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We Need to Change How We Talk About Borderline Personality Disorder

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Trigger warning: This post briefly mentions self-harm.

About four and a half years ago, I paid a routine visit to the psychiatrist I’d started seeing after admitting myself to the hospital for self-harm. Up to that day, I was unaware I’d spent most of my life battling a mental disorder. Even after I went to the hospital, I was still in denial.

During that visit, she diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder (BPD). We talked through it while I nodded along, leg shaking in my chair. She handed me a packet of information on BPD, advised me to do some independent research and sent me on my way.

By the time I left her office, my temper was simmering under the surface. I wasn’t impulsive! How dare she? I didn’t have unstable relationships… did I? Surely not. I definitely didn’t have signs of dissociation. Right?

I sat in my car thumbing through the materials she’d given me, trying to process my new diagnosis. The only useful thing in the packet was a worksheet on coping mechanisms. The rest of the pages were printouts of book summaries.

The titles?

• “Sometimes I Act Crazy”
• “I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality”
• “Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder”

These titles are quite popular among people who have BPD, and many consider them helpful and enlightening. I’m not knocking anyone who has read these books and found them useful. I’m always supportive of anything that helps people battle their BPD. And no, I haven’t read any of these books because I absolutely did judge them by their covers.

I scoffed and tossed the packet into the passenger seat before speeding off. Not only was she insinuating that something was actually wrong with my brain, but she was essentially calling me crazy! How could she get away with that as a mental health professional?

Those printouts were one of the main reasons I refused to believe my diagnosis for several months. I knew I was certainly battling something that was bigger than me. I knew I couldn’t control this “monster” inside me as I’ve always called it. But I knew I was not crazy. I was just going through a rough patch, and I needed some help.

As time went on, my resolve softened, and I researched BPD for myself. One day, it just clicked. I was able to recognize many of the characteristics of BPD in my own life, which kickstarted my recovery.

But those book titles were my very first impression of BPD, and I think they’re a dangerous introduction to the disorder.

And it’s not just books. Check out some of these article titles:

• Toxic People Part II: Personality Disorders continued
• Dangerous Liaisons: How to Deal With a Drama Queen
• Borderline Personality Disorder: Is It Just an Excuse?
• Personality Disorders Are Not Illnesses

Look, I know I can be a lot to handle. Believe me when I say that no one knows better than I do. On the same token, no one wants to be written off as crazy, or dramatic, or accused of making it all up. Not only do these terms have negative connotations, but they’re also counterproductive.

What are you accomplishing by calling us crazy or trying to convince us our disorder isn’t real? You’re writing us off. You’re marginalizing us. You’re telling us that our disorder is inferior, that we’re just “being crazy.” It’s not inferior, and we’re not being crazy. BPD is just different than other mental disorders. Yes, it’s intense for us and everyone around us at times, but that doesn’t invalidate it.

If you know anything at all about BPD, you know it’s characterized by hyper-emotion. We don’t take anything with a grain of salt; we take the whole saltshaker. How on earth do you expect us to react when you say we’re crazy? It may be all we think about for hours, days, or weeks. We may physically punish ourselves for an illness we can’t cure completely.

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.

You wouldn’t say those things about any other condition, so don’t do it to borderlines. Giving us these incredibly hurtful labels may only send us spiraling.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via artlazareva

Originally published: March 24, 2017
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