I was diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, otherwise known as Borderline Personality in May 2017, four months before my 22nd birthday.
It came as a huge shock - not just because it made me question everything I’d ever become incredibly emotional over, but because I had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder a year prior. And so, to me, it was as if I’d spent twelve months getting used to the fact I live with one mental illness only to have to come to terms with another.
It also made me question how much of the way I acted was because of bipolar disorder and how much of it was caused by EUPD.
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And in all honesty, the diagnosis scared the hell out of me. While bipolar disorder is a rather talked about mental illness, EUPD is not. And frankly, at first, the term ‘emotionally unstable’ was enough to make me want to curl up and cry - because it made me feel weak, not normal, completely powerless to my emotions. I imagined someone ‘crazy’, someone people would look at in concern, someone who made others feel uncomfortable - surely, that wasn’t me.
People with EUPD are described as those who overreact to stress with extreme feelings of sadness, anxiety and anger. It’s said not to only affect the mind but relationships too - as they’re often intense and chaotic.
Ultimately, the disorder generally sees people becoming impulsive and often self-destructive. The thing, though, is that when you’re living with the disorder, all of the above things feel normal. Because you’re so used to losing control with your anger and forming dangerously close bonds with people, you don’t think twice about it, or even worry about taking a step back to evaluate the situation.
And so for me, it wasn’t until I had a meeting with my psychiatrist to talk bipolar medication that he pointed out that he thought there was something more going on with me.
I’d been having extreme mood swings since my late teens. I had always been an erratic person who could fly off the handle like the flick of a light switch. Often, my upset was completely unreasonable - perhaps my partner hadn’t done the washing up when I’d asked him to or dinner was overcooked. While most people would be a little annoyed, but wouldn’t let it affect their day, for me it would be the end of the world.
My body would immediately fill with frustration that would push me to tears. I’d scream, shout, so much so that I’d begin feeling angry about other things besides the original annoyance - which meant the situation was often left with me getting upset by a range of things that had no actual importance to the argument. Eventually, I’d become so exhausted by the rage that it’d turn to tears, and I’d sob and sob uncontrollably until there was no fight left in me.
But as well as being a very angry person, I was also a very anxious one. I can’t quite explain it, during my school years I was very outgoing and loud. But as I grew older the thought of leaving my house terrified me, it was as if I’d forgotten how to socialise. Meeting new people was my worst nightmare, I’d never know what to say or how to act - and I’d always worry I’d said the wrong thing and process the conversation over and over until I convinced myself I should never talk to a new person again.
And I guess because meeting new people was incredibly hard for me, I clung onto the people who I was close with already. So much so that my relationships would always be very intense - and often toxic. I would spend every day of the week with one person, morning until night. At first, it would be great fun and you’d feel really fantastic getting to hang out with someone you like so much. But eventually, it’d get draining. There was nothing new to talk about, nothing spontaneous to do, and we’d end up drifting apart out of boredom, starting to get on each other’s nerves because we’d been around each other for far too long. In the end, we’d fall out, and I would struggle to even be able to count my friends on one hand.
It didn’t just affect my friendships, but my relationship too. I have been with my partner for four years, and during a time where my EUPD was at its worst, the relationship was incredibly strained. We stopped communicating because there’d been so many unnecessary arguments caused by my rage that I feel it pushed my partner away from me. He was scared to confront me about his feelings because my reactions had always been so unpredictable in the past. I felt lonely within my relationship as if even the person closest to me couldn’t stand being around me, and that was devastating.
The problem is that I never spoke with my psychiatrist about these details because as mentioned, I deemed them to be ‘normal’. I put them down to just having a varied personality, just being a ‘hormonal’ young woman, nothing out of the ordinary. I was so used to it, that I didn’t give it a second thought. It wasn’t until my bipolar medication was under control and my mood swings hadn’t lessened that I was asked about my day-to-day life in terms of relationships and my ability to stay calm that I realised perhaps my actions weren’t just a part of who I was.
My bipolar disorder was much easier to diagnose. As I was diagnosed with type 1, which means I have more ‘manic episodes’ than ‘depressive’, it was easy for my psychiatrist to notice that I’d been experiencing hypomania - a smaller form of mania - as I was telling him how I was spending impulsively, being unable to sleep properly and having these amazing ideas that sadly would always fall short. It was easier because these are mainly physical actions where I can show actual evidence that I’d done these things. This to me proved that what I was doing was out of the ordinary.
But EUPD is so easily confused with hormones - especially in young women. For a young woman, it might be hard to speak out about you feel, because mood swings are so prominent with periods of menstruation. I surely can’t be the only one who’s gone off into a fit of rage only to be asked: ‘Are you on your period?’ And so, quite frankly, it becomes difficult to differentiate the two for those who don’t understand. And, in all honesty, it becomes easier to hide away from the fact that you may be suffering from mental health issues, because it’s easier to blame ‘women’s troubles’ than confront the truth.
The saddest part of being a woman and living with EUPD is that the words ‘crazy’ and ‘unstable’ are so frequently thrown around against women generally in our society. It’s common for women to open up more than men, and are therefore deemed as being more emotional humans. Those who are completely open about their emotions and therefore unafraid to show when they are upset are often carelessly labelled as ‘unstable’when all they’ve really done is express themselves. And sadly, because we as women may show our fury over things that men may not bat an eyelid at, we’re labelled ‘crazy’, when really we just deal with things in a different way. Of course, this does not apply to all men nor or women - but you can’t help but face that this is a truth. Be that in soaps, films and real-life, how often do we see a female being open with her emotions labelled ‘crazy’ simply for doing so?
And because of this, mental health disorders like mine take a back seat, overshadowed by the ‘crazy’ woman stereotype. There’s a worry that if you speak out about how you feel you’ll be labelled ‘insensitive’ and, because of this fear, you begin to believe yourself that perhaps you really are just being ‘crazy’, or worse, much like myself, that it’s ‘normal’, when in reality, you need help.
But there is a huge difference between being called ‘crazy’ because you want to highlight how you feel, and actually suffering from mental health issues. Neither are nice, but the latter has a huge impact on your life. Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder can be debilitating. It can leave you isolating yourself, terrified of acting out at small situations. Pushing people away because you struggle to explain to them how difficult it is to contain your emotions. Fearful of starting relationships with people because you know that one way or another it’s going to turn toxic. The most devastating feeling of all is the fear of being alone - brought on namely because you don’t realise that your mood swings are more than that - they’re part of an illness.
And this is why I think it’s so important that we highlight the difference between someone who is more open with their emotions and someone whose emotions completely consume them. The former can be handled, but the latter can be incredibly self-destructive.
Regardless of whether someone suffers from a mood disorder, we need to get rid of this ‘crazy’ label. Not just to encourage those struggling to seek help - but to avoid them convincing themselves that their actions aren’t anything seriously detrimental to their health.
As a sufferer of EUPD, I still feel anxious about admitting my diagnosis, for all of the reasons mentioned above. While I receive help through means of therapy, which has somewhat helped me handle my mood-swings and rebuild my relationships, I’m still terrified of the ‘crazy’ label. I’m scared of not being taken seriously or made to feel as though my diagnosis isn’t relevant, that I’m simply being a ‘woman’. Because the bottom line is I do struggle, every day can be a battle, and I have to continue to remind myself that I’m not hormonal, I’m not ‘just a woman’, and I’m most definitely not crazy - I’m just someone learning to live with a mood disorder.
I know that as soon as we get rid of the labels and encourage more understanding around women living with mood disorders, the sooner I, and people like me, will no longer be afraid, to be honest with themselves, and others around them, about needing help.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.