Everything (ok, just a few things,) you need to know about a BPD diagnosis

Chances are, if you’re relatively new to the BPD world – whether you or a loved one has just been diagnosed – you have read, heard or seen first hand that this is not a label you want to adorn with neon lights. You might feel angry, confused, frightened, misunderstood. Or you may feel relieved to know what’s ‘wrong’ because a correct diagnosis can lead to the right help and treatment.  You might, like me, feel downright insulted, and you’d have every right to feel that way! I mean, whose nose wouldn’t be slightly out of joint if they were told their personality was disordered? I’d never heard of BPD before I was diagnosed, and what I began to discover did nothing to raise my spirits. I hope by the time you finish reading this you feel hopeful, and see that understanding what you’re up against is the first step in beginning to manage your emotions and behaviours.

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Let’s get the bad news out of the way…

Borderline personality disorder is possibly the most misunderstood and highly stigmatised of all mental illnesses and, as such, receives an awful lot of bad press. There are some professionals who still don’t even believe BPD is a valid mental health condition, whilst others remain adamant that people who present with the BPD traits are merely manipulative, petulant, and attention seeking. There are professionals who refuse to work with people who have received a BPD diagnosis, and there are others who say we are too unstable for certain therapies but not quite ill enough to qualify for intervention. There are books and articles in circulation that quite happily write ‘us’ off, consign us to the scrap heap, and there are others that talk about us in such derogatory terms you might need to do a double take to make sure you are in fact reading about fellow human beings. 

Professionals aside, you have probably all heard of, if not seen, the stereotypical portrayals of people with BPD traits in films like Girl, Interrupted, Fatal Attraction, Prozac Nation, Single White Female, Monster – I could go on, but I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. People who exhibit borderline behaviours are often portrayed as psychotic bunny-boilers when, in truth, the people we are most likely to cause physical harm to is ourselves. Yes, we may lose our temper incredibly quickly; we might be overwhelmed by fear and insecurities and jealousy; we often have a string of unsuccessful relationships and careers to our name; we can swing from deliriously happy to suicidal in a matter of minutes for the smallest of reasons; we might shout and scream and hate you if we get the slightest whiff of what we consider to be rejection… but we’re not mad or dangerous as some of these films would have us believe. In actual fact, I think it is fair to say that the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of people with BPD are actually quite rational and understandable responses to early experiences and traumas that were often very irrational and beyond our comprehension. 

Your personality is not disordered!

So, I am here to tell you that it’s not as bad as you might have been led to believe. My first piece of advice to you, if you are new to this world would be to IGNORE THE LABEL!

‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ is the worst label anybody could have come up with for people with symptoms such as ours. We are people who are already in an almost constant state of turmoil, often in extreme distress because of their intense and overwhelming emotions, terrified of being abandoned or rejected, see the world through very black and white – all or nothing – glasses, and we have a very fragile and tentative sense of ‘who we are’. We are people who struggle, constantly, to make sense of the world around us, who often find it impossible to navigate our way successfully through relationships, and this is the label they choose for us? BUT take heart! There are people out there working tirelessly for this label to be changed to something less annihilating and alienating – something which acknowledges the fact that our traumatic or chaotic experiences are indeed at the root of our mental illness, rather than our very personality being disordered. Work with ‘BPD’ for now, because that’s all we’ve got, but don’t let the label get you down.

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There is always hope

Next, I want to assure you that borderline personality disorder absolutely IS treatable. You may have to fight to receive the treatment you deserve, you may even have to do your own research and tell your GP what appropriate help is available because they might not know themselves. And once your name wends its way to the top of the waiting list for appropriate treatment you will have to work bloody hard – as I say in my book; ‘whilst nobody had lied and said this would be easy, nobody said quite how hard it would be either. Although I seem to recollect someday telling me it would be worth the effort’. It really is worth the effort.

I’m sorry to say that if you’re here in the UK, waiting for treatment is an inevitability, but there are several things you can do whilst you wait. Also, although you might think this is an odd thing for me to say – in order to learn to manage your symptoms you have to really want to get better!

  • Learn as much as you can about the disorder. We’ve already established that you should most certainly NOT believe everything you hear about BPD, especially if it’s inherently negative and disparaging. Find the stories that offer hope; the articles (a few links below) and books that talk about BPD with empathy and that refer to the people with BPD diagnosis with dignity and deserving of help and treatment; books that offer insight and understanding – books like my own, for example (!) Knowledge is power, and understanding is the key to learning to manage BPD.
  • Learn as much as you can about yourself – signs that you are falling into depression, paranoia, fear of abandonment – you will have signs and if you can learn what they are you can begin to manage the impulses and behaviours that normally follow.  The more you understand the more chance you have of staying one step ahead of your symptoms – it’s bloody hard work, but trust me when I say that it’s easier and less painful that doing no work at all. 
  • Talk to people you can trust (I do realise I’m asking a lot for many people with BPD), but sit down with your partner, a friend, a family member, and tell them what you’ve learned about the condition and about yourself. Invite them to ask questions, but don’t be afraid if you can’t always answer them – explore and learn together as much as you can. Understanding is the key to learning to manage BPD.
  • Don’t blame others for your ‘episodes’, but don’t blame yourself either. Don’t beat yourself up when you give in to impulsive behaviours or thought patterns. Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and try to figure out what went wrong and why. Don’t worry if you can’t figure it out – each little attempt to understand yourself will be stored up somewhere in your memory banks and eventually you will have a break through. 

Remember: you are wounded not broken and wounds take time to heal. 

You have absolutely no reason to be afraid or ashamed of this diagnosis. You have made it this far: you are resilient, and strong – you are a survivor. You are reading this blog: you are brave, and you are learning what you can. You have not given up or given in: you are a warrior, a beautiful warrior. Don’t believe everything you read, but believe this.

Helpful links and articles

Ironically, the Royal College of Psychiatrists provide a very comprehensive description of what is meant by ‘Personality Disorders’.

The NEABPD website offers a wealth of information, ranging from advice for families affected by BPD to choosing the right therapist for you. They also have an extensive list of resources available for those wishing to learn more about the condition.

This down-to-earth page from down-under, Your Health in Mind, explains the process of diagnosis as well as myth-busting many of the misconceptions about BPD.

For more information, please see my links page.

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