Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a painful and complicated disorder. For those who are unsure of what the disorder entails, it often includes symptoms of:
- Distorted self-image
- Feelings of isolation, boredom, and emptiness
- Mood swings, sometimes severe and sudden
- Feelings of anxiety
- Loss of interest in routine activities
- Suicidal thoughts
However, the disorder varies greatly from person to person. In my personal experience, I have struggled with Quiet (discouraged) borderline personality disorder. This means that instead of acting out due to the strong emotions I experience, I often act in. I have struggled with severe self-harm, anorexia, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and attempts. Fortunately, I have been hospitalized a few times and have taken part in partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs that have taught me the necessary skills to be able to manage my strong emotions in a healthy way. I have also been in therapy and seeing a psychiatrist for many years. Since I was first diagnosed, I have dedicated my life to helping others with the disorder and working to fight the stigma that follows this debilitating illness.
As a bibliotherapist, I am always looking to help others through the healing power of literature. I find that reading, especially reading books about characters who share the illnesses that we ourselves have, can be very cathartic. I also find that certain nonfiction books can be therapeutic to help us learn more about our illnesses so that we can better understand ourselves.
Unfortunately, most of the books out there that address borderline personality disorder are very stigmatizing and are seemingly written only for those who have loved ones with BPD. They often paint the sufferer (or survivor, as I like to call us) as toxic, and someone to be avoided. This is very dangerous for those with BPD, because it paints us solely by our symptoms rather than seeing us as individuals.
However, I have found that it is even more difficult to find books that feature fictional characters with borderline personality disorder. Most of the fiction books out there that are said to feature characters with BPD are often interpreted that way by readers, rather than the author outwardly identifying their character(s) as having BPD. It is because of this that the following three fiction books I have chosen may not be fully representative of BPD, but because BPD varies widely from person to person, they may relate to some readers more than others. If you do not have BPD but want to learn more about the illness through fictional characters, the following three picks are great places to start. Just keep in mind that they are not definitive of how BPD presents in every survivor.
Unteachable by Leah Raeder
Maise O’Malley just turned eighteen, but she’s felt like a grown-up her entire life. The summer before senior year, she has plans: get into a great film school, convince her mom to go into rehab, and absolutely do not, under any circumstances, screw up her own future.
But life has a way of throwing her plans into free-fall.
When Maise meets Evan at a carnival one night, their chemistry is immediate, intense, and short-lived. Which is exactly how she likes it: no strings. But afterward, she can’t get Evan out of her head. He’s taught her that a hookup can be something more. It can be an unexpected connection with someone who truly understands her. Someone who sees beyond her bravado to the scared but strong girl inside.
That someone turns out to be her new film class teacher, Mr. Evan Wilke.
Maise and Evan resolve to keep their hands off each other, but the attraction is too much to bear. Together, they’re real and genuine; apart, they’re just actors playing their parts for everyone else. And their masks are slipping. People start to notice. Rumors fly. When the truth comes to light in a shocking way, they may learn they were just playing parts for each other, too.
Smart, sexy, and provocative, Unteachable is about what happens when a love story goes off-script.Goodreads Synopsis
This novel may be controversial due to the illicit romance between teacher and student; however, I found that the intensity of the romance was similar to what I have experienced in my own relationships. This is due to how my BPD causes me to get extremely attached to my partners. If you have BPD and have also experienced intense relationships, you may relate to this story. It is also a good representation of these intense relationships for those who do not experience BPD firsthand.
Her by Felicia Johnson
In many ways, Kristen Elliott is a normal, seventeen-year-old girl. Kristen loves her family. She works hard academically, and tries to please her mother. She takes on the additional responsibility of caring for her twin siblings, Nick and Alison. She idealizes her best friend, Lexus, who not only seems to lead the perfect life, but also catches the attention of John, the boy Kristen secretly loves. However, as is the case with many teenagers, Kristen feels frustrated, isolated, and confused.
In other ways, Kristen is not like other kids her age. She knows something is wrong with her. Kristen feels like an utter failure. She is unable to please her abrasive mother, and scared to confront Jack, her abusive stepfather. She is also unable to protect Nick from Jack, making her fell all the more helpless. Adding to her problems, she knows she will never be as beautiful as her best friend Lexus. Kristen finds solace in self-injury, and the company of Mr. Sharp, her imaginary friend who encourages her feelings of self-loathing.
After a failed suicide attempt, Kristen is placed in the Bent Creek mental hospital, where she is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. While in the hospital, she meets a group of peers suffering with their own mental illnesses, and a compassionate staff of doctors and counselors. From there, Kristen begins her journey to survival. She discovers the circumstances that brought her to this breaking point, struggles to understand her mental illness, and fights to be a survivor against her own worst enemy: her self-blame.
Kristen’s tale of endurance illustrates the complex illness of Borderline Personality Disorder. Readers – including those suffering from BPD and their friends and family – can glean insight into the illness from Kristen’s humanity. Her story is an example of how, if we try to push the past away, we are either doomed to repeat it or let it haunt us to our graves.Goodreads Synopsis
The beauty of this novel is that the main character, Kristen, is explicitly said to have borderline personality disorder. I loved how the novel follows the events that led to Kristen’s diagnosis, her “breaking” point that led to her diagnosis, and how she moves forward with her life after coming to terms with her ailment. Unlike many other novels that stigmatize individuals with BPD, I found that this novel was very realistic to my own experience, and my hope is that others with BPD will find some truth in it. It is also a great novel for loved ones to read to better understand their loved ones.
Before You Break by Kyla Stone
Lena McKenna hides behind the safety of her camera lens. A talented, driven perfectionist, she’s earned a scholarship to a prestigious art school. But when her father suffers a heart attack, Lena drops everything, rushing back to a house shrouded in shadows and secrets. She’s confronted by Lux, the troubled younger sister she left behind when she fled her past two years ago.Goodreads Synopsis
Volatile and reckless, Lux McKenna is teetering on the brink. The black hole of her mind is sucking her under. Plagued by guilt and a devastating darkness, Lux will do anything to forget. Anything. Whatever she tries, Lena can’t reach her sister. Instead, she devotes herself to her father’s care, all the while haunted by the memories of her mother, a passionate, enigmatic artist whose tragic death shattered their family.
When Lena finds unexpected refuge in the arms of Eli, a former crush, his steady strength begins to thaw her heart and challenge her fears. But can he convince her that love is always a risk worth taking? Meanwhile, Lux’s dark secrets send her hurtling toward the precipice.
Will Lena choose to escape her past once and for all, leaving her sister–and her chance at love–behind? Or can these sisters find a way back to each other before their demons destroy them both?
This novel is one that readers have interpreted as being a look at borderline personality disorder. Both Lena and Lux struggle with their mental health, and the painful experiences presented in this novel can be reminiscent of how some individuals experience the illness.
I hope that these three novels can help you to explore your BPD in the experiences of fictional characters, or if you are wanting to learn more about how BPD affects a loved one, these stories give you further insight into the disorder. I want to reiterate that BPD varies widely from person to person, but these three novels present possible experiences that some people with BPD experience. Give them a try and let me know how they relate to your experience.
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