Breaking the Stigma of Borderline Personality Disosrder
The term 'personality disorder' is, in my opinion, problematic. It suggests that someone has a disordered personality, like someone's very being is in need of being fixed. Don't we all have flaws and problems? Aren't we all broken? Didn't Jesus die for our brokeness? Is the term 'personality disorder' just a way of society labelling people as difficult and deviant?
A personality disorder is a long-standing problem that's continued into adulthood. These problems tend to be in areas such as relationships, levels of functioning and maladaptive behaviours such as self-harm.
I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder) in 2013 after a hospital admission and numerous suicide attempts. Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness characterised by emotional instability, unstable relationships, identity disturbance and interpersonal problems. When they told me I had it, I was both relieved and angry. Reading the diagnostic criteria was like reading my auto-biography, but the diagnosis also became my identity.
A lot of people with BPD engage in self-harming behaviour, such as cutting, drug and alcohol abuse, binge eating or restricting, and impulsive behaviour such as shopping sprees, reckless sex, overdosing on drugs and suicide attempts. The reasons why someone with BPD might struggle with these behaviours is pretty simple – they are attempting to escape and get relief (however temporary) from the emotional pain. I used to dabble in all of these behaviours apart from reckless sex. I was even addicted to self-harm. I've been set free from them now, thanks to treatment.
Suicidal behaviour is also a strong marker of BPD. Thoughts of suicide are often chronic. Many patients with BPD - me included - attempt suicide.
The stigma surrounding borderline personality disorder in society is a major issue. At one point, I was labelled as a difficult patient by services. I've been told I'm manipulative by nurses looking after me, that I was hopeless and attention seeking.
I feel incredibly blessed to have such a loving and accepting church family, who are supportive and encouraging. But that was not always the case.
In 2013 I started looking for answers. I'd already started to question my faith. One night in May, when I was drunk, I Googled borderline personality disorder and being a Christian.
The first website I clicked on was dangerous, but I fell for it. It told me that people with BPD could not be Christians, because they were manipulative (which the website argued was witchcraft). People with BPD were all abusers who had one goal: to abuse other people. Apparently, people with BPD also don't feel guilt for things they've done wrong.
This website continued to spew judgemental, ignorant opinions of borderline personality disorder while I became more distressed, and while my urges to self-harm increased. Apparently, people with BPD have no concept of who Jesus is. Interesting, really, isn't it? I'm writing this blog post today because I am a Christian who definitely knows who Jesus is, and yet I have borderline personality disorder.
They claimed that the only cure for BPD was exorcism.
That night in May 2013, I read all of this with horror and despair. I was too unwell to know that what they wrote was ignorance and dangerous. I thought that what I was reading was a reflection of what God thought of me. I believed that I was reading God's words. I went to my bookshelves, tore up my Bibles, and dumped them in the bin. I rejected God that night.
I had a very distorted image of who God was back then, and the website was also confirming to me all the worst things I thought about myself. I thought I was better off dead, because I was so far from God I was already in hell. How thankful I am that I did not suceed in killing myself during my time of atheism!
The way to help someone with BPD is to treat them with love and compassion, just as Jesus would. People with BPD are often scared, insecure individuals who need the love of Jesus. Listen to them. Validate their emotions.
The first time I went to my church in June 2015, I was so scared because I thought I'd be turned away for wanting to kill myself. Instead, I saw Jesus in the love and compassion others showed me. For the first time, I experienced God's love firsthand. They didn't judge me because I felt suicidal. They didn't tell me to just feel differently. They didn't tell me I needed an exorcism, nor did they tell me that I had no concept of who Jesus is. Instead they prayed with me, held me as I cried, and were gentle in a way I'd never known before.
I started going on a regular basis because I felt welcomed and validated. As the weeks went on I started to grow closer to Jesus and I started to really fight my illness. I rejected the lies I'd believed about God and myself, and realised that God could really use my story for His glory. He is using my story to break down that stigma surrounding borderline personality disorder, and He is reaching out to people through my story.
I am now in recovery from borderline personality disorder. My life has changed so much through therapy and Jesus, and I'm passionate about educating people about what BPD is and what it's like to live with as a Christian. I hope that this will help break down stigma surrounding this misunderstood illness, and will encourage people to just be like Jesus to those who are hurting.
I also hope that my story will be a beacon of hope to those who are struggling today.