Being Diagnosed With BPD Felt Like Being Told I Was Evil
As a child, I’d often listen to my parents’ arguments. Once a day, usually after dinner, they’d start fighting and dad would begin wailing about how my mother was “crazy”.
“She has Borderline Personality Disorder,” he’d tell me in private, “she’s incapable of having empathy for other people and she cannot understand the world besides her own twisted point of view. She’s evil.”
Of course my mother had no such diagnosis. She had issues, but she wasn’t afflicted with Borderline as my father loved to say. Still, the evils of mentally ill people were drilled into my head over and over again throughout my childhood and teen years. While my father and I ran together, I’d spend most of our 2.5 mile jogs listening to terrifying tales about the crazies he’d encountered as a police officer, assured that the world would be better off without the kind of people who visited mental hospitals and kept psychiatrists.
Imagine the horror I felt when I became one of those people. After several bouts with psychosis, I was briefly placed in a psychiatric facility and received subsequent care from a therapist and psychiatrist. At the hospital, they struggled to diagnose me but determined that I suffered from either Bipolar Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.
Whenever I spoke about my mental health, I felt attacked in the utmost when the term “Borderline” was mentioned. I associated the illness with violent criminals, nymphomaniacs, and lawless people who didn’t have families or loving relationships. Was I destined to lead a meaningless, miserable life of constant conflict with myself and others? My doctors seemed to taut the idea that I was unstable in a variety of areas, and while I was placed on medication, the idea that I would eventually be stable was never brought up.
It wasn’t until I spent time in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) that I learned I could have a better life. In DBT, we learned skills for mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation. Being surrounded by professionals who believed in both myself and the other patients enough to take the time to teach us life skills changed my perspective on everything.
In a world where BPD has the highest suicide rate of any mental illness and where many mental health professionals outright refuse to treat patients with the diagnosis, I felt real care for the first time in all of my years of treatment. My 14 weeks of DBT led to feelings of safety and for the first time since the two years prior that I’d heard the word “Borderline” I began coming to terms with the diagnosis.
Some people with Borderline wear their diagnosis as a badge of honor and courage. They live lives on the internet and openly discuss illness and post raucous memes to make light of their suffering. I was not one of those people. I was bitter and disturbed to know that I fit the criteria for such the most notorious, pernicious personality defect known to modern psychiatry.
At my wellness appointments, I bowed my head in shame and spoke to the professionals as though they were better than me. After all, weren’t they better than me? In a world where I barely graduated college with a B- average and had to take extra semesters to do so, these hotshots in lab coats and suits had made it to the world of PhD candidacy and medical school. I couldn’t buy a cup of coffee without feeling guilty, but these people made hundreds of dollars from my insurance every time that I visited them for 30 minutes.
Being diagnosed with BPD felt like being told I was evil, and when I learned that there was no outright cure, I nearly lost my mind all over again. What I discovered during and after my rigorous behavioral therapy ultimately changed my entire life and these feelings ceased, but for a very long time I was positive that I was a horrible person and that no matter what I did, I could not will goodness and virtue into my character because I had a messed up head.
It brings me to the edge of my seat to announce that I’m free of this thinking. When I consider how my light was spent on self-hatred, I remember to reward the process with which my limited understanding of my diagnosis was treated with. What did I do differently? What made me stop feeling inferior to my “demons”?
Over time, I figured out who I could and could not discuss my mental health with. Suddenly, my parents’ criticisms dried up, and I found myself abundant with support from my significant other as well as a few good friends who understood the struggle. I stopped trying to reason with people who were diametrically opposed to the idea that mental health exists. I started being open about my diagnosis as the butt of my own jokes on many Instagram and Facebook posts, and I stopped feeling the creepy sensation of having overstepped and overshared.
Quite simply, I was just being myself. Being myself felt beautiful. It was unfair to stifle myself because I thought that my experiences were “bad” or “unacceptable” compared to the glimpse I’d gotten into my friends, cousins, and coworkers’ lives. Once I stopped feeling like there was an alter ego that I had to hide, my feelings of worthiness soared.
It’s a terrible thing to not accept oneself. Now, looking back, I see that I was a bigger bully than any of the girls who pushed me around in junior high. I really was my own worst enemy, and recognizing that has renewed my confidence in my own free will and personal freedom.
I’m not doomed, I’m blessed.
Now is not the time to kick myself for not having seen this fact sooner. I’ve wasted a lot of my life. I know many people who feel this way and it seems that we all have to have some kind of miraculous spiritual epiphany in order to see the error of our ways. I believe that in writing this I’m fulfilling a mission to prevent the need for the epiphanies and help anyone reading this to create a method for wellness.
Reader: it begins with thinking about yourself and simply acknowledging her with the phrase “okay” and living the best life possible. It won’t be perfect, but it will be something. If I could do it, so can you.