What do you know about borderline personality disorder? Today’s guest contributor, Natalia Hero, shares her personal insights into the often stigmatized mental illness, usually referred to as BPD. If you have BPD, please comment below and tell us about your experiences.
May is Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month – it’s also my birthday month, and the month during which I was diagnosed with the disorder. I like to think that that reinforces the connection I have with my illness – that BPD is very much a part of me, to be accepted and even embraced rather than demonized or ignored. To me, this has been an important part of the healing process. But the way BPD is perceived by others is another matter entirely. The disorder is highly stigmatized even within the field of psychiatry – it’s been described in some of the literature I’ve read as “incurable” while its sufferers are often labelled as inherently “treatment-resistant.” There was even a Time Magazine article from 2009 that called BPD “The Disorder That Doctors Fear Most.” Things are slowly changing as researchers learn more about the illness, but once a stigma or stereotype is out there, it can be tough to turn the tide. There is a general lack of empathy embedded in most people’s understanding of the disorder, which can be extremely harmful to those of us who suffer from it.
Borderline Personality Disorder is a chronic mental disorder of hypersensitivity and emotional dysregulation, characterized by unstable moods and relationships. Basically, borderlines are highly sensitive emotionally, and any emotion experienced will quickly spiral into a chaotic extreme. When we’re happy, we’re euphoric, ecstatic; when we’re sad, we’re devastated and depressed. Added bonus: we swing between those extremes several times a day, provoked by the slightest external trigger – something as benign as a rude bus driver can have me spiralling into intense despair like I’ve just had my heart broken. Dr. Marsha Linehan, a leading figure in the research on and treatment of BPD, describes the disorder thus: “Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.”
To make matters worse, one of the main diagnostic criteria for the disorder is chronic suicidal thoughts and behaviours. What that means is that these emotional extremes are quite literally unbearable – 8-10% of people with BPD commit suicide (more than 50 times the suicide rate in the general population), and 70% of us attempt suicide at least once. So contrary to popular belief, BPD sufferers have more of a tendency to fold into themselves rather than lash out at others. Other fun symptoms of the disorder include paranoid delusions, dissociative episodes, depression, mania, psychosis, self-harm, and intense impulsivity in areas that are often dangerous – all things I’ve experienced myself. It’s my mind’s way of coping with these emotional extremes, of trying to make sense of it as best it can. But I need to develop new coping skills in order to shut those symptoms down before they impede my ability to function and burn every bridge in sight – and that is the basis of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which was designed by Dr. Marsha Linehan (who has the disorder herself) to treat BPD specifically. The treatment has a high success rate, but is often costly and difficult to access, and recovery can take ages – leaving a lot of us feeling discouraged and hopeless.