By Lorna O’Connor
At the age of 21, I went to see my GP for our usual fortnightly appointment, having been diagnosed with depression and anxiety a few years earlier.
This particular day I was a mess. My eyes were bleary from crying all night and I had fresh cuts hiding beneath my trousers. I’d been seeing someone and they had told me they didn’t think I was right for them. For me, this became the end of the world. It sent me spiralling into a deep depressive state.
I was convinced I was worthless and that I would never be happy again. I self-harmed repeatedly over the following days and spent most nights up crying. This was probably the third or fourth time something like this had happened when a friendship had hit a blip or a guy I was seeing had decided we were best as friends.
So, I poured my heart out to my GP. I wasn’t entirely sure what I expected her to do. This kept happening every few months or so and each time it seemed to get worse. I was already diagnosed with depression and on the maximum dose of antidepressants I could be on, so I wasn’t sure what more she could do. I certainly wasn’t expecting what came next…
“Now I don’t want you to panic but this just doesn’t feel like depression to me. I think you might have Borderline Personality Disorder.”
What? So I’m a psychopath now?! I thought.
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. My head started spinning with questions I couldn’t form into coherent sentences. My GP told me she was going to refer me to a psychiatrist and off I went.
I walked back to my office in a daze. I couldn’t think straight. I racked my brains to try and remember what they had taught us at university about BPD. Isn’t that a psychopath? Does she think I’m manipulative? Is this a real illness?
When I got back to my desk I went straight to Google and straight to a website I knew I could trust – Mind.
Mind list the symptoms to BPD as follows:
- You feel very worried about people abandoning you and would do anything to stop that happening
- You have very intense emotions that last from a few hours to a few days and can change quickly (for example, from feeling very happy and confident to suddenly feeling low and sad)
- You don’t have a strong sense of who you are and it can change significantly depending on who you’re with
- You find it very hard to make and keep stable relationships
- You feel empty a lot of the time
- You act impulsively and do things that could harm you (such as binge eating, using drugs or driving dangerously)
- You often self-harm or have suicidal feelings
- You have very intense feelings of anger, which are really difficult to control
- When very stressed, you may also experience paranoia or dissociation.
I’d say I experience around 8 of these symptoms. I could see why she might think I had BPD but had no idea how to process this. I waited around a month before seeing a psychiatrist for an initial assessment and a further 2 weeks for a follow-up, where my diagnosis was confirmed. I wasn’t able to engage in treatment due to having two addresses at university, as the recommended DBT was a stringent weekly programme that potentially would take place over a number of years.
So, I had to process this huge change alone. I went through a range of emotions and wanted to outline them to help normalise this for anyone who has been told they may have BPD recently. I’d love to say they came in a nice little order and didn’t overlap but the reality was I often felt all of these emotions and more at once. I list these emotions below:
As I said, when I was first told I might have BPD, I couldn’t really remember what it was and didn’t fully understand what it meant. I had no idea what would happen next or what treatment might involve. I felt like my head was constantly spinning and even once I’d learnt more about the condition, I had to learn what it meant for me.
Initially, I felt very ashamed of my new diagnosis. I understood depression and anxiety instantly and knew tonnes of people with the same diagnosis but I’d never met anyone with BPD and this made me feel like a freak. I thought that having BPD was somehow my fault and people would think I was in control of it.
Similar to the previous two emotions, whereas I knew it was possible to recover from depression and live a relatively normal life, I didn’t know if the same were true for BPD. When I looked online, I found a lot of people who were still experiencing severe symptoms years later and I felt I was being condemned to a life sentence.
There was this sense of “she (my GP) might be onto something here…” I knew deep down my experiences couldn’t be fully explained by depression and when I explored BPD it did seem to fit my symptoms better. I was hopeful it would be the start of getting the right help.
As I’ve learnt more about BPD, nearly 3 years down the line from diagnosis, I have come to accept and understand my diagnosis. I now know it isn’t my fault but the result of early trauma and adapting to this. I understand where it sits in terms of the spectrum of mental illness and how I can manage it independently, alongside my medication. However, naturally, this takes time.
It’s taken me years to come to terms with having BPD and feeling as if I am in a place to help share what I have learnt to support others. I still have days where I feel shame or fear regarding my disorder and often long to have a less complex condition, if not none at all.
So for anyone being diagnosed, or newly diagnosed with BPD, remember it is okay to feel however you need to. Be patient with yourself, ask all the questions you need, and remember, it is not your fault. This is not a reflection on you. It is a disorder just like any other.
Lorna is the Founder and Editor of mental health blog ‘Living Beyond the Borderline’.
You can also follow her on Twitter @beyondBPD18.