I have heard a lot in mental health about not letting our illnesses define us, and I’m sure that you have too. I understand where it comes from — being reduced to a walking mental illness can be dehumanizing. It can worsen stigma and make it easier for others to put our well-being and healthcare to the side.
We often hear about person-first language, that we should avoid calling someone a ‘Borderline’ or mentally ill — instead, they should be a person with borderline or someone with a mental illness.
I understand where this idea comes from. I understand why some, if not most, people prefer it. But for me, it just doesn’t sit right.
I don’t call myself a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder, I prefer to call myself a Borderline — and I prefer that others do too. When I call myself a Borderline, it doesn’t feel dehumanizing or minimizing, it feels empowering. It feels like I’m fully acknowledging a really difficult part of who I am and I feel no shame in it.
My illnesses fundamentally change the way that I see and process the world around me. I am a depressed, anxious, eating disordered, borderline woman. These things define my experience in this world, and I’m not ashamed of that.
But they aren’t the only things that define me, and I think that that’s what makes the difference. I’m also defined as bisexual, funny, creative, sarcastic, caring, and so many other things. I don’t let my illnesses make up all of me, but they damn sure are an important part of who I am.
I will struggle with my mental health for the rest of my life, to varying degrees. Someday soon, I hope that it will be easier, but I’m always going to be dealing with it. I’ve come to terms with that, but I also want it to be acknowledged that these are serious illnesses that I’m dealing with.
My borderline personality disorder leads me to feel my emotions more extremely than what is considered normal. Good or bad, my reactions are amplified and I’m filled with whatever kind of energy that they bring. Excited, angry, happy, or dejected, the feeling consumes me until I can’t imagine any other state, and it seriously affects how I interact with my world.
I’m constantly terrified of rejection and abandonment. I read way too far into anything that people say or do, anticipating that somehow, it will lead to more pain for me. I’m afraid to leave my house, afraid to talk to people, afraid to leave myself vulnerable to the world.
Some days, I don’t have the energy to get out of bed. I just don’t have it. The notion that I should move and face the day ought to be laughed at and ridiculed out of the room. This everyday molehill becomes an insurmountable mountain, so I stay in my bed. I stay sequestered from the world, feeling more and more lonely and isolated by the minute.
I live in a body that my eating disorder built for me. It doesn’t feel like my body. The way it moves and works its way through the world feels foreign and just plain wrong. I get looks and stares from others as though I’ve done something unforgivable just by existing in this body. I hate the body that I live in; the body that I’m trapped in.
If those experiences don’t at least contribute to the list of what defines me, then I’m just not sure what does. And actually, when people try to correct my language to person-first, it makes it feel worse. To me, being a woman with mental illnesses doesn’t sufficiently portray how much they affect me every day.
If it’s acceptable for me to be described as a brunette or a bisexual, why isn’t it also acceptable for me to be a borderline? Why does how I’m described or how I describe myself have to be coddled?
In my opinion, it’s exemplary of the stigma around mental illness and the shame that I’m expected to feel around my atypical brain. If I could be a diabetic, why not depressed? People around me rush to correct me, trying to reassure me because they think that I’ve somehow insulted myself.
Describing my illness is not disempowering or a sign of low self-esteem. I’m not fishing for compliments or reassurance. I’m just describing me. And I don’t need to be protected from that.