“It is important to appreciate that once in hell, it is possible to climb out of it. -Marsha Linehan”

The next blogs of pearls from Beyond Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, edited by John Gunderson and Perry Hoffman, asks those with BPD to describe what it was like for them to be given this diagnosis and if they faced stigma associated with BPD.

What was it like for you to be told that you had BPD?
Importantly, after many years in the mental health system, I was given a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Part of me was horrified. In my nursing training, I had been taught that people with borderline personality disorder were difficult to be around, never got better since treatment was ineffective and consequently were to be avoided–a wastebasket diagnosis… A small part of me was incredibly grateful that I now had a name for the lifelong pain I had endured. This proved to be a turning point in my recovery. Author 5 (p. 39)

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder at the age of sixteen…I went to my local bookstore and pulled out a copy of the DSM. I vividly remember flipping through the pages and finding the diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association offers the following diagnostic criteria. A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self image and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Fear of abandonment
  2. Unstable or changing relationships
  3. Unstable self-image; struggles with identity or sense of self
  4. Impulsive or self-damaging behaviors (e.g., excessive spending, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).
  5. Suicidal behavior or self-injury
  6. Varied or random mood swings
  7. Constant feelings of worthlessness or sadness
  8. Problems with anger, including frequent loss of temper or physical fights
  9. Stress-related paranoia or loss of contact with reality

Frankly, it was one of the best moments of my life. Here I was, in these pages! Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Check. Unstable and intense interpersonal relationships. Check. Impulsivity, anger, self mutilation, unstable self image, chronic feelings of emptiness. Yes. This was me. It was a huge relief. I was borderline…

It meant there were other people like me. And if there were other people like me, there probably other people who knew how to fix me…

I was so hopeful that someone could remove the “bad” parts of my brain and leave the rest. I was desperate to stop having such big feelings, to stop being so obsessive, to stop crying and yelling and driving people away. I was tired of hearing that I was “too much” for everyone. I was tired of being me. Author 6 (p. 47-8)

Now you would think that hearing the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder would have broken me more. After all, hearing it initially made me angry and defensive. That was a diagnosis you really didn’t want to have. But once I calmed down, I was relieved in a way. I had an answer. I had something tangible that described everything I felt, everything I did, and every way I acted. I thought to myself, “Wow, I’m not crazy–it’s just this disorder.” I was actually almost proud of my diagnosis, because now I had something to fight for. I knew what to attack this time and what to work on. So, I went to work. Author 4 (p. 31)

My brain, I learned, is…quirky. It doesn’t process pain right. Physical pain, emotional pain, my brain just goes FZZZT until I fear for my sanity. Western doctors call this borderline personality disorder, perhaps one of the worst, most ugly misnomers in the medical world. Sounds dangerous, deranged. It’s not. But it is a thing, and actual thing. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t losing my grasp on reality. I had BPD, and my poor foggy brain was simply overwhelmed by everything I was sensing, to the point of complete nervous breakdown. DBT classes begin in 2014, and very slowly but surely, I learned how to turn my mind toward how harshly I view and judge myself and see how I deal with the world. But it’s a constant struggle daily struggle just to maintain my equilibrium. Author 14 (p. 103)

The next entry of this series on Pearls from Beyond Borderline will focus on the experience of stigma associated with a diagnosis of BPD.

To further support NEABPD.org programs, order Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder