by Princess Harmony Rodriguez
It was like any other day in October when a wave of unsureness swept over me. As unsureness became depression and depression became paranoia, I began to send sad, frenzied messages to my best friend: I was afraid of losing her, of losing everyone I care about, of anything and everything that could go wrong.
That fear of loss and the emptiness that came with it was familiar. She’d heard it from me before. She told me she thought I might have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) for a while now and, this time, she sent a YouTube video explaining what it was.
The symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder are: frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, intense and unstable interpersonal relationships, identity and self-image disturbance, impulsivity in areas that are self-damaging, recurrent suicidal behavior, emotional instability, chronic feelings of emptiness, inappropriate and intense anger (and problems controlling that anger), and stress-related paranoid thoughts and dissociative symptoms.
I recognized myself in the description of the disorder. I didn’t want to keep feeling the way I did — it hurt and caused so much chaos in my life — so I scheduled an appointment to ask my therapist about it. It was then that I was officially diagnosed. Finally.
I was also diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder (in 2012) and PTSD (in 2013), making me one of those with co-occurring mental disorders: It’s like a match made in hell. The negative synergy between the three disorders made life unbearable. My emotions never fit situations. Something that might ordinarily be mildly upsetting would throw me into deep depression, and sometimes suicide would be my #1 thought. To deal with uncontrollable and pendulum-like emotions, I drank and used whatever I could get my hands on. Whatever I could do to dull the pain. Often times, causing even more damage to my life.
After learning about BPD, my difficulty maintaining relationships made sense to me. Platonic relationships would fall apart shortly after they were forged because, afraid that my new friend would leave me, I’d cling as tightly as I could. Or, if I felt that they’d hurt me, I’d treat them horribly but never tell them why.
I wanted close friends. I wanted a BFFL that I could talk about anything with, but I sabotaged it every time I thought I could get it. That’s another major part of BPD: idealization, vilification, and self-sabotage. Simultaneously, I had no romantic relationships. While I wanted the fairy tale marriage, the ceaseless love, and the knowledge that someone would be there with me for life; I couldn’t feel romantic love. I could only feel an intense, everlasting platonic love that appeared to border on romantic desire.
PTSD entered my life in 2013, after I’d been raped in school. Its most ruthless symptom, agoraphobia, feeds perfectly into my fear of abandonment and the emptiness that come with BPD. I’ve been afraid of my friends leaving me because while I am terrified of leaving my home, they can move and live freely.
I understand now that while PTSD came only as the end result of the rape in 2013, BPD came as the result of constantly moving and experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of adults in childhood. Trauma never leaves one unscarred and all of those scars add up. And being QTPOC, in this world, often means that violence never stops as well.
As feminists and those living on the intersections of oppression, our communities need to be more aware of these disorders. We work to help destigmatize many diverse illnesses, yet we still allow for the stigmatization of people with BPD and other socially “inconvenient” disorders. When we feed into the image of the Borderline as being violent, abusive, manipulative, or “crazy,” we allow it to thrive.
Further, because BPD is a gendered issue, it’s also a feminist issue. Despite studies finding that BPD is common among all people, women are still overwhelmingly diagnosed with it and men are underdiagnosed with it. Why is it so gendered? To misogynists, it “confirms” what they already think about women and transgender people: that we are over-emotional and irrational and that we cannot be taken seriously.
Though the eight symptoms of BPD can be expressed in many ways, it’s often not recognized when people perceived as male display symptoms. We forget that gender roles, socializations, and stereotyping also contribute to the different ways we communicate or suppress our emotions. Because men are not “supposed” to cry or be depressed, they’re taught to act out their depression invisibly, with irritation or anger, and often suffer with the disease until getting treatment for something else, such as alcohol abuse disorders.
This, compounded with how people of color with mental illnesses are more likely than our white counterparts to be abused or mistreated, is why QTPOC community should strive for being more supporting of and compassionate towards people who display BPD symptoms. We are not inherently bad; we are people who have been traumatized and thus feel so much that it starts to hurt.
Whether we love each other as friends, siblings, or partners, we need a new model of love. One that acknowledges, both, our needs and the needs of those around us — including Borderline people. We’ve come too far as a socially aware, intentionally inclusive community to not come up with new methods of love that don’t reject people for things they can’t control or may not even know they have.
We must remember that all of us are worthy of loving and being loved. Community love is powerful. It is healing. It’s only with the support of our loved ones that we can truly overcome what can very well be a deadly disorder.
I am not the person I was before I was diagnosed with BPD. Now, even though I do still feel it, I can deal with the symptoms and the triggers as they appear because I now know how to identify them. Self-care has been so important in this journey. Most importantly, having a best friend who never turned her back on me was instrumental to my recovery.
She, without saying it, taught me that loving someone healthily and having a successful platonic relationship was possible. Many with BPD aren’t so lucky and for those people, I would say to seek out others with BPD who are recovering. And, as cliche as it may be, never give up hope.
You can be loved and you can recover.
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Princess is an afro-latin trans woman, survivor of childhood and adult sexual violence, creator, otaku, and anti-violence activist. Her writing has been published on The Feminist Wire, Feministing, Black Girl Dangerous, Know Your IX, and FeministaJones.com.