I recently connected on Facebook with another person with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I had a knee jerk, judgmental reaction to what she wrote (yes, that’s so BPD) and she read it and politely called me on it.
That incident led to a long-ish text conversation on what we share with our friends, what we share online and what we never share. Her contention was that I was ‘brave,’ for writing so much about my condition all over the Internet, from my blog, to what I write for The Mighty.
Her article was, in her view, a one-off. She had reached a point where she felt she had to explain in some detail why she was the way she was. Some of us do a far better job at putting what we go through in print rather than trying to explain. So she wrote it all out – except for the incidents that originally triggered her BPD.
For many years I have been an ‘open book’ about my illness. And, for much of that time, my ‘sharing,’ whether it was in a newspaper column or on a radio show I hosted, was not about my ‘mental illness’ specifically, although I realize it was now. I felt the need to talk about what I was going through because I really wanted to see if I was alone in what I was feeling. I also had to make it entertaining enough so I learned how to laugh at myself.
My ex-wife was horrified at the personal details I shared. She is a very private person and being married to me, with my undiagnosed BPD and tendency to emotionally bleed all over the place, was something she could not stand. It was part of why our marriage ended.
When I got in trouble at work due to my BPD, I landed up self-identifying my illness to the Federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) as I am a Federal Government employee. I did it to protect myself. Many people, especially in our union, cautioned me against officially listing myself as having a mental illness, which I didn’t understand. My point was: everyone here knows what I’ve been through – what’s the sense of trying to hide it?
But many people have to hide it – from their employers, friends even family. Maybe I never realized how difficult it is for people with BPD and other mental illnesses to reach out and explain why they are the way they are.
I don’t think of myself as ‘brave.’ Maybe I’m foolish and naïve. Living in the open as a person with BPD and PTSD may put some people on their guard but I want to show that I am like everyone else. I have a life, I have dreams and I have many of the trappings of normal living. I also have this illness and this is how I fight it.
I think the people who have to keep it secret are just as brave, perhaps more so, than I am. I have nothing really left to lose, but so many people who fight their illness do. Like the person I met online, they are a good deal younger than I, are just starting their careers or figuring out what they want from life. The stigma can kill those dreams.
My newfound friend did not want anyone to know her backstory because that’s not how she wanted her life to be defined. With me, my BPD and PTSD is me. I have the luxury of being ‘out’ and, with it, the obligation to help others.
I am uncomfortable with being described as ‘brave.’ Everyone who struggles with their own mental condition is brave. The real trick is to become resilient and tough. And that, after 30 years, is something I still have to learn.
We are forced to be brave. We learn to be resilient.
And we have to be there for each other without judgment – a lesson I still had to learn.