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The Line From 'Girl Interrupted' I Identified With as Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder


Editor's Note

The following post contains some spoilers for the movie, “Girl, Interrupted.”

Last weekend, I watched the very well-known 1999 film, “Girl, Interrupted” for the first time ever after failing to get my hands on a copy of the book by Susanna Kaysen. In case you aren’t familiar, it tells the true story of a young girl battling with her mental health who finds herself in a psychiatric hospital among a group of other women dealing with different severities of illnesses. While she’s appears to be in denial for a large portion of her treatment, she finally accepts her diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Whether you’ve seen the movie or read the book, there’s a line towards the climax of the story that has really stuck with me ever since I heard it. The main character, Susanna, is resisting her therapy and is at a peak of rebellion against the institution staff. In an outburst of fury she demands her nurse Valerie explain what’s wrong with her, and sarcastically pleads to find out what’s going on inside her own head.

You are a lazy, self-indulgent, little girl who’s driving herself crazy,” Valerie responds.

Wow. Nobody has ever hit the nail on the head of BPD so precisely before.

I’m a highly-functional borderline, and I know it makes me incredibly self-indulgent. Even writing these words about myself makes me feel guilty. But I’ve always wondered if a large portion of my disorder is fueled by my own awareness of its existence, as if I’m trapped on a continuous carousel of pain and suffering just out of familiarity.

There are stretches of time when I feel completely free of any psychological chains, lasting so long that I almost forget about my diagnosis altogether. But as most borderlines will describe, a simple conversation or everyday incident can trigger a violent downward spiral because we invest so much of our energy into our thoughts; contemplating and re-organizing them over and over.

I’m afraid that I’m driving myself crazy and that I could have a much simpler, more enjoyable life if I could control the amount of importance I put on insignificant worries. I use borderline personality disorder as an identifier. It’s a reason for my pessimistic attitude and an excuse for my outbursts of anger and harsh words.

I don’t want to be this way anymore. I want to rise above this disorder so that the outgoing and lovable person underneath can shine through.

There is growth in a mental illness diagnosis. I’ve learned a great deal about controlling my emotions, or walking away if I can’t. I’ve tried with every fiber of my being to not take certain things so personally and I’ve limited my access to triggering relationships or harmful substances.  But at the end of “Girl, Interrupted (spoiler alert) Susanna leaves the psychiatric hospital as a “recovered borderline”, which is a label I don’t believe exists. Not in the sense that there is no hope for BPD, but that one’s personality is rooted so deeply inside each of us that traits can be altered or reworked but never removed. I cannot recover from my personality. Or perhaps I’m only telling myself this to stay on the carousel.

Life is not a movie, but I wish I knew how this ends.

Header image via “Girl, Interrupted” Facebook page