TW: Mental Health
In the second half of this interview, Lilith continues her conversation 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 to help combat the stereotypes associated with it. (Make sure you catch up with part one!)
As an illness, BPD is underrepresented and highly stigmatised – why do you think this is?
Good question. I think more research needs to be done on precisely this topic. Research into BPD is scarce compared to other mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder, but we do know more women are diagnosed with BPD than men. Some research suggests this is the result of sampling bias because more women are found in mental health services where studies take place. Clinicians may also be overly-associating BPD with females. It seems likely therefore that men with BPD may be slipping through the net, undiagnosed and unsupported.
Another issue is that conditions more commonly associated with females tend to receive less research funding. I feel fairly certain that the lack of research into BPD is part of the bigger problem of sexism in healthcare and medical research as a whole. There is also a serious lack of research into the medical and healthcare experiences of trans and non-binary people.
I think BPD is also highly stigmatised because of the myth it is somehow the individual’s fault. Over the years, people with this condition have unfortunately been perceived as manipulators, attention-seekers or drama queens. These are sexist stereotypes too. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. People with BPD feel intense emotions, experience immense distress and may struggle to manage upsetting thoughts and impulses; they should never be labelled as dramatic, attention-seeking or manipulative.
In terms of why BPD is underrepresented in the media, that’s hard to say. However, I think it’s likely that there are people in the public eye with this diagnosis who (understandably) choose not to say they have it, due to the stigma. Like a couple of other mental health diagnoses, BPD has been unfairly and inaccurately associated with the horror and crime genres, as well as being the subject of many hateful YouTube videos.
Perhaps it takes a little more insight to imagine a life where you can feel joyful at lunchtime and suicidal at bedtime
I think that depression and anxiety, although still stigmatised, are far less stigmatised than BPD because they are easier to understand by people without mental health conditions. Perhaps it takes a little more insight to imagine a life where you can feel joyful at lunchtime and suicidal at bedtime, or feel completely worthless just because someone didn’t reply to a text straight away.
I think the question of why BPD is so stigmatised is a fantastic question and something I hope to write about more soon (maybe my second book!). I think sexism, the concept of ‘hysteria’ and blaming a scapegoat all have something to do with it….
Tell me about your blog, Talking about BPD. How does writing help you?
I started blogging about my BPD when I was first diagnosed seven years ago. I didn’t have anyone I could talk to in so much depth, so I started writing online. I was anonymous initially because I was too scared of what would happen if someone saw me. Blogging was a way of trying to understand my experiences and work out how to feel better. It was also an attempt to connect with others I could relate to in terms of my mental health problems – social media was amazing for that. It showed me I wasn’t alone.
When I googled BPD, I couldn’t find much that resonated with my experience and who I felt I was. This spurred me on to put something online that truly reflected my experience of BPD rather than the stereotypes.
I have learnt so much through the online communities of people who share, or relate to, this diagnosis. I am grateful for all the tips I have learnt, ways to understand distress and for all of the encouragement I have received. Without the support of people who follow my blog and social media, I don’t think I would have been able to write and publish my forthcoming book with Jessica Kingsley Press.
You won the Mind Media Award for your blog and for your contributions to the BPD community. What was that like?
I wanted more people to know how wrong the stigma is, how hurtful it can be and maybe be challenged to change their perspective
I was absolutely delighted. It meant (and still means) so much to me that Talking About BPD was chosen as the winner. I was hoping to win because, with all my heart, I wanted to draw attention to this underrepresented and stigmatised condition. I wanted more people to know how wrong the stigma is, how hurtful it can be and maybe be challenged to change their perspective.
I also wanted people with BPD to know that things can feel better and that it is always worth hanging onto hope. I am really grateful for the support of all the people online who were rooting for me because it means a lot. In my award acceptance speech I said that I wanted people with BPD to be seen for who they truly are, and not to be seen as a stereotype only.
The number of students suffering with their mental health is increasing year-on-year. What was your experience of university? What do you think needs to change?
I had the best and worst times at university. I loved my course, my studies, I made some amazing friends and had a lot of laughs. At the same time, I had a mental breakdown for the first time and felt like my world had fallen apart. I was incredibly confused by my undiagnosed mental health problems and, many times, I struggled to cope. Luckily, I had some great people who were motivated to help me and support me through my degree.
Transitions are often a hard time for people that can make underlying mental health problems surface
I don’t know what needs to change, to be honest. However, I am aware that transitions are often a hard time for people that can make underlying mental health problems surface. A lot of university students are in the interim between adolescence and adulthood; it is a difficult time. There are financial pressures, social pressures, academic pressures, domestic pressures. Lots of things are new; from the places to the people and the routine. For me, university felt like such a magical thing it was too much to take in. Perhaps for some people it is a disappointment. Whatever your experience, it can easily be overwhelming.
What advice would you give to anyone suffering, particularly those who have BPD or identify with the symptoms?
Not being given the help you need is not a sign of unworthiness, it is the sign of a strained system.
Please ask for help. If you ask and don’t get a supportive response, please ask again or ask someone else. Don’t stop asking for help; it might take lots of attempts to get support. Rehearse conversations. Write them down word for word if you need to. The rejection might hurt, it might even feel unbearable, but please don’t stop asking. Change GPs if you need to and if you can. Leave no stone unturned. Contact mental health helplines to talk through different options. Try any support groups you can find. Ask your university welfare officer or wellbeing team. Throughout your search for help, please know you are deserving of help. Not being given the help you need is not a sign of unworthiness, it is the sign of a strained system.
Take care online and reading about BPD; be careful of stigmatising content and getting sucked into it. Try to find a way to connect with others with the condition if you think that would help you via social media or any support groups you can find. Ultimately, please know that things can improve and know that you are deserving of nothing but respect and care.
Rosie’s new book Talking About BPD, published by Jessica Kingsley Press, is out on the 21st October. You can subscribe for pre-order alerts here. You can take a look at her blog here, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
You can access the university mental health and wellbeing webpage with links to various services and resources here.
Article images courtesy of Rosie Cappuccino.
Embedded Instagram post from @TalkingAboutBPD.
For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.