Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) sufferer.

That’s what I was told many years ago and I accepted the diagnosis at the time.

I now believe I don’t have the disorder. Here is my story of why I believe this.

So what is BPD and what is a high functioning mean?

First, what is the definition of a personality disorder? Medical professionals categorise the term personality disorder as a person who exhibits behaviour outside of the perceived social norms. Basically, if you don’t behave the way society expects you have some sort of disorder.

As I said I was diagnosed with BPD. (They recently renamed it ‘Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder’) Specifically, BPD is defined as being on the borderline of two other mental disorders. Confused, me too.

Add ‘high functioning’ and it gets even more confusing. It’s similar to a functioning alcoholic. You have a significant problem but somehow you still manage to get through life, without the world knowing you have a problem. The trouble with being high functioning is that for periods in your life you don’t think you have a problem, which means you are reluctant to seek help, and this prolongs the suffering.

There are nine defined symptoms that medical professionals use to diagnose BPD. If you have five of the symptoms you typically get diagnosed with BPD. When I was diagnosed (aged 43), I had 7 of the symptoms. It’s not uncommon to be diagnosed with other disorders and it’s not uncommon to be diagnosed later in life.

I have also been diagnosed with PTSD, Anxiety Disorder, Paranoia and Narcissistic tendencies. I know one thing medical professionals like to put you in a box, metaphorically speaking, and they really like acronyms.

Being diagnosed with a disorder can be helpful for some people, and for others, it can prolong their recovery. The simple truth is I had a bad childhood and that resulted in symptoms that the medical profession calls a personality disorder.

I’m now 51 and my life up the age of 48 was a constant battle to regulate my emotions, thoughts and feelings. I had an unorthodox childhood, a mother who was mentally ill and addicted to prescribed drugs and alcohol, a father who was emotionally void and in a marriage he didn’t want. In the first 10 years of my life, I didn’t receive the emotional connections a child needs to flourish. At 11 years old I was sexually abused by the local Scout Leader. I left school at 15 with no qualifications and with little prospects. These experiences laid the foundation of my life. Not a great start, but like every journey, there is a start, middle and end and I’m still in the middle.

In my late teens and early 20’s, I was very confused and extremely unhappy, I was very unstable and unpredictable, I couldn’t hold a job down, I would get into fights and confrontations on a regular basis. I lost touch with my family. I had many sexual partners, I regularly took drugs and could always be found in the pub. Basically, I had all the behaviours you would expect from a person with my background.

In summary, I let my emotions and feelings rule my existence. I believed I had very little control over my life because of my history and experiences. This was true at the time, but I went through the following process and now I have a higher level of control.

First step – realisations that change is possible.
Second step – slow reaction to thoughts and feelings.
Third step – connect unconscious and conscious minds.
Fourth step – accept, forgive and move on.

In this article I will detail how I managed to go through each step, the methods I used and what the outcomes were.

I will never totally resolve the negative thoughts and feelings that resulted in my diagnosis and I’m happy with this fact, my symptoms very occasionally resurface, but now they have very little impact on my daily life and they certainly don’t control me. That’s not to say I don’t have challenges; it’s just now I can manage the outcomes better.

My story is unique to me, so what I’m about to outline may not help you, but hopefully, it will give you encouragement to find your own path to a different life. I am presuming if you have read this far that you probably know someone with BPD or you suffer from BPD.

Several things happened to me that changed the way I think about things. At this point I should mention I’ve been very lucky; I met a wonderful lady who has stood by me thick and thin. It is not an understatement to say I wouldn’t be alive today without her support.

It's also important to recognise that any trauma from the past can be resolved. I experienced emotional neglect and sexual abuse, but to be honest, the actual cause of the problem is irrelevant to the recovery process.

Anyway on to my solution……

First step – realisations that change is possible.

I started my recovery around the age of 27 and my initial solution to the problem was education, which was a little surprising because I hated school. Plus having dyslexia didn’t help. In fact up to the age of 27, I had only read one book front to back.

Around 1995 I was working for a small Norwegian software company and the guy I worked for gave me a copy of a book called “Awaken the Giant Within” by Tony Robbins. This was the first moment I realised change was possible. I couldn’t put the book down, I read all 350 plus pages in less than a week and while reading I recognised that I had many of the qualities to be successful in business.

Within three years of reading the book, I was earning in excess of £100K a year. At the time this was a huge achievement, but unfortunately, it didn’t last. I spent the next following 20 years going through a cycle of success and then great fear, doubt and anxiety, which meant I found it very difficult to cope. The up and down cycle is very common experience for many survivors and a real challenge for the people closest to them.

Over this 20-year period, I would class myself as a searcher. What was I searching for? “answers to complex questions and ultimately peace of mind” An elusive goal especially if you look in all the wrong places. I looked in a lot of the wrong places, but upon reflection, that’s all part of my journey.

Searching for answers to complex questions is like peeling an onion the size of a planet, there is always another layer and another question underneath.

If you ask a question like “How big is Jupiter, you will find the answer on the internet. If you ask a question like “Why did I let that person sexually abuse me? There is no answer, it’s just too complex a question. The reality was I was an 11 years old boy who experienced terrible things and I did the best I could at the time. That’s the noncomplex answer.

So from an adult’s point of view, I recognised the benefit in believing the noncomplex answer, but I still had that 11-year-old boy running around my head asking complex questions. He would appear without warning and he controlled my daily existence. When stressful situations happened, he would appear and take control, taking me back to childish behaviours, outbursts of rage and anger and frankly, that’s not a great look when you are in an adult’s body.

Second step – slow reaction to negative thoughts.

So after decades of turmoil, I started to lose hope and seriously contemplated ending my life. I became fixated with thoughts of suicide. I showed the classic signs and my wife spotted that I wasn’t in a good place. She convinced me to see a specialist and he quickly diagnosed me with PTSD. PTSD and BPD have very similar symptoms so diagnosis can be challenging. Anyway, his diagnosis got me on the right path.

I got referred to an EMDR specialist, they work with traumatised people, most commonly soldiers returning from conflicts.

EMDR stands for ‘Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing’. I know, it’s a catchy name, but it worked, and it worked quickly for me. Several years ago I studied hypnosis and it uses a very similar approach, but you remain totally awake and conscious. EMDR can be challenging to go through, so having a good support network is very helpful.

After 6 sessions of EMDR, I was a different person. By way of example, for decades I suffered from nightmares, these all but disappeared. I still have the odd nightmare now and again, but they have little effect on my daily life. This was just one of the many benefits.
Basically, EMDR helped me slow down the reaction to my thoughts and feelings. And in many cases removed the thoughts completely.

Third step – connect the unconscious and conscious minds.

After the EMDR sessions, I was in a good place, but I still had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I was still experiencing disassociation on a relatively frequent basis. This is a feeling of disconnection and numbness from people and the world. By now I had a strong belief that we have an unconscious and conscious mind(s) and when the two are not well-connected problems like disassociation and numbness occur.

My answer to the problem was to study hypnosis. Humans naturally pass through a hypnotic state twice a day. When we go to sleep and when we wake up. I believe this is when we connect our unconscious and conscious minds, but typically we don’t recognise the state and it doesn’t last that long. When you are in a hypnotic state you become more aware of things, not less aware. You become more aware of specific things, so it is a powerful thing to experience. I now go in and out of different hypnotic states all day and when I’m in each state I’m very productive and I don’t think about other things, this exponentially increased my productivity. It’s like when a sportsman says they are in the zone. They don’t think, they just do; time slows down, and things happen naturally. There are no conscious thoughts; they just allow the experience to flow.

Image getting into a hypnotic state to solve your problems or learn something new. Solutions happen fast, this is known as accelerated learning. In this instance, you are learning to recover from the abuse.

So I wanted to get in this state with more control and awareness and I when I learnt how to do this, I had the most wonderful experience.

While I was studying hypnosis, I got to know people who were very experienced hypnotists. I asked one of them to help me access my unconscious mind in a way I could control. I decided I needed to meet 11-year-old me. I know this sounds strange and potentially very challenging, but I wanted to meet the little boy who was abused. We each have a timeline that we travel up and down, most people who suffer from painful memories do this in an uncontrolled way. The emotion of memories can be very overwhelming, which means they push these memories to the back of their mind, or they continually play them over and over again, which is more typical. This type of thinking leads to depression, anxiety and unfortunately a high suicide rate.

I decided to fight both of these urges and to face up to the reality of the situation because I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

So I’m in the chair and my friend quickly gets me into a deep trance. He takes me down my timeline to the point I’m walking down the road near where I lived in1978. Walking towards me is 11-year-old me. We stop two paces in front of each other. He had a look of fear on his face, I smiled at him and he immediately started talking. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, but it felt like a flood of negative emotion. I stood there for what seemed like 10 minutes just listening to him, he paused, and I knelt down and gave him a big hug and as I do so he becomes part of me. At this precise moment, I lose all the pain and unhappiness and a sense of calm came over me. My friend brings me out of the trance, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I connected with 11-year-old me and now we are one person.

I’m writing this with a big smile on my face and it’s an experience I will never forget. From that moment on I was back in control and the little boy was no longer fearful, he stopped asking all the hard questions.

It was at this point I realised the power of the mind to solve its own problems, all it needs is a little guidance and understanding.

Fourth step – acceptance, forgiveness and moving on.

If you read any literature on religion, faith or well-known philosophers there is a common thread of understanding. You should accept and forgive people for any hurt or perceived hurt you feel someone has done to you.

Easier said than done I thought. I hated my parents and I hated the person who abused me. In fact, I disliked anyone who didn’t meet my standards or did anything I thought was wrong.
I liked my anger, it motivated me to fight the world, and it protected me from other people. But it didn’t make me happy. Hate and anger only served to continue the pain.

This got me thinking, where does anger and hate come from? You may think the answer is simple. It comes from what happened in the past. I learnt it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you think about what happened. I concluded I can’t change the past, but I can change how I feel in the present.

So I typed this question into Google and through reviewing various websites I came across a guy called Syd Banks. Syd had a very simple approach to life; it’s so simple, many people misunderstand the approach. As humans we often over complicate things. I now see life in very simple terms.

All feelings come through our thoughts. Happiness, sadness, joy, jealousy, envy, hate and anger are all generated via our thoughts. So what the hell is a thought? I can’t touch it, I can’t control them, so how do I stop all the thoughts I don’t like?

Here is my definition of thought.

Our thoughts are a construct of our minds. Thought is energy and is therefore not physical so it can be changed.

Thoughts only have power when you give them power.

The past no longer exists, (this doesn’t mean things did happen, it just means it’s not happening now). The future obviously doesn’t exist until it happens. The only thing that exists is the here and now.

All my past memories are just waves of energy to help me make sense of the world, constructed by my mind to protect me. Once I understood that thought is energy and therefore an illusion of the mind, 90% of my negative thoughts about the past stopped. I can’t explain this in terms of how it happened, it just happened and that’s OK with me. I still have negative thoughts about everyday life, but that’s totally normal.

Here is an example of why thought is an illusion.

Imagine 5 people having a conversation at work. The outcome of the conversation will have 5 potentially different outcomes or thoughts about the conversation. So which persons thoughts about the conversation is the actual truth. Answers on postcard if you know the answer.

Other outcomes:

I have used alcohol as a mechanism to subdue my thoughts. I know that I should reduce my intake, but I kept on drinking. I have tried to lower my intake over the years, but I never really succeeded. It was hard work trying not to drink, it was my main crutch to keep the negative thoughts out of my mind.

Once my mind believed that thought is just energy and therefore it can change, overnight I stopped drinking to subdue my thoughts. It just happened. I still drink but I don’t need to drink any more. I can go a week without a drink, and this is not a conscious thought, it just happens.

I use the following analogy to explain what happened: My eyes don’t think about seeing they just see, my ears don’t think about listening, they just listen. My lungs don’t think about breathing they just breathe. You get the picture… Now my mind doesn’t mind what it thinks about, it notices all it needs to notice and then moves on.

My anxiety has almost disappeared, I now have normal levels of anxiety. I became more productive at work, I relaxed and didn’t respond instantly to challenging situations, I found myself just accepting all situations. That doesn’t mean I became totally passive to any situations, but right at that moment in time, I accepted each situation for what it was.

Occasionally I have situations I still get angry, but it quickly disperses, whereas in the past this could last for days and weeks and on many occasions, months and years. I just accept what is and what’s happening now, knowing I have control of my current and future state of mind. This doesn’t mean I have turned into a passivist or a person with no drive or desire to succeed. In fact, I achieve more now than I have ever done, and I find the experience fulfilling and enjoyable. I am a person with strong opinions and I’m not afraid to voice them, but now I do it looking through the eyes of a mature adult and I take responsibility for my actions.

When I read this article back to myself, I realised that I have spent my whole life focusing on my recovery. I have spent very little time thinking about the people close to me, that’s a fact and not a very pleasant one. I can’t change this fact, because it’s the truth. I now accept this was totally normal, because I was doing my best.

In the early days I was overwhelmed with feelings and emotions I couldn’t control, but as time past I began to take more responsibility for my actions. If you decide to take back control of your life the process will be painful and very challenging, but ultimately very rewarding.

So that’s my journey so far. I now believe I don’t have PTSD/BPD. I still have issues, but these issues are totally normal and manageable. For decades I thought I was damaged goods, and this could not be further from the truth. I was doing my best under difficult circumstances. I believe any sexual abuse survivor can recover and a lot quicker than it took me.

I wish you a safe journey and I hope you found this article useful.

Simon, NSUN member