This week marks the sixth year since i received my diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. It was the first time I went into a hospital program — I was so scared I would be swallowed up by that place.
After a few weeks my social worker sat me down, took the big book out and started reading these nine symptoms to me. It was the first time I heard something that described what I was dealing with in such detail i thought she was reading my autobiography. She said, “Have you ever heard of borderline personality disorder?”
The rest, as they say, is history… but it’s actually become a living story. A story I go back to and reflect on — the hard work, the practice, the steps back and forward and the dedication from both me and my support system — the stuff we had to do in order to make it to this place we call recovery. I’m still living the story, and on a day like today, much to be proud of, six years later.
So what have I learned in the past six years?
1. It takes time to trust your therapist, but at least trust in the time.
After going through my fair share of talk-therapy treatment, psychiatrists who wanted to delve into my past, and another who consistently fell asleep on me, there were plenty of reasons to be weary of shrinks. But this was the first time I was doing anything specific to borderline personality disorder (dialectical behavior therapy) and even though I didn’t trust her, I trusted the program. After all, I made a commitment for the whole year and I wasn’t about to back out of that. It took me one year to finally trust my therapist. There was nothing wrong with her, per se, it was more my inherent inability to believe someone would be willing to help me, that I was worth someone’s genuine interest and willingness to see me better my life. With the help of coaching calls, I knew I wasn’t alone in trying to battle my urges. I was accountable to her, which in some weird way helped me trust the relationship more. Six years later I am still with the same therapist and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
2. Take what you’ve learned inside the therapist’s office and practice it outside the office.
It’s funny how often I come into the therapist’s office feeling fine but as soon as I step out, all of my problems seem to reappear. I ask myself, what just happened? I think the idea is that we talk about certain behaviors to change and yet I go back to my old behaviors as soon as I leave. It’s great to talk about but better to actually change your behaviors in the way that it was discussed. Or else you’ll be stuck. Been there, done that. It’s hard to change our ways. We’re stubborn and think we know better. But give that change a chance.
3. When it’s hard to believe in yourself, accept where you are, throw yourself into participation and learn from others.
It turns out that after spending a month and a half with mostly the same people at the hospital, the group setting was perhaps one of the best things to happen to me. I realized how much I gained through listening to other people, people who struggled in similar ways, in sometimes more desperate ways — all people trying to cope with suffering the best way they knew how. Some were funny, some were quiet, some were always willing to lend a helping hand, and some were quite ill. All of them gave me a sense of compassion for myself and others who struggled. It was through the group setting that I realized I had a voice too. People listened with the same kind of compassion and understanding I have not come across in my 27 years of living.
4. Research, reach out and write.
Finally my craziness had a name (and yes, I wasn’t at all crazy to begin with!) and I was going to get to the bottom of it. I began to read whatever I could on the subject, especially research papers. I knew what I could read and what I couldn’t — research, textbooks and and clinical observations about BPD were my go to; memoirs I stayed away from because they were oftentimes too triggering for me. But I read as much as I could. It helped me understand my therapist a little better; it helped me understand what I was learning and why I would benefit from it.
I also began to reach out to organizations, build a support group and talk to like-minded people on line. I went to conferences and approached the speakers. I establish relationships to help other people like me, whether it was in person or online.
Which leads me to writing. Whether or not you write for an audience of a thousand or an audience of one (yourself), writing somehow provides meaning, continuity and perspective. Writing has been my savior when I couldn’t find someone to talk to. Writing has been a voice of reason when behaviors wanted its way with me. Writing has been my teacher, my inspiration, my lifeline.
5. Find meaning in suffering.
When I can’t seem to make any sense out of my suffering, writing helps me lift of my suffering for something I deeply care about. Sometimes I say, you know, this really hurts, but I know so-and-so is really going through a difficult time, so I ask that my suffering may serve to lift their burden somehow. Sometimes it helps pass the time until the urge becomes more bearable. I don’t know if it actually helps the other person, but it helps me connect with other people who suffer and allows me to be more compassionate towards others, including myself.
6. They are all little steps. Celebrate them all.
When we go into treatment, sometimes we think we’ll progress with leaps and bounds, that all the suffering will be over. Maybe it works for some people, but for the majority of us, progress comes in little steps. They may be so minute, but we need to recognize them still as us moving forward, us becoming more resilient, us learning from our mistakes. To recognize our progress and even our steps back (that they too are progress just by recognizing them for what they are) is a cause for celebration. I think we need to do more expression of joy that way, more celebration for what we’ve accomplished.
Now it’s your turn. I would love to know what you have learned since receiving your diagnosis. Feel free to post in the comments section, thanks!