Almost everyone agrees that borderline personality disorder is a bad name for it. It is a remnant of a time when all doctors knew by observation was that some people teetered on the brink between neurosis and psychosis, on that border, and it brought them immense difficulty. Even calling it a personality disorder is controversial to some. It sends the message that there is something innately wrong with my personality, something many of us with the illness are likely to agree to whether it's accurate or not.
For 31 years I've called it "me." My mess. My shit. My trauma. My complete and utter inability to pull myself together and act like an ordinary human being for more than a few months at a time. I knew I was impulsive, reckless. Sometimes it was funny, like the time my husband came home from the grocery store to find me tearing the porch apart because I wanted to see what it looked like without the railings. Other times it was risky and frightening and not at all humorous. But I thought I was just deeply broken. I didn't know I suffered from a mental illness. Not until those last days before my hospitalization and diagnosis.
My whole life I've referred to this disorder by it's symptoms. When I was 15 and held captive by shame, wearing long sleeves in the sweltering heat of summer, I called it cutting. When I was 17, drinking rum in bathroom stalls between classes, it was my alcoholism. There were times where it manifested as messed up romantic relationships, and I called it my fucked up love life. It was the paralyzing fear that people would leave me and the frantic need to keep them near. It was the rage that I choked back and turned inward. It was the crying on the kitchen floor while my husband tried desperately to understand what had set me off this time. It was the drugs and the running away, the suicidality and the self loathing, the constant attempts to reinvent myself because I didn’t know who I was.
My whole life I was the girl who would latch on to anything that might end this pain and I had no idea that there was a diagnosis for the ways I was wounded at my innermost self, that I needed help, and that there was hope.
So what do I call this thing? This illness that was formed in my most primary years by some dark combination of genetics and trauma and neglect. I can call it BPD in clinical settings, of course. At least until they settle on a better name for it. I can call it this thing. I can fight this thing. I can live with this thing. I won't give it the power to destroy me.
I could call it my tempest. The swirling, nauseating thoughts that swim circles around me, trying to pull me down in their undertow. The overpowering emotions that come on like a tidal wave and leave me gasping for breath and clawing for the surface with nothing to grab a hold of. I am working towards spending more time in calm waters, finding my footing in some more shallow places.
I could call it my Debris. The places in me that have been snapped by violent winds of abuse or withered away by neglect. The dead and dying parts that need to be snipped away to make room for new growth.
I could call it my brokenness. Like bones that need resetting and cells that need regrowth, my interior places need healing. And I need to give it time.
I don't want to identify with my diagnosis too much. I am growing, gaining insights, learning new ways to think and be. I tiptoe carefully along the line of letting this label explain my past without allowing it to define my future. Identifying with the diagnosis only in as much as it helps me to make progress.
I don't know what to call it. But I know this: I will no longer call it "me." My whole life I have looked for a way to identify myself, and I have too easily latched onto these symptoms, allowed them to tell my story for me, allowed them to write the narrative. But not today. I have borderline personality disorder. I have a tempest inside me that threatens to destroy everything good and right in my life. But I am not the tempest. I am not the debris. I am not the brokenness. I am a complex and vibrant human being, and I will fight this thing.