Although it might have an impact, a BPD diagnosis doesn’t automatically make you a ‘bad friend’.
For years, I was convinced that I was undeserving of friends. It seemed like the only rational explanation for why I was so unusually adept at losing them. In every situation, I was the common denominator and therefore, I reasoned, I must be the problem.
I’ve found it difficult to maintain friendships since I was little. I’d want to be super close to people straight away and end up scaring them off. I’d want to prove what a good friend I was by putting myself out there to help them, and be considered a pushover or someone who could be taken advantage of. I’d invest too heavily in the wrong people and be heartbroken when the friendship didn’t work out.
I thought I was too weird, too emotional, too erratic, too much.
In reality, I was living with borderline personality disorder.
Borderline personality disorder (also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder) is characterised by frequent mood swings, an intense fear of being abandoned, and a difficulty forming and keeping stable relationships.
People with BPD tend to self-harm, engage in risky behaviour, and consider or attempt suicide.
It can be very difficult for people who don’t know about BPD to make sense of a friend’s behaviour when their illness manifests itself in the friendship. Coming into contact with someone’s mood swings and extreme emotions, for example, can be off-putting. It might look like they’re being difficult or a ‘drama queen’ when in reality, they’re struggling with an integral part of the BPD diagnosis.
Asking repeatedly for reassurance about the friendship might seem needy, but it’s actually just because someone with BPD is intensely afraid of abandonment.
Self-harm, suicide attempts and drug and alcohol abuse are often (and completely wrongly) judged harshly, when they are really just part of the risky, self-destructive behaviours that are common for people with BPD.
Unfortunately, personality disorders still have lot of stigma attached to them.
More common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression have gained a wider level of acceptance in the eyes of the public, but illnesses like BPD and schizophrenia are still misunderstood and seen as frightening or alien.
This stigma makes life much harder for people with the diagnosis because they may be more reluctant to tell others that they have an illness. If friends don’t know you have BPD and can’t recognise the behaviours and anxieties than come with it, they will struggle to understand what’s going on if you have an episode.
By the time I was 18, my BPD was full-blown and I had a serious eating disorder. This combination, mixed with heavy use of alcohol and other drugs (both prescribed and recreational), was utterly catastrophic.
I was experiencing the extreme mood swings that come with BPD, and they were being exacerbated massively by substance abuse.
I’d always been a bit of a party girl at university, but when my body started to deteriorate from the eating disorder, I went from being a laugh to being someone who was publicly imploding. I definitely wasn’t an easy person to live with, but I needed support rather than disdain.
I remember sitting on my bed and sobbing my heart out after my housemates said that they’d chosen a property together and I was unequivocally not invited to live with them the following year.
I was trying to get used to new medication for BPD, going through an eating disorders recovery programme, trying to cope with all my university work and dealing with an abusive relationship, and yet all my university friends could see was a drama queen and a mess.
The fear of being abandoned is a big part of BPD, and when the abandonment is both real and frequent, it has a devastating impact. Some people will end friendships and relationships because they think the other person is going to leave them.
Even years later, this university experience haunts me. I will never forget feeling unsafe and unwanted in the shared house I lived in, where people would stop talking as soon as I came into a room.
If a friend does something to hurt me, I go into an animal self-protect mode. I try to keep myself safe by cutting people out of my life with the speed of Usain Bolt smashing the 100m.
A common element of BPD behaviour is called ‘splitting’ or black and white thinking. It means that you tend to see people as either all good or all bad, without room for nuance or shades of grey.
In terms of friendships, you might make a connection very quickly, think someone is amazing and want to be their best friend and know everything about them. It feels as exciting as the first flush of a new romantic relationship to meet another person you think is wonderful and want to spend all your time with.
However, these feelings can change as rapidly as they arrived. If the other person does something hurtful or fails to reciprocate in the friendship, it feels like they’ve betrayed you and you might cut them off entirely.
This is a particular risk if you’re asking someone to give more in the relationship than they are willing to. The mental health charity Mind lists having unrealistic expectations of people or contacting them very frequently as a difficult part of BPD.
It’s easy to see how this might be overwhelming for someone right at the beginning of a friendship, particularly when they don’t know about the BPD diagnosis.
Jasmine, 23, also has BPD. She notices that she’s very quick to connect with others and can experience a sense of an emotional intimacy with new friends right away.