The first time I posted an article about my depression, it was incredibly difficult. The idea that people would read this and scrutinise me and my words. That people could deny my experience or base their opinion of me on it. The same happened when I talked about my eating disorder. They’d think I was too fat to have been struggling so heavily; they’d think I was exaggerating about my pain. Talking about my self-harm equated to rendering myself as unattractive forevermore. Talking about my deep sadness felt like labelling myself as on overprivileged brat.
It was difficult each time I uploaded an article, despite the catharsis that my words brought me and the positive comments I received. It got easier, to the point that I would upload without doubt and grow more open in my pain.
But even though it got easier to talk about my depression, anxiety and eating disorder, I still struggled to discuss the root of it all, the overarching diagnosis that played into these issues. I still struggled to talk about my personality disorder.
I’ve posted about it a few times, but each time has brought me more anxiety than anything else I’ve written. I posted a whole article about how I used to purge, and yet placing Borderline Personality Disorder in the title of my article felt like stripping myself bare.
Because whilst each person’s struggle is relative, and we all have our hurdles, I still feel ashamed of my personality disorder. It isn’t without reason. Last week, I received an email from someone telling me that I didn’t have BPD but rather Bipolar Disorder, and that I should seek professional help for it. I have attended therapy for years and was diagnosed by a licensed professional, whose opinion I trust far more than someone who goes out of their way to contact me like this.
We seem closer to acknowledging and accepting disorders such as depression and anxiety, yet we refuse to extend the same courtesy to personality disorders. My intention isn’t to create a competition or “who has it worse?” debate, but rather to say that we are not genuinely progressing if we don’t progress with all mental illnesses.
Why is it worse for me to admit that I have a personality disorder than my depression or anxiety? Why do we judge personality disorders more harshly?
You likely know more people who suffer from depression or anxiety than a personality disorder. It’s estimated that around 6.7% of the US population suffers from depression, and 18.1% of the US population suffers from anxiety. Those are insane numbers, and I honestly didn’t expect it even to be that high.
To contrast, let’s look at Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s estimated that 1.6% of adults suffer from BPD in the U.S. It’s quite a difference, and therefore you’re less likely to know someone who struggles with it. But if we look at personality disorders as a whole, they actually affect 10-13% of the universal population.
It comes down to that wretched cycle again. People don’t feel like they can admit they have a mental illness, or more specifically, personality disorder, because it’s not talked about. But it’s not talked about because people don’t admit it. We hide in silence, prolonging our pain and isolation.
In books, films, and series, you’ll see characters with eating disorders, depression and anxiety, yet personality disorders will be absent from the conversation. They’re harder to explain I suppose, or maybe they fear viewers won’t know what it is.
Perhaps I’d feel more comfortable talking about my BPD if I saw it around me more. I know how important it was to me to see BPD in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and to be able to relate to her. Despite what the name would suggest, she wasn’t a psychotic character who was dangerous to others. She was flawed and real.
Alongside the frequency of these disorders is the frequency of these terms. This is far from a good thing, and something I work to diminish around me. But people continue to drop mental illness terms into conversations for dramatic effect. I’m sure you know what I mean.
They drop their coffee and then say “OMG I wanna kill myself!”
They say that they’re “so depressed” because the jacket they wanted is out of stock.
They change their mind over where they want to eat and joke “Haha, I’m so Bipolar!”
They write extremely neat notes in colour and claim they’re “so OCD.”
I know that the intention is harmless, but we need to stop normalising the use of these terms. Because it minimises the struggle and validity of people who actually suffer from these mental illnesses, it creates a joke about out of a disorder that affects millions. Create an active habit of removing such terms from your vocabulary.
Personality disorders seem to be absent from such jokes due to the lack of knowledge around them. Most people wouldn’t know what is “so BPD” so they avoid it. This is a good thing but does contribute to the absence of personality disorders from the conversation and hint towards more.
I think the aspect of personality disorders that people really struggle with is the involvement of ‘personality’ in things. Your personality is who you are, right? It’s not a disorder; it’s your own traits. This misconception regarding personality disorders could explain the stigma and resentment towards them.
I found this explanation to be very helpful in describing personality disorders:
“Personality is the way of thinking, feeling and behaving that makes a person different from other people. An individual’s personality is influenced by experiences, environment (surroundings, life situations) and inherited characteristics. A person’s personality typically stays the same over time. A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.” - American Psychiatric Association.
I like to think of personality disorders as the barrier to being who you should be. You’ve turned coping mechanisms into the foundation of your personality, and it simply can’t last. During treatment for BPD, I had to rebuild my entire sense of self. I had to try and work out who I would be without these coping mechanisms. Am I helpful, or is it part of my fear of abandonment leading me to overcompensate? Am I ambitious, or do I push myself too hard in an attempt to be worth more? Am I sarcastic, or is my self-deprecating humour the result of years of self-harm and self-hatred?
I didn’t even know my own interests, aside from writing. I had spent years moulding myself into someone who wouldn’t be left, mirroring others around me in an attempt to be liked. It felt like dating myself, asking those questions that you would on a first date and slowly introducing yourself to the other.
People don’t always get this. Someone once told me that a “personality disorder is just an excuse for being a crappy person”. Can you really blame me for being so scared to talk about it then? I’ve spent years in pain, and someone diminishes that entire experience to being “a crappy person”. Never mind that it is in the DSM, that it’s recognised worldwide, that it’s just as real as any other mental illness. We still render it as a marker of a bad person, rather than a hurt person.
I won’t go into too much detail here, as I’m not a licensed psychologist and this isn’t my place to debate. I merely wanted to draw attention to the fact that personality disorders receive stigma within the mental health community as well. Studies show the effect of clinician’s stigma for BPD, which causes them to emotionally distance themselves and some even to refuse to treat BPD. The preconceptions can lead clinicians not to take the symptoms or fears of patients seriously or offer an alternative diagnosis to avoid personality disorders and their associated traits.
I was diagnosed at twenty-two years old. My therapist assumed I already knew, as it turned out that my previous therapist had suggested it in her notes. She had avoided diagnosing it because she hoped that she was wrong, and thought that given my age, I might grow out of it. But I was the prime age for a personality disorder diagnosis, and I had been struggling with these exact symptoms since the age of fifteen. For a moment, I let myself imagine if she had tested and diagnosed me two years earlier when I saw her. If I could’ve started to get better earlier, reclaim my life and hurt myself and others less. But there is nothing to gain in thinking that way, so instead, I feel grateful that my new therapist heard me.
This therapist was specialised in personality disorders and trauma. I asked her why she had chosen these fields, and she smiled. She said that most of her patients have been struggling for a long time, and she appreciates being the one to get them on track, to accurately diagnose them and give focused treatment. She told me that she had colleagues who wouldn’t work with personality disorders, whilst she focused her time exclusively on them.
I mentioned previously that many people are scared of personality disorders, and I think it primarily comes from misconceptions. Many people wrongly assume that a personality disorder is the same as psychopathy or sociopathy.
People also confused BPD with Dissociative Identity Disorder, believing that you have multiple personalities then. But BPD isn’t about having different identities, but rather an unstable sense of self, impulsive behaviours and more.
I think correct displays of BPD or personality disorders in media can go a long way. Great examples include Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and Silver Linings Playbook, to name a few.
At the end of the day, I know that it’s up to me to become comfortable posting about my personality disorder more. The only way to fight stigma and the lack of knowledge is to discuss BPD more, not just as traits but as lived experiences. People who meet me sometimes claim to be ‘surprised’ at my diagnosis, I don’t think that’s a compliment but rather a suggestion of how incorrectly we view mental illness. I struggle with BPD, but it isn’t my whole definition, and I am still living my life. And by sharing my experiences, I hope to show others that this is possible and prepare people for when they come into contact with someone who has a personality disorder.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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