February: On BPD.

So, February is “Get Everyone Excited About My Book Month,” which means that I’ve been spending a lot of time doing guest blog posts, interviews, etc.  And of course, due to the nature of my book, what people are most often interested in hearing about is Borderline Personality Disorder.

It’s no huge secret that I share a diagnosis with my protagonist (though honestly we don’t share much else, personality-wise).  I’m not sure, though, when if ever I’ll feel comfortable publicly wearing the label.  There are (I suppose I should say were) advantages to staying quiet about it.  In possibly the bitterest dose of irony ever, I’ve gotten so good at managing the symptoms of the disorder that several people — not realizing I had it — have told me that people with BPD were basically garbage.  “Best to let them sink,” an acquaintance recently said to me on Twitter when I brought up the disorder.  “I’ve known too many, and they’re radioactive.”

With PR like that, is it any wonder I’ve been standing half in the closet about my diagnosis all this time?

It took well-earned, possibly better-than-neurotypical self-control not to respond with, “Well congrats, now you know one less,” and block/unfollow.  That’s what a stereotypical Borderline would have done.  She would have switched this man from the “good” folder to the “bad” folder in her mind and torched that bridge from orbit.  But I have received treatment for my BPD, and part of that treatment involved learning a skill that even some neurotypical people haven’t mastered: the ability to comfortably hold conflicting truths in the mind simultaneously.

I can now say, “This person holds hurtful beliefs and spoke in a callous way that wounded me, but he is also an intelligent and interesting person.  Despite the fact that we disagree vehemently on this issue, there is a lot I can learn and enjoy from continued interaction with him.”  This fellow wouldn’t have spoken that way if he’d realized I had BPD, which doesn’t excuse what he said about the many human beings he considered expendable, but it means at least that he was not trying to hurt me personally.  The very fact that I can recognize all of this is proof that BPD is not a life sentence of misery: that people with the disorder can change, grow, and improve just as anyone else can.

BPD’s terrible PR, though, is simultaneously daunting and the exact reason I do need to be more open about my diagnosis.  As a source of prejudice, BPD has an advantage that race and sexuality as well as other mental illnesses do not have: there are still a great many people who have never even heard of the disorder.  What if the very first Borderline they met was someone functional, possibly even kind, polite, warm, and giving (if a bit intense and eccentric)?  What if that person was me?  Would the person who met me and found me likable go on to be slightly more forgiving of the next Borderline they met, even if it was someone who didn’t have the (considerable!) resources to undergo dialectical behavior therapy?  Even if that less-fortunate Borderline didn’t have everything quite under control?

I love this idea, but it also puts a great deal of pressure on me to be the Good Borderline.  When I have bad days, I question everything I post on social media, terrified that everyone will see and judge and I’ll lose whatever ground I’ve gained in proving that Borderlines deserve empathy and love, that a diagnosis does not tell you who a person is.  On bad days the voice I’ve wryly nicknamed “Harold” whispers to me that it’s all a show, and soon everyone will see you for what you really are and abandon you.  We all have thoughts like that, but for a Borderline, it’s actually a realistic scenario.  Borderlines are radioactive, right?  Don’t touch.  Just let them sink.

Let them sink.  Am I overreacting when I translate this as let them die?  Approximately ten per cent of Borderlines do exactly that, by their own hand, and it’s not hard to see why when otherwise rational people are capable of sincerely suggesting that maybe, yes, they just should.

I’d be lying if I said I’d never considered it.  But I have two children, which to me represents a keen, ever-present responsibility not to become one of that ten per cent.  I cannot teach my children how to thrive in the face of hardship by demonstrably failing to endure mine.  And so for the last decade or so, I’ve protected myself from despair in part by letting myself pretend that I didn’t have BPD, by staying mostly quiet about it, or at least not associating myself with it in an obvious way.  Now those days are over.  I’m the author of a book called Borderline, for Pete’s sake.  I can’t pretend not to have first-hand experience.  For better or worse, it’s part of my brand now.

So consider this post a gentle warning.  Now that I’ve officially stopped pretending, it’s possible that I may backslide a little.  Added stress causes flareups of dysphoria (the intense feelings of anger, panic, despair, self-loathing, etc. that intermittently plague those with BPD).  I may seem a little more “crazy” for a while.  I may slip; I may tweet some things that sound too “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” for your taste.  If so, I’m sorry.  Just brush it aside and forgive and know what I know – that it’s a disease like any other, and that I can eventually get its symptoms back under control once I adjust to the changes in my life.

Be patient.  I’m still here.  I am not my diagnosis.  I am still the same duck you thought I was; there’s just a little more paddling going on underneath the surface of the water than you thought.  You do not have to be afraid.

And neither — I hope — do I.


5 Responses to “February: On BPD.”

  1. seebs

    I have a fair number of friends with BPD, and I see people say all the predictable horrible things about BPD, but by and large, the people who acknowledge that they have a problem and are trying to work on it are fine by me, and I learn a lot from them.

    • Mishell Baker

      Glad to hear it. People with unacknowledged/untreated BPD can really be a trial (I know, I used to be one), but as long as we all realize that every person with BPD is an individual worth giving a chance individually, we can definitely minimize the harm done.

  2. Review: Mishell Baker's Borderline - Pretty Terrible

    […] personality disorder and this shapes her interactions with everyone else in the book (note: Baker wrote an essay about BPD, I recommend reading it). Not only is Millie an unreliable narrator, she knows she’s an […]

  3. Blog Tour — BORDERLINE by Mishell Baker - BCS Reviews

    […] downward spiral. I know how small-minded it must seem but I was absolutely amazed that the author, who suffers from BPD herself, was able to write such a wonderful book about a heroine with her disorder. The story taught me as […]

  4. Blog Tour, Review and Exclusive Q&A — BORDERLINE by Mishell Baker - BCS Reviews

    […] downward spiral. I know how small-minded it must seem but I was absolutely amazed that the author, who suffers from BPD herself, was able to write such a wonderful book about a heroine with her disorder. The story taught me as […]

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