Trigger warning: This post talks about self harm and suicidal behaviours
When I was diagnosed with BPD at age 18 a lot of things fell into place. When I showed my mum a leaflet about the diagnosis she was able to link a lot of my behavior to the disorder. Fair to say we both agreed with the diagnosis, in hindsight the signs were there all along but professionals are reluctant to diagnose children and teens with BPD as the mood swings and unsure identity could be put down to growing up. They tend to wait until you’re 18 or older to diagnose you but I think if someone had picked up on the signs at an early stage I might have got better but instead the symptoms got progressively worse.
For as long as I can remember intense emotions have affected my life. When I was in nursery and primary school I would get so distressed about going and being separated from my mum that I would cry, scream and put myself at risk to avoid going. I’d run away from home or undo my seat belt in the car in the hopes that we would crash and I would get hurt or die so I wouldn’t have to go to school.
I would cry out of nowhere even if, like a minute ago, I was laughing I could suddenly start crying or get angry at the drop of a hat. Attachments were an obvious issue for me as well, not just being overly attached to my mum but I would get attached to toys and games, getting incredibly upset if they broke. At the age of 10 I was in therapy for anger management problems. I only got six sessions with the therapists but when they “dropped” me I felt unwanted, unimportant and abandoned.
I used to go horse riding every week which I enjoyed but from one week to the next I could feel completely different about it. I remember looking forward to this special riding party with other kids but on the day of the party I was crying and screaming like I was being forced to go to school.
My friendships were very unstable in my primary school/early high school life. I would get angry easily for reasons that not even I knew sometimes but it meant a fight nearly every other day. We would always make up and be good friends until the next time I got upset with them. Being friends with me was like trying to handle a ticking time bomb that could go off at any minute or with even a slight wrong touch. There are a lot of diary entries from my first year of high school talking about this one girl and each entry would be either about how bad of a friend she was or how we made up after a fight… Again.
Suicidal ideation was around from a young age too. I wrote in my diary about how I hurt a friend and how I felt so guilty that if she didn’t forgive me I might as well end my life. This may all sound dramatic but this was how I was genuinely feeling at the time. I was considered a drama queen and a crybaby for years because of this emotional intensity.
I was bullied as I wore my heart on my sleeve and it was obvious there was something wrong with me as I was able to go from laughing to crying to lashing out in a matter of minutes. I was aware of how my emotional sensitivity was a problem but I didn’t know how to control it. In my teen years these erratic emotions morphed into severe depression and anxiety.
I was crying almost every night and having a panic attack nearly everyday, I’d also learned how to self harm and that became my way of releasing my emotional pain and self hatred. I eventually got counselling and group therapy for these things which helped a little but as the disorder could not yet be diagnosed, the issues were still there. I just became better at hiding/suppressing my emotions at school and with family, saving my “meltdowns” for when I was alone.
I changed my mind a lot too, picking my subjects to take at GCSE was a nightmare as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or what I wanted to be when I got older. My aspirations would change nearly every week and I went to the office multiple times to change my options, I eventually settled for Drama, Art and Child development as, for a short while, I wanted to be a social worker,that dream changed quickly though.
In college things seemed to be looking up, I was happier there but underneath the cheeriness was the fear that if I let my “true” self show everyone would hate me and I would be bullied again so I played up the happy/hyperactive persona as that is the side of me people seemed to prefer. However, this escalated into mania that would last a couple of hours but by the end of the day I was emotionally and physically drained from all the hyperactivity. If something went wrong during the day or I perceived someone as being upset with me, my mood would quickly change to depressed and distressed.
So you see, when I was a child, I had no pause button on my emotional reactions. Whenever I felt overwhelmed I didn’t know how to stop the tears or the rage, I didn’t know how to react to these intense emotions in a healthy way or communicate how I was feeling to others appropriately so very soon a wedge was driven between me and the other kids. It was when I started being bullied more severely in high school that I learned to not let my feelings show, bottling them up and suppressing them as much as I could but even then some of it would show, especially the rage.
The emotional intensity, mood swings, unstable relationships, attachment issues and lack of identity were there with me from a very early age. Things have improved since I got neurofeedback, DBT therapy and medication but there are definitely things I need to work on like resolving my trauma and coming to terms with the way my life is now because of said trauma. I understand why professionals are reluctant to diagnose people with the disorder before 18 but I think early intervention is key for BPD. I think there is a term called ’emerging personality disorder” that identifies symptoms of a personality disorder in young people without actually diagnosing them. I think this would have been useful for me as it would have got me treated sooner and improved my school life but alas that was not the case. I do think it would be a good idea to teach children about how to deal with difficult emotions and how to look after their mental health, not necessarily if they show signs of mental illness but in general.
Hope you liked this post, do feel free to let me know what you think or share your experience with a personality disorder in childhood. Thanks for reading.