Living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Written by Kayla Kavanagh

Borderline Personality Disorder

If I were to tell you that I had an illness that affected only 2% of the population, and killed 1 in 10 of those who had it - what would your reaction be? Perhaps surprise … sympathy …  maybe even shock?  And how would that reaction change when I told you that it was a mental illness known as Borderline Personality Disorder? BPD is one of the most stigmatised and misunderstood mental health conditions, and its devastating effect is found in a thousand stories that have never been told by those who live with it. Those who exist in a world where no matter how loudly they scream, no-one seems to hear their voice. To find out more about BPD you might like to read What is Borderline Personality Disorder.

BPD – The person behind the disorder

In 2007, I was pulled out of a lake in South Yorkshire where I tried to end my own life. I was fortunate. My partner Nigel worked with a police helicopter to locate my mobile phone signal by the water’s edge, where two dogs found me and I was taken to safety.  Staring down at my water-logged shoes, my jeans clinging uncomfortably to my cold skin, I shivered and held my partner’s hand as we waited in A&E. In that moment, Nigel suddenly became my ‘carer’, and I became a ‘service user’. I had no idea that the journey on which we were about to embark would be such a long and rocky one.

An NHS service user

I spent the next two years ricocheting around the inner workings of the NHS, and was eventually given some treatment – however what many people don’t realise is that unlike other health conditions, if your local NHS does not have a specialist service you are unable to be referred out of area. We suffered this postcode lottery effect as we were told that there are no specialist Personality Disorder (PD) services in my area, and I was given a course of psychotherapy with no options for group support or other forms of intervention. If I were to live 20 miles north or 30 miles south of my home, I could avail of specialist services which were ideally suited to my own needs. As with every illness, every person with PD has an entirely unique set of symptoms with their own individual requirements for care. Unfortunately in my case, I was simply given what was available locally – which was highly ineffective and terminated before the end of treatment.

My symptoms

The symptoms of my personality disorder began in early adolescence, as I quickly became aware that I was not like my peers. My main symptoms were:

  • Separation anxiety,
  • Acute fear of abandonment,
  • A reluctance to be away from home,
  • Self-harm
  • Extreme emotional instability

This prevented me from experiencing what should have been the typical life of a teenager. Instead of the usual road of self-discovery that I watched my friends taking, I spent my days in isolation, not understanding the overwhelming emotions that attacked me from every side – often crying myself to sleep wondering why the feelings just wouldn’t go away, and why I couldn’t put a name to them.

Social and emotional effects of Borderline Personality Disorder

Throughout my teens I failed to develop an identity, falling behind academically, socially and emotionally. It felt like I had got ‘stuck’ at age 11 when the problems began, and that my body and mind were developing but my sense of self and capacity to regulate emotion lagged way behind. It wasn’t until I was finally diagnosed with BPD that I began to realise what all these symptoms meant, and I was finally able to start unpicking my past in order to understand the present. There are mixed opinions on how helpful or pejorative the label of Personality Disorder can be, however for me it was a crucial means to discovering a lost part of my identity that I could begin to work with.

Misunderstanding and stigma

You may also like to read Borderline Personality Disorder - A tribute to Louise Wright

All across the country there are people like me who find themselves in the difficult position of  having no professional caring for them who they feel understands them. Nurses in A&E are often unable to deal with the complex needs of someone presenting in crisis with a personality disorder. Even some therapists admit avoiding taking people with PD onto their caseload, which only further underscores the core belief that the world will abandon and reject you, as it is something you see played out not only in society but also by the very people who are supposed to be providing your treatment.

BPD manifests itself in many different ways. Most people begin to experience its effects in their early to late teens, often following a childhood marked by some form of neglect, abuse, over/underparenting, their genetic predisposition or traumatic events.  The symptoms of my condition exhibited themselves in ways which those around me found difficult to understand. The explosive anger, intense anguish or wild elation seemed completely inappropriate for most situations – however I was unable to see past the feeling. The desperate sense of longing to find the perfect care-giver and defending against abandonment and rejection became by subconscious quest – which unknown to me is one of the core beliefs found in BPD.

People with PD are often described as manipulative, attention-seeking and histrionic, misunderstood to be making a fuss when they are simply trying to communicate in the only way they know how. Some express their inner feelings physically, through self-harm or restricting food; others by overdosing, simply unable to self-soothe or contain their psychic pain. Acting out their emotions rather than reflecting on their feelings.

When I tried to end my life in 2007, it was not simply a cry for help. Retrospectively I can understand why others may consider uncompleted suicide to lack intention, however with this particular diagnosis it has crucially been documented that 1 in 10 will at some point move to completion. The tragedy is that it takes something as devastating as someone taking their own life to bring this reality into the public domain.

Sources of help

I have found great support from a fantastic organisation called Emergence (, who alongside the Department of Health are delivering training to people working with clients with PD to educate them around the philosophy “no longer a diagnosis of exclusion”. It is a privilege to now work with them as a trainer, co-facilitating alongside psychologists training workers in how to effectively work with someone with PD.

So few people are willing to look at the person behind the personality disorder. There can be such immense creativity born in the minds of those tormented by mental illness, and when harnessed through poetry, art, music or writing it can be a powerful tool for recovery. My hope is that by reading these words, that you will see the human being behind the label – and perhaps that the stigma can be reduced by just one more person today. Something has to change, and it needs to change now. Before another life is lost.

Further help on Borderline Personality Disorder

We hope you have found this information useful, please also see:

What is Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms

Borderline Personality Disorder Treatments

Real Life: Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder - A tribute to Louise Wright

Louise Wright's family speak out about BPD

Borderline Personality Disorder - Basic Facts from SANE










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