When I was at school, there was one easy and convenient way to diss someone's choice of girlfriend. "Oh, I don't know about her," you'd say casually, "she's a little borderline." Reared on portrayals of bunny-boiling Glen Close in Fatal Attraction or Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted, a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder was easy shorthand for mean teens to dismiss anybody who didn't fit the usual norms of 15-year-old girl behavior.
Real life is a lot different from the movies. Borderline personality disorder (or BPD, for short) is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses out there—and it afflicts far more women than men, with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders stating that it is "diagnosed predominantly (about 75%) in females."
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Ida Storm wants to change that. The young Norwegian was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder over eight years ago, but had first started self-harming—a behavior closely associated with the condition—when she was 10. In the throes of her illness, the 28-year-old picked up a handheld video camera and started recording her days and moods, which swooped from great highs to terrifying lows. "I am [a] hopeless, insane, brain-damaged ex-junkie," she informs her camera at one point.
Over the years, she accumulated hours and hours of footage. Finally, she sent in a memory stick of her video diary to Indie Film, a production company. "When we accessed the memory stick we were struck by the exceptionally strong and brutally honest material playing before our eyes," a spokesperson said in a statement.
With the help of director August B Hanssen, the video was cut into a documentary short called Being Ida, taken from a longer documentary called Ida's Diary that was released on Norwegian TV earlier this year. Being Ida will be premiered on VICE this Saturday as part of World Mental Health Day.
"Many [women who self-harm or who have BPD] have come to me to say that they recognize themselves [in the documentary], and that they are surprised that there is someone they find so familiar, that there is someone they have so much in common with," Storm tells Broadly. "There is more openness and enlightenment now [about self-harm] than 18 years ago but it is still very stigmatizing."
Self-harm has been closely associated with women, though psychologists now believe that there is an increasing amount of men who also self-harm. One 2011 research paper from Ghent University in Belgium concludes: "The current study shows that scraping and cutting are used more by females, while males tend to resort to more externalized methods of expressing anger (e.g. punching into walls). However, males are also starting to use what were considered feminine methods of [self-harm], while females are starting to also externalize anger."
I have read in blogs and Internet forums that girls with BPD are manipulative, argumentative... who must not have children and who people certainly should not date. Is that how people see me?
"Self-harm is one of many symptoms of BPD," Storm says. "Self-injury is a coping method to cope with the painful thoughts and feelings. Which are so intense. And also a way of coping with the other symptoms." She describes her own experience of BPD as "intense. Violent emotions. Unstable. Unpredictable. Super frustrating."
Storm doesn't shy away from documenting the side effects of self-harm, showing her scarred legs and stitched-up arms to her camera. At one point, when she relapses after a stint of not hurting herself, she tearfully says that she has even made cuts on her face. In the longer documentary Ida's Diary, you even see Storm take a blade to herself. It's brutal.
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"In my view [the film is] is an extremely well-made documentary on the huge public health problem of self-harm in the young," says Lars Mehlum, a professor of psychiatry and suicidology at the National Center for Suicide Research and Prevention in Norway. "There is a strong need for an increased public awareness of the severity of this problem. Self-harming teenagers urgently need specialized interventions, and they benefit greatly from treatments adapted to their needs. This is an important message to get through to families and gatekeepers."
At a screening in Norway, Storm said that she "wanted to make this film not because I think my story is unique, but precisely because it is not unique," and to show what BPD was really like. Researchers still do not completely understand why BPD tends to affect more women than men, although that hasn't stopped people from coming up with their own stereotypes of what female BPD sufferers are like.
"I have read in blogs and Internet forums that girls with BPD are manipulative, argumentative and impossible, who must not have children and who people certainly should not date," she tells me. "Is that how people see me? Just because some people may have had a partner like that does not mean that everyone with BPD is like that."
"Instead, I have experienced that my family is almost annoyed that I complain so little. It would have helped me and my family more if I had just said how I was doing and got it out of my system. Once when I came home with bandage on my neck, my sister gave me a hug and said she was glad that I was not dead, and I answered that everything's OK, I was just fine. It was obvious that I wasn't just fine."
Storm is now 28 years old and has "been up and down, but things are moving forward," and says that she has started viewing her BPD a little differently. "One can also become more creative at times and that is good," she explains. "For example, there are several great artists and composers who have struggled with mental health problems, and I do not think they could have created what they did without them, and although I do not begrudge them their psychological problems, I am in a way glad about it anyway, and not least a little bit proud of having something in common with them."
Being Ida premieres on VICE on World Mental Health Day this Saturday.