My Borderline, Part 1: The Diagnosis and Stigma

“People with BPD are like people with third-degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.” ― Marsha Linehan


In late 2014, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Many of my friends know this and see me struggle with it on a daily basis. Some people believe that the diagnosis is simply a “catch-all” when a mental practitioner can’t figure out what other diagnosis fits your symptoms.

But, it is clearly defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), though it has been refined throughout the years. I wasn’t simply given the diagnosis. I went through six hours of neuropsychological testing, which at times asked me the same question, written multiple ways to eliminate any bias in language.

At that point in my life, I was struggling to say the least. Even though I was on an SSRI antidepressant and saw a therapist twice a week, the only thing on my mind was completing suicide. See, at that time, my marriage of ten years was falling apart; my company I had started six years prior and raised angel investment for had just failed; and I was at a job that not only did I hate, but was also struggling with. It was a perfect storm of stress, depression, and psychosis.

From May 2014 to September 2014, I racked up three voluntary committals to psychiatric crisis units. I want to emphasize that these were all voluntary admittances. I knew I was struggling and needed help, but I had no idea what to do or even what was really wrong. Why didn’t the SSRI and therapy help?

On the third trip, one of our group sessions involved learning about bipolar disorder, which afflicted the majority of the people currently on the unit. They explained that bipolar is alternating between two extremes – mania and depression. Mania can simply be described as “extreme happiness”, which you would think is wonderful, until you learn that it is often self-destructive. I’ve heard stories of people going on wild shopping trips, running through the streets naked, and generally feeling invincible when experiencing a manic episode.

People afflicted with bipolar disorder may experience one of these extremes for a few weeks, but then suddenly “flip” to the other extreme, usually due to some trigger that others may or may not see or even understand.

While this cyclical behavior seemed familiar to me, what I experienced was different. I didn’t feel that I ever experienced a manic episode in my life. Yes, I had periods where I was energetic and happy, but I felt I was still in control. And rather than alternating between the two extremes every few weeks, I felt like I oscillated between the two multiple times a day, sometimes with other emotional stops along the way.

My wife had seen me go from happy and content, to angry and screaming, to a ball of tears, then back to stable within a matter of minutes. Not days, not weeks – minutes. My emotions fluctuated wildly every single day. In retrospect, I could look back and see the roller-coaster ride, but I couldn’t ever seem to get off. It was a never-ending loop.

I raised my hand in the group and stated that, if the cycle that was drawn on the whiteboard was compressed down to a day, rather than weeks, it would describe what I felt. The technician replied that if I truly felt that way, it wasn’t bipolar at all, but something very different.

Once I was discharged from the hospital, I made an appointment to discuss this with my psychiatrist and started doing my own research. I thought that everyone went through these rapid cycles. And to a degree, many people do – you’re happy one minute, sad the next. But in the large percentage of the population, these cycles were triggered by something. Think about it, you might be happy and singing along to the radio in the car. But then some fool runs a stoplight and hits you. Most people are going to be angry and upset at the driver who hit you. That’s acceptable.

But my mood cycles weren’t always driven by external triggers. Most of the time, my thoughts and emotions jump around without any stimuli. Sometimes I would have to stop what I’m doing because it consumed me. Other times, I can continue with things and no one ever knows I’m processing something in my subconscious. What’s more, I couldn’t ever seem to predict or control these randomizations. They just happened.

So, I saw my psychiatrist and discussed what I had learned about bipolar disorder, but how my cycles were so much faster. She stated it could be one of three things: cyclothymia, “rapid cycling” bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder. I put “rapid cycling” in quotes because the mental health field is still debating whether or not this actually exists or is a quasi-diagnosis or misdiagnosis of borderline personality disorder.

So, I was scheduled for the neuropsychiatric testing. I was told it would be all day and since by this time, I had lost my job, not a problem. I was able to freely enter and exit the room for bathroom breaks, water breaks, and took a one-hour lunch break. It would take a few weeks before all the results of the multiple tests could be compiled, reviewed, and a diagnosis made. I was also interviewed for about two hours, trying to summarize my life experiences up until that point, which included multiple traumas throughout childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.

It felt like years of waiting. I wanted to know as soon as possible so maybe I could start to feel better again. Or at least, less “crazy”. I was called back to the office, sat down, and simply told I have borderline personality disorder based on all the results. When I asked what that was, I was told to ask my psychiatrist or therapist. But that was another week away and I couldn’t wait that long. So I went home and immediately searched for it on Google.

Big mistake. Some of the top results for borderline included statements like “impossible to treat”, “manipulative”, and “the leprosy of mental illnesses”. Whatsmore, some of these statements were made by mental health professionals themselves. One very popular book contains such inflammatory statements that perpetuate this stigma.

Do you feel manipulated, controlled, or even lied to sometimes? Do you feel like you’re the victim of emotional blackmail?

Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care about Has Borderline Personality Disorder, by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger, New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2010, p. 10.

Granted, this book is marketed towards those who have a loved one who has been diagnosed or at least exhibits some of the criteria for the borderline diagnosis. But, making such a hyperbolic statement on page 10 of the book doesn’t exactly set the rest of the content to be pragmatic and nonjudgemental.

Considering this book was one of the top results for a Google search, it instantaneously sent me into a depressive episode. The more I read inflammatory remarks and quotes, the more I felt I was a “mental health leper”, to paraphrase Marsha Linehan, the leading researcher of borderline personality disorder who has been diagnosed with it herself.

Now I understand why I was directed to my psychiatrist and/or therapist for an explanation of the diagnosis. It would have been an emotionally charged and in-depth conversation that would have taken me a great deal of time to overcome and get back to a stable state so I could just have enough strength to leave the office and drive home.

So, now at least have a diagnosis and can perhaps start working on it. As I searched for treatment options online, it felt hopeless. There were a few things that could help, such as Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, but finding that in my local area produced no results. I would need all the help I could find in overcoming this.

What’s more, I wondered why I had this diagnosis. Was it something I had done? Something that had happened to me? Perhaps if I understood the cause, I could simply deal with it and move on with life. I’ll talk about that in the next part.

Read this article free on Medium at https://medium.com/@paigejulianne/my-borderline-part-1-the-diagnosis-and-stigma-24d2086196c5?sk=4fe0576da80c6d1c68d0dca25aa920c5