I‘ve been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and it feels strange to be the person who has that diagnosis. I’m not sure what my best course of action is?
That’s wonderful! You see? You didn’t even need me. You knew just what to do: feel weird. How else would a reasonable person feel if someone told them they had a difficult-to-treat disorder that has high rates of co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety, addictions, eating disorders, self-harm and suicide?
You’ve been defined as having problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive reckless behaviour, and unstable relationships with other people. Not only does it sound terrible, it must be common too, because in very many ways it sounds like most human beings. Of course, we know if it’s a ‘real’ issue because it’ll be disrupting your life in ways that are meaningful.
What ‘your life’ looks like emerges from who you are. But there is no proper ‘way’ to be human. Each individual expresses their own personal version of being a human based on their life experiences and some details relating to their physiology. Every a healthy person can look sick to someone else with a much different healthy perspective.
Some people talk more, some will hardly ever talk. Some will be strong and some will be weak. Some will be smart and some will be dull. And some will have very little passion and drive and therefore less anger or frustration. And some are profoundly passionate, and they are also often equally explosive.
Everyone fits into a range of behaviour and other than following the laws of the land, there is no wrong place to be within that range, and even then —it’s just a range. There’s a lot of ways to be a legitimate individual. And given the fluid nature of thought, the ‘who am I’ question is more accurately stated as: what state of mind are we currently expressing?
Can our expressions get so bad that the rest of us choose to medicate others, or bar them from contact with others? Yes. But in most cases there’s not something horribly and irreparably wrong. It just means fellow society members are signalling someone to take a close look at how they interact with others.
There may be room for improvement for sure. At their best these definitions can act as symbolic starting points for us to really take a greater awareness of our own psychology far more seriously.
At the same time, we have to also remember that sometimes it’s true that someone just catches someone else during a bad moment. Get a person whose chemistry is off because they haven’t eaten or slept properly; and then give them a situation that overloads their already-stressed neurology, and we can easily get an explosive reaction.
Far from an illness, that’s natural given those circumstances. We can all get snippy if we’re tired. But for most of us on most days, it’s pretty rare that we lose our tempers in any significant way. And the worst examples will almost always have a connection to a lack of food and sleep. If we have more than that, we have to act to protect others.
If the others are not in any real danger, then the one upside to non-criminal ‘unreasonable’ displays of anger is that those that display them also seem to carry a matching ability to quickly dissipate their pent-up frustration. They can often recover much more quickly and with far less resentment than people with longer fuses and more tolerant tempers.
Those differences in the ranges of responses illustrate that, even in calm or more volatile situations, part of living well means ensuring that those closest to us know how to live with us. And if we care, we should be equally concerned with learning productive ways to accommodate their needs when they are struggling, as well.
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for being human. Stress a rope too much and some fibres will snap. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the rope, it just means that sometimes it’s possible for life to tie-on more weight than any given rope can handle. That hairy fuzz of broken fibres that you see on the outside of every old rope is actually called ‘wisdom and experience.’
I don’t know you so I don’t know how extreme your behaviour gets. But essentially anyone can gain more control over their emotional state, whether that’s a small amount of control or close to total control. And that doesn’t necessarily have to come from medications, although it’s good to stay open to the idea that they might form part of a good answer for you.
It’s also very important for you to remember two things: disorders are inherently connected to ego. Someone got famous for suggesting the disorder existed, and some company is making profits off selling the solution. Your disorder didn’t even exist until the 80’s I believe. This is a very ephemeral notion, so don’t get fenced in by it.
Some of previous disorders have been proven false. Multiple Personality Disorder was a co-creation of a mentally unhealthy patient and a mentally unhealthy doctor who worked together in a way that allowed both of them to be famous and meet certain unhealthy psychological needs of their own.
Because other doctors then wrote about it and diagnosed it, that attached their egos to its existence. Despite the exposed fraud, it’s psychologically logical that many doctors were and are still motivated to experience Confirmation bias, and refuse the new and very compelling evidence that the disorder was never ‘real.’
This can happen because, in general, ‘disorders’ aren’t really physically identifiable diseases. Unlike cancer, which has certain scientific states which ensure the diagnosis fits, these are more like Olympic figure skating scores –they are a subjective views of some other person. It means one doctor might give that definition out while another may not.
It’s not like we can do some scan and go, ‘oh hey, there’s Dave’s Borderline Personality Tumour,’ or ‘there’s Sarah’s Post Partum Depression Gland.’ For sure there are serious medical cases. But many people have been told that they were ‘suffering from Depression,’ or that they have other negative mental issues, yet through working with them we learned they were simply people who had not been taught to manage their consciousness.
All of this is to say that the definitions we get are not what really matters. All that matters is that we find effective ways to live a rewarding and productive life alongside other human beings. And you won’t know whether you can do that until you try doing it consciously.
I can assure you I’ve worked with all kinds of people who’ve had all kinds of diagnoses that they no longer feel are appropriate to them, yet they really were at one time. So I full appreciate why we’re all inclined to believe ‘the experts.’ More often than not they will be correct. But Mental Health is still got a lot of frontiers in it. And this is one of them.
Do not feel penned-in by other people’s word-based definitions of you. Definitions don’t stop you from doing anything any more than your name does. If you’re having unloving behaviours punctuating your life too often, then work on becoming more mindful because you want more loving relations, not to rid yourself of a label.
Once you’ve mastered the act of observing yourself, then you can start looking to see if you actually require some kind of external chemical influences. But in my experience that represents remarkably few cases, provided the person can comprehend what it is I’m imparting here.
There are many reasons to be optimistic about your life. So do what you can in regards to developing more awareness over your self control. The fact that this comes up is a clear indication that this is an area of development that requires your immediate and very earnest attention.
By becoming more mindful of the control you have over your behaviour it becomes easy for you to avoid those responses that others are judging and defining as being unacceptable to them. Just don’t forget, it’s possible to still be healthy and yet do things others don’t agree with. It’s a fine balance every human being must keep.
Overall, pay less attention to words and more attention to how you feel on a moment by moment basis. Because your life is not pre-defined. It is lived one moment at a time and in each of those moments you have choices. The only relevant question regarding your health is, will you stay conscious of your choices or will you simply choose what you historically have chosen?
When people describe us by saying we are like this or that, what they really mean is —those are the results of the sorts of choices we tend to make repeatedly in life. So it’s worth it for us to know what our own descriptions would be and why. Because often times, just seeing them at their source makes them easier to spot, and easier to act on.
Don’t be afraid to take a good look at yourself. We all have a tremendous amount of mental health and resilience within us. But it is remarkable how often people never think to plug themselves into it.
So choose how you use your mind consciously, and then wait to see what you learn about yourself. If you learn you need the help of some medications, then that’s fine. But if you learn that you can accomplish all you need to with pure intention and action, then that’s great too. All that really matters is that you and others around you are enjoying life.
Thanks for the question. 😉
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.