I recently started a new course with Monash University via futurelearn.comIntroduction to Psychology: The Psychology of Personality and it, inevitably, got me thinking a lot about personality, what it means to me, how it is developed and how it can become ‘disordered.’ 

A while ago now, the powers that be, renamed the diagnosis Borderline Personality Disorder to Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. I laughed when I was told – it was just further evidence that the ultimate people to make such huge decisions don’t actually know all that much about the things they make decisions about. If they did, they’d know that, for the majority of service users, the biggest problem with the phrasing of BPD was the ‘Personality’ part and not the ‘Borderline’ bit. Yes, people unfamiliar to the diagnosis will wonder what is meant by ‘borderline’ but that can be answered. I know there are varied rationale behind the use of the word in the diagnosis; with the most common one being that it means borderline between sanity and insanity but if someone were to ask what is meant by ‘personality’ then it’s a different story – personality is subjective. Everyone has their own definition of it and their own belief on what shapes it. I mean, William Sheldon (1940) believed that personality was determined by your body shape and size (somatology)! He held the assumption that larger people (endomorphs) are more likely to be bold and assertive whereas smaller people (ectomorphs) are more likely to be intellectual and introverted. Once upon a time, I’m sure this theory was regarded very highly and agreed upon by many but these days? I know I can’t speak for anyone else, but I felt like laughing when I heard that this was a serious theory!

But you can’t laugh off one explanation without having a replacement theory. I believe in the thought process that personality is ‘who you are’ – hence ‘I’m NOT Disordered.’

When Borderline Personality Disorder was first mentioned to me I kind of jumped on it! I’m one of those people who likes to have an answer for everything. And even though – in mental health – that largely means putting a label on something; it comforts me. It’s hard to explain why I can find a diagnosis both comforting and confusing. I guess it’s kind of like going to the Doctors for a tummy pain and being diagnosed with appendicitis; it’s great to know what’s wrong but then it’s bad that there is something wrong! 

And of course, there’s all the cliché stuff about how being given a diagnosis leaves you feeling less alone as you discover you aren’t the only person feeling this way. I know that I felt like the only person in the world to be struggling as much as I was and to be coping in the way that I was. This was also really saddening too; the thought that there were others who’d gone through similar trauma as my own and others who also felt so angry that they hurt themselves.

There’s also hope with being able to see others with that diagnosis who have come through the difficulties you’re currently facing. This is something that should be there but when I was first diagnosed with BPD, the worst thing about it was that there seemed to be no one recovering from it. No one getting through it and staying safe and staying alive. Doctors themselves told me that they were reluctant to give me the diagnosis because it would be a ‘death sentence.’ They told me that no one will run to the person with BPD; more likely, run from! 

Then there’s the really sad fact that – these days – you can’t get help for something that has no label. Mental health illnesses are similar to physical in that you can get specially trained professionals who are better qualified to provide a person specialist care unique to their diagnosis. When I was first diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2009, I thought that the mental health care system was so utterly flawed but in time, I learnt that it was only flawed in looking after people with specific illnesses. The majority of inpatient staff at my local psychiatric hospital were more than qualified to take care of people with Schizophrenia or Depression but when it came to BPD? They were beginners! And it’s difficult to make sure that this doesn’t sound like a compliment or a criticism. It isn’t a way of saying that people with BPD are special nor is it me trying to say that it makes those people ‘difficult’ or ‘trouble.’ I mean, mental health conditions are – for so many reasons – becoming a more common topic and so diagnostic criteria has been changed for some disorders in order to avoid many situations including over-population of psychiatric hospitals. One huge change has been within Anorexia with the BMI criteria dropping so that there’s more and more stories coming out about people not being diagnosed and helped in time.

My problem with ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ isn’t just about the use of ‘Borderline’ and ‘Personality’; it’s about the assumption that the three words cause within people. It’s one thing to debate what is determined by ‘Personality’ but it’s another to decide what is meant by having a disordered one. If your personality is who you are and yours is disordered, then does that mean you’re a bad person? Does it mean you’re a mess? Someone to be avoided? Or does it make you the most interesting person in the room?!

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