Gaga at the Psych Intake: BPD and Identity Disturbance

About two years ago, I checked into an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), also known as partial hospitalization. My life had become out of control. I was feeling the serious repercussions of pretty much having sabotaged my relationships and my job...and it wasn't the first time. I was inconsolable and couldn't stand that I was in this situation, disappointing others and destroying my hard work all over again.  I was also suicidal and hysterical because I had a sudden realization: I didn't know who I was. 

For those of you who are reading my new book or who have been following my blog for quite some time, you know that identity disturbance was a huge component in my psychiatrist making an accurate diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Halloween happened to fall on one of the days of my hospital sessions, and I chose to dress like Lady Gaga. (Funny side note: I was the only patient to take up the staff's offer to dress up. I jumped at the opportunity!)

As you can see in the photo above, I wore a beautiful, long, platinum blonde wing, did my makeup very Gaga-esque, and dressed differently than I ordinarily would. I moved and spoke and behaved with much more sass and confidence than I usually did. It was as if the wig had super powers. I felt braver.

That day, I  -- and millions of others who celebrate Halloween, maybe even you -- made a conscious decision to partake in a holiday that allows everyone to be someone else for a day. It's socially acceptable to dress up as pretty much anything and "be" that character for one day a year. (I *love* Halloween for this!)

For those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder, although we don't dress up in elaborate costumes and wigs to change our personas each day (well, most of us don't), we may experience less conscious yet as extreme shifts in personality depending on whose company we are keeping at a given time.

"Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior. This instability often disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individual's sense of self-identity..."

...and one of the 9 symptoms of BPD (5 need to be present for a diagnosis) is:
  • Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self

The only thing that gave me hope as I attended IOP was my psychiatrist's reassurance that help was available to help me discover who I really was - my own unique identity.  I was incredibly skeptical and cynical about the process at first, but two years into DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), and I can tell you that I am coming into my own. I'm discovering who I am regardless of whose company I am keeping at any point in time.  I continue to discover that I have values that no longer waver, shift, or change to accommodate or please anyone else.

I honestly did not think it would be possible to get to this place, but I have.  Considering the severity of my identity disturbance when I first started DBT, if I have been able to progress to this point, you can too. There is HOPE.

If you have any questions about my issues with identity disturbance, please feel free to ask. Please also feel free to share your stories and experiences around these issues.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.



  1. Wow Debbie, do you ever look like lady Gaga. Awesome.
    I really need to thank you for your blog and this page. I'm not BP but a girl I am very much in love with is. She lives hundreds of miles away. She asked me to marry her. I have not been the same since. I miss her terribly.
    What you have done with your own life is so incredible! You should be really really proud of yourself and what you have accomplished. Even writing a book.
    The girl I fell in love with is doing alot of splitting right now and chooses to talk to me maybe once every couple of weeks.
    This has affected me so much that I am working on a business plan to launch a BP specific healing center in Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA.
    Any words of wisdom from you would be very much appreciated.
    Even those of us without BP need to heal. So much education to the general public needs to happen. So many facilities need to be created to help. Compassion and non judgement must be the focus.
    Keep up the incredible work! On yourself. And on educating those of us who are just starting to understand.

    1. Thank you Trevor -- and I think it's wonderful what you plan to do!

  2. That's why I enjoy acting so much.

  3. Great costume! I can identify with the personality shifts. I've got a year of DBT skills. I am better at not changing who I am depending on who I'm with anymore but I feel so uncomfortable showing people my true self when it is different than the way they are or think or act that it becomes unbearable to be around them.


    1. Thank you Wil for your comment and explaining how you relate.

  4. If people say they love something, and you don't say "Oh, I love that too!" but by your not saying it, they just assume you like it, and you don't say anything so they will like you, is that identity disturbance too?

    1. I'm not sure -- but from my own personal experience, I would often say I liked or didn't like something based on how I thought the OTHER person felt -- and this made me feel very chameleon-like -- as if I didn't have a sense of identity of my own.



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