content notes: brief mentions of self-harm, alcoholism, death
May is Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month. I am generally both wary and weary of any and all awareness campaigns, particularly those centering on mental health and illness, as well as disability, and physical illness, but, as I often joke, there must be a way for me to capitalize on my trauma and survival, a way to trick the world into letting me live another day, and so, here I am, using my so-called attention-seeking behaviour to manipulate you into listening to me for a few minutes. Hi!
I was diagnosed with BPD in May 2011, although I was unaware of any sort of awareness campaigns, and it was five years ago, around the same time that Marsha Linehan, who created Dialectical Behaviour Therapy came out as a borderline (or a post-borderline?) herself. (I will never know if the psychologist on the inpatient unit who diagnosed me was aware of either of these things, but it’s interesting to wonder about.) There is much contention around the word borderline, of course; I wish to note that I use the term affectionately, with love & care & rage & hope, for myself and for my pals. Words hold different meanings for different people, and while many would wish to distance themself from either the word “borderline” or the diagnosis itself, I choose to hold onto it, to dream new meanings, understand old meanings, to use it when I need or want to, to connect with and through it, as well as to question and interrogate it, move around and beyond it, to share it, to learn from it.
Sometimes, while story-telling or attempting to name my feelings, I will interrupt myself and say, “Classic borderline,” “textbook case,” “caricature of the DSM,” etc. etc., and I do so with sarcasm, yes, and self-consciousness and shame, but also with a sense of self-love, compassion, and imagination (when possible). I could show you pictures of previous incarnations of myself that embody the stereotype of the borderline: a sad lonely girl, a messy alcoholic, a cutter from childhood to adulthood, an angry femme, a runaway, a queer with a history of trauma, a jealous artist, an impulsive and (self-)destructive (and yes, sometimes violent) person, a victim who refused to use the word survivor because they felt they could not survive, someone who identified as a slut and then was celibate for years at a time, an unemployed fuck-up, a weirdo who has tried on countless aesthetics and identities, a regular at multiple hospitals (the last time I was admitted to the ER, the receptionist complimented my new hairstyle), a bridge-burner, a bad daughter, a black-and-white-thinker existing in extremes, a disaster. I’ve been all of those things. I am okay with having contained (and overflowed with) all these stories and feelings and beings, I am able to write these words (sometimes) without judging myself or blaming myself or crying or feeling triggered. And I’m living beyond them, too.
I have also been a dreamer, a writer, an artist, an accidental activist, and a friend.
And who might I become? I don’t know! That’s what’s so fascinating about the borderline process!
Almost anyone who has searched for information about BPD is familiar with the image of a girl (generally a thin, white, cis girl) pulling her hair and crying in front of a broken mirror. I know this girl. I’ve been her. I cringe every time I see this image, but she is within me, a sad clichè, but struggling and falling apart nonetheless. She appears on the covers of books, on blogs, on guides for how-to-spot- (and often, eliminate) the-borderline-in-your-life (or therapy practice, or family, or ER, or or or…), the covers of psychology magazines, self-help books, memoirs, etc etc etc. As BPD is understood more, studied more, listened to more, her image is slowing being replaced with dandelion wishes, daffodils, cherry blossoms, soft pastels, waiting room shades of green and blue, reminders of choosing mindfulness over drama.
A tall stack of books about borderline personality disorder, trauma, self-harm, & staying alive!
I keep both of these images within me, and so much more, too. I dream of the zillion borderlines living their lives, those I’ll know and those I’ll never know, I dream of borderlines with and without access to diagnoses, with and without access to meaningful, competent treatment. I dream of borderlines who feel unsure of the word borderline, borderlines unseen, borderlines on their own, borderlines living with their parents, borderlines abandoned again and again, queer borderlines, disabled borderlines, lonely borderlines, crip borderlines, chronically ill borderlines, slutty borderlines, celibate borderlines, femme borderlines, feminist borderlines, trans borderlines, non-binary borderlines, borderlines who’ve died and who will die, borderlines who make a tough and conscious effort to stay alive each day, traumatized borderlines and untraumatized borderlines, suicidal borderlines, artist borderlines, borderlines who don’t make art, borderline witches, borderline weirdos, borderlines normos, high school dropout borderlines and borderlines with PhD’s and MFA’s, borderlines who write and borderlines who don’t, borderlines who are out and borderlines who are not, alcoholic borderlines and sober borderlines, angry borderlines, grateful borderlines, sensitive borderlines, crazy borderlines, shy borderlines, healing borderlines, borderlines who work and borderlines who can’t, borderlines on social assistance, medicated borderlines, unmedicated borderlines, neurotic borderlines, psychotic borderlines, uncool borderlines, unpopular borderlines, survivor borderlines, borderlines in precarious situations, borderlines who can’t shut up about it, borderlines who are sick of talking about it, borderlines borderlines borderlines…!
Who has access to a diagnosis? How do race, disability, income, misogyny, sexism, cissexism, ableism, madphobia, capitalism, transphobia, transmisogynoir, queerphobia, etc. affect who is diagnosed, and when, and how, and where, and why, and by whom? How do these intersections and in/accessibilities affect how we perceive or interpret or misinterpret our diagnosis, how we cope with it, how we respond? What information do histories of “hysteria,” witchcraft, and (anti-)oppression have to offer me in my own understanding of BPD? How do chronic pain and illness contribute to my understanding of and recovery with BPD? What do compliance and non-compliance mean in my daily life? What does it mean to take on “borderline” as an identity when the “goal” of “recovery” is (supposedly) to no longer qualify for the diagnosis? In what ways has your diagnosis helped you and in what ways has it harmed you? What are your feelings about self-diagnosis? Who has access to language, to dreams, to community, to conversations, to re-imaginings, to resistance?
A picture I drew of Saint Dymphna, Patron Saint of Mental Illness, Crazy People, Runaways, etc etc, re-imagined as a zinester with a microphone.
My aim is not (or maybe not only) to provide hope – although sometimes I accidentally do – but to re-imagine, re-interpret, re-define recovery, healing, coping, creating; to re-negotiate diagnostic language, and the inherent isms and stigma contained within medical and diagnostic terms and descriptions; to resist narratives of battling and overcoming and transcending and triumphing; and to share my process. I want to claim borderline again and again, to move through my own (pre-)conceptions of what it means to be a borderline, of what I might be capable of, of how I interact (or don’t) with other borderlines and not-borderlines and maybe-borderlines.
I’m curious about the borderline stories untold, about being grateful for the borderline stories I know thus far and wanting more, I’m ever-thinking about who has access to competent, meaningful treatment, about why I hold onto this word so hard, curious about the stories of those who’ve died and those I’ll never know and those yet to be, I’m curious about the words borderlines use to describe themselves/ourselves, the metaphors, the wordless, I’m curious about how to unlearn my own internalized and externalized isms and discomforts with BPD, I wonder how to keep telling and re-telling stories, I wonder who’s listening, I wonder what’s next.
P.S.: I have a new zine! Telegram #39 is about examining the ways poverty, trauma, and chronic pain shape & alter & distort my perceptions of myself, my body, and my imagination. It’s about being okay with not-belonging; chronic instability of home and health and communication; coping, caring, dreaming. Making connections. This is a zine about sickness, pain, and isolation, the damage poverty does to one’s psyche & body & soul, and surviving under capitalism. It’s a zine about falling & praying & breathing. Cards & candles & the irrational. Affirmations for crazy & sick & disabled weirdos. Magic as coping skills. Story-telling, story-exploring, storying. Asking questions.
P.P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!