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How Sobriety, Therapy, and Self-Care Help Me Navigate BPD and Bipolar Disorder Better

“I used to have a mindset of: “poor me” – “I’m just a victim” and “none of this is my fault”. Eventually, I knew I had to change that narrative to one of control. I had to take accountability for the things that I could change, and be honest about the things I was doing that were making everything worse.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Sam Probert, I’m 28 years old and I live in Mount Barker, in the hills 30 minutes from Adelaide in South Australia.
I recently returned to work in pharmacy which I enjoy a lot. I love being outdoors; gardening, hiking, and spending time at the beach.
I am in a very healthy and stable relationship with the most amazing and supportive man.

I’ve lived out of home on and off since I left school in 2013 but moved back in with my mum when my mental health took another nose dive in 2023. I grew up in the country with my 4 siblings and from what I remember of it had a very happy childhood, other than struggling with my sexuality which was a huge issue for me as I was raised in an extremely Christian home.

I think I consider myself a happy person for the most part. I think these days, like most people, I have moments where I feel happy and grateful for the life I’ve been given. It can be a struggle at times, but I don’t think life is just sunshine and rainbows for anyone really is it?

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I’ve always been a very deep-feeling person, and from my early high school years, I struggled with pretty severe depression and anxiety and things got progressively worse as I got older.

Growing up in a small country town and realizing I was gay was very hard, and I think this had a profound impact on the way I see myself and the world, and potentially was a big contributor to the development of the disorders I now struggle with as an adult

I have bipolar disorder and BPD. They are 2 separate issues but they can have similar symptoms for many people which makes things difficult and confusing to manage at times.

Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. This causes me to have episodes of elevated mood (mania), which comes with extreme euphoria, impulsivity, reckless and erratic behavior, irritability, anger, and at times a loss of touch with reality (psychosis). I also have episodes of depression, where I lose all motivation and feel tired, sad, hopeless at at times suicidal. 

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) on the other hand, is classed as a personality disorder, which impacts my ability to form and maintain personal relationships and regulate my emotions in a healthy way.

For me, BPD looks like a lot of self-loathing and self-destructive behavior, identity issues, and paranoia which are generally triggered by real or perceived rejection and an extreme fear of abandonment. 

Both of these conditions have made life very hard at times. I’ve destroyed relationships with a lot of good people that I’ve cared very deeply for, lost jobs and wasted huge amounts of money, spent a lot of time in hospitals (including an extended stay in a psych ward), and had to endure immense amounts of pain and uncertainty. It’s very hard feeling completely out of control of your moods, actions, and behavior. 

Every day can be very different.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

It’s hard to accurately describe the impact this has had on my life, as I don’t really know anything different. But at times it’s been extremely painful and lonely. It can be hard dealing with an internal battle that no one else can see, and it affects every aspect of life. 

At times I get quite upset looking back at my past and seeing how much I’ve lost, and the years I’ve wasted feeling miserable and hating myself. 

The hopelessness is probably the worst feeling. That thought of “this is how it’s always going to be” can be soul-crushing, and at times has pushed me to the point of self-harming and attempting to take my own life.

I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation a lot throughout my life and it can be a tough thing to talk about and explain to other people. I guess it’s just a complete lack of hope. It’s a desire to escape pain that is so overwhelming and seems will never end.

I think I used to be pretty good at pretending to be something I’m not. I used to put on a mask of “I’m okay!” And go to work each day, go out and socialize, and do my best to not let other people see what is going on inside. But I could only do that for so long before the cracks started showing and eventually, I would crumble into an absolute mess.

In these moments it is very hard to hide and it can become very ugly and embarrassing and I am forced to then allow other people to help. That can be a really vulnerable and uncomfortable place to be in when you’re so used to having to deal with things on your own.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

When I was diagnosed with BPD, and at a later stage bipolar, it was absolutely huge in having a basic understanding of my struggle and learning about the best ways of helping myself.

Before my diagnosis’ it felt like I was just stumbling around in the dark, feeling there was something fundamentally wrong with me and continually making my life worse. Once I knew what I was dealing with, it helped to kinda point me in the right direction in how to get better.

I also remember at one point I realized I had to change the way that I thought about myself and my life. I used to have a mindset of: “poor me” – “I’m just a victim” and “none of this is my fault”.

Eventually, I knew I had to change that narrative to one of control. I had to take accountability for the things that I could change, and be honest about the things I was doing that were making everything worse. If you always look at your life with a victim mentality, it can take the responsibility to change off of you, but ultimately keeps you feeling stuck.

I was the only one that had the power to significantly change my life. It took me years of doing the same thing, constantly feeling miserable and wreaking absolute havoc on my life, to realize that I was part of the problem (what?! Me?!).

That was a really bitter pill to swallow. I had to take back control of the areas of my life that I could change, and work on addressing the thoughts and beliefs that were keeping me in a place of unhappiness. The poem I shared at the end summarises this struggle perfectly.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

When it comes specifically to BPD and a lot of the conditions caused by trauma, I think identity is one of the big issues for people. It was for me. Addressing that basic question of who am I? Understanding yourself, learning why you do the things you do, and then learning to love yourself!

This was always such a huge struggle for me, and I know anyone who has had struggles around sexuality, gender, trauma, neglect, etc is likely going to have issues with their identity on some level. I used to have a very unstable sense of self.

I didn’t really know who I was, what I cared about, or what I wanted. That is such a dangerous space to leave open because you are so vulnerable to just following others and going with whatever looks fun or exciting at the moment.

THERAPY. I cannot scream this one loud enough. I do not know where I would be without some of the psychologists and counselors who have helped me along my journey.

They have helped me to look at my beliefs, and change my thinking and habits, which in turn brings about different ways of behaving and responding. It can be uncomfortable but it’s so necessary and so worth it. 

All of the cliches are so true. Self-care is the biggest and most important thing you can do to improve your mental and physical health and give you a better life. Diet, exercise, sleep, and healthy habits – they’re always drilled into us because they really do matter.

For me, exercise is probably the most important habit that I have found to help regulate my moods, sleep, and self-confidence. It’s huge. Find an exercise that you enjoy doing and schedule it (daily if you can). Do it even when you don’t feel like it; I always leave the gym or finish a run feeling so much better than when I started.

Another huge one for me is sobriety. This is a really hard one for a lot of people these days, especially young people. It’s still something I’m still working on, but since I’ve gone sober I have seen incredible changes in my life. I used to rely on alcohol especially, as a tool to help me cope with negative emotions.

But overall it has done nothing but cause huge issues in my life, my health, and my moods. Bipolar symptoms particularly are made so much worse with alcohol, and I can confirm from my experiences that this is 100% true.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

These days I’m happy to talk with literally anyone about mental health.
My family, my partner, and my friends will all tell you I’m pretty open about my struggles, I do not try to hide it anymore. I think it’s so important to have a team of people who are around you to support you, challenge you, and help you grow. 

I think a lot of people with mental illness struggle with shame. We are under constant pressure to make our lives appear perfect to others these days, regardless of how shitty things actually are.

I think we can be made to feel ashamed of the fact that we aren’t happy and enjoying life, and if you have bipolar or BPD I know shame often comes after you’ve done things that you really regret. But being vulnerable and sharing these struggles is so empowering.

You take the power that shame has over you and you can use it to help other people when you are open and honest. It also allows others to share what they are struggling with and gives them the courage to make changes for the better. We are imperfect human beings, why should we pretend that we have it all together?

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

I think the most important part of anyone struggling with any sort of mental illness is self-compassion. It’s so easy to be hard on yourself and kick yourself for stuffing up, making mistakes, and not being where you think you should be.

Recovery isn’t linear, and there’s no quick fix. Unfortunately, a lot of your battles will go unseen by others, so learn to celebrate your own achievements no matter how small they may seem to others.
We can add to our own suffering by shaming ourselves for not always getting it right, but it achieves nothing.

If you’re wanting to change, beginning from a place of kindness towards yourself is the best place to start.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

The BPD bunch on Youtube is a channel made by people with lived experience of BPD that I found so informative and validating when I was first diagnosed.

For me, finding an online community on Reddit for people with bipolar and BPD was so comforting and validating. Learning from people who have similar struggles to me and being able to talk to someone who truly understands.

I’m an active member of these communities when I’m doing well and want to offer support to others, as well as when I’m struggling and need advice and guidance for myself

There’s a poem that I found when browsing the internet one night looking for helpful info about BPD. It’s about realizing that we have more control over our situations than we might think. We can change our perspective of our struggles to one that is less “woe is me” and more “I’m learning to do better”.

There’s A Hole In My Sidewalk
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.
walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.

Portia Nelson

Where can we go to learn more about you?

Happy to be contacted on Instagram at any time if anyone would like to chat; especially if you have bipolar and/or BPD and want to know more of the specifics of what has helped me in the context of both of these disorders (I’m certainly no expert but I’m happy to share what I’ve found helpful for me in my journey)

Is there anything else you think we should have asked you?

I think it’s worth mentioning that despite religion being a cause of a lot of distress in my early life, I have come to realize that God loves me exactly the way I am. I am learning again to look to God for love and guidance when I cannot find the answers for myself. I honestly don’t think I would even be alive if it weren’t for God and his endless mercy, grace, and love.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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