How I Discovered I have Borderline Personality Disorder
“Actually that is part of a whole therapy method: dialectical behavior therapy. I want you to do DBT when you finish up the program here. I think it’s really going to be a good next step for you.”
Those words were from D, the lead therapist for my intensive outpatient program at my local psychiatric hospital. A single assignment, and that statement, started me down a rabbit hole of online reading and research that ultimately brought me to where I am today. Nothing with her was ever coincidental or by chance: she was amazing at her job and at connecting with even the most difficult of patients (like me). I’m certain that she gave me that packet as a way to get me “hooked” on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a way to let me find the real source of my struggles and the way to cope. I spent the next several days reading everything I could get my hands on about DBT and its creator.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy was invented by Marsha Linehan in the late 1980s as an off branch of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. DBT was originally developed specifically as a treatment for chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, a specific psychological disorder defined by intense and dysregulated emotions. Now, considered the “gold standard” treatment for people who have BPD, dialectical behavior therapy has also proven to be a highly effective psychotherapy treatment for people who struggle with addiction, eating disorders, PTSD, and chronic depression.
DBT focuses on educating the individual and developing skills as a means of improvement. For DBT to be truly effective, the individual must commit to both weekly individual psychotherapy sessions as well as attending weekly skills group sessions. Fully involved DBT therapists are also regularly available for their clients through electronic communication in between sessions, allowing the individual to reach out for help when needed and receive coaching or reminders. The individual must be willing to become aware of their life, good and bad, experience everything fully, and implement the skills in every facet of life.
Friendships and relationships had always been a struggle for me: I would connect to people and cling to them, sticking like super glue, then suddenly something would happen, and it was all over. This lead to me constantly fearing abandonment, of literally being terrified of ever being alone. I struggled with constantly feeling empty, like there was a void inside my soul, a hole inside my heart that was constantly bleeding out, and nothing I ever did was good enough or big enough to fill that emptiness inside. I’d had desires to die, to end my life, to commit suicide from the age of thirteen. I found myself constantly desiring to escape the world, a world in which I never felt that I belonged. I started self-harming as a teen. I regularly would drive recklessly, consume alcohol, seek any sort of thrills, anything just to feel alive, to feel a rush of energy inside me. My mood could change at the drop of a hat, and every mood was cranked to the max: I could be on top of the world, dancing and laughing one minute then be hiding in a closet slashing my arms an hour later. Everything was too much.
For the first time in my life, I felt that I had found a concrete sense of who I was. As I devoured articles from Psychology Todayand The Mightyabout Borderline Personality Disorder, it was literally like staring into a mirror and seeing my reflection. I was impulsive, I was moody, I feared abandonment, I felt chronically empty and confused about my identity: all symptoms exhibited by “borderlines.” Why had nobody mentioned this fifteen years ago when I first started exhibiting self-harm and suicidal ideation? I clearly exhibited all the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder and had for as long as many people had known me.
I soon came to find, though, that the path to being labeled as “a borderline” was not as simple as one would think. Most professionals (including my own psychiatrist who I think is amazing at his job) avoid labeling BPD or even suggesting it to patients. BPD is referred to as a “kiss of death” diagnosis. It can appear comorbidly with other mood or psychological disorders like major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, making it difficult to pick out of the “lineup.” People with the disorder fall into holes of addiction, average at least three suicide attempts in their lifetime, and are resistant to many typical treatments. At least 10% of people diagnosed with BPD are expected to die by suicide, with more dying from complications from addiction.
Then Dr. R entered my life, and things changed. I discovered Dr. R while furiously searching the internet for DBT therapists in my area. Dr. R’s profile popped up on Psychology Today. I scheduled an initial appointment to see her individually for one session just to “test the waters.” I remember that first session so vividly, even down to the little details like the smell of essential oils and sweet greetings from her dog, Denver (who faithfully attends nearly all my sessions). Dr. R didn’t freak out when I mentioned BPD, in fact, she completely agreed with my desire to be “labeled.” Dr. R has been living DBT and using it with her patients for years.
Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on both change and acceptance. The four main components (often referred to as “modules”) of DBT are mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. For someone who has spent most of her life feeling everything intensely and often losing control due to my emotions, struggling to make and keep friendships, and constantly feeling out of touch with life, these things were exactly what I needed in my life.
I’ve personally been hard at work with DBT for nearly nine months, a recognizable milestone. With Dr. R’s wonderful guidance, I’ve been cutting my way through my “dysregulation” and working hard to implement the skills of DBT into my daily life. I am finding that, for the first time in my entire life, that I not only understand who I am and why I am that person, but I also feel that I am gaining the power to control my own life. BPD has always been a part of me, but without knowing what that part was, there was no possible way for me to know how to deal with it. I know that my journey into DBT is only just beginning (many with BPD find themselves involved in DBT for 1-2 years before they are considered “in recovery”), but I look forward to continuing to move the needle forward, to becoming the best version of myself. I am working towards improving my life, or as Dr. R says, “a life worth living and being present for participating fully.”
Megan Glosson is an avid writer, currently published on The Mighty, Thought Catalog, Unwritten, and MSN. She is an advocate for the mental health and LGBT communities and enjoys using her writing to educate and spread awareness. Megan is very open about her struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder and hopes to teach the world the truth about this illness so that the negative stigma can be diminished.
Megan is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University (2010) and is in the process of beginning a Master of Education degree in Mental Health Counseling. She hopes to eventually become a mental health professional focused on BPD and its treatment though Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
Megan is a mother of two daughters who describe themselves as "beautiful, smart, and big hearted." She resides in Murfreesboro, TN with her children, husband, and three cats. Megan loves board games, adventures to lands near and far, and a good bowl of ice cream.
You can learn more about Megan or read more of her work by visiting her website: http://meganglosson.com/
A portion of this story was originally published on Thought Catalog.