The NHS says borderline personality disorder (BPD) is "the most commonly recognised" of all the personality disorders. And maybe it is within medical circles, but there's a tidal wave of misconceptions engulfing the discourse around this condition. The average person probably knows very little about it, which is odd, given the fact that – according to mental health charity Mind – over 2 percent of the population will have experience with it over their lifetime.
As we approach the third week of Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month, I spoke to Jodie, a 27-year-old actress based in London. She was diagnosed with BPD in August of 2017 after a suicide attempt. She was upset when she received the diagnosis, but since then she's recognised that it's something she can live with, and she's now keen to dispel some misunderstandings.
VICE: What do you think are the main misconceptions surrounding BPD?
Jodie: A lot of people think that people with BPD are dangerous and violent. I know I'm only a danger to myself. Also, people think that people with BPD are all the same, but there are actually 256 different combinations of nine main symptoms; one person can have a totally different set of symptoms to the next.
What symptoms do you experience?
The main one for me is really intense emotions that can change really quickly. When I’m upset I'm in absolute floods of tears, panic attacks and I can’t move. The next minute I can be so happy. It can all be over something minor, so it can be really difficult to explain why I’ve just flipped.
What are the triggers?
The main thing is abandonment; if I sense that there’s a shift in relationship with someone, I think they're going to abandon me. If this happens, I can start to pick fights with someone to push them away because I’m scared that they’ll leave. I think 'If I push them away, they’ve not left me. I’ve chosen for them to leave.'
What are some ways it's treated?
Dialectical behaviour therapy is the main one. It was created by a lady called Marsha Linehan, who also has BPD. It’s skills-based, so rather than looking at why you behave that way it’s more about "here is a way to self-sooth". It’s mainly a group therapy, and a lot of people in my group did really well out of it. It just didn’t work for me. I’m now on a waiting list to get mentalisation-based therapy.
Has your condition resulted in destructive behaviour?
The arguing and pushing people away can be really destructive. Generally, the more that I want someone to stay in my life, the more I love and care about them, the more destructive I can become. I watch myself do it and think, 'Please stop.' To cope with those issues I can start drinking or self-harming to try and deal with the intensity. That gets me into more trouble.
What’s the best way that you can support someone with BPD?
I had a friend who's really supportive – he just listened and validated without judgment, and researched to try and understand. He didn’t make me feel like anything I said made me sound crazy. If it wasn’t for that friend I wouldn’t be able to talk about it now so openly. Rather than being like "you shouldn’t be this way, life is fine" it’s better to go with an "it’s OK that you feel this way" approach.
How do you feel about the way that BPD is portrayed in popular culture?
When I got diagnosed I googled it, and the first thing that came up was Fatal Attraction. I’ve not seen it, but it’s about a woman who becomes an aggressive stalker. Hurtful. But have you ever seen Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix? It portrays the manic and low episodes really well. That helped me when I got diagnosed, as it gave me something to relate to. But there is no "real" representation because the condition is so different for everyone.
Have you been discriminated against?
My agent is really understanding. He knows. But I also work as a teaching assistant, and I’d never tell the agency. That stigma is still there; I worry that because it’s a zero-hour contract they would just stop giving me hours. Also, I was looking into getting a rescue dog, and the woman said that because I have BPD I wouldn’t be able to cope.
How do people react when you tell them that you’ve got a personality disorder?
Some people are horrified, but a lot of people are just like, "Oh, OK," and will ask questions. I was so scared to tell anyone for ages at first – I thought everyone in my house wouldn’t want me to live there anymore. Then I told a friend, the one I mentioned before, and he reacted really well; he just said: "How does that affect you?" Someone reacting like that made me think that it was OK. I’ve been called some nasty names, but I think generally people are pretty cool with it.
What is the one thing about BPD that you wished everybody knew?
It doesn’t make you manipulative, in the same way that not having BPD doesn’t. Some people might be and some people might not be – like everyone. Despite the fact that our brains work differently and we can sometimes be intense, we shouldn’t be avoided at all costs in the way that people on Reddit seem to think. I’d do anything for the people that I love, and I know that many, many people with BPD are extremely loving and caring.