Living With Borderline Personality Disorder
Lets get some more recognition for "rarer" types of mental illness.
Earlier this year after a life long struggle with mental health problems, especially regarding perceptions of myself and others, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.
Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental health condition that rarely receives enough attention in the media, leading to a lot of misconceptions of what it consists of. In the same way that anorexia is the stereotype of eating disorders, depression and anxiety are often the only ways mental illness is presented in the media. Whilst these illnesses are devastating and have huge impacts on sufferers and their families, their overrepresentation leads to conditions like Borderline Personality Disorder going undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, as mine was for many years. I also suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, another hugely misunderstood condition, so accurate representations of mental health are of paramount importance to me personally, as they are for so many people suffering from something less well known and not sure who to turn to.
Borderline Personality Disorder is not always high-functioning in the traditional sense. I am privileged enough to have a degree from a prestigious university and have had a good job for the past year. The classic perception of mental illness as something repressed and concealed inside does not apply to BPD, a condition literally defined by an inability to express and control emotions in a healthy way. This sometimes means that my thoughts and actions are very impulsive, and very loud, a complete contrast to the stoic, romanticised view of the mentally ill as suffering on the inside (which by the way, is also an extremely damaging stereotype for people unable to speak out). In the case of BPD, it means that my behaviour is often dismissed as attention seeking or not real. If I was really sick, I wouldn’t look sick. Depressed people "always put a brave face on." This is a problem that also applies to conditions like Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia and leads to a sort of hierarchy of mental illness. High functioning conditions sit at the top whilst the real, ugly truth of mental illness, those conditions which show it in its rawest and most unfiltered form, are looked down at the bottom. Don’t believe me? Just remember what happened with Amanda Bynes, or Britney Spears ‘2007 meltdown’ that was seen as a bit of a joke.
My condition is defined by regular mood swings, that mean I can be in tears one day, unable to move out of bed, and bubbly and eccentric the next. This is what many people usually describe as ‘bipolar’, but the two are very separate conditions, another result of misrepresentation of mental illness in the media. BPD is usually quicker and more reactionary, whereas bipolar mood swings are more ‘random’ and last for months, even years at a time. BPD also involves a fragile self-image and sense of identity, meaning that I can utterly despise myself at times, thinking that I’m a terrible person, and other times not even know who I am or what I want to be. It is this constant, shifting paradigm of unstable self-identity that causes me to lose friends, jobs, and even my accent. It puts a strain on my relationship as I am terrified of being abandoned over the slightest argument, and means that this year I lost whole weeks of work as I was terrified to go outside or be judged for coming in on a day when I couldn’t face talking to anyone, for no real reason. For me it has also included self-harm, suicidal thoughts, trichotillomania (something which also caused problems at one job in particular), and reckless behaviour. Fortunately, I am very lucky that I have never had an eating disorder, but this is another common occurrence that comes with BPD for many people.
I am starting therapy soon after being on a waiting list for a number of months, but there are so many people still undiagnosed with conditions like this and not receiving the help that they need. It took me months and months of seeing various psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, crisis teams and admittedly a little bit of Google before I was finally diagnosed correctly. And even now I still worry that one day a psychiatrist will turn around and tell me I have something entirely different. I was given the wrong medications, told so much contradictory advice and suffered through so much waiting around whilst having nobody to turn to.
I am writing this because today is World Mental Health Day, though its important to keep mental illness in mind everyday. If you feel like you have the symptoms of something like this, but have perhaps been passed off as feeling a little stressed due to ‘pressures in your life’, don’t wait around and talk to somebody about it. And finally, the NHS is underfunded, understaffed and being privatised at an alarming rate. Please, if you live in the UK like me, do whatever you can and use your vote if you have one. Stop this happening, and let people from all backgrounds access the care they so vitally need.