19-year-old Nikki opens up about her experience with the condition
By Karen Gordon
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is estimated to affect around 700,000 people in the UK. It’s a condition characterised by strong emotions, mood swings, and other feelings that are hard to cope with but – despite the turmoil it can cause sufferers – it remains incredibly misunderstood among the general public.
BPD is can lead to a fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, extreme emotional turbulence and rage and disconnection. Sarah Murphy, head of Advice and Helplines at Rethink Mental Illness describes the condition:
“The name ‘borderline personality disorder’ is itself misleading, as the condition does not mean you are on the borderline of anything, it is a mental illness in itself. There are other symptoms of the condition which can be misinterpreted. For example, behaviour such as self-harm can be wrongly interpreted as attention seeking. In fact, self-harm and other responses, such as drug taking can be a coping mechanism for individuals to deal with their often intense emotions.”
Another misconception is that BPD is untreatable. On the contrary, whilst BPD can be a lifelong condition, with the right support and treatment people can effectively manage their symptoms and lead the lives they want to lead.
Nikki Mattocks, 19, opened up to us about what it’s like to live with the condition.
“I had a pretty rough childhood, I experienced abuse, bulling and there were also family issues. At 14 I experienced a traumatic event and my mental health deteriorated significantly – it brought everything to the surface and I became really unwell.”
“There were a lot of trips to the GP, the school councillor and to the child and adolescence mental health services (CAMHS). After an inpatient admission due to a suicide attempt, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.”
Managing BPD day to day
“With BPD, you don’t really know what’s going to happen and how you feel is really important to how you act and how you see the world. So it’s really unpredictable and it’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have BPD just how intense it can feel. It’s like an explosion of emotion has just happened.”
Dealing with the intensity of the disorder
“For people with BPD, it’s so exhausting dealing with the intense, changeable emotions of the condition. You don’t want to feel everything quite so intensely and it’s hard because you can go from feeling really happy one minute to feeling really low so quickly the next, it’s like you’re on this massive emotional roller coaster most of the time.”
“A mental illness diagnosis is very isolating and can make people feel alone regardless of what diagnosis you have. I felt really lonely, like no one else understood the way I was feeling and that I was unworthy of being loved. I went through such a long time hating myself because I felt my own existence was a burden to others and this drove me to feel really suicidal.”
Learning to live with the condition
“But even though I have been unwell, it’s important to know that you really can learn how to manage things, although it does take time and effort. Dialectical behaviour therapy, designed to treat BPD, has helped me manage different emotions by showing me techniques to manage the condition and grounding techniques have also helped. The good thing about BPD is that your mood is going to change, so even when emotions are low you know this may quickly change.”
“It doesn’t affect me to the extent that it used to. I have learned to look after myself all the time rather than when I’m not feeling great and you can actually reduce your vulnerability by doing things such as getting enough sleep and eating a healthy and well-balanced diet. Of course I still get times when it’s really intense, but I’m much better at dealing with it.”
Being a champion for mental health
Nicky is now at university doing mental health nursing and campaigns extensively to raise awareness about mental illness.
“If someone else can feel a bit less alone in what they’re going through then it’s worth it.”
“For people going through BPD, there’s a mantra that gets me through anything which is, ‘this too shall pass‘ because every single emotion is only temporary. My advice for friends and family of people with BPD is just be patient and listen. It is frustrating for you, but whatever you’re feeling they’re feeling it a lot more intensely – so don’t give up on someone.”