As an angsty, unstable, totally depressed 19-year-old, few things caught my attention, but one day, walking into my kitchen, I was grabbed by the title of a book my mom had left out on the counter: Get Me Out Of Here: My Recovery From Borderline Personality Disorder, a memoir by Rachel Reiland. Cautiously, I picked it up. I did want to get out of here. Get out of my mind, get out of my life, get out of the skin I felt increasingly desperate to claw my way out of.
Reading the first few pages, I felt seen. Reiland nailed the uncontrollable sadness, the crying, the knowledge that these reactions weren’t proportionate responses to whatever situation was at hand. Every emotional response felt too big for its surroundings, she described, but grasping how to turn down the volume was always a bit out of reach.
I immediately googled this mysterious mental illness, and the picture that emerged of someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) sounded exactly like me: fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, suicidal tendencies, chronic emptiness, emotional regulation issues, significant depression, explosive anger, self-harm…the list went on.
At first I felt relieved. I had almost every symptom—after years of misdiagnoses, I finally had an answer. But then the fear set in. I didn’t want BPD or the rigid stigma associated with it. That would mean I was really crazy.
So I stayed silent. It would be another five years before I brought up the suspicion that I had borderline personality disorder to my therapists.
According to the doctors that my parents desperately took me to see throughout my adolescence, I didn’t fall neatly into any category. Despite that, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It wasn’t a perfect fit—I had the mood swings by not the mania characteristic of the condition—but it was clear I needed mental health treatment, and a bipolar diagnosis was an adequate way to get it.
A diagnosis is not an indictment; it is a path to treatment. It is a way to separate yourself from your disorder, a way to say, “Oh, that’s why I behave in this way.” It’s a means of getting the help you need. Of course, when a diagnosis is incorrectly applied, treatment is pretty ineffective. It’s not uncommon for people with BPD to be misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder since there are many symptoms that overlap. It’s like wearing a pair of shoes two sizes too small—they don’t quite work, but hey, at least you have shoes.
I was put on medication to help level out my mood swings. But despite the drugs and the therapists, the emotional dysregulation raged on. I was miserable and continually suicidal; I constantly felt there was something wrong with me. I felt as though my life—and my mind—weren’t mine. Everything felt completely and utterly out of control.
Living With BPD
At 24, I was sitting in my therapist’s office, shaky, exhausted, and at the end of my rope. I was having trouble in my familial relationships, in my friendships, at work. I could barely get out of bed. I was drinking a lot, exhibiting disordered eating patterns, and self-harming. I was not even close to taking care of myself, but these coping mechanisms were the only way I knew how to survive. They were the only tools I had.
It wasn’t working. Ever since I’d found the book my mom had left out on the kitchen counter, BPD had been lurking in the back of my mind, hopeful and terrifying at the same time. Finally, I brought it up to my therapist. In time, she agreed that this was indeed what she believed I was dealing with. When the words came out of her mouth, I no longer felt resistance or fear. I just feel understood. With a diagnosis, I realized, there I was a path to healing.