A BPD Recovery Success Story
by Holly Marie
I always knew there was something different about me.
I loved deeply, got attached quickly, and suffered greatly at the slightest rejection. I had suicidal ideation at least once and month, and cut myself on a daily basis. My friends were concerned. My family was distraught. No one knew what was going on with me.
It was about 6 years ago, when I was first diagnosed. It was right after the most traumatic thing, which could happen to a first year special education teacher, happened. I’m not going to get into that now, but know that it played a role in my final diagnosis. “You have borderline personality disorder.” Those were the words of my therapist of one year, Sarah.
I felt quick relief, and sudden despair. Thoughts of, “Oh, what a relief! There is really something wrong with me”, changed to, “you mean this is something that has no easy fix like medication?”
Borderline personality disorder, or BPD as it is known for short, is an intense personality disorder categorized by extreme lows and highs, periods of idolization and periods of hating someone, and intense, often irrational, fears of abandonment to name a few characteristics that I live with on a daily basis.
When I found out there was no quick fix to BPD, I felt afraid. I thought wow, I’m going to have these attachment issues my entire life? I’m going to be self harming my entire life? I’m going to be loving and then suddenly hating on someone my entire life? I can’t live like this!
It was 2008, right after my diagnosis, that I was first introduced to Dialectical Behavior Therapy, DBT for short. DBT is a therapy where you focus on changing your thoughts about my order to positively influence your behaviors. When I was first accepted into a DBT program, I didn’t know what lay ahead of me. I didn’t know that I would eventually be kicked out of my first DBT program, due to clingy and negative behaviors I showed towards my DBT therapist.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with BPD, one characteristic is moments of extreme idolization and then devaluation of people. People with BPD often have one person they attach onto, who becomes their “favorite person.” Unfortunately for them, each of my therapists had/have taken on that role. And yes, I used the word each. I have now been through four different therapists. Three ultimately terminated me because of my BPD behaviors. They just didn’t have it in them to take anymore, “I hate you!” And “you should die!” when I did not get my way with them.
I don’t want to make BPD out to be this horrible mental illness, and all who have it are evil. What I do want to get across is that BPD is not an easy diagnosis to deal with. It takes years of commitment to therapy, and finding a just right therapist to work with. After my third termination, I just about threw in the towel with therapy. Being terminated was not easy. I spent once a week with this professional pouring my heart and sole into them, only to be terminated in the end when I pushed them too far. I almost gave up. I almost said well, “this is it, this is my destiny, and I am bound to live a miserable life.” But, I didn’t. And the reason, I had just been offered a dream job. A special education teacher. For third-fifth grade.
I knew, just knew, I could not continue on my negative life path. I couldn’t continue the path of valuing and then devaluing others. I couldn’t continue the daily self-harming and weekly suicidal ideation. So, I decided to start the search.
I sent out endless amounts of introductions to therapists I found on psychology today. I took the time to explain my struggles, and the potential “toxicity” that came with working with me. I received multiple rejections, from therapists who felt like they couldn’t deal with me and my BPD.
Then one day at the end of August, I reached out to Dr. W., not knowing that she would become “the perfect” therapist for me. I still remember the day that Dr. W. responded to me. I still have the first email. I was in Wisconsin at The Brat Stop with my dad, and then boyfriend. I got a response from Dr. W. “Holly, what kind of insurance do you take?” My mouth practically dropped open. You mean she was open and willing to possibly take me on? It was too good to be true. Someone who’s as the rejecting me?
So, I responded. And I confessed and admitted to her my BPD tendencies. I received this response, “Hi Holly, Yes, I believe we could work together. Attached is the initial paperwork for you to fill out and bring to the first session. I look forward to meeting you this coming Friday at 4pm.” That brought me to the beginning of September, 2016. I followed through with meeting with her, and almost decided to never go back. I had never met with a therapist who centered the therapy around me. I had never talked as much as she wanted me to talk at that first session. I didn’t think we could be a fit. But, I decided to go back, and I haven’t gone more than two weeks without seeing her since then.
Dr. W has endured a lot. She has endured my clinginess. She has endured so many, “I hate you's!” She has endured so many, “go get hit by a car and die!” But what I said to her never got under her skin. She always maintained her professionalism and kept seeing me. In fact, after she had to put me inpatient due to a suicide attempt just 8months after I began seeing her, she promised me this, “Yes, see you Wednesday and for all future appointments I am not terminating you.”
She promised me that we will end therapy on MY schedule. We would end therapy at MY request. Wow! That was foreign to me. I never had a therapist promise to not terminate me for bad behaviors. I never had a therapist promise she would not “get sick of me.” The reason I bring up my story about Dr. W. Is because she has really helped shape me into me. I have now been working with her for four years. She has stuck with me through my suicidal ideation, which comes fewer and farer between now. She has stuck with me through self harming. She had encouraged me to grow. And she has encouraged me to become the best Holly that can exist. Dr. W. believes in me. Dr. W. Pushes me.
And it is thanks, in part to, Dr. W. that I am as strong as I am today. Prior to this last year, I struggled with using my skills. I was overly reliant on Dr. W. To get me through crisis situations. I was experiencing a crisis moment at least once a week.
But now, I am working with Jade and Dr. W. to learn and apply the DBT skills in my life on a daily basis. It has taken me three different DBT programs in order to be able to independently apply the DBT skills
Remember how I said people who have BPD are not evil? People with BPD just struggle more than the typical person. My story is living proof that those with BPD can work hard to get through struggles. Within the past four years of working with Dr. W. I have now met three meaningful milestones. Three years without being placed inpatient; two years without cutting; two years without a nasty interaction with Dr. W.
I don’t want to give all the credit to Dr. W. Though. Remember DBT that I spoke of earlier? It took years and years and multiple different DBT groups for me to become familiar enough with the DBT skills. I went through three different DBT programs and six different therapists. There was Sarah, Taliesha and Jennifer who ultimately terminated me. Then there was Tina who decided not to lead the DBT group anymore, now there is Dr. W. Who has stuck by my side. Additionally, there is my DBT group facilitator, Jade.
Today, I have come so far from who I was 7.5 years ago when I had the most traumatic day in my life. I am a successful special education teacher making a difference in the lives of second graders who have special needs. I know that I am that positive role model in their lives. Also, I have mastered relationships with friends and family. My relationships are the best they have been in the longest time. I use skills to get through intense time and I rely slightly less on Dr. W.
I want everyone who has read this far to know, things won’t always be easy, but please please don’t give up.
Now here are some tips I’d like to give you. These have really helped get me as far as I have come. Take the time and be picky about finding a “just right” therapist who clicks with you- be honest about what you are looking for and what you are not. This relationship will be the cornerstone of your therapeutic journey. Develop your support network, NAMI, DBT skills groups, Facebook groups, friends, family grow your support network so you have a wide variety of people to turn to in crisis Never, ever give up, fight through the intensities, because to someone you are their “earth angel” Commit to learning and applying DBT skills. Be willing to give it your all. Be open-minded with learning the skills and applying them to your life. Make a commitment to be the best person you can be through the use of DBT skills. Develop a wide array of coping skills, these will help when you are down and feeling the worst.
Don’t be ashamed of your mental health concerns. If someone has diabetes, you wouldn’t put them down for it, it’s the same with mental illnesses Always remember, you are a warrior, and you totally got this!