When I first created this section of the website, this is how I introduced it:

Since being diagnosed with bpd in April 2014, I’ve had to work hard to understand what it means as an illness, and what aspects of it apply to me. I’ve had to learn (and am very much still learning) how to manage it, how to recognise disordered thinking and how to avoid getting caught up in that thinking.

Now, almost 3 years later, there is so much more I can add to that, and more importantly, so much that I want to change. Before I get into any of that though, I need to state something quite clearly. This is my own experience, my own opinion, and my own learning. Many, many people would consider that I am at best, wrong, at worst, dangerously deluded. You can decide what’s right for you.

The biggest change that has come about is that I now recognise that borderline personality disorder is not an illness, not in its own right. It’s a set of severe and sometimes crippling symptoms, symptoms which are very, very real, but, are not the result of a chemical imbalance. I spent most of my life living with those symptoms, and over the last few years, had managed to come to a position where I accepted that this ‘disorder’ was part of who I am, something that would always have to be managed and controlled.

This isn’t true. The symptoms are just that – symptoms. They indicate an underlying problem, but it’s not a chemical one. The standard checkbox for bpd includes the following:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
  • Identity disturbance, such as a significant and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self
  • Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
  • Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
  • Emotional instability due to significant reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
  • Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms

Source: Psych Central

I experienced pretty much all of these, at varying levels of intensity. I tried meds, lots of meds, in various combinations. I spent years in therapy. Both helped, to a degree. But the real change came about when I started to gain an understanding of how our brains actually work, when I began to recognise the need for compassion in our lives, and perhaps most crucially, the necessity of allowing ourselves space to think.

I’ve been told that I will need to spend the rest of my life taking medication. A year ago, I was resigned to that fact. Not any more. Over the last year I’ve had the privilage of working with two wonderful psychologists, neither of whom accepted my label or were willing to acknowledge it as an illness. Both taught me that there is another point of view, another way to deal with all this. What had become known as my personality disorder was nothing more than flawed (albeit, very!) coping mechanisms.

I’m not going to spend the rest of my life medicating my thoughts or coping mechanisms into submission. I’m looking long and hard at them, and I’m working out where they came from in the first place. Then I’m getting rid of the ones that no longer serve me. It’s been a long, long process, and I’m not finished yet.

But here’s something wonderful. I don’t have a mental illness. I have a brain, just like everyone else, one that has evolved over millions of years and is struggling to cope with many aspects of modern life. My brain was doing the best it could for me. I just needed to slow down long enough to hear what it was trying to tell me – not that I have a personality disorder, but simply that I was living my life in a way that was never going to work for me.


This article has 13 Comments

  1. Thank you for your piece in the Independent. I had not seen it originally, but it was presented in a hospital lecture about combatting the stigma of mental illness. Appropriately enough, no one knows (well, a few) I am here because of the stigma associated with BPD. Even when it comes to mental illness, I feel like I would rather have a diagnosis of anything else in the world. However, your well-written and thoughtful article gave me confidence and I hope to someday be as brave as you have been in putting your name (and face) to it.

  2. Borderline Personality Disorder is the most difficult to understand and diagnose mental illnesses. As a consequence there is little awareness of its existence in the general public. If there were greater awareness, more resources would be brought to the table to help these people. I believe the biggest problem is its name. “Borderline” means nothing in helping us understand the condition. I have proposed that we change the name to Faultfinding Personality Disorder based on the most important diagnostic criterion – chronic finding of fault with themselves and others due to their black-and-white thinking which leads to disturbed interpersonal relationships. To back this up I wrote the book “Faultfinders: The impact of borderline personality disorder.” I explained the condition using examples of numerous famous people to make the symptoms memorable. I would be interested to hear what others think about a possible name change.

    1. As a sufferer of this mental illness I would find the term “Faultfinder” truly offensive. With Borderling personality disorder the patient does not necessarily find fault with themselves and others. The way bpd has been portrayed is insulting and further serves to stigmatise the sufferer. I constantly read articles about how manipulative and unreasonable bpd sufferers are but there are also those of us who do not exhibit these traits. I personally meet the criteria through constant suicidal mood, rapid changing of mood, insomnia, poor impulse control, chronic apathy/ sense of boredom and identity disturbances. It has made my life hell and it is not something I can talk to people about because bpd has framed sufferers as attention-seeking, manipulating, unreasonable, petulant children.

      1. I completely agree. Especially as someone who has had the manipulative and attention-seeking symptoms of BPD. Many of us are not as simple as you portray in your comment, Mark. I, for one, am not a “faultfinder,” and I’m not particularly fond of trying to bring BPD into the limelight by retroactively diagnosing (which is flawed in itself) famous people, especially Hitler and Dahmer. Super offensive, definitely.

  3. my daughter has bpd and finding the right medication for her is so hard. she is currently on her 7th and this one not working for her has anyone any suggestions what we could do? she is under the HSE physiatrist but really not great.

  4. In a sense bpd is chemical as overtime if our brains are exposed to enough trauma the neurotransmitters change dramatically so many people do need meds to correct the effects of long-term stress. Our brains & our bodies are connected so personally I think bpd is a mental illness as it starts in our brains and causes many symptoms. These are very real and I dont see the problem with it been called a mental illness,it is and taking that away reduces its severity and validity. However medication cant cure bpd,only proper psychotherapy and years of support and reassurance can do that. As for calling it a faultfinder disorder-well I just dont get that concept at all. Very little compassion in that outlook & we need lots and lots of it.

  5. This is an amazing read, Fiona, and has inspired me beyond all belief! I have just been diagnosed with BPD and Anorexia Binge Purge, neither of which I take medication for, and I never will! I was fortunate enough to start off in therapy out of choice, it wasn’t imposed on me, and my psychotherapist has help set the foundations for my spiritual journey, which looks at mindfulness, not madness! Therefore, although I am now also seeing an ED specialist, where medication would be their approach, having psychotherapy first has allowed me to explore more natural remedies, which has empowered me! I have had very brief spells on meds before, which I never got on with, and now I feel as though, despite the chaos still going on, I have come so far without it that I will be able to conquer this without the use of it. In essence, I have been feeling the full throttle of my feelings without having them ‘diluted’ and ‘masked’ by meds, and it has been an enormous struggle, but I am not prepared to undo the wisdom I have acquired through these struggles by taking medication at this stage. I feel I have come too far and resigning myself to medication would actually be more destructive then constructive, as I need to feel what I feel in order to understand it and manage it better. I hope this makes some sense! Take care and keep up the amazing work! xxx Thanks for sharing your inner thoughts with us xxxx

  6. It’s funny because I checked my cause of BPD in my individual case against the biosocial theory found in Marsha’s book today and came to the exact same conclusion! I long before thought BPD is more of a spectrum disorder and I have another theory on BPD which I have yet to discuss with my psychologist as it may also be an unpopular opinion so don’t want to put it out there just yet. But having said, It made me realise the most BPD is is a set of learnt behaviours which were coping strategies. It was just my brain’s way of helping me deal with emotional pain and triggers. This to me, also explains why DBT works. Since you’re learning new ways of dealing with pain and triggers you remove the behavioural criteria of BPD and hence you come into a new way of living and are seen as ‘recovered’. I felt the same after this realisation, that I had a brain not a personality disorder, that was just doing the best it could in the environment I was raised in. So glad to have read this post.

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