The dialectics of having BPD
I wasn’t waiting for this but I was waiting for this. I knew that sharing my art would mean facing the risk of negativity. The words seem harmless-and they should be. Borderline personality disorder. Those words used to plague me upon hearing them. Borderline personality disorder. Oh, that’s me, but I wish it weren’t. I thought, It's so relatable it hurts. I don’t want to feel like a lone monster, but in trapping those words and pushing them down to remain small, I was so very much alone with my demons. I wasted energy hiding parts of me-some that were even special. And it was never my intention to stigmatize myself, but I had been a product of stigma, being so terrified of the words. I didn’t want those words to be said too loud, I thought if the world learned that I was borderline, I would simply drown, going down with only my nine symptoms. I thought it would be written on my forehead indefinitely. Oh, how the shame would have swallowed me whole. And sometimes, it did. It did the time that boy I worked with told a co-worker that I was acting “borderliney”. I cried so many borderline tears that day. I understand why that word crippled me that day, but now I know those were valid but unjustified borderline tears. Those words used to make me cry. Those words don’t hurt me anymore, but I don’t want those words to hurt anyone. I don’t want anyone to hold onto those words so tightly, keep them in a locked box like I did, thinking they are safe. Because in having done that, I was more alone with my illness than I ever had been and what thing to endure on your own.
More than anything, I was saddened by the comments I recently got on a Tik Tok post. Angry, sure. Personally offended, only a little bit, only for a moment. Frustrated, definitely. But more than anything, sad. Sad for this community-because, it looks like, this is what we are dealing with. A lot of beautiful words and a handful of nasty ones that it seems like, can so effortlessly wash away all of the good. I know they can’t, but it is only human nature to have an initial tunnel vision for what hurts you in that scenario. Why are we bringing people down? Why are we sharing unsolicited, unproductive opinions so nonchalantly? The t shirt, with borderline PERSONALITY disorder written on it, borderline and disorder crossed out, elicited a response I surely did not expect. I noticed that the comments were brief, lacking any eloquence, and leaving room for interpretation. I find this weak, truly. I’ll bring things back to DBT often here, where is the direct communication? Simply ”no” or “what is this” or “is this a joke” to describe that you dislike something or find it controversial is pathetic and ineffective. I just think, what did you get out of that? And why was that absolutely necessary-was it? And I know I cannot perseverate on these questions because it is simply a type of person that sits behind a bright screen and small words. A type of person that is not yet happy with what it is that is sitting behind that screen. I noticed I was able to validate this, that the comments were not a reflection of me in any sense. My t shirt is harmless unless you put your own negative spin on it, and if you do, that’s not really my problem. Self-validation was really important here because I am an emotionally sensitive person-of course those comments hurt me. It is not in the initial hurt, though, I think that’s justified. It is in letting it continue to hurt that would become a problem.
I know I can’t be responsible for anyone that sees my work as controversial or doesn’t agree with it or just does not “get” it. I use a lot of metaphors in my work. I use abrasive language and I do not sugar coat a thing. That’s simply the approach I take with my art. Because living with mental illnesses, for me, has been colorful chaos. Yes, colorful. Yes, both good and bad. It is typically my goal to illustrate both, to represent the dialectic and that was exactly my purpose with the “PERSONALITY” design. I was told it would be “perceived” as BPD being a wonderful thing, and truly, this made absolutely no sense to me. Because it’s in color? Because it’s bold and obvious? Clearly, this person did not “get” it and I know that is a risk I will always have with my work. I’ve explained that design and I’ll explain it again. It’s the dialectic. The dialectic that is BPD. This person said that she wouldn’t want it on a t shirt because it’s ”been hell”. Surely, I did not need someone to enlighten me that BPD is hell. That seems as obvious as my design itself. There are two vital parts to what I created. One-having BPD is filled with dialectics, it is not all bad. Yes, I said that. Two-the words don't have to hurt you and they shouldn’t. The words should be so accepted that they CAN be on a t shirt. They are not, of course, because of the existing stigma, and that is exactly the point. That t shirt is me acting opposite to stigma. That t shirt did not exist prior because of all of the above.
Stigma wants us to be quiet and it wants us to hide in shame. It wants us to wholeheartedly believe that if you are borderline, all you are is borderline. And that because it is hell, you should be quiet. It tells us you have no right to speak of what harms you-although, others do. It says, it's too bad, you don't just have a mild case of anxiety, then you'd be able to talk about it. Then you wouldn't have to lock it in a box and throw the key in an ocean. Stigma says, be quiet. No, not that. Just say you have "depression and anxiety". We can't talk about that. People might look at you weird, you wouldn't want that. People might only see your symptoms, so don't even mutter the words.
But when stigma says to hide in shame, consider this: how often have you seen the word “cancer”, for instance, on clothing, on bracelets and everything in between. And did you think anything of it? Did you think, well shame on them for having cancer, they should be embarrassed? Did you think, why on earth are they wearing a t shirt that says the word cancer on it? Did you see their shirt and think, "no". Did you see their shirt and think, "is that a joke..."? A pink ribbon for breast cancer is supportive and visually appealing but BPD in rainbow letters is, it’s such Hell, pretend it's not there. Do you realize that you are putting the effort into hiding the words instead? But, don't you think, cancer is Hell, too? You are invalidating your own suffering, by saying it has no place on a t shirt because "it was Hell".
We should be thinking differently and it brings me so much sadness.
Any medical illness, any mental illness, they are all their own forms of suffering. I don’t think it’s fair to yourself, to have this illness of BPD, and separate it so greatly from the illnesses that are a societal green flag to be discussed. And again, that is why I put it on t shirt. Because the person next to me can wear a t shirt implying that they survived cancer, but shame on me for having pride in surviving this mental illness that takes 10% of its victims by suicide. The person next to me wearing that t shirt might say, "well thank god I survived. Thank god, I’m still here". But the person wearing that rainbow borderline shirt can say the same, now, can’t they? And what a luxury, what a success, to say those words having suffered from BPD, the words of gratefulness in living, in surviving suicidal ideation; what a paradox. Suicidal ideation and behaviors is as valid a symptom as a medical condition that could likewise be fatal.
I get angry, definitely and I think shame on anyone that left those comments on my work. Because you are exactly the problem. And a justification that one cannot stigmatize the illness because they suffer from it themselves, what an incredibly ignorant way of thinking. The sufferer is not exclusively excused from causing harm just because they have seen Hell. That is not how that works at all. In fact, it is further disheartening to receive a comment like that from someone that has BPD. You can be at whatever stage in your journey, that’s ok. You can be in a place where you hate that diagnosis more than anything. All you think of it is “Hell” and you can’t possibly conceptualize those words being printed on anything other than the pages of the DSM. But to bring that personal negativity that you might have with the illness, to a place that is trying to bring awareness and positivity to it, that I cannot understand. That, I find unnecessary and damaging, in even a tiny way, to the entire community. Because behind your “is this a joke” and your “no”, are a thousand other hurtful words about the subject. You are contributing the accumulation of negativity that makes up stigma, and yeah, shame on you. Not on me, for my colorful t shirt. You can't rain on my rainbow, borderline, sunshiney parade (a joke). Don't share the dark clouds that might sit over your head. My art is my joy, its my skill, it is what I am proud of. Who is anyone to try and darken the shine that I worked so hard to build.
I can see the dialectic that is my BPD. I can see the scale of fucking rainbow. A chaotic rainbow with twists and turns and colors out of order. What a thought, thinking of something in an unoriginal way. This did not occur to the person thinking of my art quite literally- that rainbow words mean happy! Borderline must be happy! I can see the full spectrum that is my illness, and I did not always have this ability. The thing is, I think it does take work and experiences and self exploration to get to a place where your borderline world is not black and white. If you're not there, that is more than okay, but if you are not there, do not try to bring me backward with you. Sure, Hell is accurate. I walked through those flames of Hell, that wonderful Marsha Linehan metaphor. And Hell hasn't disappeared. I don't know that it ever will entirely, but that does not mean I am beyond repair. I am beyond grateful for the gifts that I have because of my personality type. This might seem strangely groundbreaking to people, but it shouldn't be. It took a long time to get to a place where I can say that, and respectfully, I don’t think any of the people commenting on my work are there yet. Yes, most definitely, it’s been a Hell that has engulfed me, swallowed me whole, spit me back out, set me on fire. A hell where my nine demons have tormented me nonstop, oh how exhausting it is to fight them off, and oh, how many times they have come close to winning. But that Hell came with a Heaven. The Heaven that was feeling joy after a year without it. The Heaven that was gaining creative joy. It was putting my pain somewhere. It was taking my power back. It was surviving and having pride in doing so. And it was in working very, very hard to find the other side, the Heaven to my Hell. I wear it on a t shirt because I’m proud that it does not fully control me anymore. I’m proud that I survived it when it was so, very severe. I’m proud of the gifts that I have because I am a “sensitive“ soul. I am proud that my personality is colorful and that my disorder does not equate to my personality, not even close. I can have BPD, but I can also be okay with that, I can be at peace with it. I can have BPD and suffer, and have also built beauty out of pain. A dialectic.
BPD is not black and white. That is for certain. So when people assume that a design like that is ”bad”, I can guess that they view BPD as all bad, a curse with no saving. Even if you can’t see it, there is color there. A lot of color once you remove the black and white lens that you see through. but the thing is, those words can’t hurt me. And they shouldn’t, I know for certain if i threw “ANXIETY” on a t shirt, maybe even “OCD”, people would call me brave and buy one, too. But you see, this is the problem, so I suppose in some sense, I did my job. Let’s start talking about it, let’s start looking at it differently. It should not offend you, it should not elicit a response of “no”. And if it does, I’m afraid that you need to take off your colorless, stigma tinted glasses to “get” where I’m going with this. BPD is not something to be so extremely, vastly ashamed of. So wear it on a shirt. It does not equate to who you are, so cross out the other words. You are not your disorder and your disorder is not a mass of shame-and that is the point. I’m not throwing BPD on a t shirt because, like, “wow this is a good time!”, and like I said, if that is the lens someone is seeing through, it is their responsibility to discard their shame, not mine. I do hope those people get to a place where they don’t immediately feel shame upon seeing those three words. I truly do, but what I can’t really understand is the necessity to leave a rude comment-on art, on someone that is trying to destigmatize this illness. Having negativity on my posts was disheartening because it had been only beautiful, kind words up until this point. And the kindness that came with the people standing up for me, and giving me props for the design spoke volumes. There were far more of those words than there were “no’s” and “is this a joke”. I can’t please everyone, but having my art out there, I know I need to remind myself that the positivity has been overwhelming. And if I have impacted someone, to me, that is worth a handful of rude comments. Because with a handful of rude comments, there have been the kindest words I have ever received about my art-and with that, I see the true colors of a fucking rainbow, of people with this disorder. Leaving a rude comment isn't doing you justice. That puts you in the category of toxicity and abuse from borderlines-and that is not a thing, it is not a symptom, but stigma thinks it is. You are contributing in more ways than you even know.
DBT teaches us that we can be many things at once, that many things can be true at once. It teaches us that there is indeed gray area. That nothing is black and white. There is always another side to hold. Why we aren't really taught with intent to apply this to the disorder that DBT was designed to treat, I don’t understand. I remember my therapist saying early on, you probably wouldn't be able to make art or write the ways in which you do, if you had not suffered. And this comment was impactful, it stood out to me. Because prior to this, no treater had ever held the other side to my suffering. They had always just noticed that it was "bad" and implied that there were strictly problems with me. I struggled to see the good in myself for such a long time because of my mental illnesses, because that was all any therapist saw. They did not see the full spectrum of who I was, they only saw the "problems" I came in for. But I do not amount to the bad things about myself. And without acknowledging or seeing the good, what am I, but merely a mental illness stuck in a body. Having BPD has many dialectics and it has relieved me of so much suffering to think this way. I remember writing for therapy shortly after I left treatment and having this realization that I did not care that I had BPD, that it wasn't a big deal, that I wasn't scared to say it anymore. And that is when I began sharing my art. But getting to that place, was spending six weeks in treatment with 12+ other humans with BPD. I thought, these people are so amazing. So kind, so empathetic, so interesting and eccentric. And I thought, look at us, do we really have anything to be ashamed of? I thought, I'd rather be sitting in a room full of colorful borderlines than a room of random, boring people. They're awesome and they should know it and that was this internal urge I had, to nail that into people's heads. That was not my place, but somewhere down the line, I was able to do that for myself. I could relate to these people and I saw the good in myself. Treatment was the mirror I did not know I needed. I thought, these people are all of these amazing things, and maybe, really, I am, too. And maybe, having BPD means so much more than those nine symptoms-because they don't teach us to the hold the other side of that. They don’t point out what makes us special, and my god, these people were special. And that is how I think, that is how I got here to making a t shirt with the dreaded words on them. You don't have to like it, but I do. And you don’t have to believe that BPD comes with gifts or that it is possible to manage the bad and keep the gifts. But I do.