Me, my diagnosis and I

by David M

I had to scratch down on the back of my bus ticket and go home, I hadn’t heard of this, but it did not sound good. It felt like the end. I was a terrible person and now it was all over, there was no more I could do, I was going to be stuck like this forever. Taking to the internet to find out what this diagnosis was just added to the grief. Here it was…

Borderline Personality Disorder

A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

  2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation

  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self image or sense of self

  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).

  5. Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behaviour

  6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability)

  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness

  8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger

  9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

I learnt that it is caused by early childhood trauma, causing an overdevelopment in the amygdala and underdevelopment in the hippocampus (they don’t communicate coherently with one another). I became fearful of myself and the impact I could have on others, I isolated myself. I researched and researched, and found a community of people online with the same diagnosis. These people were art researchers, scientist, GP’s, musicians, yoga teachers, mental health workers. Everyday people! As they wrote they were imparting a different reality through their learning.

I re-wrote my diagnosis:

  1. Highly self-aware. At any given moment, most people with BPD are profoundly aware of their feelings regardless of the natural conflict the differing emotions might possess. For instance, they might feel excited going to a party, rejected when they see someone who was unkind, abandoned when the person they came with engages with someone else, and happy when they meet a new person with common interests.

  2. Intense passion. The ability to feel and express intense passion for a person, art, literature, music, sports, food, dance, and other areas of interest comes naturally to a person with BPD. In fact, they know no other way of living other than to engage fully in their craft. The idea that they have to take initiative to follow their passion is foreign because for them, life is not worth living without it.

  3. Exciting and alive. When a person with BPD is engaged in their passion, they are thrilling to be around. Their natural excitement for doing their craft is so intoxicating that others want to contagiously absorb some of their enthusiasm. It is exhilarating and inspiring to see an athlete break a new record, a musician playing their instrument in ways unheard before, or a dancer perform unashamedly.

  4. Ability to sense emotions of others. Another gifting of BPD is a keen awareness of the emotions of others. Oftentimes a person with BPD will sense an emotion such as anger from someone else that the person is ignorant or in denial of feeling. When this talent is combined with an intense passion for painting for instance, a picture can reveal a mood that is obvious to the observer but oblivious to the model.

  5. Strong empathetic side. Because a person with BPD possesses the ability to sense the emotions of others, they also tend to absorb said emotions. As such, not only are they “walking in a person’s shoes” quite naturally but they also are able to strongly empathise. Actors/actresses who have BPD use this ability to enhance their performances.

  6. Powerful intimate connection. Two of the necessary ingredients to a deep intimate connection are an awareness of self and an ability to empathise with others. Without these, any attempt at intimacy is shallow and feels unsatisfactory to the recipient. Because a person with BPD has these two items in abundance, they tend to make powerful, whole-hearted, and unreserved connections very quickly, almost too quickly for other people’s level of comfort.

  7. Desire for community. BPD is one of two personality disorders (the other is dependent) that fully appreciates and understands the need for others to be in their life. They completely grasp the need for community at a deep level. Their perpetual fear of abandonment propels them to engage in relationships whether new or old.

 Ahh that’s better.

The next steps were getting help. I pushed for support through a care coordinator and received incredible resources through Bristol Wellbeing College where I have discovered my creative side and had it nurtured. I have developed a new workshop with them called Me, my diagnosis and I, and I have built a set of tools and self-care activities that work for me. I had buried this stuff for so long, ashamed to share it with anyone but through writing I have been able to hold a mirror up to myself, to learn and set further goals. One of these goals has been to give back, and this I have begun through being a facilitator at the Bedminster Changes meeting. It is an absolute privilege, and the trust and validation I have been given to take on this role has made a significant change to my self-esteem and confidence. When the diagnosis grenade went off, I completely lost those.

 Staying emotionally well is hard work and can take a lot of effort. But, I have found it even harder to be unwell and that’s an alternative I don’t wish to return to. If I wanted to share one thing with this article it would be to tell others that you can have some autonomy from mental illness; it’s not your whole self, just a part of your uniqueness and individuality. And sometimes that should be celebrated.