“Don’t tell anyone you have Borderline Personality Disorder, it would be wise to keep it to yourself”.
That was the first statement my psychiatrist made upon diagnosing me with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Instead of taking his advice, I went public with my diagnosis.
I knew that BPD was an illness that was heavily stigmatized. Courtney Love, Amy Winehouse, and Lindsey Lohan are a few celebrities who have had very public struggles’ with mental illness and are speculated to have BPD. Their actions during difficult moments were erratic and quite frightening. I knew that with my past as a public figure and beauty queen that I may be viewed differently. I knew that, but that did not stop me. I felt I had to say it.
I had been battling mental illness for over a decade. I had been in and out of psychiatric wards during my adolescence with diagnosis’s of Anorexia Nervosa, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), major depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
I have been very honest with my childhood struggle of Anorexia Nervosa in the past, and even published a book about it. But I tried so hard to portray mental illness as my past, and was not open about the fact that I still struggle with it…and will likely always struggle with it to some degree.
Admitting to myself that at 24 years old I was still struggling, was the most difficult part of this process. I really wanted to convince myself that all of my issues were a thing of the past. But the truth is that I was having debilitating panic attacks, suicidal ideation, disassociation, and mood swings that varied within minutes to hours. Sometimes I even self harmed. I was isolating myself from family and friends, and I did not want to go out. The most worrisome element of this illness was that I wanted to give up. Even scarier than that was that no one outside of my home could tell.
Being able to speak up about my current state of mind made me feel in control, when I had felt so powerless before. There was an immense amount of freedom in declaring, “No I am really not okay. My life is not perfect!”
I was fortunate to receive so much support in response to my truthfulness. But I wish I could say that is all I experienced. My truthfulness was also met with judgement and discrimination. If ever I was hurt, the response was “your illness is making you hurt”, “It’s all in your head”, or “Your illness is distorting reality”. These remarks made me feel as if none of my feelings were real even though BPD actually means that you experience your feeling stronger than the average person. My feelings are always very much real.
The most stressful of all was the way my workplace changed once it was known that I was suffering from mental illness and placed on anti-psychotics. I was sent home over a headache. A rumor had floated around that I was “rocking back and forth in the corner screaming, ‘Get me out of here'”. Which, of course, was false. I had actually been sitting, rubbing my temples quietly for a few minutes and returned to work without a single word afterwards. I was then sent home on my lunch break because I was not “well enough to work”. Among these rumors were also those that I was schizophrenic and had split personality disorder. This was very distressing to me because I was still the same person I always was. BPD is very different from schizophrenia and split personality disorder. People also made comments that I looked different and pale. The only thing that changed was that they now knew something about me that they did not know before. The only true difference was that previously my illness went undiagnosed, and now I was diagnosed and receiving treatment. And I was actually getting better.
The fact of the matter is that I was judged. At times, subconsciously. At other times, it was even done consciously with malice. And this is the reality of living openly with mental illness. Yes, people will undoubtably express support and love for you. But they may also meet you with discrimination, misunderstandings, and even cruelty. Even with this reality, I could still see no other way to progress in my life. I would feel like I was not really living had I tried to hide it.
How would I even improve with dishonesty? How can those who care for me be mindful of my condition if they are unaware that I have a condition? What about when I have bad days and I need support, but don’t want to talk? How would they know?
Despite the misunderstandings and struggles that I faced in being honest about my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, I would do it over and over again. Even though my doctor told me not to.
I have only improved with being honest. I will continue to be straight forward about Borderline Personality Disorder, even with all of the ugly it brings.
How else can we triumph over the fear and stigma against mental illness if we are repeatedly told it is something we should be ashamed of? I am not ashamed and I am not afraid.