May 2, 2013

Heather blogs about borderline personality disorderMy name is Heather. I’m a Leo, I am afraid of heights, I am a natural redhead, I take milk but no sugar in my tea. I have borderline personality disorder too. 

I’ve been a mental health campaigner for a couple of years now. There is one subject I haven’t talked about. My borderline personality disorder has been a secret. I am happy to talk about suffering from Bipolar disorder too, but so far, I have been silent about my other diagnosis.

There are many reasons for this. Firstly, borderline personality isn’t very visible, it is missing from many campaigns, there aren’t any celebrities speaking out about it. Many people see the words ‘personality disorder’ and think of criminals. This is sadly untrue, but stigma remains. Secondly, within the mental health world, the disorder is seen as incurable, the sufferer dismissed as not worth engaging with.  Again, this is untrue, recovery is possible. Thirdly, talking about my diagnosis means I would have to talk about taboo issues like suicide attempts, self harm and impulsive behaviour.

I spoke about my diagnosis as part of my Time to Change media training

I completed some media training with Time to Change a couple of  weeks ago, where I took my chance to practice a TV interview with the trainer. I chose to speak about borderline personality disorder. It was really daunting, I had never spoken about it in a room of strangers before, I don’t even talk about very much with people closest to me! As the microphone was held under my nose, I tried to think of everyone I had encountered who shared my diagnosis and felt alone. I remembered that dialectical behavioural therapy, a therapy with measurable successful outcomes that could reach people with borderline personality disorder, was not available in most of the UK. I recalled the stories of those people who were offered no treatment and rejected by their community mental health teams. I have heard of people who self harmed being stitched up without anaesthesia and suicide attempts being ignored. I recalled how empty I felt when I was diagnosed. I felt ashamed of who I was, if my personality was disordered, I must be a terrible person? 

I have borderline personality disorder. I have a trauma background, not everyone who has this diagnosis does, but it can be a common factor. The disorder stems from what is thought to be biochemical vulnerability and experiences of trauma and invalidation. In everyday life, it is a set of behaviours that sufferers used to cope, which start to become destructive. When I feel empty or l don’t know who I am, the pain of that used to drive me to alcohol abuse, self harm, risky sexual behaviour and trying to block out my emotions. I was lucky that my county did offer NHS dialectical behavioural therapy. I learned how to express my emotions and soothe myself so I could stop self harming and start to move on in my life.

Borderline personality disorder isn't a death sentence, it's a stepping stone

I have lived alone in my own flat for two years, which I fund. I am a daughter, sister, granddaughter and niece to a family I am close to. I have a set of loyal and loving friends who I can count on. I have a fantastic boyfriend; our relationship is stable, happy and healthy. I am working on my career, I write every day. I have finished therapy and given up self harm and alcohol abuse. I have had three years without crisis intervention or admission to hospital. Being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder wasn’t a death sentence; it was a stepping stone to having the life I wanted all along.

I am going to keep talking about borderline personality disorder because I believe that it needs to be reclaimed as an illness that marks that someone has suffered, they have tried to cope as best they could and they need help. I know that having intense emotions can also mean having a great sense of empathy, courage, love and kindness, as well as instability. I believe that there is hope; that people can recover if they are given the tools to do so. A study from Mclean Hospital in the US in 2010 showed that ten years after a hospitalisation, 86% of treated patients had a stable and sustained recovery, another study in 2005 showed that sufferers who got treatment saw a large improvement in their ability to work and socialise over the course of six years, 56% were able to succeed in those areas. I know from my own research that care for borderline personality disorder is poor in the UK and that I am in a position to begin to speak out about that.

So: I am Heather and I am not ashamed to say, I have borderline personality disorder.

Herold, Eve; Valora, Jaime (15 April 2010). "Long-Term Study of Borderline Personality Disorder Shows Importance of Measuring Real-World Outcomes". McLean Hospital: Press Release. Retrieved 2013.

Zanarini, M.C.; F.R. Frankenburg, J. Hennen, et al. (February 2005). "Psychosocial functioning of borderline patients and axis II comparison subjects followed prospectively for six years". J Personal Disord 19 (1): 19–29. Retrieved on 2007-09-23.


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