Illustration by Baraa Al Jorf

Living at the Borderline

Dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) on a small college campus.

When I came to NYU Abu Dhabi, I was among the people who have been struggling with depression for years. However, the university felt like a space where I could reinvent myself. Dealing with depression can trump one’s adjustment to college life, but I was unwilling to let this happen to me. I was ready and excited to start a new chapter in my life, a chapter that would be strongly connected to the establishment of a successful future career in academia.
To my disappointment, a lot of personality traits that had already manifested at some point in my life became much stronger in my first semester here. Impulsive behavior would get in the way of establishing meaningful friendships and relationships. Anxiety would make me skip meeting after meeting. A strong idealization of my professors would convince me that I was not and would never be good enough in their classes. It was hard to save money. I loved myself one day, and the next, I would convince myself that everyone around did not care for me. A constant fear of rejection loomed around every corner. I decided to start seeing the counselors at the Health Center.
Some weeks later, I was officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) by the American Center for Neurology and Psychiatry. BPD is the most commonly diagnosed personality disorder in the world. It often does not occur alone, and its diagnosis comes combined with depression, bipolar disorder and other kinds of mental health complications.
I vividly remember the first question my psychiatrist asked as soon he diagnosed me: how is it, living on campus?
Individuals with BPD face unique challenges in small college campus environments. Everybody directly or indirectly knows each other. This enhances the fear of rejection and abandonment. If a person hates me, then their friends must also hate me, so everyone must hate me, right? Living with your close friends is, paradoxically, an additional challenge. Do my friends actually like me? What if I tricked them into liking me? These questions used to take up space in my head until it reached the point where I would burst in anger, putting my friendships in jeopardy. My friendships here were commonly characterized by periods of extreme intimacy and periods of complete isolation; I would stop talking to people whom I loved for a week or more. Combined with that is the fact that people often do not know how to properly deal with individuals with BPD the way they know with depression and anxiety. To my friends, my shutdowns meant some kind of lack of commitment, or were proof of my immaturity.
On top of that came academics. Remember idealizing my professors? My engagement in a class and my relationships with my professors were strongly dependent on whether I felt approved by them or not. Slight constructive criticism could tear apart my confidence and would completely change my engagement in class. I used to get easily hurt and would then judge myself for being easily hurt. The label “global leader” would also get to my head and make me believe that people with BPD could never fit this category. The point is, my academics could easily change the way I perceived myself, because a strong distortion of identity is characteristic of those living with BPD.
Part of this article’s goal is to promote visibility around the struggles of people living with BPD — which includes multiple people on campus. Check on your friends. Get informed about BPD and other not so mainstream mental health complications. Ask your friends who have BPD how they feel. Ask them how you should act in case of anger bursts, sudden mood swings or sudden periods of isolation. As long as people are ignorant of different mental health complications, the burden of spreading information falls on the same people who struggle with these issues on a daily basis. Mental health awareness is a collective responsibility when it comes to a small, interconnected and often suffocating campus like ours.
Another part is to highlight the services we have access to on campus. Being diagnosed by a psychiatrist at the ACNP, which I had access to through the Health Center on campus, was the first tangible step toward improving my mental health. The Moses Center for Students with Disability further made sure I had all the academic and living accommodations I needed. To all those people who are currently living with any sort of mental health complication: make use of these resources. They are extremely important for establishing a network of support.
Lucas De Lellis da Silva is a Staff Writer. Email him at
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