After spending half of my life in therapy, trying different cocktails of medication since I was 14 years old and spending more time in hospitals and appointments than I would care to add up, I finally got a diagnosis. My official diagnosis was borderline personality disorder. I was also lucky enough to win the mental illness bingo and get several conditions for the price of one, including an eating disorder and severe depression.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD), or emotionally unstable personality disorder as some call it in the psychiatry field, is characterized by having an intense fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, unstable self-image or sense of self, impulsive and self-destructive behaviors, self-harm (including, but not limited to cutting, eating disorders and substance abuse) and recurrent suicidal behavior, extreme emotional mood swings, chronic feelings of emptiness, paranoia (and other psychotic symptoms including hallucinations, dissociation and delusions) and explosive anger.
Now, whenever you hear or see borderline personality disorder portrayed in the media, it’s as serial killers in crime shows or “crazy” exes who stalk and burn the houses of their beloved. Lots of people might think of “Single White Female” or “Fatal Attraction,” but I can assure you I have never at any point in my life tried to burn down the home of an ex or boil their pet rabbit. When you research the conditions online, even made by some mental health professionals, those living with the illness are described as “manipulative” and “attention seeking.” As soon as you receive this diagnosis, every suicide attempt, self-harm incident or psychotic episode is seen as seeking attention or an impulsive act done in the moment. Personally, I believe this to be bullsh*t. In fact, one of my biggest fears is to be seen as manipulative by the people I love after being manipulated myself for many years.
When I have an episode, it is not a shallow attempt at getting attention or to get back at an ex who hurt me years ago. It is a symptom of an illness, no different than symptoms of other medical conditions. Yes, impulsivity is a symptom, but not every act I do is due to that. If I choose to go out and have fun with my friends at times, they can tell when I am in a self-destructive spiral. They recognize my signs of drinking, eating disorder and general reckless mania. But sometimes, I just want to have some fun with the people I love and be a normal young girl. Why shouldn’t I participate in what they do just because I am living with a mental health condition?
Girlfriends with borderline personality disorder in the media are stalker-like and creepy. Yes, I love hard and fast, and if I love someone, I love strongly. But if I’m searching for a silver lining of this illness, I’d like to think that loving people a lot is probably one of them. Similarly, I can be impulsive and maybe I have an unstable sense of self, but that can also make me more adventurous and quirky. My own fear of abandonment will ensure I always make my friends feel as loved and treasured as I can, so they never feel like I do.
I am more than somebody struggling with this illness, and I am more than the scars you may have seen on my body. I am a daughter, a big sister, a girlfriend, friend and flatmate. I am a student at university, fighting each day to get my degree in psychology despite being unable to get out of bed on my bad days (which I admit, outweigh the good). I am a fighter who has overcome so much, it’s no wonder my brain struggles to cope. Unfortunately, I struggle with an illness that doesn’t just go away, but I am also strong, brave and stubborn and will fight to learn ways to cope, rather than cure. I am not ashamed about having BPD. Instead, I’m relieved to finally know what I am up against, why I feel the way I feel and that it isn’t my fault.
I am not just a “hormonal teen,” “emo” or “attention seeker.” My brain simply works differently. To tackle this, I take medication and go to therapy and support groups in order to try and control my symptoms. But really, I don’t need or care about ridiculous assumptions about my nature just because of my diagnosis. Many people have been shocked when I’ve disclosed this personal fact before. I’ve actually been told I don’t “look like I have a borderline personality” and asked if I was going to “snap one day and kill all of my family.” Shockingly, no, but if that changes, I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
I have met some wonderful, beautiful people who share my struggle and fight every day against their own brain. Yet, they are some of the kindest, most loving souls. They go to university, go out with friends and make dreadful dad jokes. We have all been through individual struggles and challenges, but somehow we’re all still here. Not only that, but we are stronger and more equipped for what life throws at us. We have a deep empathy and understanding towards the pain of others and will always strive to ensure that nobody feels alone during the dark days. Having to fight against your own brain every day is exhausting and unnatural. Your brain should be telling you how to survive, not suggesting you kick the bucket. Anybody strong enough to deal with that deserves credit, not judgment. We are not selfish for trying to stop our pain in unorthodox ways. We are not attention seeking when we admit defeat on the worst days. And we are certainly not weak for requiring help and medication to balance what is uneven in our brain chemistry.
So please, when you next hear of somebody with this illness, don’t judge or joke but instead consider what we’re up against every day. Consider how exhausting it must be to feel 50 different emotions in an hour, or nothing at all. Consider the bravery it takes to embrace this stigmatized illness and work with it, because you haven’t got a choice.
Just because we have borderline personality disorder, does not mean we are borderline people.