"How about I hold up a sign that says, 'I AM MORE THAN MY BPD?'"
"How about you don't?"
This is a brief exchange I had with myself at the 2015 photo campaign for Active Minds at Columbia University, entitled "My Mental Health Matters." The table was littered with an array of paper signs to choose from, but I was drawn to the one with the blank. This could have been my coming out, but the stigma-fearing answer was "no." I put down the sign and grabbed a new one that read "NO SHAME". I smiled for the picture. I tried to look pretty, tried to look normal, but the words I held up were a lie.
On October 9, 2015 I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Fear of abandonment, unstable and intense relationships, lack of a sense of self, dissociation, impulsive behavior, self-harm, suicidal gestures--it goes on and on. I fit the profile, but this did not upset me much, since doctors had shared their suspicions with me for some time now. As a matter of fact, I was relieved. "Yes," I thought, "I finally get to put a name to the thing. Put a name to the thing, control the thing".
After speaking with my doctor and doing my own research, it became clear that BPD was "the bad one" that you didn't want to get slapped with. It was the disorder no one liked to talk about, except implicitly in horror movies. I am the woman in "Single White Female," "Fatal Attraction," "The Roommate," and many more disturbing stories of psychotic women. Or rather, they are caricatures of me. I am not a murderous, manipulative, or obsessive stalker. I and many other borderlines would be more likely to hurt ourselves out of pure emotional pain rather than hurt someone else.
BPD is inherently complex and misunderstood, and so are Borderlines. Aspiration-driven Columbia pretends to be open and accepting of mental illness, but how often is this really addressed and publicized, and does it truly cover a wide enough spectrum? We are growing more comfortable addressing depression openly, but unfortunately, BPD is categorized as a personality disorder, not a mood disorder. These we are less comfortable with. The assumption is that these people are intrinsically screwed up. They are crazy and volatile to the very core and fit neatly into a box provided by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This false belief is ultimately damaging.
The Active Minds website claims that "an estimated 26 percent of Americans ages 18 and older live with a diagnosable mental health disorder", and "almost one third of all college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning." I am not the only Columbia student dealing with depression or even struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder, though for all intents and purposes, I feel alone.
Hundreds of students pile into the eighth floor of Lerner everyday to visit Counseling and Psychological Services. For me, there is always that hesitation to press the eighth floor elevator button. I sit in the waiting room where no one speaks and wonder if they can see why I'm there just by reading my anxious body language. Do they know that I harm myself, that I attempted suicide over the summer, that I spent two weeks in a locked psychiatric ward?
Now that you know, what do you think of me? This is the stigma that I and everyone else fears. But to remove this stigma, I must start with myself. How can I expect the Columbia community to accept me and my disorder if I don't? Like every other movement working against stigma, pride is a powerful primary tool. Self-acceptance comes first. Community-wide acceptance will follow.
BPD fits me, but I do not fit neatly within BPD. The power does not come in you knowing, but in me saying it loud enough for you to know. So here I am, coming out: I am more than my Borderline Personality Disorder.
Lauren Diaz is a junior in CC studying creative writing and English.