I’m going to tell you a little secret, something I rarely share with anyone: I have Borderline Personality Disorder. I didn’t even know that was a thing until my third year of university, when I sat in the back of an Abnormal Psychology lecture with a feeling of my blood running cold. The lecturer was describing me to a T, and I was horrified.
At the time, I doubt anyone in that lecture hall would’ve recognized that disorder in me. In fact I’m fairly confident most people in my life wouldn’t have either. I was attending university and working part time, living in a flat with my best friend and had a long term boyfriend. I seemed ‘normal’. However just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Behind the scenes I was struggling. My mood swings were absolutely unreal; one minute I’d be happy as larry and the next I was absolutely consumed by a burning rage that meant I couldn’t think straight. I’d be in hysterical tears one second and then the next I’m acting selfishly and doing stupid risky things because I just don’t care. I felt empty inside. I was terrified my boyfriend was going to leave me, and I’d do anything at all to prevent it. I’d obsess over social interactions from years ago and still intensely feel the emotions I’d felt back then. I was being destructive and damaging to myself, and to my closest relationships.
Sitting in that lecture hall with the long sleeves I did (and still do) always wear hiding my self-harm scars, I was overwhelmed with conflicting emotions: other people felt like this? Am I just some sort of case study or statistic now? Does this mean I’m not a bad person after all?
For months I’d felt like a genuinely terrible person. I had no idea why I was always in a rage about absolutely nothing, why I could love a person one minute and feel like I hated them the next. When I’m at my worst I can be horrible – I am so angry that I’ll do or say anything to make myself feel better, completely disregarding other people’s feelings. Back then I just thought I was a nasty, vicious, unlovable person.
On the way home from that lecture I booked an appointment with my excellent doctor who’d already been helping me with my depression. I was so, so lucky to have a GP who had an interest in Mental Health. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to try to get help from someone who is completely uninterested or dismissive. Luckily, my doctor listened to me and what I had to say, and she eventually diagnosed me with BPD.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but having a name for what I was going through did help a lot. I don’t think that mental illness is an excuse for acting like a bad person, but at least now I understood it wasn’t like I was intentionally doing things to hurt people. I still felt like I didn’t know enough about it though, and I did a lot of research in the first few weeks. Reading about and relating to other people’s experiences confirmed to me that I wasn’t alone, that this wasn’t my fault but also that there was hope.
Since then, I’ve come across a lot of ignorance (in both senses of the word!) about BPD. People have either never heard about it, or they think that sufferers are twisted ‘psychos’ who will manipulate and abuse them. There are so many negative portrayals of what the disorder is like, which is why I don’t tell anyone – or didn’t up until now. It felt like it really changed how people felt about me, like I could actually see them stepping back from me. I get it, I know that not everyone wants to deal with my baggage and that is totally up to them, but I can’t say that didn’t hurt. But when I really think about it I know it just comes down to a lack of education and I can’t blame them for that – I mean I didn’t even know about it despite having it!
And that’s why I shared this little secret with you today, because there’s no reason it should be a secret at all. I’m not going to feel ashamed about something I can’t control, and I want anyone else who’s having a hard time to know they aren’t alone. I am more than my illness, and I finally am sure that I’m not a bad person.