When You Don’t Fit the ‘Black and White’ Definition of Borderline Personality Disorder
In the beginning of summer, when everything started to blossom, it had gotten warmer and brighter and a scent of sunscreen was in the air, and I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). I had been seeking help battling my good old enemy, depression. Depression sat next to me in my office chair, cuddled up in my bed, walked by my side and left me nowhere to hide. Eventually, razorblades found their way back into my life as well. After five sessions of counseling, my therapist carefully dropped the three words that changed everything: borderline personality disorder.
Depression is like having a carousel constantly spinning in my mind, giving me no break from anxiety and self-loathing. It makes it impossible to rest or even find peaceful sleep. However, after years, depression finally felt like something I could measure and learn how to deal with. I had developed strategies to avoid irrational thinking. I was practicing mindfulness and positive thinking. I started taking antidepressants, which helped me fall asleep.
After hearing my problems do not only go by the name depression, but have an older, bigger sister who pulls the strings, everything I had learned and practiced felt useless. I felt defeated and crushed by something way out of my control. I felt like I would never ever get better because BPD is said to be incurable. Even my depression became speechless for a few days. I felt empty and hopeless.
On the outside, I seem to have it all together. I am a scholarship student with a job, a loving boyfriend, a caring family, a great flat and the means to travel the world. How could I achieve all of this while my diagnosis implies that my personality is disordered, not fully developed or even broken? I did not want to accept my diagnosis because admitting it felt like I would eventually end up losing everything I gained.
I assumed with BPD, I would never have a normal and healthy relationship with myself and with my boyfriend. Everything I read about BPD made it sound like I could only learn how to stop hurting myself, but never be able to escape my extreme emotions and mood changes. My life has always been me battling against myself. I have my own worst enemy right inside my head, undermining my logical thinking and manipulating my emotions. I am constantly stumbling from one side to another, from love to hate and back again. I feel helplessly lost in the between, forever locked in the vice grip of conflict. My life is extreme. I feel extreme.
My diagnosis could explain my experiences, but I refused to believe it fits me. It actually made me really angry being labeled because a lot of the things people tell you about BPD sounded like insults to me. The internet is full of people claiming to know how those affected by BPD function. These people rage about how selfish and dramatic people with BPD, people like me, are. They talk about how they manipulate others to get what they want, how they hurt themselves to get attention and how they destroy everybody naïve enough to get involved with them.
I did not feel like I was reading about myself while researching BPD, and I could not relate to what is called “black and white” thinking. I thought it reduces my whole being into a two-dimensional space. However, I learned my BPD diagnosis does not define or change who I am. The diagnosis is an instrument that makes it easier to get well-approved treatment in the areas I struggle with.
Furthermore, BPD is a spectrum, not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. There are more than a hundred possible combinations of all the criteria for a BPD diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. There are all different kinds of unique people with different personalities but the same diagnosis. Most of us do not fit the image painted by these self-proclaimed “experts.”
We are not all selfish or self-obsessed. We care a lot about how we affect others. We do not hurt ourselves for attention. We hurt ourselves when we no longer can stand the melting pot of feelings seething inside of us. We do not all see the world in black and white, good and bad.
For us too, it is love and hate, black and white and everything in between. It is the rollercoaster between the extremes that makes our feelings so hard to bear. We can go from soothingly calm to extremely angry or hateful within minutes. In intimate relationships we switch from idealizing love to venomous distaste, but it is not only black and white. It is also all the other million of colors.
We feel a lot more than just the extremes. Everything in life strongly affects us emotionally. We experience plenty more mood swings than people not affected by BPD. We struggle to keep rational thinking on board, while being tossed around by the waves. Sometimes, it feels like feeling too much.
The stigma around BPD made my feel terminally ill and irreparably broken, but my personality is not broken. My personality is not fragmented and I am not two-dimensional. I am so much more than black and white.
My personality is bent, not broken, and at times when I am stressed out or scared, it bends so much it brings me to my knees. At times, trauma breaks the surface, and I act like a little child crying for help and raging in despair.
However, these things do not make me broken. If anything, it makes me, and all the other people affected by BPD, strong. Strong because we inhabit feelings most people never need to feel, feelings so overwhelming it make us hurt ourselves to get rid of them. Yet, we live with these emotions every day.
We experience relationships, which can come along with outraging despair, but we learn to handle that. We bravely face the storm and the waves a normal day can bring to us. We are strong while seeking help and strong while enduring being stuck in our own minds.
I hope you do not listen to the stigma around mental illness. I hope you can see BPD not as a defeat or a flaw but as a chance. A chance to feel life to the fullest, to go from deep blue to bright yellow. A chance to feel utterly devastated and head over heels in love and everything in between. A chance to be passionate and exceptionally compassionate. And a chance to be overly-sensitive to your surroundings so you can appreciate all the little good things in life. I hope you will learn to deal with all your emotions in a creative way without hurting yourself. It is OK if you feel like you feel too much. I do too.
Image via Thinkstock.