'The borderline'

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Posted on 14/03/2017 by Imani |

I remember the day my I crossed over the squiggly line to having the diagnosis I have now. I attended that psychiatrist appointment as Imani, the bipolar II lady, and left as Imani, "the borderline."

My see-sawing chaotic moods had already captured the attention of my psychiatrist, hence my original bipolar diagnosis, but as soon as I began to describe some abusive experiences from my childhood she said "I think your diagnosis may have to be revised".

I was shocked. I had only just mentally adjusted to having Bipolar disorder. When I asked her why, my doctor explained that childhood abuse or trauma is often linked with the development of traits of Borderline Personality Disorder (or BPD).

She said she had always seen my symptoms as more complex and varied than her patients with Bipolar disorder, and me disclosing my abuse from childhood was the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle for her.

Those three words, ''Borderline Personality Disorder' swirled around in my mind over and over.

I remembered back to hearing about BPD in an 'abnormal psychology' lecture years ago, when I was at university, so is this what I was then? Abnormal? This news was not good to me.

The term 'Borderline Personality Disorder' first came about when a psychiatrist had a group of patients who showed symptoms of both neurosis and psychosis, so these patients were viewed as lying on the border between the two.

However, nowadays many mental health professionals refer to it as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) as they feel it is more accurate and less misleading a term.

Personally, whether my diagnosis is called BPD or EUPD, I didn't particularly relish the label being stuck onto me.

The label felt almost like a punishment of me; like my psychiatrist was taking into account everything I had ever said to her and judging me, not as a person with a set of mental health symptoms, but as the symptom itself.

I felt flawed, defective and personally attacked. To be told I had a disordered personality really stung.

In hindsight though I understand my reaction to her diagnosis was part and parcel of my BPD traits. I am sensitive, reactive and easily prone to feeling criticised, threatened and socially rejected.

Words cut deep for me and I am sensitive to any signs of disproval.

It is clear to me now that she wasn't rejecting me at all. She was actually doing me the best favour she could possibly do. She was accurately diagnosing me, meaning I could get the type of psychological treatment I desperately needed to ease my pain and discomfort with the world I lived in.

If the incorrect bipolar label had stuck I would be treated mainly with mood stabilising medication, but in reality my emotional situation was far more complicated and needed longer-term psychological treatment.

BPD is not as widely understood as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, which sadly only increased how isolated I felt.

I told my family I had Borderline Personality Disorder and they said "that's good news-you are only just on the borderline of having a personality disorder, so it can't be that serious!"

That makes me giggle now as I look back, but it most definitely wasn't funny at the time. It minimises the seriousness and difficulty of all I have been through and continue to go through. My family interpreted the word borderline to mean I 'nearly had' a personality disorder, which couldn't be further from the truth!

But these are sadly not the first negative and stigmatised reactions I've faced since my diagnosis.

I quickly noticed a difference in how I was treated by mental health professionals-many of them began to react to me as though I was being irrational and impulsive all the time, critisising me for my thoughts and actions, when in reality my personality or behaviour hadn't changed one bit.

I was still 'me' and hadn't changed a bit, yet I found myself getting questioned and probed a lot more, and the professionals became more cold and dismissive, sometimes talking to me as though I were a child who was unable to reason and rationalise about anything, even when I know I was making valid points.

This was very disheartening and I began to feel 'less than'. This was particularly true when I was treated as an inpatient in the acute psychiatric unit.

It felt like they were expecting me to behave and conform to the borderline stereotypes of someone who is argumentative, demanding and emotionally reactive, so I guess their treatment of me became a self fulfilling prophecy, where I began to respond to their stigmatised treatment of me by being more confrontational at times when I felt provoked by how they spoke to me.

In the last few years many more buried memories of childhood abuse have bubbled up to the surface, leading to a serious breakdown and several spells of crisis, self harm and suicide attempts.

My emotional reactivity and the intense way I feel everything meant that my distress often turned into unstoppable emotional crisis, which at times was relentless.

At it's worst my BPD almost cost me life itself.

But healing is happening and will continue to happen over the longer term. I work with a Clinical Psychologist in regular Dialectical-behavioural therapy (DBT), which is great as it offers me a space to reflect, to vent if I need to, to problem solve, to process my very strong feelings, and to build a toolkit of coping skills so I am better able to tolerate and regulate the mood swings and intense emotions I experience with more comfort and control.

I certainly don't view myself as the freak that I did when I was first given this label. I see the label for what it is. A way of accurately describing the set of difficulties that I have.

However, it still isn't easy for me to talk about it. Very few people know I have the BPD diagnosis, although I talk about my complex-PTSD diagnosis quite willingly.

So why is it that I sometimes hold back from telling people? I don't believe it is shame that stops me, as I know having BPD is not of my making. I have this mental health condition because of my difficult childhood, and I certainly didn't make my bad childhood happen to me.

I guess it's just because BPD just isn't very widely known, understood, or talked about in society, plus also quite complicated and difficult to put words to, so I usually don't even know where to even begin.

But I'm working on changing that. BPD will only become demystified and better understood in society once people like me find the confidence to talk more openly and publicly about it, why is why I wanted to share my story here.

People sometimes behave a little nervously around me when I tell them about my diagnosis, which is a shame as there are lots of positives and strengths I have as well as my difficulties.

I have had the pleasure to make many friends since being diagnosed who also have BPD.

The strong way they experience their emotions has meant they are among the kindest, most supportive and loveliest friends I've had.

Because people with BPD feel so much, we are able to empathise easily with others, and we also like to nurture our friendships and form close bonds with others, I think because we are trying to compensate for the love we missed out on in our own childhoods.

For all the difficulties over Borderline Personality Disorder and whether I am labelled with BPD or EUPD, I remain proud to be me.

I may have BPD, which means I often struggle a lot emotionally with life's ups and downs, but BPD is not all there is to me, and I will not let it define me or hold me back in achieving the many things I want to achieve.

I don't know how to be anything other than who I am. Right now I live my life over the squiggly divide of the borderline, but with consistent treatment and a personal commitment from me to empower myself and strive to be the best I can be, I know I won't be stuck here forever.


See our info on Borderline Personality Disorder / Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, which includes self-care tips, treatments and tips for friends and family.


 Watch Imani's #mentalhealthselfie

Categories: Borderline personality disorder



Imani is a trauma-recovery writer and illustrator.

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