‘Being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder didn’t ruin my life – it made things better’

·4-min read
Allison Strang
Allison Strang

Being 18 is hard enough. You’re navigating the bridge between your teenage years and adulthood and emotions run high. The last thing you need is mental health troubles or, in my case, a staggering diagnosis.

Throughout my teenage years, it was evident that aspects of my mental health strayed from the norm. Where most teens had a bratty, rebellious stage, I had an unending over-emotional streak, filled with drastic mood changes, turbulent relationships and impulsive behaviour. I was incorrectly diagnosed with depression at the age of 14, then anxiety, followed by OCD and bipolar disorder.

Because I was born and raised in America, this mish-mash of diagnoses over four years led to a fluctuation of medication, therapy and hypnosis.

And yet, the symptoms never settled. I still felt this itch of invalidation for all of my emotions, this fear that everyone around me would abandon me and this instinct to self-sabotage the things that were going in my favour. All of this, combined with suicidal thoughts, was a dangerous recipe for my mental and physical health.

Finally, my genius of a sister (and future psychologist) convinced my parents that they were looking in all the wrong places and she got me to the treatment centre where finally I would be properly diagnosed. At this point I had little hope or drive to get better, so when the doctor confidently told me that I had borderline personality disorder (BPD) – a disorder of mood and how a person interacts with others – I felt numb.

I was referred to the Dialectical Behavioural Therapy Center in Houston, Texas, but in all honesty they could have sent me to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and I wouldn’t have minded. I was just over it. My ever-supportive family was not. My mother called up the centre where the receptionist optimistically told me on the phone: “You won’t feel this way in six months, sweetie. Trust me.”

He was right. I spent nearly eight months in full-time treatment, navigating my personal issues with one-on-one counselling and learning how to cope with my emotions through group therapy. Basically, I had to learn emotional and interpersonal skills that come to most people naturally. I built up a healthy toolkit full of mindfulness techniques, coping mechanisms and ways to get my mind to a rational place.

I went from having a perpetual feeling of hopelessness to having an understanding of BPD. Coping with it all wasn’t always easy – I did take some steps in the wrong direction – but I handled it by turning back to my little toolkit. I learned to accept things as they were, I remembered that the negative feelings would always pass and I found things to be grateful for.

Most importantly, I completed my treatment. According to research, only 1.6 per cent of the global general population have BPD, and one in five of those people are currently in inpatient treatment. While I am in the small group of people that have this disorder and always will be, I will forever wear my skills learned in treatment like a badge of honour instead of falling back to the low point that felt so dark.

' I’ve taught those people I’ve been close to that having hiccups in your mental health is okay'
' I’ve taught those people I’ve been close to that having hiccups in your mental health is okay'

Research suggests that only 38.5 per cent of people with BPD are self-sufficient, so as a young adult who had recently completed treatment successfully, I was still faced with the challenge of dealing with my symptoms as I moved on with life.

Instead of wrapping myself up in my mental health issues when the going got tough and becoming a product of society’s definition of mental illness, I decided to challenge BPD. I learned to take my personality disorder and use it to my advantage, to run with it into the opposite direction.

I took my impulsivity and, almost five years ago, used it to move across the world to London to pursue a career in fashion journalism. I took my exaggerated emotions and used them to empathise with others and care for those around me. I took my fear of abandonment and channelled it into building up love for myself so, even if my irrational fear of abandonment comes true, I’ll still have my own back.

At 25, I’m employed as a content editor, living as an independent, loved and successful woman. I’ve built friendships with people I would never have dreamed of meeting, learning about cultures and families that stretch far and wide. I’ve fallen in love with a gem who I wouldn't have met on the other side of the world: a man who’s shown me how to express the vast ebbs and flows of my emotions in a way that works for not just me, but for those around me. In return, I’ve taught those people I’ve been close to that having hiccups in your mental health is okay and I continuously share how you can use these upsets, no matter what they may be, to your advantage.

Ultimately, I’ve been able to do this because of my BPD. My personality disorder is, and always will be, my power.

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