Testimony from Someone with BPD about Recovery

Read beyond the next paragraph. This story is a positive one, especially
if you or a loved one is in deep mental or emotional pain.
Two years ago, today, I tried to kill myself. I’d tried before — for 36
years the thought had been almost constantly in my mind — but this
time was different. I won’t go into details, because I don’t want to give
anyone, who is in as awful a space I was, ideas. Suffice it to say that
this attempt wasn’t a cry for help; it wasn’t a way for me to express my
(considerable) pain, or to avoid it. I simply couldn’t stand to live any
longer. My method was innovative. It was foolproof. It was final. I was
alone, with no one to save me, and I absolutely knew that I wouldn’t live
longer than five minutes after I took the action. And I did take the action.
By absolute, freakish, dumb luck, or perhaps providence, it didn’t work.
And I am grateful.
It was the moment I hit the proverbial bottom with a thud. It was the
moment the arc of my life changed.
Don’t kid yourself; my pain didn’t magically go away. It took desire,
commitment, and work, by me and others, for me to heal. But then, I
had always been willing to do the work. What was different this time
was that, after 44 years of seeing professionals for this apparently
extraordinary, seemingly ever-growing pain, I was finally, stunningly,
properly and thoroughly diagnosed. And with the right diagnoses, I was
finally given the right treatment.
Only nine months after that awful, pre-Summer morning, my emotional
life had shifted 150 degrees. And the compass continues turning
consistently if less dramatically (with the occasional swing back) toward
the safe, gentle, turquoise waters we all want to sail in.
Three days ago, I turned 58, and now, it doesn’t matter that it took me
this long to get here. I am here. I can feel this moment, and it feels
wonderful.
I have Borderline Personality Disorder.
For decades, I had been suffering and — though it sounds absurd to
say it now — I didn’t realize how much. I thought I was coping, or
heading in the right direction, or just defective, or not living up to my
potential, or simply unworthy. I didn’t realize that I was in “fight, flight, or
freeze” almost every waking moment of my life; I thought that being
suicidal most days was ok; that beating myself up mercilessly for the
smallest infractions (more than once, I knew I was the worst human
being in the world and didn’t deserve to live, because I didn’t park my
car perfectly between the lines) was justified; that feeling extreme
emotions showed how special I was; that being completely dependent
on others for my sense of self was the natural way of life.
Part of the problem was that since the 1970s, I had been given several
close — but wrong — diagnoses, and so received the wrong treatments
(if you have a broken hip, and you’re treated for a broken knee, you
might be able to walk a little more easily, and think you’re getting better,
but you can never really heal.)
Borderline often masks as other mental illnesses, especially Bi-Polar/
Manic Depression…but it’s different. (Among the distinctions: the huge
mood swings of Borderline [or BPD] often happen in a heartbeat,
whereas the arcs tend to be longer with Manic Depression.) Conversely,
Borderline has often inappropriately been thrown around as a catch-all
label for “difficult” patients.
Today, diagnosis can be different — more precise and with less
guesswork — than it was in the past…IF you find the right diagnostician.
The fact that Borderline is better understood than it used to be helps,
but in my case, I also insisted that I get not only an accurate diagnosis,
but a complete one. This allowed co-occurring conditions to be
diagnosed, too. I was able to get proper treatment for the whole picture,
and that made all the difference. This stuff isn’t simple; there’s nuance,
the details are important, and persistence helps.
Genetic testing showed that I don’t have a serotonin issue, as had been
supposed all these years, but that I burn dopamine like it’s rocket fuel;
neurofeedback discovered physical brain trauma; blood tests found
nutritional deficiencies; and talk therapy reaffirmed clinical depression,
BPD, and crucially, revealed severe PTSD. Yeah, a lot, I know, but if
you look at the last two years of my life, it’s clear that they are all
treatable, and that progress and healing can happen. There is treatment
for all of these issues.
I prefer a holistic approach, where possible, but there is a place for the
medical, too. I take supplements to support some of the systems in my
body, and Welbutrin for the dopamine. I also exercise, do biofeedback,
meditate, see a therapist, have done Prolonged Exposure therapy for
the PTSD, and most importantly, have been training in Dialectical
Behavioral Therapy (DBT) a course of mindfulness specifically designed
to treat BPD (I know, that’s a lot of initials.)
So, a few quick things about Borderline:
Borderline Personality Disorder is an illness that can be treated.
However, to do so takes a team, and commitment from the patient.
Like many diseases — diabetes, for instance — Borderline requires
both a physical/genetic factor in the body, and the right (or maybe
wrong) environment to throw the switch.
It shows up more often in women, and often appears in the late teens or
early twenties.
There are nine separate attributes of Borderline, and if you have five of
them, you can be officially diagnosed with BPD. However, with so many
elements, the combinations of symptoms are myriad, and it can look
very different from person to person. For example, it used to be
assumed that people with Borderline are inherently hostile toward
others. But I’ve generally not blamed — and never wanted to hurt —
anyone other than myself. I am also deeply empathetic and I’ve never
had paranoia or addiction issues, which some people do deal with.
As far as I know, there is no medication for Borderline and the only
research-proven treatment is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which I
have found to be compassionate, freeing, and very effective.
Borderline should be treated by a specialized practitioner who is well
trained in dealing with it, and who has a team behind her or him. Just
because a therapist has taken a course, or two, in Dialectical Behavioral
Therapy, doesn’t mean they have the tools, experience, and support to
provide really effective treatment for patients with BPD.
For the patient, the therapist, and the support team, compassion and
patience are important for treating Borderline. By doing DBT, you’re
changing your brain, literally changing the shape of it, and it takes time.
It’s important to know that the littlest changes count, even if they only
last for a nano-second. If things can change a little, or for a moment,
they can be built on, bit by bit. And eventually the changes begin to
look, and be, bigger.
It’s also important to know when there are setbacks — and there almost
certainly will be — that doesn’t mean the treatment isn’t working or
things aren’t changing. Change doesn’t happen in a straight line.
If a person with Borderline is like I was, she or he may not want to give
up the symptoms, especially the out-of-control emotions. They are
coping mechanisms that came into their lives for a reason, and they can
be comforting and feel effective, even when they aren’t. To those of you
who are concerned that having more control of your emotions will turn
you into an automaton, please know it doesn’t work that way. You still
get to feel. And if you’re afraid that if you learn to take care of yourself
and become less dependent on others for your emotional safety, that
you’ll wind up alone, I can tell you that the opposite can happen. I am
now blessed with a community of friends who make my life even richer.
Finally, Borderline can be excruciatingly hard on the loved ones of the
sufferer, as they are often caught in, and feel helpless in, the
turbulence; just ask my wife. There is help for them, too.
If you have any questions for yourself or a loved one, please reach out
to me. I will be glad to help, as much as I am able.
Most importantly, if you are dealing with this, or any other chronic
mental or physical illness, no matter what your age or circumstances,
there really is is reason for hope. I have come a long way in a short time
— something I was afraid wasn’t possible — and I am continuing the
journey. For the first time since I was a child, the future legitimately
looks bright, and I am deeply grateful.

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