Disorders and Treatment
- Mental Illness
- Bipolar Disorder
- Mood Disorders
- Borderline Personality
- Mental Health Diagnosis
- Mental Health Treatments
- Alternative Meds
- Case Studies
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health diagnosis marked by mood and behavior instability. Individuals with BPD have difficulty regulating thoughts and emotions, often act impulsively, and usually have unstable relationships.
I recently interviewed Michelle, who struggled for years with the symptoms of BPD before being assessed and given the diagnosis.
Michelle, now in her mid-50s, has a master’s degree and was employed as a manager in a large corporation for many years. She currently trains support group leaders for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
J Marshall: Michelle, what is your definition of borderline personality disorder?
Michelle: For me, borderline personality disorder involved severe mood swings. I could be high as a kite one minute and seriously depressed the next. I didn’t understand why my moods changed so drastically either. And, these mood swings made relationships—personal, work and any other kind—extremely difficult! I even quit my job when I was going through mood swings at work one day and had to honor my resignation.
I also had serious issues with self-esteem and knowing who I really was—who Michelle was. In addition, as with many people I knew with this diagnosis, I was a cutter. The self-harming behavior was a way to try and feel some of the pain and release it.
JM: How did you feel about having the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder?
Michelle: I did not take kindly to the borderline diagnosis for many reasons. First, I knew enough to know that it was considered a difficult diagnosis to work with, so they were saying I was difficult. I didn’t like that. Second, some of the professionals who I was working with actually had a negative opinion of people who had BPD and actually expressed it by calling people in a [therapy] group, “You borderlines,” rather than referring to us as people. That made me feel stigmatized.
Lastly, this diagnosis is considered by many to be a death sentence. Once you have it, there is no getting better, no progress. You are “borderline!” You will always be a problem child in the eyes of the professionals and can’t get better. When professionals don’t believe the person can get better, it’s hard for the client to want to get better.
JM: When you had the diagnosis, what was your perception of those who said they were trying to help you?
Michelle: I actually believed that some people wanted to help me, but others didn’t. As I mentioned, there was a professional who referred to those of us in his therapy group as “You borderlines.” He was extremely confrontational, which may have worked when he was working with addictive individuals, but I was not an addict. Borderline personality disorder is not an addiction and I believe he was not helpful.
However, two other therapists gave their all to help me get better. One of them I fought against continually and although I may not have believed it all the time, she really did want me to get better. The other one validated all my experiences and I felt heard. She allowed me to continue to work with her and the other therapist by gaining my trust.
JM: Since you no longer have the BPD diagnosis, something(s) changed for you. What changed and what do you think triggered the change or changes?
Michelle: I think the hard work both therapists put in with me, as well as my own will to get better, paid off. They helped me realize that I could control my moods with medication, and with techniques that I was learning such as progressive muscle relaxation. I was learning that I could be heard without having to fight—[fighting is] something I had learned in my childhood. I learned that I was a worthwhile person and that there was value in Michelle.
JM: Michelle, when we discussed doing the interview you mentioned that you now have a different or new personality. How is it different?
Michelle: I’m much calmer now. I no longer have to yell to be heard. I no longer have to cut to feel. I can work with people instead of expecting them to do what I want. My moods don’t swing like they used to. To be sure, I still have my moments now and then. I think everyone does. But, I am able to handle them and not completely lose it. And, if I have a “borderline” moment it doesn’t end with me cutting because it happened.
JM: What is your perception today of the BPD diagnosis, and is there anything you would like to say to individuals who are struggling with BPD symptoms?
Michelle: I think the BPD diagnosis is challenging, but it can be overcome. I’m living proof that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
If you are struggling with BPD symptoms now, realize that it won’t be forever. Work with your therapist or doctor and understand you are okay. You are a good person who has an illness. And while that illness can be frightening at times, you can beat it! I believe in you!
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