Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Welcome to the Borderline

No one wants to admit that they have a personality disorder. When it comes to psychiatric diagnoses that one sits pretty near the bottom of the manure pile of stigma. Somewhere around paranoid schizophrenic and murderous sociopath. The name tells you the problem. Personality Disorder, your personality, the set of attributes that describe you and your relationship to the world, your essential character, is… broken. It doesn’t get much more personal than that.

But when a tsunami of evidence crashes down on you in a short space of time, starting with the gentle hints of a friend working in mental health, travelling via a recommendation from your mental health team to the refer you to the specialist service for personality disorders and culminating with your best friend reading the diagnostic criteria and commenting merely, “Why hasn’t anyone suggested this before?” it becomes hard to remain in denial.

Especially when reading through that same list you can see what she means. In fact, it’s hard to ignore that the Mind website entry reads like it was written directly about you. Someone studied your thoughts and behaviour and has devised this condition called Borderline Personality Disorder just to describe you. All that stuff that you have been hiding too, that you hardly even want to admit to yourself and certainly hope that no one else sees, written out there in black and white, like they had crawled inside your head.

And if you are honest you are maybe a bit relieved. No, not a bit, a lot. Perhaps it is time to admit that the effort you make all the time to manage and monitor and check and discipline your massive, intense and overwhelming emotions is just exhausting. To confess the effort it takes not to burn down your relationships and walk away when they get too close. To accept that you are not perfect and that your periodic lapses into that dark and terrifying place, when a casual or ill-timed comment can lead to a suicide attempt, might be in fact frightening and difficult and confusing for your friends to deal with, particularly when they saw you just fine an hour before and just fine again three hours later.

It’s a relief to start to understand some of the things you have always struggled to fit into the picture before, answering questions you have been struggling even to formulate clearly for years. A relief to know you are not alone. Most of all though it is a relief to see clearly what the problem is and that there is reason to hope. Because every item on that diagnostic list has an answer in Jesus. The problem is finally laid bare and it has a gospel-shaped solution. Of course I don’t mean that understanding itself brings healing or that I expect to wake up tomorrow and have conquered my extreme emotions or the damaging behaviours they cause, but just that I can start to see a way through.

I am free to feel hope because of the work of the gospel already in my life. The gospel that tells me that the stigma of a broken personality was carried by my Lord to the cross and crucified there. The gospel that tells me that we are all broken and that my Lord was broken on the cross so I might be healed. The gospel that tells me that my weakness and inadequacy are universal human realities and what is more acknowledging them is a necessary pre-condition to being truly useful in God’s kingdom purposes. The gospel that tells me that whatever the world may say I am not defined by anything, even my personality, so much as I am defined by the One who spoke light out of darkness and who looks upon me and says, “You are precious in my sight and I love you”, and “my beloved”, and “my child”.

So here it is, in black and white. Nobody wants to admit that they have a personality disorder. But I have a personality disorder. I have decided to write this blog to chronicle my attempts to speak the gospel into the dark places in the hope it might encourage others. I don’t know how well I will succeed, the stats tell me that I have a more than 1 in 10 chance of finishing up committing suicide so it’s not going to be a cake walk. But I have some great support, wise and loving friends and most of all a loving and mighty Saviour on my side. Welcome to the journey.

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