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Finding Strength in My 'Quiet' Borderline Diagnosis

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My diagnosis is my strength.

I was formally diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) a year ago. I say formally because I started having my suspicions a few months before that and it was actually me who very hesitantly brought it up in a session with my therapist. Talk about taboo—one feels the weight of these words when bringing it up feels like asking—am I a…monster?

She told me she had been considering that diagnosis for a while and asked me why I had come to that conclusion, in true therapist fashion (bringing it back to me). I told her all the research I had done and how it all made sense, everything, from the heavy interest in certain people all the way back in middle school that turned into destructive obsessions, AKA, “favorite people,” and idealizing and then burning them to the ground. My need to have this devoted attention from a caregiving figure, my self-harm bouts, my intense mood swings which didn’t make any sense within the wishy washy diagnoses of “anxiety” and “depressive” whatever. How I could get so excited and creative about things and was so high-functioning, and then in the same day (or the next) absolutely devastated at some seemingly insignificant thing, especially when it was related to the issue of belonging or better yet, not belonging.

I had always associated that with my life history of living between different countries and cultures (and of course, it’s not not associated with that), but there was something so intense about it that didn’t make sense. The slightest sense of rejection made me react in such violent ways and I was usually the one to push myself out of the situation first, before anyone had the chance to actually do it or before I had the chance to be proven wrong.

However, I continued explaining to my therapist…I wasn’t destructive to those around me, so that part of the puzzle never really fit when I analyzed the BPD diagnosis. Then she said, “You turn it inward.” And I went quiet. Ah. Yes. Finally, it made sense. Instead of being aggressive to others, making a mess of my relationships outwardly…I destroyed them on the inside, and I took that anger and tried to take it out on my forearm with very timid cuts (because I never really wanted anyone to see them, it was just for me). That’s when I learned about “quiet borderlines.”

This first conversation was a pivotal point in my treatment, but also very delicate and kind of ground shaking, after all, what did this mean? Was I a monster? Was there a cure? Next, I went to my psychiatrist with this “new” information and her reaction was hilarious (to me). She said, “Yes, quite right. I have been working with this diagnosis for a while. I just didn’t think it was in your best interest to tell you.” My jaw dropped.

After an initial reaction of feeling indignant, I stopped to reflect on the medicine I took, which were all related to mood stabilizers. Huh. I had never questioned that before. But she made a point that I carry with me always—she said that I have a strong rationality and that it has been my saving grace. It helps me weather my storms and keeps me going and prevents me from destroying what I have built in my life so far. Which is not nothing—I have been able to have a steady job, survive a divorce and raise two beautiful children. And all these years she has placed her bets on how preserved that side of me is. It felt a bit like she was telling me, “You’re not all madness. You can count on yourself.”

I still haven’t told anyone in my family. I feel the words are too heavy. I don’t know how their approach to me would change. I think my mother would use it against me, “See? I’ve always said something was wrong with you!” My very natural-remedy orientated sister might question it and say that psychiatry makes everything into a diagnosis. I truly don’t know. So I stick with the very vague “anxiety” diagnosis they are familiar with. Maybe one day I can introduce the more neutral “emotional dysregulation disorder” into their lives?

In sum, it’s not an easy thing to tell people, it’s not easy to explain and definitely not easy to seek help for. The best I have is self-knowledge and arduous self-work so when the storms come, I know how to wait it out and then come through on the other side, get up, take care of my wounds, get the rest I need and then get back to work. It is lonely work, I often hate it and curse the world for it, but so far, have learned no other way. I am still searching for “my people.”

At the very least, though, having been diagnosed has helped me identify when the episodes start and to not get so worried about them. I know that it’s my brain misfiring in every which way, I know it’s a dysregulation, that there was a trigger, that I need rest. Knowledge is power.

BPD is for the strong. Please know that if you are out there living with this condition, you are strong. Yes, you heard me. If you lived another day, even if it was in bed, even if you are suicidal or committed, you are strong. You made it another day. And remember, the same way you got the lows, you will have the highs again. You will have the in-betweens. You will grow older, and things tend to get better as we age, as the research has been showing. Let your diagnosis be your strength.

Photo by Semina Psichogiopoulou on Unsplash

Originally published: February 26, 2021
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