Is Recovery From Borderline Personality Disorder Truly Possible?
First of all, I'm going to say something that some may consider a little controversial. Full recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder is possible. I have heard a lot of people say that you only ever learn how to manage it and live with it (and some not even that), but I disagree. I have fundamentally changed - I am still "me" but I am also very different to who I was even a relatively short time ago. Debbie has asked me to write about this, and I will do my best to explain what has changed and how it has happened.
How BPD showed up in my life:
In some ways, I was very typically "borderline." My past is full of drama, inconsistency and, to put not too fine a point on it, failure. Despite having the academic ability I never went to university; I barely managed to hold down a (part- time) job for more than a few years at a time and was sacked on more than one occasion; I've had no relationship last longer than two years and, worst of all, I have a seventeen-year-old son I have never consistently looked after (he lives with my mother across the country).
All of these factors obviously reflect a very emotionally troubled and unstable young woman. I have taken several overdoses (my first at age fourteen) either out of desperation or as a genuine attempt to end my life. Most of my family do not speak to me.
I have no friends I have known for longer than four years. My life had been a series of 'phases' usually based on who I was in a relationship with at the time. Like most people with BPD, I had serious attachment issues tied in with identity disturbance which dominated my whole life for as far back as I can remember. Everything had been about my moods, and my moods were nearly always influenced by those around me. From hypomanic when things were going well to suicidal low mood (with the added complication of a separate diagnosis of severe depression) when things were bad. Quite often in the same hour, or even minute. You know what I'm talking about.
Despite being in and out of psychiatric care of one form or another since I was fifteen, I wasn't diagnosed as having BPD until Spring last year after having waited to see a psychiatrist for several months. I was then put on a waiting list to receive Mentalisation Based Therapy (MBT) as it's the only treatment for BPD available on the NHS in my area.
I began seeing a counsellor in the Autumn, and after roughly ten sessions she decided that I had already recovered sufficiently and didn't need further treatment. She, in fact, said that I had developed skills that most 'normal' people never do. The reason that I wasn't diagnosed until the point where I had almost recovered is because a) I had been in denial about what was wrong with me so I wasn't giving them the information that would have lead to diagnosis, and b) in Britain, when you wait to see a specialist in any medical field, you can wait a very long time.
So I think I need to answer two questions here:
What did I do to recover, and how do I know I've actually recovered if I was only first diagnosed roughly a year ago?:
First things first: I have always been a problem solver, and for some reason (either maturity or desperation) I turned this ability on myself a few years ago.
It went something like this as an example: "My boyfriend has gone away and I feel lost, alone and empty, I need him with me. I can't stand this, I hate myself. I want to die."
Instead of falling back on my old mal-adaptive coping strategies (heavy-drinking, chain-smoking, manipulative behaviour etc.), I tried to work out why I felt this way.
I realised that I felt just the same way I did when I was a small child and my mum would go away (I was a super-clingy child) and then I thought about why I was like that as a child - because my older siblings bullied me relentlessly, and I never felt safe unless I was with my mum.
I had heard about attachment issues so I read up on them and learned what was going on with me. I came across the concept of the 'inner child' and read about that, I read about healing and building self-esteem and dealing with shame. In essence, I did a lot of thinking, a lot of writing (a journal helps my thinking process) and a lot of reading.
My journals from this period
During a very intense period of self-analysis I wrote hundreds of pages, read dozens of books and figured out why I am the way I am. Of course, just knowing 'why' doesn't automatically fix it but it's a beginning. (I'm trying to bear in mind that Debbie asked me to write a guest post and not a manual so I will try to summarise as best I can.)
Putting it simply: self-analysis -> self-awareness -> understanding -> forgiveness -> compassion -> self-love.
That is the process I went through, but along the way I also had to learn a number of valuable skills, such as re-parenting my inner child (an ongoing process); deep-breathing through emotional crises and self-esteem building techniques. I learned most of the skills l needed from books and the rest from paying attention to how my 'healthy' friends dealt with life, relationships etc. (Please bear in mind that various techniques and skills work differently for everyone and we all have to find our own path to recovery, no two people with BPD have the same experience.)
Some of the books I read during my recovery
(A list of the all of books Clare read are at the bottom of this post.)
So how do I know that I am truly recovered?:
Firstly there is the professional opinion of the counsellor I saw who was very thorough.
Secondly, I have had 'false recovery' before - back when my diagnosis was Bipolar Disorder I went into a manic phase and abandoned therapy and medications - I know the difference between recovery and high mood and it has mostly to do with lack of tension and not thinking you know everything (I won't go into that too much here).
Most importantly, I know I am recovered because of what recovery is: learning and accepting who you are (flaws and all); developing essential 'life-skills' and healthy coping mechanisms not learned in childhood; learning love and compassion for yourself (being able to treat yourself as well as you would a loved-one); and being able to cope with what life throws at you, as well as anyone can (we're all human, after all).
Although I still have to stand the test of time, my life is very different today than it ever was. I am in a very stable relationship, living with someone who is right for me. In the past I tried to make myself fit people who weren't right for me because of my attachment issues and not accepting who I am. Now that I have learned to accept who I am and I'm no longer ashamed of myself, others also accept me for who I am and respect me as I respect myself - that is how all relationships work. My friendships are more stable now, I have learned the skills needed to cement good long-term friendships. I get on better with my son and my mum and they see a big difference in me.
I haven't worked for several years, both due to depression and BPD. But jobs are similar to relationships, you have to find the right fit or you end up making yourself more ill. Now that I understand myself better I can choose a job that is right for me and I know what that looks like now. I am fortunate to not be under too much financial pressure to find work at the moment but when I do I'm confident that it will be a very different story than before.
The Acceptance Piece:
One of the most crucial and difficult aspects of recovery is acceptance. Acceptance isn't about liking everything about yourself, it's about not fighting who you are. It took me a long time to get my head around acceptance, I didn't think it would ever happen and it was a gradual, frustrating process.
I don't like everything about me, and I often get annoyed with myself but I don't beat myself up about it. I think about how I can change the stuff that it's possible to change and I simply accept the rest, for example, I will always be moody but now it's within 'normal' range and isn't erratic.
I am very sensitive, this is not a flaw, it's part of what makes me who I am and it has its good and bad sides.
I am careful about the films and TV I watch because I respect that side of me, so do the people around me - I do not apologise for who I am. Being sensitive makes me very empathetic and caring, I am a good friend and I have helped a lot of people feel better about themselves because of my sensitivity - I wouldn't change it for the world. I am always going to be highly emotional, it's a part of being sensitive to experience overwhelming emotions at times, I have learned to let myself do what's needed to get it out of my system (usually a good old cry) and then when I'm calm I'll figure out what to do about whatever set me off.
I am much less likely to be triggered now, both due to the changes in my life and the stability that those changes have brought about for me. I also appreciate that I can experience very strong positive feelings that a lot of people just can't (an ex once told me people took drugs to have the euphoric experiences I do). I will always move from one obsessive interest to the next, it's not about seeking an identity or being dissatisfied with who I am, it's because I have a very low boredom threshold. I have known many people with this characteristic who were perfectly healthy - sometimes it's frustrating, mostly it's fun. I miss my boyfriend when he goes away on trips but I don't feel lost and alone without him. I get on with being me. I haven't felt lost and empty for a very long time. I know who I am now.
I do not think I have reached some magical end point - I am a work in progress and always will be. I am still learning about myself and what makes me happy but isn't everyone?
Unless they've totally given up on life that is. I no longer meet diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, I am still seeing a psychiatrist every few months but that is because of my long history of depression which I am hopeful I have also recovered from but it's too soon to call that one.
I have given a lot of thought to developing my methods of recovery into a programme to help others with BPD, I have many, many ideas for this and I am very excited about the prospect but I am also considering whether I am suited to taking on such huge responsibility, I am learning not to rush into things without thought of consequences. I might just start with a book...
-- Clare B.
You can find Clare at her:
I recommend following her to stay up to date with her plans.
Thanks for reading. More soon.
Here is a list of the books Clare read to assist her in her recovery:
- Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships
- Addictive Thinking: Understanding the Addictive Process and Compulsive Behavior
- The Art of Being
- The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living
- Being Happy!
- Beyond Fear
- The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living With BPD
- The Buddha and the Borderline: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism, and Online Dating
- The Disowned Self
- Dorothy Rowe's Guide to Life
- The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
- Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
- Evolutionary Psychology: A Beginner's Guide
- Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
- The Highly Sensitive Person
- How To Talk To Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships
- An Idea in Practice: Using the Human Givens Approach << highly recommended by Clare
- Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families
- Human Givens << highly recommended by Clare
- How to Raise Your Self-Esteem: The Proven Action-Oriented Approach to Greater Self-Respect and Self-Confidence
- Loving What Is: How Four Questions Can Change Your Life
- The Mindfulness Code: Keys for Overcoming Stress, Anxiety, Fear, and Unhappiness
- The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression
- The Origin of Everyday Moods: Managing Energy, Tension, and Stress
- People Skills
- Rescuing the Inner Child: Therapy for Adults Sexually Abused as Children
- The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
- Toward a Psychology of Being
- An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
- Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives
- Worry Cure
- 50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Books to Transform Your Life from Timeless Sages to Contemporary Gurus