Fifteen years ago, after a few manic episodes that included hallucinations, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had driven to another state while manic and was committed at a hospital there. The hospital let me go after two days.
I drove the two hours home wondering, “What does bipolar disorder mean?” I turned my car around and checked myself back in the hospital to get answers.
Back in the hospital, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Now I felt completely overwhelmed. What does these diagnoses mean and how do they change who I am?
I spent the following years grappling with understanding my identity in the light of these new diagnoses.
It didn’t take long for me to accept bipolar disorder, since the description of rapid-cycling bipolar 1 fit so closely to my experience. I was relieved that I could name some episodes mania, others hypomania, and others depression. It helped to have a name for my experience and a way to understand myself.
But the borderline personality disorder diagnosis felt different. There seemed to be a lot of judgment and stigma attached to borderline. It seemed like when I went to a psychiatrist, they assumed I was lying or trying to manipulate them since they saw borderline on my chart.
I had a counselor who kept talking to me about how manipulate and seductive I am. She thought I was lying on my intake. I wondered if she was looking at my diagnosis or at me.
I kept reading about borderline personality disorder in an effort to understand myself, and everything I read alarmed me. I’m not manipulative. I’m not reckless. I’m a grounded and stable person overall. I don’t take risks except while manic. Overall I have stable friendships and a very ordered life that follows a routine.
But each psychiatrist I saw insisted I fit the diagnosis. I kept trying to understand myself within its context.
Reluctantly, over the years I accepted that I fit the BPD diagnosis. I have acted recklessly while manic. I used to struggle with self-harm.
I’ve noticed that I have intense emotions that flip back and forth. The smallest thing can trigger an overwhelming emotion that won’t stop. I used to struggle with self-harm due to problems dealing with emotions. I’ve noticed that I struggle with black-and-white thinking and often think of people as good or bad.
I struggle to find a coherent sense of identity; I feel like I always change. I often feel this emptiness inside and am looking for something to fill the emptiness. In the past I have sometimes had problems with relationships where I pull people very close, longing for that intimacy, then get scared and distance myself, then feel abandoned and draw my friends close again.
Those are all symptoms of borderline personality disorder. So maybe it fit me after all.
I began including BPD in my self-concept. I warned boyfriends that I have it. I owned it as part of me.
Then five years ago I saw a new psychiatrist. He said, “I don’t know how any licensed psychiatrist could diagnose you as borderline.” So he took the diagnosis off my chart.
At first I felt this overwhelming sense of relief. I’m free! I’m not borderline anymore. I don’t have to warn people. I don’t have to feel stuck with the BPD stigma and prognosis. I don’t have to feel like BPD will limit my life.
But since then I’ve felt confusion. I feel like I’ve lost a piece of my identity since I no longer have that diagnosis. I used to have a shorthand to explain my intense volatile emotions and my thought problems.
Now I don’t know how to explain these qualities of me.
I’m studying to become a counselor, and in one of my classes my professor has been talking about borderline personality disorder. A classmate told me that understanding BPD greatly helped her understand me. I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. I’m glad she can understand me better. But now again I am confused since I don’t have the BPD diagnosis anymore.
How much does a diagnosis matter? I thought I couldn’t stand having a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. But now that the diagnosis is off my chart, I feel like I’ve lost a piece of my self-concept.
Some parts of the BPD diagnosis never seemed to fit. But the diagnosis helped define and explain some problems I have. With the diagnosis I felt like I wasn’t alone; I had the other people with the disorder that understood me.
It’s a relief to lose a diagnosis with such a strong stigma, but somehow I feel like I’ve lost a key to understanding me.
photo by Priscilla Du Preez on unsplash.com