Visions Journal, 2011, 7(1), p. 13
When I first learned that I have the commonly misunderstood mental illness called borderline personality disorder (BPD), this was my initial reaction: do not call me "borderline!"
The label "borderline personality disorder" says little about the true nature of this illness. In my experience, this diagnostic label has led to increased stigma and misunderstandings—and to the horrible self-stigma that slowly erodes one's soul. To be told I had a "personality disorder," especially when I was most vulnerable and hurting, was to be told there was something intrinsically wrong with the essence of my being—that my whole identity and personality was flawed.
Few people have heard of borderline personality disorder. Unlike depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, BPD is just beginning to come into the light as far as advocacy and awareness are concerned.
Struggling through BPD
I am among the millions of people with this disorder, which affects a large portion our population. According to US statistics (Canadian Statistics are not yet available), 2% to 6% of the population have BPD.1 Like schizophrenia, BPD is a devastating mental illness, usually diagnosed in adolescence or early adulthood. In my case, it struck when I was very young, around puberty, but I wasn’t diagnosed until 26 years of age.
For more than 10 years of my life, I struggled to get well. There were many times when I honestly thought I would never get better—I gave up hope. I became suicidal. I seriously attempted suicide nine times. These serious-yet-impulsive acts were extremely hard on my family. They never knew whether they'd come home to find me dead or alive. This was before mental health professionals learned that BPD is actually a highly treatable mental illness.
During my illness, I suffered from typical BPD symptoms. I had great difficulty regulating my emotions, especially in relationships with others. I was very impulsive and self-destructive. I engaged in self-injury, cutting or burning my skin to get a sense of relief from emotional pain. I had uncontrollable bouts of rage aimed at either myself or others. I lost a lot of friends during this period, and my family didn't know how to help me, although they tried their best to be emotionally supportive.
I also experienced severe depression and feelings of being completely empty. I felt like a burn victim—my "emotional skin" was so raw that I couldn't cope with what others would consider the normal, everyday trials and tribulations of life. At times, I didn't know who the person looking back at me in the mirror really was. I thought I was an evil and despicable person, although I'd never committed a crime, and was, by many accounts, a caring, thoughtful and highly sensitive person.
There were times I dissociated from reality. I felt numb or unable to feel. For prolonged periods of time, everything around me looked and felt fake. I remember a day when the multi-coloured fall leaves blowing by looked like plastic—nature was ugly and lacked any meaning or beauty. I felt as if I was living in a doll house where nothing around me was real.
At other times, I heard voices in my head telling me over and over again: "You are worthless, you are worthless, you are worthless..."
Finding peace and helping others
In the last four years I have found true health and well-being. I now have a sense of peace in my mind, gained through a combination of psychiatric medications that work for me (I cannot go without them), learning dialectical behavioural techniques to handle my emotions, furthering my college education, and engaging in meaningful activities. I am doing wonderfully!
My work at the BC Schizophrenia Society – Victoria Branch has given me confidence and the chance to support others with mental illness through their journey. Supporting others has helped me in my own recovery: I feel less alone and stigmatized, and have gained a sense of purpose in life. I am now a certified community mental health worker. As a peer support worker at BCSS Victoria, I work one-to-one and in groups with people who have various mental illnesses, including BPD. With the help of two young women with BPD, a family member and a committee, I have started a local support group for people with BPD and family members.
I also co-facilitate the New Light Recovery Workshop, a psychoeducational workshop that is part of the Peer Support Program at BCSS Victoria. This workshop is for people with any mental health diagnosis, who experience overwhelming emotions. Although based on dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), the workshop emphasizes that the facilitators are people who are also in recovery (peers) and are therefore not professionals offering any form of therapy. To ensure this understanding, skills are referred to as "dialectical behavioural techniques."
I am no longer my illness. I am a daughter, a sister, a team member, a facilitator, an artist, a public speaker, a volunteer, a passionate person, a caring person, a nature lover (I see beauty again!), an animal lover, an advocate, a spiritual person, an avid novel reader, a bell collector, a person who knows myself well...I am Elizabeth Charlotte Bogod.
Advocating for a Change of Label
Support and education
About the author
Elizabeth is a Community Mental Health Worker and works as a Peer Support Worker with the BC Schizophrenia Society – Victoria Branch. She helped start a local borderline personality disorder support group, and co-facilitates the New Light Recovery Workshop, a peer-led dialectical behavioural techniques workshop for people with various mental illnesses
Borderline Personality Disorder Resource Centre, NY-Presbyterian, The University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell. (n.d.). What is borderline personality disorder? Facts and statistics. bpdresourcecenter.org.