Living With a Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis

Sad mixed race woman sitting on sofa

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Like many examples of borderline personality disorder (BPD), the example presented here is fictionalized. "Jordan" is not an actual person, and any resemblance between this fictional person and any actual person is coincidental. The symptoms and behaviors described, however, are very typical of a person with BPD.

Infancy

Even when Jordan was an infant, there was something very different about her. She reacted intensely to most things. She was easily upset, didn't adjust easily to new people or places, and was hard to comfort.

But she was just a baby; it seemed too soon to become concerned. Her parents assumed that this was a phase and that Jordan would eventually grow out of this behavior.

Childhood Behavior

As Jordan got older, she continued to be easily upset and hard to comfort, and she had very severe separation anxiety. If her mother left the room, Jordan would scream until she returned.

Still, her parents weren't too concerned. They had heard that separation anxiety is pretty typical in young children, and Jordan had so many sweet qualities. At times, she could be the most loving child. They often had really wonderful times together.

The Teenage Years

Things started to change when Jordan hit her early teens. There were fewer good times. She became increasingly sullen and angry. She started acting out more and more—yelling at her parents and teachers and engaging in impulsive behaviors like running away from home.

Sometimes, Jordan would have a close friend or two at school, but they weren't friends for long. Conflicts always occurred, and the friendships would end. Jordan talked about feeling alone, bored, and that no one understood her. Her parents were starting to become concerned, but also chalked it up to typical adolescent behavior. They weren't ready to seek help.

By the time Jordan turned 17, her home life was beginning to spiral out of control. She experienced severe emotional instability; her mood changes were totally unpredictable. She could switch moods from one minute to the next. She was fighting with her parents almost daily, usually yelling and throwing things. At times she seemed terrified to be without her mother; other times, she would leave the house in a fit of intense rage and not return for days.

One day, her mom noticed scars on Jordan's arms. When confronted, Jordan said they were scratches from her cat. Eventually, she admitted cutting herself. She said that she felt so lonely and bored, and this self-harming behavior made her feel better. Her parents now knew it was time to find help for Jordan. Note: Roughly 75% of people with BPD will make at least one suicide attempt in their lifetime, and many will make multiple suicide attempts.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Misdiagnosis

Jordan's parents brought Jordan to see a psychiatrist in their area who accepted their family health insurance. The psychiatrist spent time talking to Jordan and asking her and her parents about her symptoms. Based on this brief assessment, the psychiatrist diagnosed Jordan with bipolar disorder and prescribed a mood-stabilizing medication.

The new medication seemed to help, and Jordan and her parents were hopeful that things were getting better. In an attempt to better understand her disorder and help her recovery, Jordan's parents began reading about bipolar disorder. What they read, however, didn't always fit their daughter's symptoms. For example, Jordan's moods seemed to change quickly and often, whereas the mood changes in bipolar disorder were described as infrequent.

In one study, more than 40% of those with BPD had originally been misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder.

A Correct Diagnosis

One day, while still being treated for bipolar disorder, Jordan went online and stumbled on a description of borderline personality disorder. As she read about the symptoms of BPD, she realized that, for the first time, someone else seemed to understand what was going on inside her head. She called her mom and read her the page she had found. Her mother agreed with Jordan—it looked as though they might finally have an answer.

Jordan's mother found internet resources that led her to a list of therapists for BPD in their area. They made an appointment with a psychiatrist, who met with Jordan several times. After their third meeting, the new psychiatrist confirmed that Jordan met the diagnostic criteria for BPD. The psychiatrist then explained the treatment options that were available, including medications and psychotherapy.

The diagnostic criteria for BPD include impulsivity, suicidal behavior, reactivity of mood, inappropriate anger, and transient paranoia. These symptoms are also associated with bipolar disorder. Roughly 20% of people with BPD are also diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Gradually Regaining Control

At 23, Jordan still has many symptoms of BPD. However, treatment with a combination of medication and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), has markedly reduced her symptoms. She no longer harms herself, she's working part-time, and she has several close friends.

Jordan still has times when she feels overwhelmed and has problems with anger and relationships. Fortunately, she's learning coping skills that can help her get back in control and manage those symptoms when they occur.

Summing Up

Jordan's case is one way that borderline personality diagnosis and treatment can take shape, but the condition can vary widely from person to person. For example:

  • Some people with BPD have supportive families like Jordan's, while others grow up in traumatizing environments (a life experience that's linked to the development of BPD symptoms).
  • Some, like Jordan, start showing signs of BPD in early adolescence, while others don't have any symptoms until they are in their late teens.
  • Not everyone with BPD responds as well to treatment as Jordan did, although many do.

If you or a loved one are struggling with borderline personality disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

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Article Sources
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