How sharing my journey of BPD recovery changed my life.
It’s always a pleasure to see the inconspicuous green dot next to the Medium bell signalling another notification. Whether it’s a single clap or almighty applause, a highlighter across a few words, a comment or question, it means my words have travelled across the digital ether and found you.
Since 2015, I’ve been writing about Borderline Personality Disorder, trying to share my knowledge so you, my readers, still struggling, will find the skills you need to be your own healer.
Thank you for being on this journey with me; the lived experience of crisis and recovery, and how having once been hell, I got out and created a life worth living. Flicking through my writerly stats, I see a few thousand followers, a few thousand shares; not much in comparison to some writerly maestros but it’s enough.
Somehow I’ve managed to carve a niche in this area of speaking about BPD; but it’s only because you’ve been interested in what I’ve had to say. I’ve received messages from across the world, and whether it’s praise or criticism, it’s all contributed to this global discussion of ideas. I never thought my writing would have this kind of impact, and, if I’ve helped one person then it’s all worth it.
Writing on Medium, telling my story led me from a place of total exclusion and disempowerment to resilience and belonging. Not because, I found the words, but because words found you.
When I published my first article 5 years ago, BPD: Why We Need to Start Talking I wasn’t expecting much. In fact when you’ve suffered a mental health problem like BPD; it’s ingrained into you that your voice doesn’t count. It’s not just your own adverse experiences (remember 80% of those with BPD have experienced chronic childhood trauma) it’s that society lends a platform to those who are already ahead in the so-called game of life. How do you reach those trapped in hell? Those who still remain voiceless, unheard and unrecognised — they are the people I’m trying to reach.
Because BPD, despite what I see on social media, is not a glamorous illness. It is an illness which tears apart families, and destroys lives. 10% of those with the condition commit suicide. Therefore it’s important for those who know the true story of recovery to speak out. Recovery is possible.
Multiple studies conclude that recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, as defined as remission of symptoms, at least one important relationship and a steady job, occurs in up to 90% of those diagnosed.
It may take time but you will get there. When you do, you may still carry a deep sadness for the past, but the future belongs to you. Back in 2015, with that first article, I did not want to offer weary platitudes of self-improvement. Instead I felt obligated to relay the facts so you can make sense of them yourself. What then is this illness called Borderline Personality Disorder?
Have you ever felt burntout by suffering? A slave to your emotions? Feeling which rip through you with such alacrity that you lose control? Black-and-white thinking which splits your heart, and world with it, leaving no room for love and relationships? Emptiness and grief so profound, drink, drugs, and self-harm become the only means to cope? Chances are if you are reading this then you have.
And that’s BPD in a nutshell: Emotional, behavioural, and cognitive Instability, interpersonal chaos, incoherent self-image, and chronic suicidality. How can you get better from all that? And what caused you to get it in the first place?
When I became unwell, I was in the dark. Symptoms emerged at the dawn of adolescence: Age twelve, out of control, in and out of hospital. Even when I got the diagnosis nine years later, it took another six years to get treatment. I was ignorant of the condition. All I had was a label and a list of symptoms; and at first I was thankful — thankful, that at last, when the psychiatrist said I have BPD, I knew at least there was a name for this monstrous suffering — now I’m older I feel angry. Justifiably so, because only now do I see the danger of the diagnosis.
BPD is a pejorative label. Concocted in the early 20th century, within the padlocked cells of old asylums. We are according to tradition, on the ‘border line’ between sanity and insanity. What’s more, because it’s our personality which is damaged, and according to consensus the personality is unchanging we are in fact untreatable. This is empirically false, but still held to be true by many a clinician. Everyday I live to challenge this pernicious belief.
At the point of rock-bottom, jobless, suicidal, estranged from family and friends, i decided to confront the disease head on and start writing. That was around 2011, and at this point I was determined to understand myself – why am I like this? It might not cure me; but by naming the demon I could at least manage it.
Hence began a thorough self-education. I studied, the symptoms, cause and prognosis, the history, science and psychology. What did I learn? That BPD is a poor label for what is most likely post-traumatic personality disorganisation. It arises when a sensitive individual is placed in an invalidating environment. A serious mental health illness, but one which people can manage and get better from.
Soon I began cobbling together words, as if they were a heap of cinders from which I could spark myself a new existence. However, it wasn’t the words, but the readers who did that. That’s the beauty of sites like Medium – by connecting with others, we are validated even when we feel valueless. We reaffirm our humanity even if we feel alone. That is what you’ve all given me.
As I examine my own life a greater lesson has also emerged: That sometimes BPD can become part of our identity – Have you ever considered the reason you have this condition is not just down to the fraught relationship you had with your parents, siblings, spouses or partners; that it isn’t even down to biological sensitivity? Perhaps the real cause is the mistreatment received from medical professionals who’ve propagated the idea that you are damaged.
My own experience, suggests a kind of clinical gaslighting is taking place on a global scale — because what is the invalidating environment, other than a set of individuals persistently and invasively denying the validity of your thoughts, feelings and beliefs. How do they do this? By negating them, ignoring them, dismissing them, or punishing them. What does it do to the heart when the invalidation comes from those in positions of authority? The psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, and healthcare professionals, who interpret everything through the lens of mental illness? If we allow ourselves to be defined by others what’s left of our humanity.
BPD emerges, when signs of distress are renamed symptoms of mental illness, and when ordinary emotions are labelled pathological defects of character. These are the other ‘stories’, we hear about ourselves — we don’t have to believe them.
My message to you, is to not let anyone take away your true-self. It’s imperative that you learn to trust your own emotions; no matter how unskillful they may be, they are legitimate expressions of how you are feeling. Don’t ignore them, or look to others for explanation. You are more than your symptoms, more than a diagnosis, you are more than all the stories being told about you by other people. You are the author of your own story.
All my articles are written in the hope that one day you will understand yourself, appreciate your own value, and find the skills you need to be your own healer. Use the diagnosis, to learn what you can, and when you’ve learnt enough, throw it away.
Through Medium I have found a global community of fellow travellers — we’re all on a journey to build a life worth living. Some of us have got farther than others. It’s our job to signpost those still struggling, toward recovery. Not through false stories of unremitting peace and happiness, but through hard won truths of lived-experience. That there is no peace in life, except the peace which is one each day anew.
I am not the hero of my story. You are the hero of my story. I’ve carried a torch only to pass it on to you, so you too can escape the fog and darkness.
So thank you once again for all your messages, I cherish all of them. I promise to keep writing, and I hope all of you, find the means to create a life worth living.
If you have a story of recovery please consider submitting to my recovery magazine revivals
Also visit www.rightresilience.com to find out skills you need for this journey
All the best