July marks two years since I first decided to go through the rigmarole of seeking help for my plummeting mental health. It has also been two years since I was first diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, by a clinical psychologist. It’s a severe form of mental illness falling on the borderline of both neurosis and psychosis, thus the term borderline.
As someone with borderline personality disorder, I tend to feel things very deeply and often have extreme reactions to things that may not necessarily warrant it. Having frantic bouts of anger, self-image crises, and poor self-esteem is a personality default. I admit I have made the classic mistake of pathologising my actions and behaviours for too long. But to be frank, I also had no anchor to guide me except for my therapist at the time who I hadn’t come to fully trust.
While bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have found respectable recognition in mainstream pop culture, I am upset that BPD is still not widely spoken about. I am even more frustrated that in some cases it is not even considered a serious mental health condition.
Although it manifests differently for different people, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are nine symptoms of BPD. And a diagnosis can only be made when at least five of these symptoms are present. Some of these include fear of abandonment, unstable self-image, rapid mood swings, dissociative thoughts, and chronic feelings of emptiness.
Growing up I never believed myself to be moody. I was raised with a lot of discipline and following a routine had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. While over the years I had become adept in all things that required me to look and appear fully functional, there were days when I felt inexplicably empty, almost as if someone had scooped out a piece of my chest. For the longest time, I had also struggled with self-image and failed to identify with things that filled me with a sense of belongingness.
Then came the adolescence and early years of teenage turbulence. I remember being extraordinarily angry with the world for reasons I could little understand. Some would call it quintessential teenage angst. I was also beginning to develop ambivalent feelings towards people close to me. On one hand, I wanted to talk to my best friend about this guy I had a crush on and on the other I was deeply repulsed by her existence. My feelings began to confuse me. My brain would scream – “FRAUD, FRAUD, FRAUD!” And I became more and more unsure of who I really was.
It was when I joined a university that these feelings began to exacerbate. The slightest of inconveniences overwhelmed me and filled me with a sense of dread. When in situations of intense stress, I’d feel disoriented and almost suspicious of reality. I developed serious trust issues. In others as well as myself.
I did not trust myself for a long time. During fights with friends and romantic interests, the fear of abandonment would bury me six feet under. I spent hours and hours worrying sick if the people I loved were going to leave me and required constant reassurance that they wouldn’t. I had little faith in my abilities as a person and often suffered from ‘feeling too much’.
In hindsight, I now recognise that these were essentially the symptoms of BPD. Those untraceable headaches, loss of appetite and digestive issues that I faced for years – I could only now realise that they were a physical manifestation of my repressed and uncontainable feelings.
While I have experienced these symptoms in varying degrees it is important to reassert that self-diagnosing can be dangerous, and it is crucial to consult a mental health professional before jumping to conclusions. There is also a lot of discourse on whether people with BPD should be labelled since many practitioners believe that it limits people’s understanding of their personality and furthers the belief that they are ‘untreatable’. However, personally speaking, having a label has helped me immensely since it allows me to attribute my behaviours and actions to a source without feeling like a person with deviant tendencies.
I want to believe that I am brave to be writing this, especially when BPD has come so close to upending my life more than once. But really, I am tired of there being very little conversation that goes beyond ‘mental health is important’ or ‘self-love is not selfish’.
That said, over the past two years, I have learned to detach myself from the diagnosis and learned to view my healing and growth more holistically. Having a social and intimate circle where I can be myself, access to therapy and being financially free to take charge of my life, have helped me manage my BPD well. To tread one step at a time and being gentle with myself is really what I am looking forward to in my journey of learning about the self.
Rakshika Aphale is a law student who hopes to explore the domains of policy-making, education, and gender studies.