Not Mentally Mainstream Part 4: What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

After learning that some people consider anxiety and depression "mainstream" or "socially acceptable," I realized we still have a long way to go before the stigma attached to ALL mental health issues is erased. I decided to start a series to raise awareness about mental illnesses that aren't often talked about or accepted. Click here to read my previous post about comorbid mental illnesses.


Being that I’m submersed in the mental health community, I had heard of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), of course. But, when I sat down to think about it, I was disappointed in myself when I realized I didn’t know a thing about it. Not a single symptom. And, sadly, I’m not alone because BPD is a disorder that a lot of people don’t know anything about.

Lucky for me, I had Riley Juntti to school me in this important topic! In May, we met up for dinner, and Riley shared her journey and struggles with BPD.

Riley is a superstar in the mental health community. She is a national keynote speaker and a spokesperson for Netflix’s “Tell Them” campaign. And, while she may seem like she has it all together, she wants to keep it real with people and let them know that she still struggles with the mental illnesses that inspired her to become an advocate in the first place.

Just four months ago, on top of the anxiety and depression she’s had since age 13, Riley was also diagnosed with BPD.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines BPD as: "A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity."

Some of the symptoms of BPD include frantically avoiding real or imagined abandonment, self-damaging impulsivity, difficulty controlling anger, recurrent suicidal behavior, severe dissociation and a pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships.

Riley said, “It looks a lot like bipolar disorder – with it’s ups and downs – so it’s hard to spot borderline. The only difference with borderline is that it really emphasizes unstable relationships. (BPD) makes it really hard to form and keep relationships with people."

"The number one reason why people with BPD have unstable relationships is fear of abandonment. I formed close bonds with people but, as soon as I saw a sign of unloyalty, I would cut off all ties and not want anything to do with that person."

Symptoms of BPD usually first occur in the teenage years and early 20s. For Riley, it happened in her first year of college – spurred, in part, by living away from home for the first time and being surrounded by drugs, alcohol, assholes’ unwanted advances and unsupportive friends.

Before she received treatment for BPD, Riley said she turned into a completely different person  —someone who behaved erratically, felt empty and robotic, would get inappropriately angry and could hardly sleep because of her extremely vivid nightmares.

“I had constant racing thoughts to do certain things that, now that I’m medicated, I would never do in 100 million years. But, in my mind, everything was justified. And that’s a common symptom of borderline – having these feelings and emotions and knowing they’re not socially acceptable or right but justifying them in your head about why you should do it," she said.

Riley found out she had BPD after going to see her counselor while in the midst of a breakdown. She hadn't eaten in four days and was talking incoherently. Worried about her safety, her counselor called the police.

“In extreme situations under a lot of stress and trauma, BPD and bipolar can cause a break in reality. … I felt like it wasn’t even me in my body," she said. "I don’t remember what I was saying to make him call the police on me. I’m guessing it was pretty bad."

When she was subsequently hospitalized for two weeks, she received treatment, was prescribed with the right medication for her, and, for the first time, met others with BPD.

"A lot of people are afraid to go to the hospital because of the stigma and the stereotype around it. But it was two of the most comforting weeks of my year. Finally, I was surrounded by people who got it. I didn’t have to justify myself or over-explain myself," Riley told me. "If I didn’t go to the hospital, I would have been dead. I would have ruined my life or ended my life – one of the two."

Since being released from the hospital, Riley has been putting herself and her mental health first — and now she's in a completely different place than she was less than six months ago.

"I was living in a horrendous environment that wasn’t good for me and I was choosing activities that weren’t good for me. By changing that, I feel 10 times more stable than I was before," said Riley.

She is also a big proponent of medication for those who need it (and I agree 200 percent). Some people have asked Riley, "Do you really need meds? Can't you just feel better with diet and exercise?" But, with a chemical imbalance in the brain, often medication is the only thing that can correct that.

"Once the medication started working, my mind was so at ease. I don’t have the racing thoughts anymore. I don’t have the desire to ruin my relationships the way I did. Now, looking back at the decisions I made and the behavior I expressed, I would never ever do that now that I’m on medication. I still struggle but it’s nothing that would send me to the hospital like before," she said.

So, if you are demonstrating symptoms of BPD, please seek help, whether it's going to a therapist or admitting yourself to the hospital. Don't ever be ashamed of how you're feeling. Instead, think of the people in the world like Riley who are speaking up about the disorder and kicking BPD's ass. You are not alone, and you are not a slave to your mental illness.

For more information on Riley, visit her website at www.rileyjuntti.com.

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