Why I No Longer Want to Define Myself by My BPD
Though I initially rejected my diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD), ignorant and afraid of the stigma attached to the words “personality disorder,” I quickly came to understand why a psychiatrist had suggested I met the diagnostic criteria. In fact, as a crisis patient at the time, I was experiencing every symptomatic trait listed to a severe degree. As such, I soon came to identify very strongly with my disorder, taking comfort in the ability to explain away most of feelings and behaviors.
I turned to the internet, constantly researching every area of my mental illness. As with most psychiatric disorders, BPD is under-funded in its research but many journal articles are freely available for laymen to peruse, with plenty trying to understand innocuous behaviors through the lens of mental health. It seemed then that everything about me could be explained by my diagnosis. From absolute “borderline” traits, like a strong fear of abandonment, to more individual aspects of my personality, like my attachment to my stuffed toys, it appeared that my entire personhood could be boiled down to one diagnosis.
Consequently, I felt totally defined by disorder. I didn’t just have BPD; I was BPD. I was a borderline — a walking, talking mental illness and nothing more. Looking back, with every crystal-clear hindsight, I see that this is what held me back from recovery. This certainty that I had nothing but my mental illness stopped me from working to get better because I truly believed that whatever recovery would look like would render me a shell of a person. It would remove me of my diagnosis and therefore remove me of who I was. So, I was uncooperative. I was a difficult patient, resistant to treatment, unwilling to put the effort in when I was put into various services.
Eighteen months later, I had finally risen to the top of an extremely arduous NHS waiting list and was offered a place in therapy. This was a combination of therapies for patients with complex mental health problems who had been in the past resistant to other forms of treatment. I was so grateful to finally be seen by a psychotherapist after such a long wait; I had dealt with the unbearable roller coaster of BPD alone for almost two years and refused to throw away the opportunity to get off it. I let my guard down, began working hard with a wonderful therapist, of whom I will refer to as “V.”
I saw progress, slowly but surely. I no longer had the same fiery temper. I was patient, I was assertive and I was improving. The severity of my BPD symptoms was greatly reduced and I dealt with other issues simultaneously, like a terrible trauma I had experienced in childhood. But, I was still holding back. I was still unstable, my moods too intense to tolerate, and I couldn’t seem to put in place the coping mechanisms V was teaching me because, deep down in the back of my mind, I wasn’t ready to let go of what I thought defined me. I couldn’t see the person I would be if I tried to stabilize my BPD.
I had reduced myself subconsciously to a diagnosis and written off everything I was as being nothing more than a symptom of a mental illness. I mistook passion for anger. I believed my love of all things Disney was a manifestation of my damaged inner child and problematic attachment issues. I likened my creativity to that of tortured artists and then berated myself for my pretentiousness. I looked within myself and only saw BPD.
Deciding to try recovery anyway was terrifying. I had no idea who I would be if I crossed that bridge but I decided I had to do it regardless, because I had to try a life that wasn’t marked by intense, frightening, ever-changing moods. With a lot of trepidation, I let V show me how to cope with the hurricane in my mind and I let myself become undone because that is what therapy does – it unravels you. It slowly burns away the walls you put up so that you have to build up again from the ground upwards. I still believed there would be no foundation to do this from but what I found instead took me by surprise.
I am not my diagnosis. I am not a “borderline.” I am a person with interests and feelings and behaviors that cannot be explained away by a journal article. I laid down bricks with cement in therapy and rebuilt myself. My destiny is not set by my mental health and I am and will be so much more than the confines of BPD. Getting to a point where I can say this has been harder than I could ever imagine but it has also been so worth it. I am a better person now than I have ever been and I will continue to work and improve myself indefinitely because I owe that to myself. I will always be grateful to V, who gave me the tools to get here because I now know myself better than I ever have because of her. Therapy was tumultuous and incredibly hard at times, but the rewards greatly outweigh the hardships and I am so proud to say that I may have BPD, and I may always have BPD, but it does not and never will define me.
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Thinkstock photo via lolostock