For most people emotions are anchors, but for some people they are boomerangs, flinging us helplessly between a rock and a hard place. Overwhelming emotions - called emotional dysregulation in the research literature - is one of the hallmarks of borderline disorder, a personality disorder about which so many presume to know, but so few really do. Emotional dysregulation can one of the most stigmatic and misunderstood symptoms of all. In this short talk I hope to demystify the plethora of myths about borderline. Some have mocked me over my illness and tried to kill my flame, but you can't kill an idea, and my idea is that all kinds of minds are worthwhile, even those that are atypical and unlike your own. If I can make one mind think more compassionately about borderline people, I will not have lived in vain.
I was inspired to give this talk by a breakdown in my relationships with several friends during a severe borderline crisis. I had fixated obsessively on my friend, Alex, and developed romantic delusions, misperceiving friendly gestures as signs of amorous intent. When I discovered he was accounted for, I experienced another classic borderline symptom, feelings of abandonment, which in turn triggered angry verbal outbursts - another symptom - and my kicking and breaking a door. My angry verbal and physical outbursts, which were abusive, led many to accuse me of psychopathy.
Now it's worth noting that most of the online resources about psychopathy are badly researched and aren't peer reviewed, so it's an ill informed claim to begin with. Moreover, it's not a real diagnosis in the DSM, it's merely speculative. More dubious still is the origins of "psychopathy", which was used to model a pathology of, and then shame, autistic children for their cognitive differences. The psychopath label does not stand up to rigorous testing.
So it's bad science to accuse me of psychopathy. Not that that's ever stopped a bigot running their mouth, but what can you do? Psycho is a common substitute for real knowledge in the vocabulary of those who presume to know about mental illness, whereas it's the medical establishment who are truly qualified to tell us what a borderline's mental profile is.
So what does the medical establishment say about borderline?
Well it turns out even the medical establishment has internalised stigma, with borderlines likely to be perceived as attention seeking when the truth is that they merely have maladaptive coping strategies, which cause outlandish and erratic behaviour. In time, though, many professionals have begun the process of disavowing stigma and have given us a more accurate picture of the disease.
To illustrate what it is like, I will describe my own experiences. Borderline is having a fixation on somebody that is so intense you become psychotic with love and hear their name repeated in your head all day long. Borderline is hurting yourself because you have wrongfully perceived abandonment, which feels nonetheless real. Borderline is throwing yourself in to self destruction to cope with the emotional pain. Borderline is exactly that, life on the border, dancing dangerously down the line.
Untreated borderline disorder is a death sentence. You have to wonder if the medics could have saved Amy Winehouse by sectioning her when she needed to be. It has been posthumously considered by doctors that she was one of a long line of public figures who struggle with borderline. We owe it to the legion of people who lived and died without support for their illness to make sure people in future do have help. When people too ill to know what's good for them say no to treatment, it should be enforced.
By perpetuating myths and stigma around the illness, people who accuse borderlines of psychopathy make it harder for sufferers to seek the help they need. Which is why I was so angry at being accused of psychopathy for presenting with classic borderline symptoms. To have an episode in which I considered and attempted death described as "a tantrum because your crush has a missus" was the most ignorant thing that has been said to me, although the assailant did try very hard to have a competition with himself for most ignorant comment.
My moods are most confusing, yes, but they can be understood, if you have a willing mind. The problem is that so many of those who pretended to help me and dumped me did not care to understand about the realities of my disease. They were serving their own myths, which served their own ends. But you can't kill an idea, and all minds are worthwhile, even the ones that aren't like your own, and especially the ones that are so wide the bigots couldn't even begin to fathom them.
I am now a vibrant and verbose performance poet who participates in slams, I write for the Huffington Post about politics, I campaign for the Labour Party, I see myself with a future as a poet and activist. The college teacher who inspired me to first pick up a pen told me "one day you will be a formidable woman, and God help anyone who gets in your way." That is what I remember when I think about myself, not the slander, not the shame.they try to pigeonhole me, judge me, size me up, accuse, but they aren't aware it says nothing about me, and everything about their own ignorance.
It is time to understand. Those who peddle wilfully ignorant mental health stigma will end up in the dustbin of history, with all the other old prejudices. The future belongs to the damned, and if you've made me the damned, well you better watch out.