“I’m 22 and I’ve been heartbroken too many times”: A discussion of borderline personality disorder as it intersects with romantic experiences
I’ve written about my romantic experience specifically as it overlaps with my mental health elsewhere, but have yet to blatantly identify it here. Which is kind of funny, because my blog was the first place that I began sharing my feelings about love— before I had any concept of the problematic behaviour I now associate with it. When I was in high school, all I knew about my relationship to romance was that I was hopelessly devout to finding it. I believed in soul mates and I was confident that my higher purpose in life was to love another human romantically… (preferably one human).
Today, I’m 22 and I’ve been heart broken too many times. I still believe in soul mates but in a more adjustable capacity (most of the time). Since being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder last spring, I’ve gained a lot of insight into why love, intimacy or even just sex, has the potential to evoke certain responses in my mood and sense of security. As a result I’ve spent time re-evaluating my associations with each of these things. I’d like to organize some of the understandings I’ve developed here. And in doing so I’m hoping that I will have established some more context to an ongoing (but not really attached) series on love and Borderline Personality Disorder.
Last spring just prior to my diagnosis, I was coming out of a relationship. This is extremely relevant because usually a breakup triggers an emotionally turbulent spiral for me. It has happened several times in my young life.
In this specific instance, the spiral occurred on schedule, but with an added sense of awareness. I noticed at the time that I felt slightly more in control of my emotions than I had under previous though similar experiences. Even more, I recognized that not only had I experienced this sequence of behaviour and depressive feelings before, but that I had also recovered from them. That sense of control (opposed to spiralling without awareness of what was happening to me) was new. I started establishing patterns. Once I’d had the opportunity to organize ideas about what I was feeling, I pursued a formal diagnosis.
I told the first doctor I spoke to that I thought I might be Bipolar (type 2) because of my mood swings, but he was immediately skeptical. At the time I perceived his reaction as insensitive because I was crying, but he was in actuality trying to narrow down his assessment. It wasn’t until I started talking about my romantic history, that he seemed to perceive indications of an identifiable cause. Incidentally a different mood disorder all together: (Borderline Personality Disorder). He then placed me on a waitlist to see a psychiatrist. The difference according to him, was that a person with Bipolar would experience mood fluctuations and intense emotional responses in a more cyclical manner— whereas many of the examples that I was describing to him were triggered by specific interpersonal interactions with romantic partners.
A month or two later, I was assessed by a psychiatrist over zoom. She diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder and an adjacent anxiety disorder. I want to preface that by this time I had multiple therapy experiences under my belt, and had been taught to perceive a diagnosis with a grain of salt. Which is to say that I don’t consider my diagnosis the discovery of the one and only truth but rather a key to other avenues of mental health support.
It’s an unfortunate truth that our medical system is set up in a way that you often require a referral from a doctor (or specialist) in order to be eligible for certain forms of accommodation. On paper, it seems like a diagnosis is really just a formal confirmation that you’ve gone through the process of assessment and been a-okayed for solutions specific to a certain realm of mental illness— including prescriptions, treatment options, and various forms of therapy.
I had also read that BPD is a highly misdiagnosed disorder, partially because it’s responsible for a variety of diverse symptoms. Some people who experience BPD may identify strongly with certain symptoms and not at all with others, but to be formally diagnosed you need to experience at least 5 out of 9. I think this Instagram post categorizes the symptoms well.
Grain of salt accounted for, I’ll move along with my point. I feel good about using my diagnoses as an explanation for the present behaviours and feelings that I struggle with. The part that I’ve found most valuable for my own self growth and “recovery” is the vocabulary. Having identifiers allows me to validate what I’m feeling and also helps me explain my symptoms to myself, so that I have the opportunity to dissect why/ what/ and how I’m feeling something, and potentially consider a healthier response or coping strategy.
Supposedly Borderline Personality Disorder is something that one can recover from with the right combination of therapy and medication. I’ve read accounts from individuals who consider themselves (and are considered by medical professionals) to be in remission. It’s hard for me to imagine what that looks like.
In the longterm, I think my goal is to be able to live a full and satisfying life without the compulsive need to seek a romantic partnership that’s going to carry me through to the end. I don’t want to be so afraid of being alone that I miss the joys of it. Especially since I’ve realized that there are certain freedoms which I experience best alone. Dancing is one of them, playing dress up is another.
I can also add writing, reading and silent thought sessions to that list. The interesting thing about familiarizing myself with these joys of being alone, having formerly struggled to enjoy being alone at all, is that I’m getting better at exercising them.
Sometimes when I’m dancing by myself I feel so free and uninhibited that I actually forget I’m alone. And sometimes when I’m dancing in a crowd, I get so caught up in it that I feel like I’m the only person in the room. It’s an interesting duality isn’t it?
My short terms goals regarding my mental health, include furthering that sense of presence, both when I’m engaging in an activity by myself and when I’m interacting with others. My hope is that as I get better at using this skill in the more general aspects of my life, it will become easier to apply it to romantic interactions—which I presently experience as ‘higher stake’.
To that end, another one of my short term goals is to battle an aspect of my personal experience with BPD that has had negative impacts on interpersonal relationships in my past: compulsive attraction. Because my desire to be in a relationship is intrinsically attached to my sense of security and future well being, I find that I don’t experience romantic or sexual attraction in a natural/ healthily paced way. My compulsive desire to be in a relationship, or to “find a soul mate”, has the ability to override my judgement when interacting with people who objectively speaking, are prospective relationship candidates. For me thus far, the criteria for candidacy has been single, male, and interested in me (although I can manage without the latter).
At times this also makes it difficult to discern whether I truly like a person who meets this criteria, or even feel comfortable with them, because my instincts are overwhelmingly to interact with them in a physical or romantic way.
As you can imagine this instinct (or habit?) gets in the way of building friendships, and makes it difficult to establish healthy boundaries for intimacy. So I need strategies for refocusing myself, avoiding the urge to act compulsively.
I dance and I dress up.
I write and I read.
I’m no longer sure what the intent of this post was, other than to say “this is me, this is where I’m at right now.” Love and romance is a subject that I will always love to write about. In many ways it shaped me into the person (and writer) that I am today: age 22, and heart broken too many times.
Going forward, I hope to meet a version of myself who has nothing to do with the subject of love and romance. I think I’m starting to get to know her now, in the in between moments after heartbreak and before new love. I am stronger than I used to be in these moments, and more compassionate towards myself. In ways I like this version of myself better, but holding that perception feels unfair to both my past and future selves because I am ever changing, fluctuating between triumph and mistake.
None of it is easy, but all of it is rewarding.
Thank you for listening, to the few of you who do.