Bad Press In Black & White

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A young woman goes from doctor to doctor asking for help.  She knows there is something terribly wrong but she has no understanding of what it is that makes her feel the way she does.  She desperately wants someone to love her, and is terrified that those around her will abandon her because she seems to have no way of reining in her emotions. 

The doctors eventually all tell her the same thing.  She has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  She is told they can do nothing for her.  It’s just the way things are and she will have to live with it.

She goes home and searches ‘BPD’ on her computer, desperate for an explanation to how she feels.  The words above leap off the screen.  ‘Manipulative’, ‘attention seeker’, ‘drama queen’, ‘child-like’, ‘mentally tormented’… and more.

 Some of it sounds like she feels.  Other words sound pretty cruel.  She feels hopeless.  She assumes she must be a really bad case if doctors can’t, or at least refuse to help.  She concludes if they can’t help, no one will be able to.  Life doesn’t look too good.  She is doomed to a hell of black and white.

True story.  It’s not me, although my experience wasn’t a whole lot better.  Doctors told me they could do nothing more to help me… before any diagnosed me correctly with BPD.  I had, what they assumed, was treatment-resistant ‘treatment-resistant depression’.  Does that make sense?  They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, treat my treatment-resistant depression anymore.  It was hopeless.  I was supposed to just go home and live the way I had been living for the rest of my days (quietly presumably).  The problem was that depression wasn’t the issue.  I had BPD, so I found out several years later, but meantime I assumed that this would just be my lot.  I assumed there was no hope.

I fought back eventually, thanks to encouragement from a loved one who wasn’t prepared to let me accept it as an answer.  I eventually sought yet another opinion.  Thank  goodness I did, because the previous doctors just hadn’t looked far enough, and hadn’t listened to me enough to understand what was going on.

But the woman above wasn’t so lucky.  She gave up because so many doctors had told her the same thing.  There was no hope for her apparently.  She believed she was hopeless.

If you go searching for information about BPD, it’s not a pretty picture that is painted.  There is some good stuff out there but other writers are pretty cruel.   Perhaps they have valid reasons for that, but it makes it very difficult when you want to understand yourself, or you want to help a loved one who has been diagnosed with BPD.

It’s true that there doesn’t seem to be a medication that can specifically treat BPD.  What’s more, therapy is fraught with complications when you struggle to trust the therapist (or anyone), constantly fear that they will leave you, and seem to be one thing to one person and a completely different thing to another.  Therapists do have their work cut out and so it seems that many have just chosen to either refuse to treat people with BPD, or run a mile as soon as BPD is mentioned.  Another problem is that some styles of therapy just leave the patient totally flumaxed.  It makes no sense.  A therapist can assume the patient isn’t trying hard enough and give up.  The patient can assume there is no hope for them.

I was told I wasn’t trying by staff involved in trying to treat my depression and my eating disorder.  They told me they had done everything possible to help me.  Actually they hadn’t.  It might have helped if they’d got to know me well enough to diagnose me correctly.

As for a therapist, I have been fortunate (finally), although both my therapist and I know that we are in it for the long haul.  After years of seeing him, and him never letting me down, I still constantly fear that he is going to abandon me.  Everytime he has a holiday I prepare myself for the fact (well, I think it is a fact!) that he won’t come back.  Everytime he comes back  anyway, but my fear remains.  Everytime I go to see him, I expect he won’t be there, even though he has done nothing to make me think that.  I accept that I am not the easiest patient but I very much appreciate that he has stuck with me, and not just said “I can’t help you.”

“People with BPD often have an unstable sense of who they are.  That is, their self -image or sense of self often rapidly changes.  They typically view themselves as evil or bad, and sometimes they may feel as if they don’t exist at all… Relationships are usually in turmoil.  People with BPD often experience a love-hate relationship with others.  They may idealize someone one moment and then abruptly and dramatically shift to fury and hate over perceived slights or even misunderstandings.” (1.)

All this makes it difficult to work with us, but I can not accept when relatively functioning people are told there is nothing that can be done.  I say relatively functioning because many people with BPD hold down jobs, are in relationships and have children.  Mostly people with BPD are not hallucinating or delusional, but they do need help.

Do you know that approximately 10 per cent of people diagnosed with BPD end up as suicides?  That’s a huge number and I’m not going to be one of those, nor do I want any of my BPD friends to be either.

While I was researching for this post, I read a lot of negative material about BPD and actually had to take myself away from it a few times.  I was left thinking ‘how could anyone bear to be in any sort of relationship/friendship/connection with me?’  But I also know enough to know that while I might not be the easiest person to deal with some times, I am not how I saw myself being described.  But then I know I am working hard to correct the way I think, so that makes a huge difference.  The stigma associated with this particular disorder, which isn’t even often talked about, is immense.  What gets printed doesn’t help that, all it does is add the the growing mountain of criticism, judgement and hopelessness.

Actually there are some positives to BPD, which aren’t often recognised.  I had to dig a long way to find anyone prepared to say that actually people with BPD have good points.  And I suspect I’d have to dig even deeper to find a person with BPD who had ever had this pointed out:

Image and copyright owned by Kiera Van Gelder.

If you don’t have support, and you don’t have the motivation to learn new skills for yourself, then it’s pretty impossible to function adequately, although a surprising number manage to muddle on, and just assume somehow that they are terrible people.  The ‘bad press’ circulated (not just on the internet) just makes things horrendously difficult for the some two per cent of the general population who have this disorder.

I know we can be difficult to understand, and I know it can be hard to predict what we might do next.  I know we have a strong tendency toward self-destruction but actually what we need is just the same as what others with other mental illnesses need… hope.  And yes, we are good people.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get spreading some good press?  It does exist.  I don’t believe we just have to accept the negative things said about people with BPD.  It’s just that those people have gone to the trouble to write it.  It would be easier just to accept it as status quo, but I’m not prepared to.

Susanna: [reading from a book] “Borderline Personality Disorder. An instability of self-image, relationships and mood… uncertain about goals, impulsive in activities that are self-damaging, such as casual sex.”
Lisa: I like that.
Susanna: “Social contrariness and a generally pessimistic attitude are often observed.”
Susanna: Well that’s me.
Lisa: That’s everybody.”

 – Excerpt from Girl, Interrupted, Movie (1999) by Susanna Kayson


30 thoughts on “Bad Press In Black & White

  1. I’ve always thought you were “good people.” That’s a phrase we use in Texas whenever we’re talking about people who are good, helpful, friendly and trustworthy. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard growing up, and said myself about someone, “They’re good people!”

    Thank you for posting this!!

  2. Cate,
    Thank you for this. Seeing how the negatives can be seen as positives is a good thing. I don’t know if my guy has BPD or something similar – but reading your words help to understand some of what may be going on underneath the difficult behavior. I imagine that the negative and judgmental labels come from people who are only able to look from their own pov of the consequences of being on the receiving end, which prevents them from trying to see what lies beneath. Choosing to continue in a relationship, especially when both parties face extreme health & mental health challenges is hard. I’m glad you had someone who wouldn’t let you give up & that you have a therapist who is doing his job well.
    Be well,

    1. Hi Kina, Yes I think you are right and a lot of the negative impressions I have read came from people who either had a partner, parent or child with BPD. And it’s understandable because people with BPD really struggle with relationships of any sort and so those people are going to be on the receiving end of it all. If you’re interested there is a good book written from the persepctive of the people living with the Borderline. I haven’t read it personally but have had a number of people tell me it was really helpful.

      Thanks for your comments and I hope you’ve had a good day.
      Cate 🙂

  3. I haven’t been diagnosed with BPD, but I do sometimes wonder if I have it. When I asked my last pdoc about the possibility, his answer was that people with BPD are manipulative, and I’m not manipulative, so I don’t have BPD. So much of this negative press is also in professional literature, I assume.

    1. That’s really interesting because I don’t think I am manipulative either. It’s also not a word included in the list of nine symptoms of BPD. The negative press is a combination of sources including professionals, many of whom refuse to treat people with BPD. But also there is a lot from family members, and I can kind of understand that because we do find any relationships difficult but I get frustrated with it because it’s not the whole picture and in terms of people with BPD it just creats stigma. But hey, if you don’t have it I’d say that’s great. 🙂

      1. Yeah, I can see why it might perhaps make someone who doesn’t understand think you’re manipulative. I’ve been accused of becoming emotional just because things weren’t going my way and/or I wanted people to fawn over me. That’s not it at all, though. I’m just quite sensitive.

  4. This is such an interesting read. I really like the two sides of the coin chart. It’s a nice way to take the negative and show that it can actually be positive. It’s great how you are a positive voice for BPD. You are such a kind-hearted, sweet and caring person, Cate. You sharing those positive qualities, as well as your passion of fighting stigma, on your blog and Facebook is a fantastic step in the right direction of countering that ‘bad press’.

    I can’t stand when important matters are just pushed under the rug when they don’t want to be dealt with, and what you describe of those doctors, is that they are doing just that. Doctors who say there isn’t hope, are just not working hard enough to find it. If all doctors and researchers today stopped looking for cures for all illnesses in the world, then we’d be at a standstill from this point forward. There is still no cure for cancer, or AIDS, or many other diseases, yet people still search and fight for the cures that will hopefully someday come. So, why can’t they do the same for mental illnesses? That same method and intensity of research should happen for BPD, and work toward finding medication and treatment. Like you said, hope is needed.

    By the way… I love the Girl, Interrupted quote. I love that movie! I haven’t watched it in a while, but now I want to do so. 🙂

    1. Thanks for saying that Summer. I really appreciate that. And yes, won’t it be great the day the discover cures for all these things. It will also be a great day when treatment is readily available for everyone who suffers too. Treatment for me has come and continues to be at great cost but i am fortunate to have it. So many people have no access to any help and it is just so wrong.

  5. yazrooney

    For me, depression is always about the challenge to move on from the space we’ve been mentally occupying, to another more empowering one. Is it possible for you to find that person you’ve always wanted to be, but were scared to change? This worked for me. It’s easier said than done of course, but when we succumb to the fear of change, it becomes protracted; it goes on, and on and on. We often heal faster when we work on this change. Good luck! I’m rooting for you.

    1. Thank you. Actually I think that’s the point I am coming to now and it is so refreshing. I think you’re right about becoming that person and what concerns me is that so many people don’t get the opportunity to do that because there is so little support. I believe some people are able to reach out and grab that for themselves but others have no skills to be able to do it and need help to do it. It’s just such a shame that so many of those don’t get that opportunity.

  6. this was a really interesting post to read, i don’t know much about BPD but the research you put in educates while your strength you have through your own experiences adds a human touch, the two sides of the coin chart is another example of how we should turn negatives to positives whenever we can

  7. Thank you. Yes, I believe that we focus too much on the negatives of mental illness as a whole. It’s so hard to see the positives often, especially when you’re in the middle of it, but they are there and I’m sure the help us to teach out and grab hold of hope.

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