Society, in some respects, has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. Take into consideration the topic of mental health; certain illnesses such as depression and anxiety are finally getting spoken about and becoming slightly more understood. This, of course, is an amazing development but it is only the tip of the iceberg, there are numerous other “less common” illnesses that are still very stigmatised and are not spoken of. Some of these include Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, addictions and eating disorders.
These are very real and very debilitating illness and it’s so important to spread the word, reduce the stigma and help those suffering from these illnesses. We need to break the walls of communication and bring these diseases to light.
So, my name is Aimee, I am 22 years old and have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The term automatically contributes to stigma because it is a complete misnomer, it was coined in 1938 as it was believed to describe those on the border between neurosis and psychosis. (1) This has since been proven inaccurate with the more accurate term “emotion dysregulation disorder” replacing the former. (2) There is a horrible stigma attached, which I only discovered after my diagnosis as I searched the internet for information and support. We are thought of as manipulative, dangerous, possessive. There are articles warning people to avoid relationships with us and that we are nothing but burdens hungry for attention.
I am not any of the above. I am sick with a disease that is as real as any other accepted physical illness. BPD has a legitimate biological backup with brain scans able to show the difference in the brain activity of a “normal” person and someone with BPD. No two people are going to be affected in the exact same way as a diagnosis can be made if 5 out of the 9 symptoms in the DSM classification system are presented. (3) In my case, the most obvious effects are in regards to unstable relationships, unstable moods, and identity disturbance. It has caused me to lose some very important relationships, have extreme depressive episodes, dissociation, severe anxiety, a horrendous eating disorder self-harm and even resulted in two suicide attempts.
It’s scary, not only for me but for my family and people around me. It’s painfully obvious that the people around the diagnosed individual need support and information as well. When I have a bad episode and my brain chemistry leaves me an emotional and unstable mess it is those around me that suffer with me. But due to the stigma and lack of understanding, my friends and family just don’t know how to deal with these episodes which can result in them unintentionally making it ten times worse without meaning to. They have told me that they sometimes feel like they are walking on egg-shells around me, terrified to set off another episode.
I know I’m not the only one as it is believed that approximately 2% of adults are battling these same demons. But here’s the thing: we are not the terrifying, dangerous monsters we are portrayed as. In fact, the opposite is true. We are like an emotional sponge as we feel the emotions of everyone around us so we’re an excellent shoulder to cry on. We can be excellent diplomats who can keep everyone happy as we are self-appointed, full-time People Happy-Makers. We are passionate and love so deeply and truly, with an intense fear of being abandoned. We just want to be able to regulate our emotions as it is very exhausting and painful to constantly feel everything so intensely. I am from a very happy and loving family in the Irish countryside with little family history of mental disorders. I have some brilliant friends and have just graduated from University with a 1st class honours science degree. See we can be normal too!
This isn’t a cry for attention, I am not hoping for sympathetic head tilts or for someone to tell me to “just calm down and get over it”. I just want to help to get the word out that we are real, we are not crazy and we just want to feel okay. The brain is an organ and just like every other organ in your body sometimes it malfunctions and becomes ill or damaged. And just because some of these affect the mind does not make them any less important than if it affected speech or sight or mobility.
So please, don’t make assumptions about mental disorders and write us off as crazy. If you get to know us, you could be very pleasantly surprised!
By Aimee Fahy
(1) Scott O. Lilienfeld, H. and Scott O. Lilienfeld, H. (2017). Diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder Is Often Flawed. [online] Scientific American. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-truth-about-borderline/.
(2) Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified: An Essential Guide for Understanding and Living with BPD. Robert O. Friedel. Da Capo Press, 2004.
(3) Spectrumbpd.com.au. (2017). Spectrum – Formal Diagnostic Criteria for BPD. [online] Available at: http://www.spectrumbpd.com.au/pages/about-borderline-personality-disorder-bpd/formal-diagnostic-criteria-for-bpd.php