Brave Stevenage woman speaks out about living with borderline personality disorder

This year's University Mental Health Day is about using the power of voices to help shape the future

This year's University Mental Health Day is about using the power of voices to help shape the future of student mental health. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A woman with borderline personality disorder is determined to tackle the stigma and misconceptions often attached to mental illnesses.

Chloe - not her real name - lives in Stevenage Old Town and is speaking out about the condition she has lived with for 10 years in Mental Health Awareness Week, which starts today.

The NHS describes personality disorders as people who think, feel, behave or relate to others very differently from the average person. According to the description, a person with BPD - the most commonly recognised personality disorder - may have disturbed ways of thinking, impulsive behaviour and problems controlling their emotions.

Chloe believes the medical definition isn't helpful, with significant differences from one provided by charity Rethink Mental Illness, for example.

In Rethink's explanation, it says those with BPD "feel strong emotions that you struggle to cope with", which mean you "may feel upset or angry a lot of the time".

The charity says there are lots of different reasons why people get BPD, but a lot of people who have been diagnosed have had traumatic problems in their childhood.

Speaking about life with BPD, Chloe said: "BPD destroys the worth of the sufferer. It's like I'm fighting to save myself from my own mind. I don't think the description of the condition gives it justice for the sufferer actually feeling the effects.

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"From experience, I think it borders between post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar affective disorder.

"For me, it consists of extreme mood swings, but this can be managed through a mood stabiliser, and I can struggle with cognitive function.

"In terms of relationships, I can feel intensely distressed and have delusions that can impact the brain. I have no control over the mood swings and have to wait for them to pass. After one relationship, my symptoms made a return, with additional symptoms I couldn't comprehend.

"I was getting angry when triggered by events I had experienced and had trouble taking in information."

Chloe is determined to help break down the stigma attached to mental health conditions.

She said: "I find people with BPD are at increased risk of abuse because of the description of the diagnosis and the way it's viewed, and the way it's judged.

"You can be accused of attention seeking when you're suicidal, or accused of deliberately forgetting things, but the condition is real.

"I've self-harmed a few times, although I managed to get this under control years ago.

"The impulsivity aspect of the disorder tends to decline with age, unless there's a new trigger such as abuse. When I'm angry, it's not my personality. I try desperately to avoid the anger and ask for help when needed.

"If I do end up in an abusive situation, I worry I'm more likely to be seen as the blame rather than be allocated the correct source of treatment.

"The visual abusive behaviours associated with the condition are not intentional, but survival mechanisms."

In September, Chloe said she had to stop studying for a degree and leave a job she enjoyed because she was too ill to continue.

"Prior to this I was working with minor highs and lows," she said, "but then I had episodes of suicidal thoughts and mania, as well as PTSD symptoms.

"I had gaps in my memory, but creative activities and learning online in isolation has helped me cope. It does improve over time and, since taking the antidepressant Sertraline and doing creative activities, it has calmed down a lot."

She added: "People with borderline personality disorder are often positive individuals and the condition can affect women, men and children at any stage of their lives.

"It's a serious illness and, with the lack of funding the NHS currently has, there's a long waiting list that puts services under pressure for mental health conditions like BPD.

"Creative therapies should be allocated to anyone with a diagnosed mental health condition, to help them get back into education and work."

If you need mental health support, you can call mental health charity SANE on 0300 304 7000. The helpline is open every day of the year, from 4.30pm to 10.30pm.

You can also call the Samaritans on 116 123, which is open 24/7 every day of the year.

If you would prefer face-to-face support, the mental health charity Mind in Mid Herts has a base in the Stevenage Wellbeing Centre in Town Square.

Call 01438 369216 to arrange an appointment.