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The Truth About Borderline 'Attention-Seeking'

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It is often said that people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are attention-seeking. Some people go as far as to say they are “blue-light seekers.” That is, they crave input from the emergency services — police or ambulance.

Another catchy phrase that is often applied, refers to us as “frequent flyers” in emergency departments because of the self-harm, suicide attempts or other crises that can make people with personality disorders go there regularly.

On one level, I can see why these reputations have developed, and although they are negative stereotypes, they do reflect reality to some degree.

I don’t mean in the sense that all people with BPD are attention-seekers or deliberately act in ways to get themselves seen by the emergency services. Rather, I think it needs to be noted that up to 80% of people with BPD attempt to take their own life at some point and 9% of those with the diagnosed die by suicide.

This alone shows how desperate and overwhelmed those with the condition feel when things get bad. When we feel this low, this terrible, we are encouraged by society to ask for help. Such help, at least out of hours, generally ends up being from the emergency services.

In the past, I have spoken to other agencies about how bad I am feeling and to be frank, they just don’t know what to do or don’t have the capacity to cope. As a result, things get escalated and before you know it, police are asked to come round to carry out a welfare check or you find yourself in the back of an ambulance or in the waiting room at an emergency room. This is often not the desired outcome for the person with BPD, but is the only route to accessing help.

Also, it needs to be taken into account that people with BPD often have histories which make them contact seeking, note not attention seeking. The histories are all different and personal to the individual, but often involve trauma. In response to that trauma, it is natural to crave contact from others who can care for you and help you through it. This often becomes a repeated pattern of behavior, especially at times of crisis, when the trauma (or its effects) is in some ways, being relived.

Considering that another symptom of BPD is instability in relationships, it may be the case that in these crises, the individual has no friends or family from whom to seek contact, thus calling in the professionals, who by their nature are around 24/7.

During my last period of sustained crisis, immediately before I was admitted to hospital and sectioned after trying to take my life, I remember that the rational side of my mind was incredibly desperate to be somewhere safe and kept away from the irrational, emotional side that was driving my suicidality.

I have always been a law abiding citizen and I have a very strong moral code, but I was seriously considering committing a crime just so I could get arrested and placed in a police cell where I could do no harm to myself. If this is blue-light seeking behavior then so be it, but I defy anyone to say I was considering doing it for attention. I was extremely vulnerable and distressed — this is the part that these stereotypes neglectfully and irresponsibly miss out.

Quite honestly, now that I have not self-harmed or had other cause to be engaged with the emergency services for some time, part of me does miss and long for the contact. But it’s not because I yearn for the drama of the sirens and emergency response, it is because I miss someone demonstrably caring for me. I know professionals get paid to care and ultimately they are only doing their job, so it is not the kind of care I truly seek. But at the time when I feel absolutely desperate, it is always there because it has to be. When it feels like you can’t get it anywhere else, this is important.

It is frustrating that people judgmentally assume that individuals with my diagnosis enjoy chasing blue lights and crave unjustified attention. Things are rarely as straightforward as they appear and BPD is in fact very complex, as are our relationships with the emergency services.

Follow this journey on EUPD Recovery.

Getty image via Sergey Kurbatov

Originally published: May 26, 2019
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