As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we will be publishing some very personal stories sent to us by some of our readers that are both informative and beautifully honest. Reader discretion is therefore advised. We feel publishing these very personal accounts will help break down common misconceptions, stigmas and myths that continue to surround issues of mental health and even though awareness is growing, we believe it is still not enough. We want to reach out to any of our readers who find they, or someone they know, relate to these same experiences, and encourage them to seek expert advice. There are a number of support groups in Gibraltar that are approachable, understanding, and will not judge you. Help is out there. You are not alone.
I’m going to put this right out there and tell you I have Borderline Personality Disorder. Does this define me? We automatically say that it shouldn’t, right? That I should not identify with it and not let it define who I am as a person because it is a negative, that I am who I am underneath the diagnosis and label, right? In part, this is, I believe, wrong; of course it in some way defines me, of course it in part makes me who I am, and that is absolutely ok. It is better than OK - it is awesome, because I like who I am and the positives it brings.
It pretty much dictates why I think and feel the way I do, like everybody’s brain chemistry does, though I can (I have recently discovered), like everybody, find ways to control my behavioural reactions and responses to the emotional extremes it triggers. And after a 20 year battle with it, I’ve finally realised that not only is it OK to accept the label, but that it makes the condition a hell of a lot easier to live with than trying to insist that it doesn’t define me in any way and that I don’t have it. A friend of mine recently advised that I swim with the current rather than trying to struggle upstream and, after initially rolling my eyes at the cliche, I realised it’s actually quite a good analogy for what I’m trying to say. Living with Borderline Personality Disorder and accepting its limitations, and just dealing with and learning to control my reactions to the emotional extremes it brings, has proven to be a shed load easier and less chaotic than trying to pretend it isn't there.
I’ll agree that labels don’t mean anything; we are who we are regardless of labels and in some cases labels can even be damaging. But in my case, and in the case of many other people, these labels are a god send because of the literature we can read to help us understand the condition. When you grow up unable to fit into any predefined boxes, unable to control emotional extremes, unable to conform to social norms, unable to behave in socially acceptable ways despite your greatest efforts and have no clue as to why this is, it comes as a huge relief when someone smacks a label on your forehead and says this is why, THIS is why you can’t be normal. (I use the term “normal” very loosely here before someone asks me to define it.) THIS is why, this is what is happening in your head, and it is OK.
Before being diagnosed, I didn’t understand why my emotions were so chaotic and massively unstable. I didn’t understand why I felt everything to extremes and could not control this or my responses. I didn’t understand why I struggled to maintain relationships and jobs, why I always abandoned projects despite initial enthusiasm. I didn’t understand why my sense of personal identity was impossible to pin down. Around me other people seemed to find it easy to stick at jobs even if they didn’t like them, grow up with a circle of friends and not fall out with them. They didn’t get overcome with panic at the thought of being confined, in a conceptual sense, and were happy with the 9-5 drudgery of life, or at least happy enough to not run away screaming. I have gone into everything determined to stick at it and then run away from pretty much absolutely everything apart from education. Since I graduated, life has just been one long stream of quitting and abandoning and running and hiding and chaos and conflict and confusion as to why and, at my lowest points, which were often, just wanting to disappear.
I get very easily affected by things. It could be something innocent someone says in passing. It could be a crowd of people. Or just my mood in the morning. I don’t even know. A friend could say something and it just makes me want to push them right out of my life forever because my own self worth takes a hit. I can’t take criticism at all. But if you compliment me, you make my day and I feel euphoric. There is no in-between with me, though I am trying to get there behaviourally. When I’m sad I fall into an absolute pit of darkness, when I’m depressed, I go down into the deepest darkest depths of hell and want to disappear. When I feel overwhelmed I want to just run away. And when I’m happy, it’s exhilarating and I can see the beauty in absolutely everything. What made life so chaotic is that I felt all these things and couldn’t control impulses to act on the feeling immediately, right now, NOW, before I changed my mind because I just did not understand them. It was chaos.
But in this chaos, when you start to understand it, there is also beauty. What I have outlined above can be perceived as a hugely negative state of being. But it is also a hugely positive one. When understood and controlled, BPD is a condition that really makes you FEEL. Yes you feel the bad, but when you feel the good, my word it is incredible. And I believe I would not be the incredibly passionate and empathetic person I am today without it. Try living with this while trying to live without it. It’s impossible. Because no matter how hard I try to live like someone without this condition, I simply DO have this condition. It’s as much a part of me as your hair colour is a part of you and, no, I can’t just change my mindset. But I can learn to live with it and find ways to control my reactions and cope with it. I’ve learnt to separate myself from the emotional extreme I am feeling and understand it for the chemical reaction it is and not respond to it and instead let it pass, because it always does. So I deal with it, and I harness it for good. I ride the lows and I accept my moods and I know when and how to cope with them better without it impacting relationships and life in general. Knowing that all the chaos stems from having BPD helps me know WHY I’m like this and, more importantly, to love myself with it. It helps me to not react immediately to my extreme emotions and stop before doing anything that might be destructive, although this is not always possible despite being more contained. And maybe, just maybe, this way I’ll approximate “normal”. So I’m thankful for my label that in some way defines me, I am thankful for the understanding it has given me, and I’m learning to be proud of it and not feel ashamed. I hope that I can find a way to lead a happy life within our society with these supposed limitations. And I hope by writing this you might be able to better understand me and other people with this condition and know that when we run away and push you out and fall in a hole, we don’t really want to and are trying our best not to. Or maybe you also have Borderline Personality Disorder and now don’t feel so alone or ashamed either.