Borderline Personality Disorder — breaking the stigma, exploding the myth
Dr Haley Peckham has chosen not to hide the multiple self-inflicted scars along her arms as a testament to her struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder [BPD].
Despite her diagnosis almost 20 years ago, Dr Peckham now works as a mental health nurse in Melbourne and has a PhD in molecular neuroscience.
“Some of [the scars] have stories attached to them and I don’t feel ashamed of it,” Dr Peckham said.
”I see people with worse scars than I have and I think ‘things must have been really tough for you.
“It’s more of a testament to what’s in my life, more than anything being wrong with me.”
BPD is a mental illness characterised by an instability of moods, poor self-image and suicidal thoughts, impulsive behaviour, and a pattern of unstable, often damaging, inter-personal relationships.
Dr Peckham said her BDP was a result of childhood trauma where she wasn’t afforded the level of emotional care, usually given to children.
“I had a caregiver who had a mental illness and I was quite scared of that mental illness,” she said.
“Those early relationships, they really inform how we see ourselves — it’s that invisible privilege of feeling worthy of love and if you don’t have that, you scrabble for it your entire life.”
The struggle from diagnosis to doctorate
The causes of BPD — while still being researched — is understood to be a combination of biological and environmental factors, such as emotional trauma or abuse.
Dr Peckham said her disorder manifested itself through self-harm and a fear of abandonment.
“I would literally feel like my head was going to explode,” she said.
“After harming myself, I felt calm and able to take on the world again and able to function, and as long as nobody knew about it, than it was kind of okay.”
But after working with orphanages and hospitals in the United Kingdom, Haley sought out professional help from a psychotherapist.
“I discovered that the relationship I had with him was safe, that he wasn’t exploiting me, he didn’t hate me, he wasn’t going to shame me,” she said.
“That relationship was one I could take my emotions to and he would help me with them, he gave me the time to discover that and as I discovered that, I didn’t need to self harm anymore.”
Dr Peckham said her diagnosis of BPD was bittersweet, “confirming something we all fear: that there’s something wrong with me”.
“Our experiences have a very real affect on our brains and that includes things like epigenetics and neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity,” she said.
“What happens to us leaves its mark on us and I’m sad the only way of getting that validated is through a diagnosis.”
After years of therapy sessions, Dr Peckham moved to Australia and studied molecular neuroscience, attaining a PhD.
“[The] most challenging thing for me was holding myself together when it would go wrong because I would think ‘of course its gone wrong because it’s me,'” she said.
“Whereas people who are more solid in themselves go ‘what’s gone wrong’ not ‘I did it wrong’.”