That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each one of us is an original." (The Message Bible, 402)
In the hospital, I overheard someone call another an “entitled Borderline,” and that made me feel like I was five-years-old. Even when I got out of the hospital, I felt like there was a flashing sign on my forehead saying, “Borderline Personality Disorder,” even though I have had years of DBT training and am by now a pretty mild case. I had had to be hospitalized due to severe insomnia and a fairly recent traumatic event.
I know that most people think of BPD as a bad thing and that it has an intense stigma, but I have found a positive dialectic in the “disorder.” Yes, I got the diagnosis because my life was miserable, HOWEVER, it introduced me to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which has completely turned my life around. A way for people to learn how to regulate their own emotions, prevent crisis, handle distress, be in the moment, and have healthy relationships? This is hard stuff that we don’t learn in school but should.
I can on the one hand want to learn better ways of being while also being grateful that I was given the chance to learn these skills in the first place. I realized something similar when I was hospitalized for an eating disorder many years ago - that I was going in with a disorder but that I was leaving with skills that all people should learn. Paradoxically, the gateway to misery is also the door to freedom.
BPD isn’t the only disorder that I have - you might as well just call me the walking DSM, as I have at one time or another been labeled with almost every type of mainstream mental illness. I see this now as a positive for my job as a certified peer specialist because I can relate to just about any kind of mental health challenge experience in some way.
Here are the gifts of my mental disorders as I see them.
Borderline Personality Disorder:
The ability to deeply feel brings me the gift of empathy. I used to hate being so sensitive as a child but I have to come to say that I would rather be intensely sensitive than apathetic.
the drive that I can put towards impulsive gestures I can also put towards my own recovery. This has served me well in changing old ways of thinking and behaving. It has made me a fierce advocate for others.
My body acts up when I get severely anxious - back pain, headaches, tingly sensations in my arms, upset stomach, lightheadedness, even hallucinations. Basically, if I experience a new weird pain then I know it’s probably anxiety. I see these cues now as a warning sign. When I start to feel a twinge of pain I ask myself what is stressing me out. Once I figure it out, I can check the facts to see if the situation is as bad as my subconscious thinks it is and it never is.
When I am severely anxious, I can have meltdowns like a little child because of being so overwhelmed by my environment. I do not handle loud noises well and insomnia makes it worse. In fact, it is one of the reasons why I choose not to have children. These meltdowns are deeply embarrassing to me and fortunately I rarely have them anymore but I understand why people meltdown better than most - I never blame the person but our society for making this world a much harder place to be than it needs to. I understand the need for validation and how relieving a good cry can be.
I used to restrict in order to feel more in control. Not eating eventually makes a person more depressed, so I would always end up in the hospital before my restricting had become totally out of control. I realized that most likely every person in our society has eating issues and so I could use my treatment as an opportunity to become healthier than most if I was open to learning.
Depression/Acceptance of Death; Appreciation of Life
Ever since I was about eleven years old, I thought about death - a lot. This forced me to come to grips with my own beliefs much earlier than probably most. I have a dark sense of humor and while I no longer want to kill myself, I am not afraid of death either. I am very aware of the fact that no moment is for certain, so I really try to live in the moment.
It’s a cliche but it is true that I have organizational super powers. I do not have cleaning powers, but I am known as the organizer at work.
I call delusions or psychosis as “getting weird.” It’s really the best way I can define it for myself. When I am in “psychosis” my mind is open to different and unusual ways of thinking and I don’t necessarily see these as bad. It is good to have an open mind, to be curious. To me, openness to the unusual gifts of the universe is one the best presents that I have received. During my last episode, I felt an intense and profound sacred connectedness with all living beings, especially people who have been through trauma, and I am thankful for that mystical and spiritual experience, even if it was unpleasant in other ways.
Disability/More Time for Art
I was at an art show yesterday, and I told several people that I was glad to be on disability because it gives me the time to concentrate on creating art. Also, I have met many, many interesting and wonderful people that I would not have if I was not a part of the mental health and disability world. People with disabilities are invisible to most of society-I am glad to enjoy a point of view denied to many.
If I could choose, would I give up my disabilities? I do not think it is a question that I can answer. The reality is that I have them, so I might as well look for the positives, instead of playing the victim in a Lifetime movie. Even if I could give them up, they would only be replaced with some other type of hardship because that is the way life works. Life isn’t easy for anyone, but it can still be a life worth living.