Getting personal about BPD (borderline personality disorder)
If you've made it here, you're probably trying to get a better idea of what Hike the Borderline is all about. I want to start by saying thank you so much for your curiosity and willingness to learn about our cause! I'd also like to qualify that I'll be speaking solely from my experiences with my mental health and diagnoses, and I can't speak on the experiences of others who struggle with borderline personality disorder (BDP) or other mental health issues. Everyone's stories and battles are different, and all of them are valid.
Hi, I'm Cassidy. I am an (almost) 23 year old gal born in Idaho, but I've bopped around between Washington State, Florida, and most recently, Ohio. I have a huge heart for music and theater having been a vocalist in a band from age 12 to 18 and performing on stage too many times to count.
I am extremely passionate about animals, both domestic and wild - I volunteered at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center helping rehabilitate sick and injured wild birds in my younger years and served as a foster mom for the Tallahassee Animal Shelter while I pursued my bachelors degrees in Humanities and English at Florida State University. I'm a sucker for good poetry, I cry during most movies, sad or not, and I drink more coffee than is probably healthy. ☕
Oh yeah, and I live with borderline personality disorder (BPD).
What is BPD?
“ Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behavior. These symptoms often result in impulsive actions and problems in relationships. ” - National Institute of Mental Health
For those who don't know what BPD is, you're certainly not alone. In fact, BPD wasn't added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders as a diagnosable disorder until 1980, putting it almost three decades behind many other mental illnesses. Consequently, much less is known about BPD and its causes and treatments than other mental illnesses, and most people have never even heard of BPD.
BPD exists on a spectrum, and everyone's experiences are unique and different - not everyone with BPD experiences all symptoms of it, making it difficult to say concretely what BPD is and isn't, but it is characterized by a few key things:
Intense and often uncontrollable emotional responses and mood swings
A distinct lack of a sense of self-identity, or a distorted or disconnected self-image
Crushing fear of abandonment and severe trust issues leading to difficulty maintaining relationships
Self-destructive behavior, including substance abuse, excessive risk-taking, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies
You may be thinking, okay, those are the clinical basics, but what is it like to actually live with BPD? What effect can this have on someone's daily life?
Living with BPD
“ I didn't leave my house today; I seldom left my bed. Though sad, I think it's safe to say; I seldom left my head. ” -An unpublished poem by Cassidy Camp
The above comes from a notebook I kept though college on my experiences with BPD. I remember rolling over in my bed to jot down these lazy four lines before going back to sleep for the majority of the day. This was a day where I felt particularly alone, regardless of that fact that I had several friends who truly cared for me, a partner who loved me, and family members who would have answered a phone call had I made the effort.
I remember thinking that I was worthless. I wondered why anyone cared about me. Then I began to wonder if anyone actually cared about me at all. Maybe everyone was just using me for some purpose unbeknownst to me. Or maybe, everyone in my life was only there because they felt bad for me. Maybe my family was paying these people pretending to be my friends so I wouldn't feel so lonely in college. That had to be it! Caught them red handed. Can't fool me mom and dad!
This is an example of what is referred to in the BPD community as "splitting," and it is by far the most difficult part of my battle with BPD. To "split" on something or someone means to see it in black and white - people, situations, or things seem 100% good or 100% bad, like there's absolutely no in-between.
When I start to feel like something or someone is bad, these completely illogical and irrational scenarios seem to just flood my mind, telling me that even those closest to me are trying to hurt me and that they can't be trusted.
Splitting is so unbelievably frustrating because the logical part of my brain is there - I do hear myself when I come up with these absurd scenarios - and deep down I usually know these things aren't true. But it's extremely difficult for me to distinguish when I'm being illogical versus when I'm being cautious and just looking out for myself.
When I split, I begin to push those people away or isolate myself completely to protect myself from the "danger," unable to realize that the danger only exists in my head. I feel a sense of loneliness that can only be described as soul-crushing. I truly believe that I have been abandoned and that no one in the whole world actually cares for me. I have found myself in some abysmally dark mental places because of these feelings.
Another huge part of living with BPD is the difficulty I have with my self-identity. This piece is very difficult to explain to those who don't experience it, but I have a very hard time determining who I am as a person. Sometimes I feel like a chameleon, taking on the traits and behaviors most likely to keep me safe in my environment.
Most everyone does this to an extent, like switching on your personal profanity filter at the office, or keeping silent in political debates among friends. The difference is that most people go home and know who they are and what they value at the end of the day. Those lines become blurred for me and for many others who struggle with BPD.
I have always been an overachiever. I have received glowing letters of recommendation and earned recognition from many of my teachers, professors, and most recently my employer, where I was named Employee of the Quarter. My friends, family members, and partner have told me that they think I'm a good person, a good friend, and a good partner. So, what's the problem?
All of these things are like water on a duck to me. I work very hard to achieve the things I do, but when I achieve them, I feel like I don't deserve it. Logically, I know that I earned those things because I worked for them, that I have my friends and partner in my life because I'm good to them. But I have a hard time seeing myself as deserving of the good things in my life because I don't feel like it was truly me who earned them, like there's a disconnection between the person who others interact with and my true self.
This is a mental process called "dissociation." Dissociation is where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity. It is often a defense mechanism that people who have experienced trauma develop to minimize the pain they feel from their trauma. If you can disconnect yourself from the things you've experienced, suddenly those things feel like they haven't happened to you, but to someone else.
Dissociation distorts your self-image and makes determining who you are very confusing. Because I have a hard time connecting the positive things I do and accomplish in my life to who I am as a person, I have struggled with my self-esteem since I can remember. Again, the logical part of me knows that I am a hard-worker, a good friend and partner, a caring person - but I find most often that I don't feel like those things. The disconnection makes it difficult to feel like the person others see me to be.
The Extent of the Problem
Fortunately, I realized that the issues I was facing weren't normal several years ago. I saw counselors throughout high school and spent some time in a youth shelter due to behavioral issues and inability to manage my emotions. I saw a life counselor in my freshman year of college to help me determine if what I needed was professional help, and I finally saw a psychiatrist in 2017 where I received the diagnosis for BPD.
Strangely, I was relieved at the diagnosis. Finally, I had a name for the problem, resources on how to work through it, and a rough road map of how to begin to get better. Shortly thereafter, I joined a support group and began therapy to really dig into the issues I struggle with in my day to-day life.
My road to recovery has been long, and certainly hasn't been easy. While I know I've made great strides toward recovering and have a much better grasp on how to manage my emotions, I still struggle with many aspects of BPD.
" Almost 80% of those with BPD report a history of suicide attempts, and suicide deaths range between 8-10%. This rate is 50 times greater than that found in the general population. " - Psychology Today
The statistics surrounding self-harm and suicide in people with BPD are terrifying. This disorder is truly a silent killer, yet it is talked about so little.
What I hope to accomplish with Hike the Borderline is to show others struggling with BPD and other mental health issues that mental illness doesn't have to determine the course of our lives for us and keep us from doing the things we need to move forward in life. I want to inspire others on their road to recovery to keep on trekking and to show that it is possible overcome their personal obstacles, and even though sometimes it's a long, strenuous, uphill battle, it's worth it.
Thank you to those of you who have supported me all these years to keep going, even when I pushed you away, mistrusted you unjustly, and was generally hard to love. I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am today without you.
I'd also like to thank those of you who have come here to show support and to learn more. Please feel free to share my story with your friends and family, and remember to check in on those you love often. 1 of every 5 adults in the U.S. alone struggles with mental illness. Together, we can show those individuals that all of us can do great things.