Thursday, July 15, 2010

Waiting to Exhale: A Question about Borderline Personality Stigma

In the lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer community, people often remark on the fact that "coming out" is a strange and misleading image of what it means and what it feels like to reveal one's sexual orientation.  The usual image of coming out looks like this: a person walking through a door, stepping out of a closet, standing up in a gesture of pride once and for all to say I am gay and I am glad for everyone to know about it!  But of course coming out doesn't work that way.  As a lesbian, and now as spouse to a transguy, I come out, stay in, walk through the grocery store in an oblivious haze, take the microphone at a rally, correct (or do not correct) pronouns over dinner or in a hallway conversation at work every single day to some degree or another.  It is a constant flow of outness and in-ness and in-betweenness.

There is no single coming out moment.

The same is true of coming out as a borderline personality.

I can come out or not as borderline personality depending on my comfort level, my audience, my mood, the stakes, and so on.  As with my late-blooming lesbian-ness, I rarely expect people around me to react in a positive way to my coming out as borderline personality.  Mainly, this is because I am paranoid as shit.  Turns out, the people around me are pretty cool about the borderline thing (and about the lesbian thing and the transguy spouse thing). 

My campus publicity office has put my new book on blast as a top headline on the university's website.  I feel all melty and in love with my campus for doing this. Usually I feel like they hate me.  Obviously, my borderline personality patterns extend beyond my loved ones to work acquaintances I rarely even see in person who probably do not hate me or love me or think about me very much at all.

I came out again on The Frisky.  I held my breath and waited for the mean comments.  But the comments weren't mean. They were engaged, enthusiastic, uplifting, personal, earnest, vulnerable, and real.  Authentic.  My absolute favorite emotional demeanor.

My new friend Kiera wrote a book called The Buddha and the Borderline.  It's coming out on August 1, 2010.  As part of the pre-release publicity, Kiera came out of the psycho closet.  I like her bold language.  She sounds fearless.

We are in the age of coming out.  We may actually be in a post-coming-out era.  Coming out is so nineties, you know?  I kissed a girl and I like it.  I have borderline personality and I'm kind of okay with that, too.  Or, I want to be okay with it but I'm still kind of nervous.  The general public is playing it cool, though, standing with one hip cocked to the side and singing along with Perry Farrell that nothing's shocking.

Has borderline personality rocketed from psycho closet to cause celebre?  I'm relieved but also really surprised. 

Tell me what you think.  Is the stigma not as bad as I thought? 


  1. I think the stigma will shrink with GINOAT. The memoir illustrates what large borderline quotients lay inside each of us. I am not saying this because I'm your sister or because I have a type of bpd (self-destructive), but rather to say - 'Who the heck doesn't have it, people?'. So yeah, I think that knowing a larger percentage of the population actually falls into a bdp sub-type should reduce stigma.

    The publicity on campus is fantastic, btw. Congratulations.

  2. Thanks Jay! I'm on cloud nine about the positive reception in Spartanburg.

  3. thanks--i kept googling and was glad to stumble along your work. i hope to make it through a doctoral program and only one person besides my therapist and psychiatrist knows i meet diagnostic criteria for bpd. just figured it out--great but strange. googling bpd and coming across the (mis)representations in the news items can be a blow at times. i think i will remain closeted for a bit, but i think mental health like sexuality can benefit from more complex, nuanced and positive portrayals that challenge stigma and discrimination. also, the mental health professionals outside of large cities can be less helpful at times. thanks to folks like you. i will check out keira's book as well. i love the work of rufus may when it comes to challenging popular cultural representations of mental health.

  4. the stigma is alive and well in the mental health community... as a social worker I hear many negative comments... as a person affected by BPD it really stings.

    What I do know is this... most of my team is aware on some level that I have the disorder, and, in turn, my job has become much easier and my relationships with people at work have flourished.

    I have also been able to advocate in many ways for more education and awareness of the disorder.

    Before I came out at work, people didn't understand why I sometimes reacted strangely - in one meeting they thought that I was angry and glaring at everyone, when in reality I was trapped in my own head flogging myself, riddled with anxiety and unable to speak.

    I much prefer putting myself out there a bit and explaining why I sometimes have difficulties than people thinking that I'm being a bitch.

    Awareness, education, and people seeing successful individuals like us recovering is so important for those younger than us growing up with this disorder.... It is our voice that will give them a chance to recover and receive PROPER treatment EARLY... instead of being diagnosed at 30-35-40.

    I have submitted a proposal to speak at the Early Intervention conference in Amsterdam and I find out in the next few days if my proposal is accepted. My talk is about why BPD should be included in early intervention work.

    wish me luck and thanks for the wonderful article!


  5. hello,
    i'm rolf from germany. i'm suffering of personality disorder(borderline).it's important to write about this illness, the feelings,thoughts etc. i have a online diary and i hope you visit me there. i need help to support me.
    kind regards.

  6. Great question!

    I've been in this game for six years. Kiera's been around for a decade now. That's like, you know, forever! ;)

    Thankfully, in that six years, I've seen better and more accessible materials (books, DVDs, web sites) out there but I don't think that this is the "new normal." Not yet, anyway.

    Unfortunately, stigma is still alive and well in the clinical community. Research community? There's very little!

    And don't forget self-stigma. Even with lots of current information about the disorder, I sometimes think, "Gosh, I should have a handle on this behavior or that behavior by now. Why can't I be more like him or her?"

    From where I sit, education for individuals diagnosed with BPD, their families and friends, and mental health professionals is the key component for reducing (and eventually eliminating) stigma.

    Alas, we still have a long way to go.

    Thank you, Lisa, for being part of the good fight.

  7. Congratulations on the attention you've been receiving. You fully deserve it!

    I feel like I know what you mean. It's always harder for me to deal with unexpected signs of support than it is to face resistance. I think that paranoia's an important thing in a way: It keeps me from getting too comfortable in my own work, from forgetting that one instance of support doesn't mean meaningful change has taken place. Equally important, though, is the recognition that the extremest edge of paranoia rarely has anything to do with reality.

    Too often, sensitive people take their disenfranchisement and run with it, advancing into the margins instead of facing their society squarely, bravely, as you do in your book.

  8. I stumbled across your blog because I am searching for blogs about and from the point of view of people with BPD since I was just diagnosed with it. I don't know if I am ready to come out of the BPD closet yet in any big forum other than on here and to my close friends and family, but I applaud you for tackling societal pressures and prejudices based on your sexual orientation and BPD, I really enjoy your blog :) it's very encouraging

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