This is the fourth of a four-part series on mental health disorders and how real people handle them. These people are your neighbors, brothers, sisters, children, parents, even your grandparents. You know them. They’re around you every day.
Well, not specifically these interviewees, no, but you get the idea. They are perfectly normal people facing big mental health challenges.
We will be looking at the following disorders and how these people have handled them.
- PTSD/Complex PTSD. Note that C-PTSD is not yet a diagnosis in the DSM-V but as with many disorders, it comes on a spectrum, such as Treatment-Resistant Depression.
- Treatment resistant depression. This is a case of Major Depressive Disorder that has been resistant to several drug therapies.
- Bipolar disorder. This is a case where a person has struggled with Bipolar for years and has learned to cope with it.
- Borderline Personality Disorder. This is a case of the much vilified BPD that has shown incredible growth with and without medication.
These interviews have only been edited to protect the identity of the person answering. Gender neutral terms only—and the singular ‘they’—have been used where appropriate. “Spouse” instead of wife or husband. This is to ensure their privacy so they’re free to go into detail on certain things.
I will never reveal my sources, so please do not ask me to do so. I hold confidentiality as sacrosanct and will carry their identities to my grave.
None of these people are or were my patients. I do not confirm or deny how I know them or where from I know them. On my Facebook author page, people were invited to be interviewed and some chose to take me up on my offer and advertisement in the hopes that it would help others.
Case #4 – Borderline Personality Disorder
When were you first diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder? How was it initially treated?
I was 25 years old and it was a first diagnosis of anxiety attacks. After my fourth visit, my therapist suggested I had something deeper that was “rooting” my anxiety. We went over the diagnosis and I said it sounded like me and I didn’t know what to do about it. So he said I could try medicine for the anxiety and continued therapy for the personality disorder once they confirmed the diagnosis.
When did you realize that your disorder was becoming too much to handle?
I got into a big fight with my spouse. We were abusing each other and I was hurting myself. I didn’t cut like some people do because I faint at the sight of blood. Instead I used to give myself bruises on my stomach and legs. Sometimes my arms. I don’t know what happened to make me realise something was wrong but I was hurting and I needed it to stop.
After a calm period—after the fight—my spouse suggested that we go get therapy together so we did. I didn’t want to be left alone and they were telling me if I didn’t get help or we didn’t get counselling they’d divorce me.
How were your family or loved ones affected by your illness? How did the Borderline Personality Disorder change your ability to function?
I hurt my spouse emotionally and verbally and then would change it all around so that I was the one being victimised. Sometimes we would even have physical fights (sometimes I started them sometimes they started them). It’s strange because I felt that way like I believed that people were going to leave me and I couldn’t have that. It terrified me to be abandoned. I would hurt myself in order to seek relief and gain sympathy. At the time I didn’t understand this was a manipulation of others to get them to stay with me.
How did you seek help for your disorder?
In my country we have socialised medicine so I was able to contact [our country’s services] and schedule an appointment. I didn’t feel I had much of a choice at the time because my spouse was going to leave me if I didn’t get help. There was a short waiting period and my spouse moved out during that time and I was really depressed to be alone. My legs started to look like one big bruise by then but then it was my turn to go to therapy. The marriage counselling wasn’t part of the services though so my spouse got us that through our private insurance and we started going as soon as the therapist could see us.
What is life like on medication, if you were given any? How was it at first compared to how it is now?
I got put on a sedative to help me with anxiety and I was on it for a year before I had to wean off it. I stayed on the same dose. I built a tolerance to the sedative effects but since it was keeping the anxiety away I didn’t need to increase the dose a lot. That gave me time to get my head straight and be in therapy to focus on the Borderline PD.
What kind of action plans do you have for a medication check? What is your relapse plan?
I don’t need a medication check because I don’t take any medication anymore except for medical cannabis on occasion for [an unrelated physical issue] and haven’t been on anything since almost ten years ago. I’m 35 now and my spouse and I have been together for 12 years. They help me see if I’m having the angry and anxious thoughts again.
Don’t misinterpret my saying I’m not on medicine as a positive or negative because medication is good for a lot of people. I went to a Zen center with my spouse and we started to learn more mindfulness. I got Dialectical Behaviour Therapy which set me up to learn more about Eastern philosophy. For me, distress tolerance was the biggest problem and DBT focuses on that and Zen is also a good teacher for learning how to receive distressing news or events with a stiff upper lip that’s genuine.
Because of my BPD when I get into something I tend to go extreme. Sometimes that can be positive and it was for me and [Spouse’s Name]. But my spouse is really into it to [sic] so we go to a Zen center a few times a week and have made a commitment to each other to be non-violent. We have a three-year-old and an eight-year-old now and [our children] will grow up to be in as healthy an environment that we can give them. I am [pleased] to say there’s no violence in our home and our children have never seen me or my spouse turn violent, even when we argue.
I know if I ever need medicine it is there so I will take it if needed but for now I don’t seem to need it. Suppose I am lucky?
How do you build on one victory to the next?
Sorry I can’t really express how bad it was for us and how violent our relationship got because of my disorder. It was like contagious? In a way? My spouse was not all healthy to start but they favoured being more healthy than me in some ways and it was like my violence leaked out to them in this terrible cycle.
So we went from this very ugly situation to gradually getting better. They got therapy too for their disorder and problems and that was a couple’s victory if that counts. We built on that together but I built on it too for my personal problems. I learnt about how the severe abuse and being abandoned as a little child formed my Borderline, and then when I learnt that I also learnt how to let it go. That is where I got into Zen and let it help me change myself. I still have Borderline and I will always have it but I am learning how to be healthier with it. I cannot say I am cured but I am stable.
What are your “tricks” for staying mentally healthy?
Don’t know. I can’t really call them tricks? More like lessons I think. I try to not take criticism personally anymore and when I feel like I’m about to hurt myself I learnt how to stop and sit for meditation. Sometimes I wind up crying or shouting into a pillow but I remind myself I don’t want my children to have an unhealthy [parent] and that helps me be better. I also learnt from my therapist that there are strengths in being Borderline like I can categorise things to perfection and keep them separate in my mind. This has helped me be in growth.
Points to Reflect Upon – For People with Borderline Personality Disorder
What are your strengths that help you grow in a healthy way? How can you discover healthy coping mechanisms based off of the strengths you’ve developed?
Where can you find support in building healthy relationships? How can you learn to be alone without feeling abandoned when another person needs their space?