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Disclaimer: This article includes discussion of sensitive topics like suicide and self-harm. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
These past two weeks have been hard for me. I found out about the Johnny Depp defamation trial through my favorite streamer, and I got caught in the rabbit hole pretty quick. Depp is suing his ex, Amber Heard, after she went public with allegations of abuse against Depp. In this trial, Depp argues that she was actually the abusive one. At trial, a psychologist hired by Depp’s team revealed Heard’s diagnoses of histrionic and borderline personality disorders. In came the swarm of focus, the magnifying glass on the already hot ant, around personality disorders and the mystique around them. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is not discussed much, but when it is, it usually isn’t in the best light. I do not have much experience or knowledge of histrionic personality disorder; as such, I will not be discussing it.
What is BPD, anyways? Does it make you crazy? Does it cause you to abuse, gaslight, those close to you? Does it make you manipulative? Cold, unfeeling?
BPD is mainly categorized by instability – instability of emotions, of affect, of relationships, of perceptions. The core of BPD is a fear of abandonment, though many do not at first realize that this is at the core of all their other symptoms- the driver, if you will. These more outwardly presenting symptoms include unstable relationships, swinging between idealizing and devaluing people; unstable, intense emotions, changing within minutes or hours; anger outbursts; chronic feelings of emptiness in between all the intense emotions; the use of drugs, sex, shopping, reckless driving or binge eating to alleviate some of those extreme emotions; identity disturbance; stress-related dissociation or paranoia; and self-harm and frequent attempts/threats of suicide.
I was diagnosed with BPD this past fall term after some of the worst months of my adult life. I was so relieved to finally have an answer, to finally have closure for this constellation of symptoms that previously were unexplained, but I was also terrified of who I now was, of what these three letters made me. After doing some research on BPD, I stumbled on a subreddit for people who have relationships with “borderlines.” A lot of posts were usually just vents about how exhausting it can be to be close to someone so unstable. The comments, on the other hand, said some pretty fucked up shit – to paraphrase, how people with borderline “don’t have the capacity to care about others” and therefore “nobody should ever be in a relationship with one.” How borderline is a “major red flag.” About how borderline makes people “crazy,” “obsessive,” “stalker-ish.” It’s stuff like this, and the negative reception around BPD brought on by cases like these, that fuels my self-hatred, my inner anger, the urges to throw myself off a bridge. It makes it much harder for me to admit to my BPD diagnosis than my depression or anxiety. I’m afraid of what people think of me. I’m afraid of how’ll I think about myself.
In the public eye, there aren’t as many positive models or ‘success stories’ for the disorder as there are with anxiety or depression. Who comes to mind is Trisha Paytas, YouTube’s favorite punching bag; Anna Nicole Smith, who has passed but is still lampooned by celebrities like Adore Delano on RuPaul’s Drag Race for the infamous custody case and her penchant for being under the influence; and now Amber Heard, who, as we are learning through testimony of the psychologist and many witnesses for the plaintiffs, was abusive towards Depp and probably gaslit him and threatened him with abuse allegations if he tried to make allegations against her.
I do not condone Heard’s actions and I do not defend her because we share these three letters. I don’t defend Depp either, as in my opinion, their relationship has been shown to be equally abusive. It’s just very hard to be public and when the awareness revolves with are all ‘crazy’ people known for being obsessive, for abusing drugs or people. When all the attention for your illness seems to come from people wanting weaponize its name, the diagnosis is to make personal attacks.
You know what’s a fact? The majority of people with BPD aren’t abusive. In fact, almost all cases stem from childhood abuse or neglect. Another is that we do have the capacity to feel love – we sometimes just have a messed-up way of showing it, and have attachment issues that cause us to express love in inappropriate, ineffective and unproductive ways. Another fact? BPD is treatable. With treatment options like dialectal behavioral therapy (DBT), individual therapy and meds, the vast majority of people stop meeting the criteria within ten years of treatment. I’ll use myself as an example. DBT focuses on skills that help to address emotional instability in the moment and strategies to prevent me from spiraling. Individual therapy helps me work through trauma and recognize my abandonment triggers. Meds help with my mood so I have a better handle on myself and can actually use DBT skills in moments when I need them. You want another fact? We aren’t crazy – we’ve just gone through some fucked up shit and we’re trying our best.
What I do not want to come out of this article is self-diagnosis. Do not come out of reading this thinking yourself into a loop, worrying about having this. Chances are, you probably don’t. But if you really believe you do, get in touch with someone at Counseling Services, or see the psychiatrist through Wellness Services. You are not alone. You are loved! (Now, if only I could tell myself this.) Instead, what I want coming out of this article is empathy – before you label someone as “crazy” for an emotional outburst, or before you go to shake a finger at someone with substance abuse issues, or mommy or daddy issues for that matter, pause for a minute. Think about this essay. Have a little empathy. We’re doing our best. Please do your best.