Accepting a new diagnosis is a huge challenge. You feel like everything you thought you knew about yourself is being turned upside down. We tend to create a negative, hopeless image of ourselves centered around this label. However, we are NOT our illnesses, whether physical or mental. In fact, God says, “No, in all these things we are more than CONQUERORS through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
I first heard myself described as “Borderline” when I was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. I didn’t even understand what the word meant, but it might as well have been the word “demonic.” I couldn’t believe the hospital staff thought I was psychotic enough that they would label me as “borderline”. I just had some depression and anxiety, not some terrible personality disorder. During my hospital stay, I read some literature on Borderline, and I was frightened at how closely I identified with the people in the books. However, I refused to accept that I could ever have a personality disorder. I was a perfectly healthy young woman facing normal issues.
For a whole year after that hospitalization, I continued to struggle with suicidality, promiscuity, and relationship problems. I self-medicated with alcohol and sex. Whenever a family or friend expressed concern for me, I thought they were scolding me like I was a child. I hated when they confronted me about my behavior because I didn’t want them to know how bad it was getting. I thought they would abandon me entirely if they knew the whole truth.
I entered a cycle for years that involved me engaging in risky behaviors, feeling guilty to the point of being suicidal, then attempting to ameliorate my pain by engaging in the same self-destructive behaviors. Every time I messed up, I told myself I would stop, it wasn’t worth the harm I was putting myself in, and hated the way I felt after. Even after these strong convictions, I still found myself back where I was before. I felt like I had no impulse control whatsoever.
I had no sense of who I was and felt like I was constantly attempting to fill unending holes in my life. After a particularly negative situation that I had told myself I would never allow myself to be in, I came to the realization that something was very wrong. I would constantly be stuck in this deadly cycle if I didn’t figure out what was the reason behind my behaviors.
In a way, rejecting the Borderline diagnosis felt good because I could normalize my behaviors to be how young adults my age behave, so I didn’t have to feel guilty or change my habits. However, I was plummeting to new lows, and I decided to put aside my pride and re-examining the Borderline diagnosis. I turned to the easiest form of information on the subject: the internet. This source had its negatives and positives. Everything I read online sounded like they were describing me. I was sure I had BPD. I knew the next step would be to find a professional who specialized in BPD to formally diagnose me.
Accepting the Borderline diagnosis redefined how I perceived myself. On the positive side, it allowed me to better understand my compulsive, uncontrollable behavior all my life. On the negative side, it shattered my already discombobulated sense of self because I had let it define me: Bethany the Borderline.
One of the hardest things for me to accept in my life was the diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder. I might as well been told I have terminal cancer, because that’s how I felt. I questioned how much longer I would live until another attempt on my life. I thought for sure that this diagnosis was synonymous with a miserable life cut short by myself.
Out of desperation to find something encouraging about coping with BPD as a Christian, I searched the internet for something to bring me hope. I only found articles portraying people with Borderline as emotionally manipulative and destructive to church bodies. There are forums and support groups for families and friends who suffered trauma from having someone with Borderline in their life.
I hurt deeply because this is what the world thought of people like me. I wasn’t a monster. I was hurting.
Once I accepted the BPD diagnosis and got into a DBT program, I felt like life was beginning to become bearable. At least I was getting the help I’ve needed all these years.
Accepting the BPD diagnosis has been one of the hardest and also most helpful things I’ve done. However, it’s difficult to not let it define you as the core of your being.
Instead of approaching BPD as a whole diagnosis, I broke it down into each symptom and treat them individually. For example, instead of trying to treat BPD, I want to focus on reducing symptoms. One of the first symptoms I worked on were my impulsive, risky behaviors. I set in place plans to stop the behaviors before they began. I stopped drinking as much, I had people on speed-dial to talk me out of any potential bad decisions, I changed my living situation so it was less stressful, I changed jobs, I cut certain people out of my life and spent more time with people who influenced me in a more positive way. I can say with certainty that my impulsive decision making has decreased drastically. It’s a long journey, but I’m taking one step at a time, trusting God to give me strength to fight every day.
I want this post to be a description of my personal experience facing my diagnosis as well as a practical guide to approaching difficult diagnoses such as BPD. Some important points to keep in mind:
- Know that you are not alone (approximately 1 in 5 adults suffers from mental illness)
- Seek out a support group, group therapy, or online community
- Learn all you can about your diagnosis from stigma-free resources
- NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness)
- Borderline Bravery
- NAE BPD (National Education Alliance Borderline Personality Disorder)
- NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health)
- Remember you are NOT your diagnosis, it’s just a diagnosis you carry
- Whatever you’re feeling right now IS valid, allow yourself to be upset
- It’s okay to be angry with God, your parents, and the world for a period of time
- Build a support system of family and friends
- Seek treatment
- DBT (the best option in my opinion)
It DOES get better. Every morning I thank God for my physical and mental health. Whether I feel good or not, I still speak health and positivity in my life. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” -Philippians 1: 6