What is having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) really like?
Today is the second instalment of my series of interviews with people who are diagnosed with BPD, and today’s guest is Anna.
Firstly, will you introduce yourself?
I’m Anna, I’m 32 years old. I have been diagnosed with BPD, PTSD, MDD, Panic Disorder, and Agoraphobic tendencies. Yes, that was a lot of letters. I’m not currently working, and I’m in the US in the process of applying for disability due to my mental illness.
Talk us through your experience with getting your diagnosis. How did you feel about it? Was it difficult to get an official diagnosis? Have you been treated differently by professionals or family/friends since your diagnosis? Does it change how you see yourself?
I’ve been in therapy almost all my life. I know it’s very rare, but I am at least the third generation Borderline that I know of. My mother was going through a really rough time and when I was five years old I began therapy because my parents recognized that I was asking a hell of a lot of questions they didn’t know how to answer about my mother’s absences (hospitalizations), self-harm, eating disorder, substance abuse, etc.
I wasn’t officially diagnosed with anything until after my first suicide attempt when I was sixteen. At that point, I felt like I had been screaming to my therapist that I needed help with my depression and she wasn’t taking any action – for years. Actually hearing a diagnosis of chronic depression HELPED me – because I felt that it validated the concerns that I thought people who couldn’t hear my brain should have. I was at risk for suicide. I was at risk for self-harm, and I did need serious help.
After my first stay at a psych ward, I joined a PHP group therapy program. After, I continued one on one therapy and was on medication that helped me get by. I wasn’t diagnosed Borderline until I was 22 years old – and I found out by accident. I was seeing a state-funded therapist, and she had filled out an evaluation report. I saw it on her desk and saw my diagnosis of “possible borderline”. I wasn’t surprised at all, and I dug into everything I could read about BPD – which at the time wasn’t much, but Girl, Interrupted and the Bell Jar (books) were among my most prized possessions at the time.
I wasn’t diagnosed with PTSD until I was THIRTY years old, even though I now recognize I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. The main problem for me getting co-occurring disorders recognized is that only the disorder that is currently shouting the loudest at the moment is seen by my treatment team – so seeing what is going on underneath takes a LOT of time and recovery progress in some cases.
I have never had trouble finding an appointment for therapy as a borderline, but finding a psychiatrist to manage my medications is extremely difficult. There is a doctor shortage, in addition to several flat-out refusing to treat me once I list my diagnosis or medications. Some offices want a wait list of months, some won’t give me an appointment in the first place, and I’ve had a difficult time finding medications that work for me on top of all of that. My primary care doctor takes up refills for me when I need her to in between doctors, but she is not comfortable with (and she shouldn’t) change my psych meds.
Difficulty in relationships is part of BPD – and I don’t know if people treat me differently because of my diagnosis or because of the way that I act, think, or feel. I am one of those people who wears my diagnosis on my sleeve because I want to live openly. About two years ago I “went public” on my Facebook about my mental illness, and I haven’t regretted a moment of it. Shedding that need to pretend everything is fine really lifted a weight off of me.
I see myself as being different than most people mentally, but not lesser by any means. My brain doesn’t process emotions the same way that most people’s do, and that’s not a degrading remark, it’s just a recognition of what is going on in my head.
Have you undertaken any therapy? If yes, which? And what was helpful/unhelpful about it? Have you learnt any new skills to help you manage your mental health? If you’ve not done any therapy, was that by your choice? Is there a therapy you’d like to try? Why?
Most of my talk therapy has been CBT-based, especially in my younger years. I did attempt a DBT program, but my expectations were very inflated by what I had read (that it was a cure, that it was an effective treatment for my BPD) and I felt extremely let down by it. I still use the skills on my own, but the letdown that I experienced has left a bad taste in my mouth for programs – along with the price and exclusivity (wait lists) for them. I prefer to practice DBT through studying skills and observing my self talk on my own than in a traditional group. Meditation is the most effective way for me to practice mindfulness, and it really helps me on a regular basis.
I have done some work with EMDR and found it extremely helpful. I don’t want to dig up any deep trauma at this point in my life because I’m not ready for it, but it did help me start to compartmentalize and deal with what is currently going on in my life.
It has been suggested that medication is not really effective at treating BPD. What is your experience?
My medications aren’t for my BPD – what I take is for my other disorders. I tried several years of mood stabilizers for my BPD and found that they weren’t really helping. I’ve also done ECT, which helped my depression a bit but has messed with my memory a bit so I won’t be trying it again. It was before TMS was available, and if my depression gets that bad again I’d be interested in trying that instead if I could.
How does BPD affect your day-to-day life?
It’s hard to say how BPD affects my life because I don’t know any life without it. The main way it changes things for me is that I have a lot of frustration communicating to people who don’t have a mental illness. When I talk about the way I feel about things, they don’t seem to understand fully what I mean. This leads to problems connecting with others in general. It’s why I like group therapy – when other people I’m speaking with also have a mental illness, they usually understand what I’m saying more easily.
What helps you get through the bad times?
Little things. Distractions (video games, tv/movies), writing, knitting, colouring, or some days just laying around with my cat. I love my pets more than anything in the world because they don’t judge me, they will never say nasty things to me, they just love me back as much as they can. I’m passionate about animal rescue.
My big REASON to keep on going is just that… I’ve known my darkness almost all my life. I see that my mind can lie, be a danger to me, and I’m not willing to give up on the light that other people see in me. My residential treatment helped with that a lot because after living together a month, everyone in the room listed two things they life about me and a wish for my future – and that memory is a very special one to me. It’s saved my life, because when I hear all the negative self-talk I can combat it with the things those women said, with the unbiased view that they had of me. I consider my head to be biased against me sometimes, and I’m working on changing that, and have been partially successful. Recovery isn’t something that happens all at once, it happens one day at a time, and that’s what I look at – even sometimes one moment to the next.
What advice would you give someone who is struggling with the same mental illness as you?
Accept the good and the bad. Recognize that while your emotions feel like an uncontrollable storm, they are temporary, and do whatever you can to weather that storm.
Do you have experience with BPD? Maybe yourself, or a loved one? Let me know about your experiences in the comments.