MENTAL HEALTH A-Z: B is for Borderline Personality Disorder
Something that I am always going to advocate is that you should never feel ashamed of your mental health. You wouldn’t be ashamed of having a peanut allergy or being diabetic so why feel shame for a mental illness? I am not ashamed of having depression or anxiety, but for some reason I feel immense shame for having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It’s something I’m working on. As a result, writing this is going to be hard, so bear with me please.
If you have watched or read Girl, Interrupted then you probably have an idea what BPD is all about, but for those who haven’t (please make it your priority to watch it ASAP) I’ll explain. Mental health professionals want to change the term to Emotional Unstable Disorder which gives an insight into the condition and how it affects the sufferer. Mental health charity Mind explain the symptoms of BPD: Fear of abandonment; intense, uncontrollable and unstable emotions; lack of sense of self; uncontrollable anger and the tendency to act impulsively, often displaying self-destructive behaviours. In short, although manageable, when having an episode, BPD is a living nightmare.
When I started my first year of university in 2012 I often experienced mood swings and emotional instability, which I attributed to Cyclothymia, a mild form of Bipolar disorder. I have always felt things very strongly- I suppose I may have been accused of hyper-sensitivity a few times, and I have never been able to rationalise people choosing to walk out of my life.Along with my (former) tendency to self-harm and suicidal ideation, it sometimes baffles me why I wasn’t diagnosed sooner.
I didn’t suspect myself of having a personality disorder until about Christmas 2014, but I had never been satisfied with my diagnosis of Depression and I always knew there was another reason why I felt the way I did. Last year I went on a Year Abroad in Montpellier, Southern France. Being lifted out of my comfort zone in Leeds, with my friends who know and understand how my illness works, the Mental Health Advisor at university and an easy 4 hour train journey from my parents, to being chucked out of the plane and into an unknown city really took its toll on my mental health. I went from being sort of okay to completely and totally 100% not okay in 2 months.
I became stroppy and moody, sad, happy, angry, confused and self-destructive. I lost any sense of who I was and I turned into somebody I hope I will never be again. That’s what the disorder does to you if it’s not correctly treated. I went back on anti-depressants and I started self-harming again. I poured so much energy into a toxic friendship and each time it blew up I went into the flames to try to salvage something. The BPD wouldn’t allow me to accept that it was time to end it. I went, as Emma Roberts says in American Horror Story: Coven ‘bat-shit crazy’. The scariest part of the disorder is that sometimes you can experience a sort of dissociation. The sufferer can do things but not really be aware of their actions. A couple of nights after my 21st birthday, the day after my friends had gone back to England after having visited to celebrate with me, I experienced this sort of dissociation and channelled my inner Susanna Kaysen (Girl, Interrupted. Watch it) and took a handful of pills (by this time, I was on a high dose of anti-depressants, an anti-anxiety drug (Xanax, it’s similar to Valium) and sleeping pills. It wasn’t hard for me to find pills to take), washing them down with left over birthday alcohol. I spent the night in a French hospital (did you know they don’t always give you pillows?! And you’re given some bitter black liquid supposedly called ‘coffee’ for breakfast with one slice of dry soda bread) and 2 days later I returned to England for most of April. Once back in France I didn’t attend any of my classes and instead took the time to work on myself (toxic friendship ended) and it was the best and worst thing ever to happen to me. I saw a psychiatrist who changed my medications and diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. I displayed extreme risk taking behaviours the night I went to hospital and I basically embodied all that is a borderline personality, but now, 6 months later and after countless ups and downs, round in circles and backwards and forwards I’m slowly on my way to recovery and feeling generally positive about it.
Having a personality disorder can be scary as hell because you struggle to differentiate between what is your personality and what is your disorder. But you don’t have to think about it like that. I am the same me I was before my diagnosis,so why does it make a difference? The only alterations have been positive: my treatment and my outlook changed in a way beneficial to me. Whilst I may still feel shame at having the disorder I don’t let it control me. Yes, there are some symptoms that I struggle to suppress, for example I have extreme black and white thinking and often can’t rationalise emotions in the way my friends can, but I try not to see it negatively. I will give everything I can to somebody, but the moment I feel I’m being taken advantage of, lied to, cheated on or whatever, is the moment the disorder surfaces and acts impulsively, thinks in black and white and becomes irrational. I don’t think that’s a problem. I’m learning to control the more minor symptoms and maybe one day I’ll be in control of the whole thing. But for now, I’m eternally grateful for one of the most wonderful friendships I made in France and the support I had from her and my flatmate. I will always be thankful for my friends and my family who have to deal with me when things get tough, and I’m learning, slowly but surely, to live with Borderline Personality Disorder and not let all of the characteristics take control of my life all of the time.
If you think you or somebody you know may be suffering with BPD or another mental illness, help and advice can be found online at www.mind.com
You can also contact your GP, the student counselling service or the mental health advisor.