I write a lot about my Borderline Personality Disorder online. There was a time, not too long ago, when I wouldn’t dare to start an article by admitting that I have this mental illness. There was a time when many of my friends didn’t even know about it. I was ashamed, and it wasn’t hard to be, as I kept finding articles telling me how terrible I must be if I have BPD.
But despite the stigma, I write openly about my mental illness because I want people to understand this disorder. I don’t want mental illness to be a shameful subject, as that shame only fuels the symptoms and makes us feel alone. I want to tell you I have BPD as casually as I’d tell you I’m a Scorpio - as honestly, which is worse?!
I try to speak openly about my BPD, and some people don’t like that. Several times, I’ve had comments about how it’s “just a label”. Some of the people who say this mean it negatively by saying that it’s an excuse for my crappy behaviour or diminishing the existence of it. Others don’t mean to offend me by saying this; they just think we shouldn’t get into labels, and they mean well enough.
Even if they mean well by calling BPD or any mental illness “just a label”, the damage of such a comment lingers. They mean well, but they’re wrong, and I get to say this because my life has been drastically affected by my mental illness. I have lost years of my life to it. I have a body of scars because of it. I have lost countless friends and relationships to it. This “label” is my life.
Our clothes usually come with labels. Those itchy tags that we either grumble about or finally cut off. What is the purpose of these labels? Well, they tell us what material the clothing is made of, they advise us on how to wash it and whether to put it in the dryer. They tell us the history of the item, such as where it was made and by what company. It’s like a guidebook to the t-shirt, summed down into a few words and images.
I believe that mental illness labels work the same way. They act as a guide to the person. I don’t want people to know I have BPD because I’m bragging - trust me, this isn’t how I’d choose to brag about myself. I want people around me to know I have BPD because it will help them to understand me. It tells them that I am someone who fears abandonment more than anything else. It tells them about my past, that I’ve had a traumatic upbringing and an insecure attachment. It informs them of how they can deal with me and what to expect from me.
This isn’t to say that my label will be an excuse for any terrible behaviour. If I behave badly then I should be called out for it. Instead, it will explain why I am doing this, and it will show you how to call me out for it. My label is a translator for my mind.
My ex once told me that learning about BPD helped them understand me far better. It made them realise that even when things aren’t rational, that doesn’t stop me from feeling this way. They finally understood that telling me something was ‘crazy’ wouldn’t make it go away for me. Instead, they could consider what would help me.
My label is like a quick introduction to who I am and what I struggle with. When people understand my label, they come closer to understanding me.
When studying psychology, we were taught that there are a lot of pros and cons to labelling mental illnesses. For example, some individuals will try to further adapt to their diagnosis, to make themselves seem more ill to fit it. They don’t intend to do this; it works as a self-fulfilling prophecy, as they assume the role they’re given. Also, some believe it alienates individuals and leaves them at the mercy of society's stigma. It also might make someone feel like they can’t get better, as they have an official disorder.
If a psychologist is choosing not to diagnose, then they’re doing this with the best of intentions. And it goes without saying that you should be diagnosed by a trained professional - Dr Google does not count.
When I was diagnosed with BPD, I already thought I might have it, as I learned about it and felt like it was so applicable. I had been to many therapists by this point with little success. I suggested it to my latest therapist, and they agreed to have a specialist test me for it, which involved two hours of questions. I did have BPD, but a professional needed to make this determination, as we’re too biased to diagnose ourselves accurately. I cannot recommend seeking professional help enough and making sure you find the right therapist for you.
Personally, my diagnosis helped me a lot. It helped me to understand just how much of my behaviour stemmed from my disorder, as I had just assumed I was a terrible human being. It helped me feel less alone, as I discovered other people had these thoughts and did the same things. It allowed my therapist to help me and craft a personalised treatment plan. It helped my friends and family to understand how to support me. Learning that I had a personality disorder was terrifying, as I knew only bad things about these. But it was also the first time that I felt hope that I could get better.
I needed my label as my personality disorder was controlling my entire life and, well, personality. Other people might prefer not to have a label as they feel it minimises them to just their disorder, and that’s valid too.
When it comes to a label, it should be the individual’s choice. I want people to know I have BPD as I don’t want to feel ashamed of it, and I want people to understand the struggles I face every single day. But if someone wants to keep their diagnosis private or chooses to avoid an official diagnosis, that is their right and should be respected. But it’s their choice.
I wear a lot of labels, some of them are more important than others, but I choose to wear these as they explain who I am. Anyone who isn’t comfortable with one of my labels should realise it sooner rather than later so they don’t waste my time.
So I don’t need strangers on the internet to tell me that BPD is “just a label” because it’s not; it’s my life. It’s why my mood fluctuates hourly. It’s why I feel everything ten times as much as other people do. It’s why I am constantly terrified that the people I love are leaving me. It’s the worst of me, but also the good in me.
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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