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Brettina Had BPD - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Brettina Has BPD.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

Listen to the episode here.


I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks For Asking.”

The conversation about mental health and mental illness has come a long way in recent years. When I was a kid -- waaaaaaay back in the 20th century -- we didn’t talk about it. Or at least, not in Minnesota. Or at least, not in my family. I’ve heard that from a lot of our listeners: that you grew up thinking that whatever was going on inside your head … was just you.

I was in my THIRTIES before I even considered taking my mental health remotely seriously. My thirties! I truly -- and I don’t regret this because I think it’s important to show your own evolution, your own thought process -- wrote a whole chapter in my first book, It’s Okay to Laugh, Crying Is Cool, Too … about how I didn’t need therapy after my husband died. Cringe! I am cringing right now!

Anyway, the conversation has evolved. Our language has evolved. Our understanding has evolved … to a point, depending on who you are. 

It’s very … I hate to say trendy, that’s not the right word … but it’s definitely more acceptable for pretty, white influencers to get online and talk about how they have anxiety or depression. It’s acceptable to share this kind of thing, as long as your illness and your behavior fall into the bounds of what the culture tells you is acceptable. 

And there are some things that are still just outside of the bounds of most people’s understanding and compassion. There are some mental illnesses that are not so easily accepted and that are still really scary to people who don’t have them. Illnesses that make the person seem, you know, “crazy.” Illnesses where people might not want to associate themselves with you, that people can use as a reason to write you off or discredit you. 

Today’s guest -- Brettina -- has one of those.

Brettina: So borderline personality disorder, it's a personality disorder where you have a hard time with relationships. So you have a hard time with just, like, navigating relationships. You have a hard time with your interpersonal self, so your own personality, the things that come with your identity, as well. And some people would say, which I completely agree with this analogy, is borderline’s like a roller coaster. It's like a very quick roller coaster. Like, it's not like, a prolonged high and a prolonged low, like bipolar is. It's more like this moment-to-moment thing. So even in the course of a day, for example, I could go from being sad to thinking about something and contemplating and then being happy to then feeling empowered to then feeling destroyed to then feeling rejected, all in the course of like, not even like a day. Sometimes it’s an hour, an hour and a half. Some people will say that there is is a difference in people with BPD brain versus quote unquote normal brain. And that one of the differences is we have a higher level of cortisol at more times than just when we're stressed. So it kind of feels like we're always stressed as well.

I came across Brettina’s Instagram profile in 2020. We had some mutuals who shared her Instagram content about her diagnosis and about what it’s like living with a personality disorder. This is one of her Instagram videos.

Brettina (in IG reel): Still wondering what BPD is? Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is a mental illness that centers around the inability to effectively manage one’s emotions. This disorder occurs in the context of relationships with others. People with BPD have trouble regulating their emotions, thoughts, and sense of self. Bipolar and BPD are not the same. Bipolar is a mood disorder. BPD is a personality disorder. 

That kind of content was new to Brettina, even though her BPD diagnosis wasn’t. Brettina had been posting for years about the mental illnesses that she knew from experience were more mainstream, more acceptable.

Brettina: I was just like, “Depression And Anxiety Show.” [laughs] So it was really like, I really was like, really trying to avoid it. And then I think I made a post with it in the middle swipe. Like, I buried it a little, a little bit. And then I just kind of, like, realized that there were some people that were commenting that were like, “Oh, wow, I'd never seen a Black girl with BPD.” Like, other Black girls, they were like, “I've never seen a Black girl with BPD before.” Like, “Thank you for sharing.” And then it just kind of all came out. I had posted a video of what the tail end of, like, one of my BPD episodes looks like. Like when I'm self-soothing. I kind of talked about some of the lesser-known symptoms of BPD, which are things like sexual repulsion, over-sexualization of other people, favorite person. Favorite person is kind of like when you end up focusing in on one person, and that person's your everything. Your favorite person. It doesn't even have to be like, a significant other. It can be a friend. It can be a parent. It can be a stranger sometimes. But like, you just focus in on that person, and you put them on this pedestal where if they do anything to kind of change your fantasy of them, it just does a lot of trauma to your relationship with them, as well as to your thoughts and feelings about people you should trust in the future. Another one is the child state part of BPD. So it's like, there are some times where I'll be with, especially my partner, and if I have a tantrum or something, it kind of mimics and looks like a 5-year-old's tantrum. Like I’ll flail and do stuff like that. I have a baby voice that I use constantly with my partner as well. Those are things I just started sharing online.

It took a looooong time for Brettina to get to the point where she could talk about this stuff publicly on social media, and it also took her a long time to get diagnosed. At least professionally. Because as a kid, she just knew that … she was too much. That she didn’t react to things the way other kids did. 

Brettina: When I was a child, I loved to entertain. I would, like, get my sisters together, and I would have them do different choreography for my family, our friends and everything like that. And then when I got a little older, I was more shy and reserved. I would always make friends very easily, but it was hard for me to keep friends or keep friendships. I'd randomly like … I always had to feel like somebody was on my side. And I make jokes about this to this day. If me and my friends were split up in a game of like, dodgeball or something like that at class … we actually had a game called Gaga Ball, at the school I went to. And so if we were split up during Gaga Ball, then you'd have me on one side and my friends on the other. At the end of that game, like, for a week I wouldn't talk to my friends. Them not being on the same side of me was so serious to me. And I didn't really notice until later on, because I'm still that way with things at times. But I didn't notice that that was just like, a feeling of abandonment. And it was a feeling of like, trauma-bonding as well as me just kind of having these people be my favorite person and then not being on my side, and all of a sudden I’m like, oh well, I don’t like them anymore. 

Nora McInerny: How is that different from the way your friends understood Gaga Ball or dodgeball? 

Brettina: Oh yeah. They're like, “Oh, sorry, Brettina. Sorry we, like, beat you in the game. Do you want to go to lunch?” And I'm like, “No. Like, don't look at me. Don't talk to me. Like, I'll see you around.” Like it was just like, they were very much like, “Ooooookay?” When I look back now, some of my friends, I remember them like their facial reactions were just confused. Like they were, “All right, uh … don’t know why she’s mad, but she’s mad about something. So…” No, it was a different reaction they had.

It’s the early 2000s, and Brettina is wondering why she’s different from other kids. Why her feelings are SO BIG. So she turns to the place we all turned, down in the basement or in the “computer room,” using a desktop that our entire family also used: the internet. 

Brettina: I think I was just feeling pretty bad about myself. And so like, I like just remember typing in like, "Someone who can't keep friends and somebody who, like, has outbursts like, within friend groups, what's wrong with this person?" And like a bunch of like, things came up but then, like, borderline personality disorder came up, and I was like, “Oh, what is that?” The first thing was just like, this little quizlet to like, check off like, the criteria at the time. So this would have been early 2000s. The criteria has changed since. But I just like, saw each question, I remember just going like, "Oh yeah, oh yeah, that's me. Oh, wow, that's me as well. Oh, that's me too." And I got like, it was like ten out of ten. But I just remember at the time, like, not thinking it was that big of a deal, just because I didn't understand mental illness at all. It was something we didn't really talk about at all in my family. 

Nora McInerny: And also, it's like, you're 12. You know, I don't know. In the 2000s, the ‘90s, the ‘80s, like, we really did not believe that mental health was a thing for children. Like, kids had feelings. Sure. But even then, it's like maybe there were a few very lucky, like, families or children that were really, you know, emotionally literate. Not mine! 

Brettina: Yeah. Not mine, either. 

Nora McInerny: Did you take that quiz because you were just curious or because you felt like there might be something wrong with you or like, you just felt different from other people? 

Brettina: Oh, I definitely felt like there was something wrong with me. But it wasn't really from like, my family. It was from the outside world. I took the quiz because of, like, how school was. I took the quiz because of how teachers always told me, like, I needed to grow a thicker skin, because I would just cry out of nowhere in class, like, cry like, somebody did the smallest thing to me, I’d just burst into tears, you know? And so that's why I took the quiz. But I didn't really feel that out of place with my family. Sometimes I felt like I was more the caretaker at times with my family. But when I look back, I always am just like, amazed that most of my self trauma and my trauma with having BPD actually came from the outside world. 

Brettina scores a ten out of ten on that quiz … but Brettina is also 12. She doesn’t understand what borderline personality disorder actually is, yet. But those feelings of mental instability continue as she gets older, and as a quick heads up, we’re putting a warning here for pretty much all of the major mental health triggers. You can just go ahead and skip, like, 15 second or so.

When she’s in seventh grade, Brettina begins engaging in self-harm. She develops what she describes as a sexual addiction after being assaulted by a middle school classmate. She starts drinking in 9th grade, is smoking by 10th. Her romantic relationships are often tumultuous, and sometimes even physically violent. 

Brettina: Did not know what was wrong with me, was called crazy by all my ex-boyfriends. Like, I keyed some cars. I've kicked a side mirror off an ex-boyfriend's car before. Just done some very ... I feel bad that you laughed because then it made me laugh. Because I really, I really try to have, like, I really am like, half remorseful, half like, "Wow, that was like … I had a strong kick,” you know? And I'm giving you a snippet of like, the fact that from taking that quiz when I was around 12 years old, there's still, it's still not being talked about. Nothing's being done. Nineteen, had my first panic attack. Went to the doctors. That's when I said, “Well, when I was 12, I took this quiz on BPD. You think that could be it?” They're like, "You got anxiety." And I was like, "Oh, OK," started taking anti-anxiety medications and still did not, like, know very much about borderline personality disorder until I was actually told I might have it. 

Nora McInerny: Tell me about your first panic attack. 

Brettina: I went to go see “Inception” with one of my ex-boyfriends. And we were in the movie theater. And something about the moment where Leonardo DiCaprio's character turns to the woman who was his wife in the show said something that got intercepted into her head and she killed herself. You know, she jumped out that window. During that time, it reminded me of manipulation that I had dealt with with my other ex-boyfriend in high school. And the whole scene of like, feeling like somebody is manipulating you, knowing somebody is manipulating you, plus having, like, a personality disorder that I don't know about yet. Plus, like being like a college student, plus just trying to get through life and dealing with everything I've dealt with. All of that compounded at the same time. I got really hot, and I was just like, “I need to go.” And I jumped up, walked to the theater. He ran after me. I turned around and I looked at him and I was like, “I think I'm dying.” And I fell to the ground. Like I just fell back and like … possibly blacked out, don't remember it that well. But when I got back up, I started like, hyperventilating, and I couldn't breathe. And he, like, got me, like, a glass of water, and I took the water and I dumped it over my head, And then I was fine. Nobody tells you that like, that you literally like, think you're dying. And if you're a hypochondriac like, I am, like, I thought I was having a brain aneurysm, I thought it was over. I really did. 

Fifteen years after taking that online quiz, Brettina finally sees a therapist who sees something in her that the others don’t.

Brettina: It was the first Black therapist I've ever gone to. And so I was 27. My boyfriend had just cheated on me. I was dealing with a lot. I still have a drinking problem. Still, like, just like not feeling, you know, I just didn't ever feel 100 percent at all. And I was sitting with her and, you know, this is my third session with her, and she looks at me. She was just like, “Has anybody ever told you that you might have … it's called borderline personality disorder?” And I literally was just like, “Listen. I know that I have borderline personality disorder,” and I was like, “I can't tell you how, because you’ll think it's ridiculous.” And then she was like, “Well, how?” I was like, “I took this quiz when I was 12 years old, and I am positive, like one hundred percent.” So then over that year, I went through all the proper channels to take a mental health assessment and really figure out like, what was like, the leading outlier of what was going on with me. And it's borderline personality disorder.

Nora McInerny: What was the process of getting a real diagnosis? And how long does that take? 

Brettina: For me, it was more expensive, the route that I went through. There was like, a mental health assessment you can take, and it's like $300, at least here in Minnesota. So I took one of those. It was a really long assessment. And then I had to go to, like, a psychologist. And that's not my primary therapist or my primary counselor. But those are the channels that I had to go through. And so it was pretty expensive, and it took me a couple of months, maybe seven months.

Nora McInerny: So when you get the diagnosis, like what does that feel like, to have it be official? And what does it also mean for you, or to you, in that moment? 

Brettina: I was so relieved. Like, I was so happy. Because I was like, I knew there was something going on. Like, so most people are devastated, and I understand why, because the stigma and what comes with having borderline personality disorder, like there are some pretty, like, awful, grotesque, like, mean things out there about people who have BPD. And so for me, I was just like, “OK, well, now I can start to really figure out how I'm going to live with this, what I'm going to do.” And for me, it's always been easier to accept something when I've always known in my heart that it was, like, a true thing.

We’ll be right back.


It’s hard to say why it took Brettina so long to get a diagnosis, but it’s worth noting that BPD is notoriously hard to diagnose, because the symptoms mirror other diagnoses like anxiety or bipolar or depression, and because it sometimes even exists alongside those same conditions. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, it’s one of the most commonly misdiagnosed mental health conditions, so much so that we can’t even accurately say how many people may have it. 

Nora McInerny: When you find out that you have borderline, how does it recolor, like, you kicking the mirror off a car? Or you abusing alcohol? Or you, you know, wanting to, like, cut your friends off for dodgeballing against you? What does it sort of do for your past selves?

Brettina: For me, it didn't validate my past self, because I'm one of those people that I need to take responsibility for the things I've done in my life, regardless of whether I knew what was going on or not. For me, it just gives me a different lens into those actions. And so I'm able to see them from a way of, like, being able to forgive myself. Because, you know, like, I can never ask a bunch of those people for forgiveness. I should say I can ask them, but I can't expect them to forgive me, you know? But what I can do is forgive myself for some of my actions. What I can do is understand that I can do better and understand that now I can go out and get the tools to begin to do better and make sure a lot of those things don't happen again or happen quite less frequently. 

For a lot of people, getting a BPD diagnosis is heartbreaking. And Brettina understands why. 

Brettina: One of the first videos that I ended up looking up about borderline personality disorder, it ended up being, “Why you should never date anyone with borderline personality disorder.” And this guy was just like, talking about how like this woman was likely to kill him in his sleep. He was talking about how, like, she was a manipulator. He talked about how, like, they don't have any emotion. And all these things are — especially the emotion and the manipulation — aren't true. And they're not how, like, the inner workings of somebody with BPD’s brain processes. 

Nora McInerny: And that’s the first thing you found? 

Brettina: Yeah.

Nora McInerny: Which has to feel horrible. 

Brettina: Yeah. And so I can't imagine people who weren't relieved, you know? And they were already upset about the diagnosis? I can't imagine them going to the internet and reading something like that. That devastates me, and that upsets me, because there's so many things out on the internet sometimes that people just like, throw out there without any thought. 

They do throw it out there. Because it’s so easy to do in a world where so many people have access to the Internet, and also because videos and articles like these are, ya know, they’re content. When this world ends, and we’re being studied by whatever life form comes next, they’re going to look at how we gave everyone an internet connection and be like, “Oh yeah, that’s where they went wrong. Yeah, making everyone feel like they were the star of their own reality show? That was the mistake.”

Because videos like that, that Brettina’s talking about, they get likes and views and subscriptions, and they perpetuate people’s worst fears: about other people and about themselves. 

YouTube Video:Not all women are gonna behave like that. There’s a lot of women who are a lot more sane and rational than the BPD woman, okay? And you don’t know crazy until you’ve been with a BPD.”

And if you're a person who is already struggling with relationships, struggling with impulsivity and mental stability … and you see a video that validates all of the worst fears you already have about yourself — that you’re unlovable, that you’re not worth having any kind of relationship with — of course you don’t want to have that diagnosis! 

Brettina: Some people I have known are just like, "I'm just going to isolate myself." Like, some people I've met with BPD are like, "I don't want friends, I don't want family. I'm just going to isolate myself." Because there are parts of BPD that do make it hard for you to have those relationships. So when you have something confirming those thoughts …

One of the myths about BPD is that it cannot be treated, that people with BPD are just destined to be how they are. Brettina actually made an Instagram video about this: 

Brettina (from IG Reel): “BPD myth 3: There is no remission or recovery for borderline personality disorder. False. Collaborative, longitudinal personality studies actually found that one out of four patients will experience remission out of a two-year period. After 10 years, 85% achieve remission for ten years or longer. So in other words, never give up hope.”

It’s been four years since Brettina’s diagnosis. And in those four years, she’s acquired tools to help her navigate life with BPD. 

Brettina: We do DBT skills. There's a lot of mindfulness in there, a lot of acronyms that you can use to calm yourself down. Once in a while, I make up my own acronyms to calm myself down or to find other ways to cope. One of the things that I've learned that really works for me, because BPD and all mental illness is not like a one size fits all. Like even some of the things in my story that happened with me, probably it might not have happened with other people with BPD, but some of the feelings will be the same. Some of the themes will be the same. 

DBT stands for dialectical behavioral therapy. It’s a type of therapy that was actually developed specifically for people with borderline personality disorder by a psychologist named Marsha Linehan, who had struggled with her own BPD. I just read her memoir — Building a Life Worth Living — and desperately tried to get her on the show, but she is not giving interviews right now, and honestly? It just made me respect her even more. She’s busy. She’s got things to do. If you want to know about her and her work … I would read that book. 

I read her memoir because I’m a fan of Marsha. I’m a fan of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. You don’t need a BPD diagnosis to benefit from DBT. And I know that for a fact, because I went through a DBT skills group last year, and I don’t have BPD, and it was — that group, those skills, those workbooks — some of the most transformative therapeutic experiences I’ve ever had. 

Nora McInerny: I truly feel like it is just … life skills everyone needs. 

Brettina: Absolutely. And I completely agree with that. And that's why when I'm, when I'm talking about DBT or when I'm talking about like these different acronyms for mindfulness, different acronyms for help, different experiences, sometimes I don't talk about them from the lens of somebody who has BPD. Sometimes I talk about them from a human being. Because all of us have these struggles, and there are so many things that all of these therapy practices can help all of us. You know, like people with depression, anxiety, bipolar, borderline, NPD, a lot of people can be helped with a lot of these things. And I'm still hoping that there is more research on everything that's going on with personality disorders, and so there'll be even more ways to help. But I think we all have to just kind of work with what we have now as well. But one of the things that works really well for me is talking to myself out loud. For instance, I had a pretty severe BPD episode on Sunday, where I was crying and screaming, and I wanted to go back to some of my old, like, self-harm habits. And what I ended up doing was I ended up like, balling up, like I just like, balled myself up on the ground, and I said to myself — and from the outside looking in people would be like, “What is this girl doing?” You know, derogatory words like crazy would come out, like, “Oh, what's going on with her?” But I balled myself up, and I was just like, “You're going to get through this. You're going to get through this. Brettina, you're going to get through this. I need you to breathe. I need you to calm down. I need you to relax. I need you to relax your mind.” And I said that to myself, like, as many times as I could to calm myself. And that's one of the first things I've done that's actually, like, instantly worked. 

We’ll be right back.


Brettina has been making online content about BPD for a while now, openly sharing about her diagnosis and about myths surrounding BPD.

Brettina: Depression and anxiety, they unfortunately also have become this buzzword, which makes them like, less serious. especially like the things that people like my least favorite, like the mental health influencers. I'm not an influencer, by the way. I would like to make that clear. No, because like, I hate being called a mental health influencer. But The mental health influencers have that whole thing where it's just like, “Take this CBD today for your anxiety.” And it's just like, “OK, like, CBD pills? Come on.” Like, it's exhausting to watch. It was hard for me to talk about it in the first place. Like, the only reason I ended up talking about it was because I went to a very lovely human, one of my fiance's ex-coworkers, and was just like, “Hey, I want to do an article on mental illness. I'm going to talk about anxiety and depression.” This was three years ago. I was like, “Can I interview you?” And then they’re like, “Yeah! Aren’t you're going to talk about like, your BPD, too? I noticed that you like, made like a very small comment about having BPD.” I was like, “No…” And they were like, “Well, why not?” And then they said, “Well, I'm going to, when you're ready.” And like … see, here I am, I'm getting emotional again, because they were just like, so, like ... OK, like, OK with themself, you know? And they were OK with themself despite all the messed up things people say about people with BPD on the internet. And that inspired me to my core. And I didn't talk about it right away. And I didn't talk about it, you know, even that month or those next couple of months. But when I was ready to talk about it, and people just, like, loved on me about it, you know? Nobody was like, “Oh my God! You're going to grab a knife, and you're going to start stabbing up all your friends and family!” Like nobody said anything like that. Everyone was just like, “Yeah, we support you. Oh, what is that? Is it like multiple personality disorder?” No, that's different. “Oh, OK, can you tell me more?” People just had, like, questions, and it really … it just really showed me that, you know, humanity can also be very kind. People can be very kind. 

Part of this sharing is not just sharing her experiences, but trying her best to break down some of that stigma. 

[AUDIO FROM CLIP] Brettina (from IG Reel): “Two tips for BPD self-harm management. One, the rubber band or hair binder trick. Gently snap on arm as many times as needed. Two, the tape trick. Peel off and re-stick tape.”

It’s one thing for strangers to be nice to strangers when they don’t have to interact with that person in real life, in real time. Would those same people be so kind to Brettina in the real world? 

Nora McInerny:  When you talk about people wanting to, you know, pull back from, withdraw from their relationships, their families, I can see this kind of disorder being used to invalidate a lot of, like, valid criticisms or valid reactions to things, too. 

Brettina: Yes. Oh my gosh. There are times we react that are extremely valid, but because we have this disorder, people are letting us know that it's not valid. So, like, it's like, let's say like my best friend made up some ridiculous lie, and I found out she was lying. And now I'm like, “Well, what's wrong with you? Why are you lying?” “Oh, Brettina, are you getting hyped up because this is your BPD?” Now, she would never, my best friend would never say anything like that. But the example still stands. A lot of people in your life might say things like that to you, just because of the fact that you have borderline personality disorder. And that's another part about why we need to break the stigma that comes with borderline personality disorder. Because BPD isn't always operating on like, the aggressor, you know? Like, we're not always the aggressor. We can still have borderline personality disorder and still be the victim as well. 

Nora McInerny: I think that's also, like, one of the risks of disclosing something like this, right? Like, well, will this be weaponized against me? 

Brettina: Absolutely, absolutely. And that's why I say to people: practice discernment, and do what you're comfortable with. For me, I'm comfortable with talking about it, because I'm also at a place where I know my truth. I know myself, and I know when I'm being authentic and I know when my feelings are authentic. And I've gotten to almost a place where I can see when it's the BPD playing out. And so that's why I can tell people, because when people use it against me, I'm like, “OK, well, no, it's not my BPD today. You're just being trash. Like, that's what you're doing.” 

One of the myths around BPD — which Brettina saw in that YouTube video she found years ago — is that people with BPD can’t have healthy romantic relationships. But Brettina is in one. She’s engaged to her fiance, Jerad. 

Nora McInerny: How did you have that conversation with him, and what did he know? Are you the first, like, person with borderline personality disorder he's ever known? 

Brettina: I am the first person with borderline personality disorder he's ever known. And I told him in the first week. But the reason why is because I was just like … at that point in my life, I was just being honest, like, really brutally honest with everyone about everything in my life. So I was like, “Look, I still live with my ex-boyfriend. We're not together, though. He sleeps like, in his car or something somewhere. I'm messy.” I lied about this part, though. I told him I was only messy because of the breakup. I'm just actually just a messy person. And then I was like, “I have borderline personality disorder. That means I am prone to mood swings. I'm probably an alcoholic, most likely, at least currently.” And like, Jerad is my 15th or 16th relationship. And at the beginning of our relationship, we broke up quite a few times, because having borderline personality disorder is hard to deal with — not only for you, but for your partner. It was hard, you know? It was hard for him. He's never dealt with anybody with a personality disorder or anything like that. And we had to go to couples counseling. We're not even married yet. But I would say, if you're going to be in a relationship with somebody with BPD, one, they have to be doing the work. They have to be going to therapy. They have to be doing their DBT skills. They have to be doing things like diary cards, talking out loud, whatever works for them. 

And putting in the work isn’t just for Brettina, but for both her and Jerad. This is a video that Brettina made on Instagram.

Brettina (in IG Reel): People be like, “Brettina, how do you maintain a relationship while having BPD?” I’m gonna tell you: Couples counseling. Why is everyone always like, “Hey, I’ll go to couples counseling when I have problems.” Go to couples counseling now. Couples counseling not only offers a party that is not one of your friends who’s just gonna take either one of ya’ll’s sides. It also makes the other person see where you’re coming from. My partner learned how to better deal with my mental illness. But I also learned a lot about my partner. Also, it’s not too early to go to couples counseling. If ya’ll are in love, go now to give your relationship a fighting chance.

One of the things I like to ask our guests — especially guests who have mental illnesses or personality disorders or cognitive differences — is: What is it like being inside your brain? And that’s obviously not an easy question to answer, because we’ve only ever existed inside of our own brains and can’t always articulate what makes our brain different from someone else’s. Because everything we do and say and feel is filtered through our own experiences, our own thoughts, our own personal kaleidoscope. 

But I asked Brettina anyway.

Brettina: I actually love this question, because you know, people made fun of the fact that I don't have thick skin or anything like that. I'm actually extremely grateful for that part of BPD, because my empathy … sometimes it's painful, but it's like sometimes it does feel like a superpower because there are some things that don't affect people that deeply affect me, and it makes me want to fight for them. A good example was like, literally today, right before I jumped on here, I posted this video I made about like, people using “crackhead energy” as like, a term, like being like, “Oh, you have crackhead energy, duh duh duh duh duh.” And how that's not funny. Crack has affected people, especially disproportionately in the Black community because of like, the crack epidemic and everything like that. And so that was in the 1980s, lasting until the 1990s and then that happened to the war on drugs, where they were able to incarcerate more Black men and Black women and Black nonbinary people as well. And so just putting that idea out there and talking about, like, how that deeply affects, like, me, because I feel that. Like I can feel the other people's pain, what that they've been through. And anything that's derogatory, I can feel that. I can put myself in somebody else's shoes and be like, “What if somebody called me that, and I was going through that?” And so it makes me so much more empathetic, and it makes it easier for me to fight these things. And for me to fight against people and be like, “No, you're wrong,” even if it makes me extremely emotional. It exhausts me. I get tired. I cry when I battle people, because I also don't like confrontation. It's very hard for me. But that empathy is so beautiful to me, and it's something that I have learned to just like, hold on to and really love about having BPD.

This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I'm Nora McInerny. Brettina is @TheBrettina on Instagram. That’s @TheBrettina. Marsha Linehan and her book “Building a Life Worth Living” are … I think we’ll link that in the show notes. I can also go to to look for practitioners and sort by DBT or Google “DBT group near me.” And then, ya know, you guys know. You guys should know that I’m Nora McInerny, that our production team is Marcel Malekebu, it is Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, it is Jordan Turgeon, it is Megan Palmer. We are a production of APM Studios at American Public Media. The executives in charge are Lily Kim, it’s Alex Shaffert, it’s Joanne Griffith. Our executive producer is Beth Pearlman. I did not record this in my closet. I recorded it in a whole different closet. I am sitting cross legged on the floor. My legs have fallen asleep. I don’t know how, I didn't know legs could be this asleep. I forgot I had legs. I think the days of being able to sit cross legged on a concrete floor are behind me. Or they are ahead of me because I will never be able to stand again. Um … thank you for listening. You are the best. You can call and leave us voicemails if you want. 612-568-4441. You can email us: We appreciate you! Thanks for being here!