'Don't Tell Anyone You Have Borderline Personality Disorder'
“Don’t tell anyone you have borderline personality disorder. It would be wise to keep it to yourself.”
That was the first statement my psychiatrist made upon diagnosing me with borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Instead of taking his advice, I went public with my diagnosis.
I knew BPD was a heavily stigmatized illness. Courtney Love, Amy Winehouse, and Lindsey Lohan are a few celebrities who have had public struggles with mental illness. Their actions during difficult moments were erratic and quite frightening. I knew with my past as a public figure and beauty queen I may be viewed differently. I knew, but that did not stop me. I felt I had to say it.
I had been battling mental illness for over a decade. I had been in and out of psychiatric wards during my adolescence with diagnosis’s of anorexia nervosa, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), major depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
I have been honest with my childhood struggle of anorexia nervosa in the past and even published a book about it. But I tried so hard to portray mental illness as my past, and was not open about the fact that I still struggle with it… and will likely always struggle with it to some degree.
Admitting to myself that at 24 years old I was still struggling was the most difficult part of this process. I really wanted to convince myself that all of my issues were a thing of the past. But the truth is, I was having debilitating panic attacks, suicidal ideation, disassociation, and mood swings that varied within minutes to hours. Sometimes I even self-harmed. I was isolating myself from family and friends, and I did not want to go out. The most worrisome element of this illness was that I wanted to give up. Even scarier than that was that no one outside of my home could tell.
Being able to speak up about my current state of mind made me feel in control when I had felt so powerless before. There was an immense amount of freedom in declaring, “No I am really not OK. My life is not perfect!”
I was fortunate to receive so much support in response to my truthfulness. But I wish I could say that is all I experienced. My truthfulness was also met with judgment and discrimination. If ever I was hurt, the response was, “your illness is making you hurt,” “It’s all in your head,” or “Your illness is distorting reality.” These remarks made me feel as if none of my feelings were real even though BPD actually means you experience your feeling stronger than the average person. My feelings are always very much real.
The most stressful of all was the way my workplace changed once it was known had a mental illness and had been placed on anti-psychotics. This was distressing to me because I was still the same person I always was. The only thing that changed was that they now knew something about me they did not know before. The only true difference was that previously my illness went undiagnosed, and now I was diagnosed and receiving treatment. And I was actually getting better.
I was judged. At times, subconsciously. At other times, consciously. This can be the reality of living openly with mental illness. Yes, people will undoubtably express support and love for you. But they may also meet you with discrimination, misunderstandings, and even cruelty. Even with this reality, I could still see no other way to progress in my life. I would feel like I was not really living had I tried to hide it.
How would I even improve with dishonesty? How can those who care for me be mindful of my condition if they are unaware I have a condition? What about when I have bad days and I need support, but don’t want to talk? How would they know?
Despite the misunderstandings and struggles I faced in being honest about my BPD diagnosis, I would do it all over again. Even though my doctor told me not to.
I have only improved with being honest. I will continue to be straight forward about BPD, even with all of the ugly it brings.
How else can we triumph over the fear and stigma against mental illness if we are repeatedly told it is something we should be ashamed of? I am not ashamed, and I am not afraid.
Follow this journey on Skating on Thin Ice: BPD and Me.
Image via Thinkstock.