An Open Response To The Man Who Thinks I Need A Warning Label

Why I combat the borderline personality disorder stigma…

An illustration of myself in Harvard Yard.

On Apr. 21, 2018, I received a patronizing response to my story about my battle with borderline personality disorder (BPD), a serious and highly stigmatized mental illness, which inhibits my ability to control emotions. I’m not responding to this man’s comment to be obsessive, ridicule, nor condemn him (I’ve protected his anonymity and deleted his original comment for that purpose). As a matter of fact, I appreciate that everyone is entitled to expressing their own opinion. Yet, this doesn’t propagate moral grounds to violate a person’s equal claim to human dignity. So, I believe addressing this man’s comment is necessary because such misconceptions — mirror the exact impetus that exacerbates the ominous stigma overshadowing BPD and many other mental illnesses. Despite feeling somewhat resentful, I’d like to take this opportunity to respectfully respond to this man — to the best of my ability.

Here, I’ve underlined select excerpts that I’ll respond to and I’ve concealed excerpts that I deem to be inappropriate (I’ve included this screenshot for substance).

Let me provide context before I address this comment... In order for a doctor to render a BPD diagnosis, a patient must exhibit a minimum of five out of nine criteria symptoms (some people have more than five symptoms). Moreover, most people with BPD usually have one or more other psychiatric comorbidities. In other words, a large cohort of patients could be accurately diagnosed with BPD without presenting most overlapping symptoms — because this illness manifests itself differently in every person. Given, the above story is derived from one person’s sole experience, his perspective isn’t emblematic of the millions of people who suffer from BPD including myself.

In addition, it’s imperative to note, BPD was officially documented as a bonafide diagnosis in the psychiatric lexicon in 1980. As a result, BPD treatment options are decades behind other mental disorders. Despite such a substantial lack in research, there have been significant developments in therapies for BPD following this man’s divorce in 1988. For example, Marsha Linehan, Ph.D, developed DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) in 1991, which was recognized, as the first known therapy to demonstrate any efficacy in treating people with BPD. Thus, doctors 30 years ago, most likely didn’t know much about BPD when this man’s divorce allegedly transpired, especially without any viable treatment options available. So, it’s permissible to conclude — the outcomes of patients diagnosed with BPD in 2018 are drastically different than those in 1988. Although I’m unaware about the details in the aforementioned marital catastrophe, I concur his wife’s BPD was a factor — without any question. But, the point is, it’s legitimately asinine to paint BPD with a universal blanket statement based upon the nature of this illness, combined with circumstances that aren’t currently applicable. Such erroneous predispositions towards BPD — directly hamper how people treat those who suffer.

The fact this man has explicitly implied, I should wear a warning label because I have a serious mental illness — is realistically egregious and disparaging (more on that later). Nonetheless, I’m perturbed — that I’ve been objectified as dangerous and incompetent, due to my disabilities.

While I have sympathy for this man and I’m sorry he had such an unfortunate experience with his ex-wife, it’s not his prerogative to gauge my future potential. In response to my revelation, I’ve received a plethora of messages from ex-spouses who got divorced from a partner with BPD. Yet, none of these people have personified me by their ex’s illness. And, in contrast, I’ve also received hundreds of responses from people — who thanked me for sharing my story because I’ve imbued them with hope for a promising future — since they support a spouse or loved one with BPD. The latter sentiment indicates, with the necessary resources, many people with BPD can raise happy and healthy families, along with spouses and children who are committed to fighting for each other.

Though I’m remorseful that my illness has imposed repercussions upon myself and my loved ones; the strength of my family, friends, and mentors have been pivotal to my recovery — and I’m committed to mutually reciprocating for those who help me. Of course, it takes indomitable strength to love a person with BPD and people with BPD are very cognizant about that. Although I’m not unscathed, my undying support system has given me reasons to acknowledge my illness, accept treatment, believe in myself, improve my life, achieve my aspirations, and instill momentum in other people who suffer — without feeling ashamed of my own journey.

Nobody is above mental illness. Everyone has struggles, so I think all of us should be able to reap equally fulfilling lives in any regard. Despite my recovery status, nobody is permitted to govern my sex life, love life, work life, social life, and/or judge me in any facet. This man doesn’t know me, nor how I specifically suffer — so, he can’t know what’s best for me. Moreover, this person is also oblivious about the obstacles I’ve conquered in order to accomplish what I’ve achieved — it’s a miracle I’m still alive. And, I wouldn’t be who I am or here today — without the unconditional love that I’ve received — from the people who have given me a purpose to survive. Has my illness played a role in my life and relationships? Yes, it undoubtedly has — and it will continue to shape my future! As I’m optimistic about my recovery, my illness will never be synonymous with my identity. Nor, will my deficits rob me of my love, kindness, generosity, passion, empathy, resilience, courage, intellect, and other sensational attributes that epitomize my true colors.

Obviously, it’s inappropriate to discuss my personal problems with clients and colleagues — I’m hired to do a job and meet high standards, just like my neurotypical counterparts. Also, labels are for jars, not for people. Every person merits equal opportunities by virtue of being human, in spite of their challenges and I don’t owe people an explanation. Anyone can thrive and exceed their aspirations with the right support and encouragement. In fact, one in four people struggle with a mental illness. Henceforth, we need to understand other people’s weaknesses, so we can help those who struggle and bring out their talents, not marginalize them. We shouldn’t put others down, we should only help them climb-up. Asking people to hypothetically wear warning signs, due to their impediments, as per the above comment is abominable for a multitude of reasons. In a nutshell, bestowing such prejudice proclivities proliferates malice, partisanship, and ostracization— rather than a culture of respect, integrity, and success. Once again, categorizing people by their disabilities catalyzes the stigma, which is what we must strive to end.

Although I work in senior level positions, I don’t consider junior colleagues ‘subordinates,’ nor do I abuse my authority to setup people for failure. I’m actually enthusiastic about helping others succeed, instead of igniting disasters. At the end of the day, teamwork is about equally valuing everyone’s respective contributions and collaborating to surpass objectives — no work is above or below anyone including myself. I’m an invaluable asset because I’m determined to deliver to my colleagues, clients, and I’ll do whatever it takes to do so with a positive attitude. Thus, ultimately, I can do everything anyone else can do — my personal predicaments have no correlation to my goals, so I shouldn’t be required to restrict my aptitude. For instance, was my BPD supposed to prevent me from applying to Harvard and pursuing a prosperous career? Or should I learn how to cope with my disabilities and subsequently surpass my challenges? Well, I chose the latter and I don’t regret that!

Nobody with a mental illness, asked for their illness. Just like nobody requested to have cancer. With that said, it’s integral to spark meaningful conversations about mental health. Doing so, will give people confidence and make them feel comfortable about seeking treatment, rather than opting to deteriorate in isolation and feeling ashamed about how they suffer. I’m always willing to help and educate others, so I warmly invite this commentator and anyone else to message me if you ever want to talk.

Please click here to read my original story that this man commented on.