Over the weekend someone involved in the same community of people with BPD that I am in, took their own life. Added to recent news of a famous musician taking his own life, I felt compelled to write an open letter about my illness. To put down in a document what I want people to know.
We need to start talking. Not just because someone famous commits suicide, but because one day that could be our friend. Our mother or father. Our sister or brother. You get the jist. We need to talk, and support each other to be able to talk in an open forum, about mental illness. And we need to accept those who are mentally ill.
As someone with the diagnosis of a personality disorder, I feel that people don’t truly know what it means to have a mental illness. In some cases they don’t want to know. People find it a lot easier to hear a diagnosis and search for their own definition. This is without considering the person. But the truth is, each person’s mental health diagnosis can manifest in a completely different way.
BPD is not a disordered personality
I know I have written previously on my blog about how people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder can have differing symptoms. This is especially because to be diagnosed you need to fit only a certain number of criteria. But what I want to get across is that having a personality disorder in no way means that someone has a disordered personality.
BPD was initially ‘created’ or named as there was no specific diagnosis for someone if they weren’t quite bipolar or quite schizophrenic. That’s where the term ‘borderline’ came from. You sit on the border of a few different diagnoses.
Many people believe the attributes of someone with BPD (or now also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder) are: prolific self-harming, making suicidal threats and attempts and an inability to form healthy relationships.
None of these things apply to me, yet I am diagnosed with BPD.
I have never had suicidal thoughts. I am not a prolific self-harmer and I have sustained a number of relationships throughout my life. Most of my friends I have known ten-plus years. I have had two serious romantic relationships, one which resulted in marriage. What I want people to know about my BPD is my inability to control what I call an ‘episode’.
An episode for me is when lots of repressed feelings, memories and resentments are triggered by something completely insignificant. This leads to me being inconsolable, with gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, all-consuming sobbing. I have been diagnosed as a ‘high functioning’ borderline and also a ‘quiet’ borderline. This means that a lot of my behaviour I don’t exhibit outwardly. I turn every ounce of anger and sadness I might have into and onto myself.
I did not have the ability to talk about how I felt to anyone for around 24 years. Now at 28 I’m dealing with all those emotions at once. This is when I have an episode. It’s not something that happens on a daily basis, but when it does come, its catatonic.
Controlling my emotions
Another thing I struggle with is holding back my emotions and anger when I get legitimately emotional and angry. This isn’t completely due to my diagnosis as I have a penchant for sticking up for myself and the people I love. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s not necessarily a good thing either. It happens when I’m trying to communicate with people who don’t have what I see as basic communication skills.
I’ve heard the saying that people with BPD have the emotional skin of a third degree burn victim. That really resonates with me. The inability at times to control my emotions is a lot more scary for me than for the unfortunate person witnessing it. I am fully aware that at times I may seem impossible to deal with. But trust me, I find it even more difficult to deal with myself than anyone else on earth.
The emotional dysregulation is what I struggle with the most. Yes, I go through times where I have crippling depression. Yes, I can get so anxious I struggle to leave the house. But having no control of my emotions at times of heightened distress is a much tougher pill to swallow.
I’d like to end this letter by reiterating that even though I am mentally unwell I am still an individual. Having a personality disorder doesn’t mean I have a disordered personality.
Reproduced with permission, originally published here