8 – 14 May 2017 is Mental Health Awareness Week – 7 days – 7 blogs -7 Mental Health topics
Today – Borderline Personality Disorder
The only knowledge I have about Personality Disorders is from the current assignment I am working on for my long distance learning course. It would be pointless to quote facts and figures, whilst they may be interesting to the medical professionals, what really makes an impact is hearing from someone who lives every second of the day with this illness.
There are many different types of Personality Disorders and it would be impossible to give them all the words they deserve in just one blog, so here is just one experience, one very honest and brave story.
Meet Leah, aged 19 –
I am about to get my diagnosis made official. I have borderline personality disorder.
My experiences with this disorder go back to my early teens. Back then I thought it was just what every teenager went through. But when it started to interfere with all of my relationships, my studies in college and I didn’t want to continue living, I knew it had to be something else. I’ve always been interested in the psychology of mental health, so I did my own research and went to my doctor to tell them I was struggling and that I believed I had BPD. Of course, they dismissed it. I was not yet 18. I couldn’t possibly have a personality disorder. They told me that I was “just feeling a little sad” because I had recently moved house, away from everything I knew. Unfortunately that only damaged my mental health more as I believed that I didn’t deserve any help and that I was just making it all up, so I hid everything from my family and continued to struggle through college whilst ruining relationships and friendships along the way.
After I moved in with my boyfriend and his mum in a town over 40 miles from my parents, I tried again. I referred myself to the Depression and Anxiety service where I had some sessions in CBT. But the therapist was way too focused on the anxiety and I felt like he ignored everything else that I was saying. So I asked to be referred to the mental health team for an assessment. That was the start of my journey to diagnosis. It took a little over a year, which is not very long at all and has only been this quick due to my determination and perseverance to get what I need. For most people it takes years.
I was placed on a RELAY course which stands for Regulating Emotions and Looking After Yourself, where they taught mindfulness and distress tolerance in a two hour weekly group session. When that finished it was decided that DBT would be the best course of action for me. I started DBT in February this year. This also involves a two hour weekly group session, as well as a 1 hour weekly one to one session with a therapist. Again, they teach skills to help you deal with your emotions. DBT is the main treatment path for BPD and it’s meant to help regain some control in your life. At the start of this course I was assigned a recovery coordinator who will oversee my care whilst I am with the mental health team. The first thing I asked when I met her was when can I get a proper diagnosis. She had just assumed that since I was on the recovery pathway for BPD that I had it, so I’ve finally had it made official. Like I said, this process was extremely quick for me (although it felt excruciatingly slow) due to me being unwilling to give up until someone agreed with what I had been saying all along.
Lots of people get misdiagnosed (often with bipolar as it can be quite similar in some ways) and don’t receive the correct diagnosis until well into their adult life. This diagnosis means a lot to me. I have a very supportive family however, in the past when I have tried to talk to them about mental health, it seems to have been ignored and I felt like they didn’t believe it was there. My treatment and diagnosis has enabled me to have a conversation with my mum about it and what I struggle with without her being able to say its not true. Because I no longer live with my parents, they check up on me every couple of weeks and ask how I am doing. My mum is as understanding as she can be without truly understanding my personality disorder. She still believes that if I just get a job and some more friends then I will be happy. But I don’t blame her. It must be difficult to understand what it is like for someone when you have never experienced any kind of mental health issue yourself. I answer her questions and try not to make anything too complicated for her because I know she worries, but realistically, I’m an adult and it’s up to me to sort my life out, not her.
My boyfriend (now fiancé) is very supportive. He encourages me and never makes me feel like I am not doing anything, even though I feel like that is the case as I cannot work at the moment. There are times where we argue, and I feel like he doesn’t understand my emotional responses but that is to be expected. I can’t expect him to let me off the hook for everything. My disorder is not an excuse, it is something I must learn to live with and overcome. Sometimes he forgets that my responses are not rational even though they feel like it to me at the time. But overall, I am lucky to have such a caring and supportive partner.
Borderline affects my life in so many different ways. The main one being my lack of control over emotions. Imagine what it feels like when you’re on your period and you burn some toast. It makes you want to cry and give up because you’re highly hormonal and emotional. I guess it’s kind of like that, but all of the time. So you can imagine what kind of crazy reactions the bigger more important things get. However, it does also mean that when I feel happy, I’m on top of the world. The only way I can describe it is like being on a huge roller coaster but blindfolded. I can’t see when the big highs or lows are coming therefore it is terrifying to go through. I can go through about 20 different emotions within the space of a few hours because my brain has not learned to regulate them efficiently. This can cause all sorts of problems socially and within relationships. People won’t understand why I’m reacting in a certain way so may get defensive or think that I’m being overdramatic and often leave which then perpetuates my intense fear of abandonment – another characteristic of BPD.
This intense fear is due to beliefs about myself not being good enough therefore I am extremely clingy and needy in both friendships and romantic relationships which can prove too much for a lot of people. However, it can also go the other way. When I believe that someone will leave me, I try to test them. I push how far they will go because I need them to prove to me how much I mean to them. This is why it is often seen as a disorder that gives attention seekers an excuse. Yes, I want attention, but not because I like being at the centre of it or because I think I’m better than anyone else. Quite the opposite. I don’t believe I am worth anything therefore I need constant approval and affirmations that I am loved and I am worthy. Individuals with BPD often experience “splitting” which is down to the black and white thinking we have. If someone does something that upsets or hurts us, it is extremely difficult to forgive them and we start to label a person as “bad” which can be devastating when it is someone that we trusted.
BPD has also had a huge impact on my sense of identity. I never fitted in during school (largely due to spending lots of time away from school because of operations and hospital stays which seem to have been the start of my emotional dysfunction) so I never really learned who I was as a person. My personality seemed to change depending on who I was spending time with and it still can now although I try to catch myself and stop doing this so often as it can come across as fake. It made me question my sexuality as a certain friendship became intense and I could not differentiate between the need to be liked and the need to be loved. I felt like I was defined by my intelligence so after my grades at college weren’t great, I didn’t have anything left and I was unsure of who I was. My lack of identity has definitely contributed to my periods of low motivation and suicidal thoughts/tendencies as it made me feel like I had no purpose and life was meaningless because I wasn’t worth anything. Pair this with all those other difficult symptoms and you can see why I never really had many friends.
There is definitely a lot of stigma surrounding personality disorders. This hasn’t been helped by the poor representation within the media, Borderlines, especially, are made out to be violent, dangerous and extremely manipulative. I don’t need to tell any of you the issues with generalising for a whole group of people. It is simply a case of not understanding. The way forward definitely has to be more awareness about the realities of living with a personality disorder. I’m not a dangerous person. I just struggle with my emotions. I struggle with lots of things that others find easy or do naturally. But I am getting help, and no one can tell me I’m not doing enough!
My enormous thanks and love to Leah for being so brave in sharing her experiences with me to help raise awareness. I hope that in some small way that by speaking out and finding your voice, that a little of the pressure has been relieved. You are so much stronger than your demons.
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