Rosie Cappuccino – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) [Part One]

A sketch of a girl crying with the caption 'your emotions are valid'
Lilith Hudson

Trigger Warning: Mental Health

With University Mental Health Day around the corner Lilith spoke with Rosie Cappuccino, a blogger who writes candidly about her experiences living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Rosie won Digital Champion at the Mind Media Awards in 2019 for her blog, Talking About BPD. Through writing about her experiences she hopes to improve people’s perceptions of what it’s like to live with the condition in order to help combat the stereotypes associated with it. 

What is it like to live with BPD?

It is easy to feel overwhelmed, confused, scared and exhausted when you live with BPD. Generally speaking, people with BPD struggle to regulate emotions. Emotions can feel very intense, come on very quickly and take a long time to settle. Often people with this condition have a strong fear of rejection or abandonment that can cause immense distress.

As people with this condition often have quickly-changing emotions, one moment life can feel amazing and the next it can feel terrifying. If I’m not using techniques to manage how I feel, then my emotions can colour my thoughts and my perception of the world.

For example, if something happens and I feel sad, then I might have thoughts that I am useless and start to feel that everything is falling apart. This can be really hard to deal with. However, I can’t separate who I am from my BPD because my natural emotional sensitivity is part of my condition. Without that part of me, I wouldn’t have the same interests, beliefs or ideals. 

All too often people with BPD are stereotyped, not given the care they deserve or blamed for their difficulties

My experience of BPD is not just an experience of a painful mental health condition though, it is an experience of stigma, discrimination, misunderstanding and exclusion. Although there is some excellent care and support out there, all too often people with BPD are stereotyped, not given the care they deserve or blamed for their difficulties. Too many people with this diagnosis have to push to be seen, heard, believed, respected and supported.

An illustration portraying what it's like to live with BPD

Over the last seven years, living with BPD has meant having to constantly advocate for myself, challenge stigma and make myself vulnerable to rejection. I am lucky that I could do that. It’s not fair that people in distress often have to argue the case for why they are needing, or deserving, of support; that should come freely, regardless of diagnosis and perceptions.

BPD is often associated with trauma or difficult life events which makes it even more imperative that people with this condition are treated in a sensitive, caring and respectful way, especially by people in positions of authority such as doctors. Arguably, some progress has been made for people with BPD and I am hopeful for more change so that nobody has to be made to feel ‘bad’, ‘dramatic’ or ‘shameful’ for having a BPD diagnosis. 

How were you diagnosed?

It took a long time and a lot of energy. After many years and pursuing a number of different avenues of support, I was finally put on a waiting list for a psychiatrist by a new GP. When I was seen by a crisis team for an emergency mental health assessment, for some reason unknown to me, I was taken off the waiting list without being informed. After many years of trying to understand the exact nature of my difficulties and access a relevant kind and level of treatment, this nearly broke me. My levels of distress were through the roof.

I felt silenced, ashamed, terrified. But in the same breath I felt relief because I finally had a diagnosis that rang true for me

In the end, I finally managed to see a psychiatrist who told me I met the criteria for a BPD diagnosis. She told me that it would be better for this diagnosis not to be written into my medical notes (even though I met the criteria).

This threw me. It confused me. I felt silenced, ashamed, terrified. But in the same breath I felt relief because I finally had a diagnosis that rang true for me. It made sense. Although I felt the sting of stigma, I was comforted to have a way to make sense of my distress. I was diagnosed just a couple of months before my final university exams, so it was a pretty stressful time for me. 

What treatments are available for BPD?

There are lots of treatments that people can pursue to help with BPD, regulating emotions or dealing with distressing thoughts. Probably the most well-known therapy for BPD is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). It is tricky to capture such a complex treatment in such a short article, but in summary DBT teaches a person skills to regulate emotions, manage interpersonal relationships and cope with distress. It also shows a person how they can live in the present moment (rather than getting caught up in thoughts about the past or the future) and build a less stressful, more fulfilling life that promotes mental wellbeing. 

Things can change; it is worth holding onto hope

DBT changed my life completely and I will always be grateful to this therapy and my DBT therapist. That being said, it is not for everyone. DBT is just one of several therapies used to help people with BPD and I would always recommend taking detailed advice from a trusted professional. It is also important to remember that the pain of BPD can pass. Things can change; it is worth holding onto hope. A number of studies by a psychiatrist called Biskin found that most people with BPD ‘improve with time’ and that outcomes are often ‘better than expected’.

The way I see it for myself is that I will always be emotionally sensitive, but I can (and have already) find ways of reducing distress. When I was first diagnosed, I felt helpless and hopeless. Several years on though, I am living a life I couldn’t even have dreamed of before.

(Continued in part two)

Lilith Hudson

Article images courtesy of Rosie Cappuccino.

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