I am sitting at my parents’ house with not much to do, so let’s talk about Borderline Personality Disorder for a second.
I was diagnosed with BPD last February, following a period of impulsive sex, drug use, alcohol use, and overall chaos-creating behaviors. It was humiliating. Books about “dealing” with the Borderline in your life have names like, I Hate You — Don’t Leave Me, Stop Walking on Eggshells, and Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist: How to End the Drama and Get On with Life. Borderlines in film range from the not-so-crazy Winona Rider in Girl, Interrupted, to her totally batshit ward-mate, Angelina Jolie. And then there’s Fatal Attraction, where the Borderline lead character acts like this.
The main problem with the diagnosis is that people see or hear about it and assume they can pinpoint you based on media portrayals and overall stigma. An old acquaintance once told a girl he went on a date with that he, “didn’t date Borderlines anymore because they’re all crazy.”
Fuck all of that shit. Seriously.
Stigma is a cesspool that Borderline breeds in. Shame feeds it. Ostracization feeds it. Labeling without any consideration for the person beneath the diagnosis feeds it. If someone with the diagnosis has done some fucked up shit to you, the need to create distance for yourself is completely understandable, but it’s important to be conscious of how you frame the situation. Saying things like, “Yeah, this happened because she’s an insane Borderline,” not only hurts that particular person — it hurts everyone with the diagnosis. Uninformed people take those words to heart and start to make their own assumptions.
To be frank, this language and behavior is dehumanizing and shows that you have little to no understanding of what Borderline is.
Now, on to that.
I don’t like the term Borderline Personality Disorder, partially because of the stigma, but mostly because Borderline is a cluster of symptoms, not a disease. More often than not, it is a result of early childhood trauma, an invalidating home environment, and/or later trauma, coupled with biological sensitivity.
WE WERE NOT BORN CRAZY. We were born sensitive. We were made “crazy.” And seriously, fuck that word, too.
Next time you trash talk BPD, consider the fact that the people you’re referring to A.) Definitely do not want to be acting how they’re acting and are likely doing everything in their power to survive, and B.) Have probably been through some of the most horrifying and degrading experiences you can fathom.
If you have an understanding of trauma, you’re on your way to understanding BPD. If you have an understanding of C-PTSD, you probably already get it. If you don’t know what the latter is, now is your chance to look it up. The symptoms of the two diagnoses are almost identical — the only difference is that C-PTSD hasn’t made it into the DSM yet. When it does, there’s a chance we won’t need the Borderline diagnosis anymore.
(But let me reiterate — like most things, Borderline exists on a spectrum. One idea about it doesn’t hold true for everyone.)
I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s personal experiences with particular folks with Borderline. I get it. We can be extremely intense/impulsive/unpredictable/etc. I’m just asking that you think before you say things like, “Omg, that’s so Borderline.” Because, omg, that’s so dismissive. And it fucking hurts. And it makes us feel like people don’t take us seriously or see us as human beings.
Onto a positive thing — DBT really works! I want to keep writing about Borderline over the next few months because it’s heavy on my mind, but here is what I wrote for my DBT group when I graduated earlier this year:
- Welcome to DBT! Your first few weeks of group won’t make much sense. Your fellow groupmates will say things like, “I was feeling fear, so I used TIP, opposite action, and then did a DEAR MAN, and I felt better.” If the confusion leads to a desire to fake sick and stay in bed, resist! It will get easier. Remember — the longer you wait to learn these skills, the harder it is to change.
- If the skills happen to make sense right off the bat, you may be thinking, “This is stupid” or “Duh, I know this stuff already.” Sure, you may understand the ideas behind the skills, but chances are that if you stumbled into DBT, you don’t quite know how to put them into practice. DBT is like reparenting for those of us who grew up in invalidating environments, so the skills are bound to sound a bit basic sometimes.
- Don’t be discouraged by how “far behind” you are or how much you still have to learn. We all started at the bottom. Look to veteran group members for proof of how well DBT can work.
- Try not to get caught up in the Borderline diagnosis. It’s just a label put on a cluster of symptoms that’s meant to help psychologists figure out the best way to help you. You’re not crazy. Borderline = biological sensitivity + an invalidating environment, neither of which are/were your fault.
- Enjoy the ride. Be kind to yourself when you make mistakes. Don’t skip group. Keep fighting the good fight.
- Make coaching calls. I can’t say this enough. The more calls you make, the faster the skills get ingrained.
- Go to group every week, especially when you don’t want to. One week of skipping often turns into two weeks and so on until you drop out and return to your old ways.
- Do your homework and go beyond the minimum. Think of it less as arbitrary school work that you need to complete to pass the course, and more as a gift that’s meant to help you create a more fulfilling life for yourself.
- Embrace your mistakes. You may have mastered the skills and completely rid yourself of target behaviors, but as emotions start to get more “painful,” target behaviors may rise to the surface again. Let each mistake serve as a chance to reinforce skills and learn more about your triggers and vulnerabilities. And don’t forget to validate yourself.
- If solo meditation isn’t your jam, join a yoga class, check out group meditation, listen to guided imagery YouTube videos, or get the occasional massage. To notice what’s going on in your body, you have to start by actually feeling your body.
- At some point, usually midway through the DBT process, you will start to feel the emotions your target behaviors were trying to conceal. It sucks. It’s scary. But there’s no danger. The only way out of the fire is to walk through it. The longer you wait, the bigger the fire gets. Crying won’t kill you!
- Read as much as you can about DBT, BPD, mindfulness, etc. I personally enjoyed Mindfulness for Borderline Personality Disorder, Get Me Out of Here, Self Compassion, anything by Brene Brown, and Loving-Kindness. If an unhealthy relationship with food is one of your target behaviors, check out Geneen Roth’s books. If you struggle with PTSD, read some Bessel van der Kolk, Peter A. Levine, or Judith Herman.
A few liberating realizations you will probably have:
- Not everyone is going to like you and that’s okay. I mean, really, this is great news. You don’t have to put up fronts or be a social chameleon to please everyone around you. Instead, you can be yourself and make real friends instead of having shallow acquaintances.
- For ruminators: You are not your thoughts and your thoughts do not dictate your reality. The more you feed into them, the more control they have over you.
- Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean you’re in danger. If no danger is involved, do what you’re afraid of over and over and over and over again.
- It’s okay to just be content! Embrace your boredom. Sit with your feelings or write them down or rejoice in the fact that boredom usually means you aren’t creating drama or chaos. Yay!
- LIFE GETS BETTER. Way, way, way better. Trust me.