Overcoming the Shame of Being Diagnosed With a Personality Disorder
I’m always writing, advocating and publicly fighting the stigmas surrounding mental health. I’m particular vocal about OCD, bipolar disorder and eating disorders. I’ve written many articles here on The Mighty about these subjects. However, there is one thing I’ve left out: personality disorders.
A few months ago I completed hours of long psychological testing. It was an exhausting process. The results? Many things I already knew: bipolar II disorder, OCD, bulimia… but I was also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) as well as exhibiting “severe traits” of dependent personality disorder.
I was very upset to learn this. I thought to myself, “how could I have something wrong with my personality?” It was one thing to have bipolar, but it felt like an entirely different thing to have a disorder that was a part of my personality. I was self-stigmatizing. I know now there is nothing wrong with having a personality disorder. It just means you think and cope differently than others. However, at the time I was devastated, viewing this as a very negative thing.
How does my borderline personality disorder look? I’ve read lots of articles about and have known others with borderline. It seems like one person with borderline can be completely different from another. My twin sister has it and our symptoms are very different. My borderline personality disorder appears in the form of impulsivity. It appears in the form of self-harm and substance abuse. It appears in sporadic, intense suicidal thoughts. It appears in my fear of abandonment. It also looks like a never-ending identity crisis. It often makes me feel as though I am empty on the inside. There are mood swings — and these are different than my chronic bipolar mood swings. My borderline mood swings are more sudden and quick, short-lasting and brought on my external events (whereas my bipolar mood swings are more of an internal thing). My symptoms of borderline personality are torturous — but they are manageable.
What about dependent personality disorder? I haven’t met anyone who is open about being diagnosed with this, so I only know my own experiences. I do not have the full blown disorder, but I have many traits I do struggle with. For me, it first manifested as separation anxiety as a child. Only most children outgrow separation anxiety — I never did. Even once I moved off to college and lived on my own, I always remained very emotionally dependent on my parents, particularly my mom. I felt anxious if I went a day without talking to her. I felt like I needed her, as well as my friends, to help me make decisions. I felt like I couldn’t do a lot of adult things on my own, even though I was in my late teens/early 20s. Whenever I returned home, I would rely on others to drive me and help take care of me. Now, I’m 23 and I’m finally starting to get over these issues. I am living on my own and not calling my parents every day. I am making decisions without the help of my friends.
Perhaps I’ll always have these personality disorder traits to some extent. But I do believe they can be alleviated — it’s already begun for me with dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) as well as a strong desire to change. I used to not want to change. I was afraid. Today, I feel differently. I am in a place of self-discovery and change in my present journey of mental health. I realized I can’t only treat the mood disorder, the anxiety disorder and the eating disorder. I have to treat these aspects of personality too.
I am no longer ashamed to have a personality disorder(s). It’s no better or worse than having bipolar or depression. It’s another mental health symptom that can be treated. That’s all there is to it. By acknowledging and treating my personality disorders, I am moving forward fully in my mental health recovery.
Getty images photo via Grandfailure