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How I Learned Borderline Personality Disorder Is Not a Hopeless Diagnosis

Today, I read a post that made me think about how the stigma of borderline personality disorder (BPD) can lead to its diagnosis becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. This quote in particular really hit home:

“Talking semantics may seem oversensitive, but the rhetoric surrounding BPD has got to change. Stop painting us as delirious, insane, selfish, dramatic, manipulative, etc. We’re battling a cruel, ugly monster that most people won’t understand, and we need help just as much as anyone else living with mental illness.”

BPD is all too commonly seen as a hopeless diagnosis, even by many mental health professionals. For most of my daughter’s teen years, she was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, attempted suicide several times and self-harmed. She was in the juvenile justice system and abused drugs. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but I was positive this was not what she had. My son has bipolar disorder, and while I’m fully aware it doesn’t present the same for everyone, the diagnosis didn’t seem to fit her symptoms.

I had started doing my own research into mental disorders when my son was diagnosed a few years before, and something I read was niggling at my brain. I looked up borderline personality disorder. The description fit her perfectly. Every trait was dead on.

Her doctors refused to entertain the thought that it might be BPD. What did I know? I was only her mother, and they were licensed mental health professionals. I was met with condescension for the most part until she was 15, when a suicide attempt landed her in the hospital yet again and the doctor treating her had more concern for her welfare. He agreed that her behaviors and thought patterns absolutely fit the description of borderline personality disorder and suggested we find a therapist certified in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Still, we almost exclusively heard medication and therapy were “not likely to be terribly effective, so we hate to saddle someone with that diagnosis.” Her official diagnosis remained bipolar disorder, but it was added that she had borderline traits in the interest of getting help geared toward her needs.

But what we discovered repeatedly was that instead of her needs being met, the misconceptions and stigma of BPD often meant she was written off as a “hopeless case” by many. Some therapists and psychiatrists still hold this view, and their clients suffer for it, even to the extent of being given up on or not accepted as patients.

We had one nurse tell us to hang in there, that she had BPD but was finally doing better. The therapist we found was encouraging and wonderful. Only two people amid a sea of professionals were hopeful.

Why is BPD so stigmatized?

Some of the most widely known traits of BPD are often seen as character faults a person could “just change if they really wanted to.” Traits such as attention seeking, intense emotional reactions and manipulative behaviors. In a teenager, they’re often blown off as being “dramatic” or “acting out.”

It’s not that simple. BPD is a disorder, not a state of mind. Treatment can help a person mitigate and manage those traits, but one cannot just “decide not to be that way.”

I’ve frequently seen it said that treatment doesn’t help because those with BPD often don’t seek it or think they don’t need it. This idea is misleading because a number of people with other mental illnesses also don’t seek treatment, think they’re OK or think they don’t need it. Yet BPD is the disorder most commonly associated with this belief. BPD is too often treated as the “redheaded stepchild” of mental disorders, even among others who have mental health disorders.

With these and other misconceptions about BPD, is it any wonder many give up hope or lack support?

The amount of negative information or misinformation about BPD and the lack of positive information on the internet is appalling, which inspired my now-adult daughter to write an encouraging article about parenting with BPD which was published on The Mighty.

BPD is not a hopeless diagnosis. My daughter may still have room for improvement (don’t we all?), but over the past five years, she’s made amazing strides. She stopped using drugs and has been sober for five years, she’s back in therapy, she’s maintaining well and she is a wonderful mother to my “grandspawn.” She’s reached out to encourage others with BPD via the article she published. I’m incredibly proud of her and all of she’s done and is doing for herself and her son.

BPD is not a hopeless diagnosis. The right therapy for an individual, a good doctor, perhaps medication for associated illnesses like depression, anxiety and a strong support network — these can make an invaluable difference for a person struggling with BPD.

And aren’t our loved ones and ourselves invaluable enough to deserve those things?

My daughter is living proof that BPD isn’t a hopeless diagnosis, as are many others. But a great many need hope. Let’s help spread that hope for them instead of stigma.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via contributor.