Yes, I have a personality disorder. No, I am not broken.
By Kieran James Paterson
I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in October 2016 having never heard of it before. So, of course, I went online and read many articles about living with BPD that appeared to claim it is impossible to live a normal life or maintain healthy relationships with the condition (mostly due to manipulative and impulsive behaviour). The idea that there was nothing I could do about the state I was in at the time terrified me. Within the first week or so I felt that I fitted the stereotype perfectly: I had dropped out of my first year of university only two weeks earlier and was struggling to communicate with my friends and family. The double edged sword of BPD from my experience is that our greatest fear is abandonment, yet in entertaining that fear we isolate ourselves further. The greatest challenge for me in the last few months has been to regulate my behaviour in the face of fear that causes me to push people away.
All the articles I read seemed to support this feeling, because they rightly claim that fear of abandonment often causes borderlines to become manipulative to keep people around them. An example often cited is that some will threaten to self-harm or even commit suicide if loved ones are seen to be leaving. These articles made it seem so inescapable. Many writers conclude that borderlines will always be incapable of having healthy relationships as they will always manipulate their partners, friends and/or family to avoid isolation. Added to this is the idea of “splitting” which is the act of seeing the world only in black or white. Someone with BPD would only be able to see people as idols and put them on a pedestal or as completely evil. I felt like they were trying to say any relationship, be it personal or work, would be impossible because any mistakes others made would cause me to overreact, to see that person as irredeemable. That ultimately I would lose the people closest to me because I could never stop myself from overreacting if they made even one mistake.
This is but a short list of the kind of things contained within the BPD stereotype that lead people to conclude a diagnosis is a largely hopeless situation. Within the first few weeks of being diagnosed, it was very easy to fall into the trap of thinking this was an inescapable truth: I kept finding myself adhering to more of these negative patterns of behaviour. What is lesser known to people in my situation is that there are lots of positive articles out there about BPD, but in my fragile state after diagnosis they were drowned out by the overwhelmingly negative ones. I spent a long time telling myself and many close to me that there was no hope of my getting better and managing my behaviour. I fear that others like myself will struggle with the same mindset, and delay treatment or self-help because of a stereotype that people with personality disorders are somehow untreatable.
Over the last few months I have learnt much about the kind of behaviour I exhibit. I began to see my diagnosis as more of an explanation of my behaviour than a precedent for it. I had always struggled with the fact that I felt emotions much more intensely than anyone else. I felt like I was made of glass, and the softest blow would shatter me. My emotional fragility acted as a barrier between me and the rest of the world. However, after some coming to terms with the condition, I realised I was part of a community of people that felt the same way. I began to realise that feeling this wide range of emotions did not place me at odds with the world. Rather it meant that I could be more connected with it after learning coping strategies. There are many ways of gaining these coping strategies that I will not go into in detail here, but many have cited the effectiveness of DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy), medication, and other forms of therapy. BPD is an exceptionally difficult condition to manage and takes a lot of hard work (I still certainly have a long way to go!) but the idea that it is unmanageable and wholly negative is a dangerous one.
If you have been recently diagnosed with a personality disorder, or know somebody that has, it is not a death sentence. One of the most important things I read in the early days of my diagnosis was that this disorder does not mean you are broken, or there is something wrong with you. The borderline stereotype is a generalisation based on the condition being left unmanaged, but with the right help and support, is far from a permanent state. I have talked to other people with BPD and joined a few groups- all of the people I have talked to I have found to be exceptionally courageous and inspiring. I cannot understate how much simply talking to other people with the condition helped me in starting to manage my own, and I would recommend it to anyone.
If you would like to learn more about Borderline Personality Disorder, check out this article on The Mighty.
About the writer:
Kieran Paterson was diagnosed with Anxiety in April 2016, then Borderline Personality Disorder and Major Depression in October 2016. He will be beginning his degree in Politics and Philosophy at The University of Manchester in September 2017. In his free time, Kieran enjoys scuba diving, writing and punk music.