I often get asked, “how did you accept that you have BPD?”.
There is no simple answer to this as everyone’s life history and values are different. However, through reflecting there are some things that I know that has helped me accept that I have this chronic illness.
When my doctor first suggested the term out depression I freaked. I thought no, he is wrong there is something physically wrong with me. I made my case to him that despite my Depression and Anxiety scores and self-hatred, I had some sort of neurological condition, chronic fatigue or perhaps a brain tumour. Persistent that he was wrong I went to the naturopath seeking vitamins to help with my fatigue… $700 later I was hopeful that I had found the cure to these confusing symptoms. This arguing with my doctor (whom I respect and love) continued for a year, after which I agreed to a diagnosis of depression and anxiety and agreed to see a psychologist. A year later to my horror I was diagnosed with BPD.
BPD? WTF. You mean those people who I had grown up thinking were manipulative and selfish, attention seekers that self-harm. That was me? I didn’t take to the label well… Despite self-harming from a young age I had no awareness that I fitted each category of the diagnosis so well.
So what changed?
1. I had a psychiatrist that took a year to diagnose me. Instead of slamming the diagnosis on me. He spent months helping me discuss around the topic of BPD, without discussing BPD. Thinking back, he was very clever. We discussed how each week I came into see him I was wanting to end my life. He then slowly introduced the idea that I might have traits of the disorder and we spent months talking about how those traits didn’t mean I was any different rather I was still the same person just with amplified black and white thinking.
2. He asked for a second opinion. Knowing that if he diagnosed me I would probably end my treatment with him, he had someone come do a “background check on my history”. This person was young and funny and I easily related to him. Three hours later he had my full narrative, my trauma and self-harm history and he diagnosed me.
3. I left my psychologist. I had a very traditional psychologist. Before when I mentioned to her that I had BPD traits her response was “no I don’t see that in you”. This was extremely frustrating. After being diagnosed, I got the courage to say “Now I have this diagnosis what are our treatment goals and what are we going to do differently?”. Unsatisfied with her response and the power imbalance my husband saw, I decided to end our treatment and seek another psychologist with the help of my psychiatrist with a more contemporary client-centred nature. BEST DECISION.
4. I examined my values. In groups, I was handed a sheet of values which I had to narrow down to five. I got down to 9! The core one’s being Compassionate, Justice seeker, Knowledge seeker, Empathetic and Creative. This group leader made me realise that despite my diagnosis these values, the core of who I am didn’t change because I was given a diagnosis. In fact, having BPD made these values so much stronger and clearer. I realised if I could harness my intensity, my anger and pain into these values I could change my thinking and the world around me. So then…
5. I changed my environment. This meant anyone who disagreed that I was unwell, I evaluated their friendship and influence on my life. Every day I hated myself. Therefore, I could not allow myself to spend time with people who could not accept my admissions to hospital, my weekly treatment and medication. I couldn’t let myself be so easily persuaded by their thinking so I had to change my social environment.
6. My new environment. I shared my diagnosis with my core prayer group. It was the most uplifting experience to have people listen and say we love you regardless. I text this group regularly for support and I share my self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Never have I felt judged or unworthy. This group has inspired me to share my experience so they too could help others with mental health conditions.
7. New hospital friends. When I went to hospital I didn’t want to make friends. But I met someone so incredible he changed my thinking. Each week I would go for coffee with my friend. He made me laugh about BPD and then provide the honest and sometimes hard truth about mental health. He is my wise mind and Gandalf. Peer support is incredible it can teach you and tell you the truth with love when clinicians can’t.
8. I created a group. MY ‘grow group’. This group consists of evidence that I do have people that accept my diagnosis. So on days I’m struggling I know I have a group of people cheering me on.
9. Knowledge seeker. I started thinking that I was a researcher wanting to know everything I could about BPD. I hired books, joined The Mighty and started questioning my new psychologist and existing psychiatrist for the theories behind best practice for BPD. I felt more in control and learning from them was inspiring. I felt like an equal rather than a patient.
10. Borderline music. Huge in my acceptance has been music and the emotions it helps me connect with. Words that I feel that I cannot express. The song by Tove Styrke “Borderline” was incredible for me. I listened to it on replay for days after my diagnosis. My love for Aussie hip-hop also broke down physical barriers. To hear, read and speak lyrics about pain, injustice and overcoming, made me realise I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling. Bliss n Eso, 360 (who has Bi-Polar songs about death, illness and rejection), K. Flay (reference to addiction) and Hilltop Hoods (depression) were so therapeutic instead of always listening to happy music that didn’t reflect how I felt.
11. Lastly when I hate everything to do with Borderline and who I am. I try to think about how this diagnosis has changed my life and trajectory in a healthy way. How I have unlocked creativity in both my logical and emotion mind. How my passion for justice and love underpins my decisions. How my intense anger fuels my intensity for seeing changes in the way people with BPD and mental illness are treated. How my honesty and hatred for injustice means that I will fight for those who cannot. And how my deep emotional pain means I can connect with others. I think about how the people in this life who have made the most impact have come from places of trauma, illness or adversity.
These are the things we should be sharing and encouraging people to accept when we explore a BPD diagnosis with our clients.