Borderline Personality Disorder, COVID-19 and Me (RETHINK blog)

With so many deaths, and key workers putting their lives at risk, I feel a little self-indulgent talking about my problems, but everything is relative, right? I am a full-time carer for my wife; I also have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Some of you will have a good insight of what this is, others will have never heard of it and, rather worryingly, some people will only know the negative aspects of the condition and believe the hype and stigma caused by misunderstanding, fear and ignorance.

This is not the place to discuss BPD in detail; it’s a big subject and deserves greater time. What I can say is that we who have the condition, struggle to manage our emotions. ‘We all do, sometimes’, you may think, but how many of you go from passive to aggressive at the flick of a switch? A seemingly innocuous comment from someone we care about can be misinterpreted or exaggerated, bringing about an immediate wish to die. It is extreme and it is serious. One in ten people with BPD end their own lives.

There are many studies currently being carried out on the societal effects of the Coronavirus outbreak. Maxims such as ‘the new norm’ are being bandied around and, indeed, it is likely that life will never fully return to pre-Coronavirus conditions. Many would say that’s a good thing. Without detracting from the seriousness of the crisis, there does seem to be something useful emerging, and that is an increase in compassion and awareness.

The issue of domestic abuse, for example, has never had so much publicity and this is because the pressures of lockdown have exacerbated the problem. Another is homelessness. Suddenly, it is vital that the homeless are found a place to live. Whilst there are some who prefer to remain homeless, rather than being forced to live somewhere not of their choosing, there are many more who are desperate to get off the street. This is not new!

The issue that has come to the fore more prominently, is mental health. Over the past few years, depression has received increasing attention although, sadly, not so much the less common issues, such as BPD. Hopefully, that is about to change. It is expected by many, that the heroic actions by health professionals, and others, in caring for the more serious COVID-19 patients, will result in an increase in cases of PTSD. Both BPD and PTSD are trauma related conditions and BPD is known by many as Complex-PTSD. Undoubtedly, there will be help for COVID-19 heroes if they need it, and rightly so. Hopefully, if we manage to raise awareness and understanding of BPD, some of that help might trickle down to those with the condition.

The reason I am writing this, is because it is time for people with BPD to get the help they need. I run support groups for those with the condition, and their families and support workers. There is a serious lack of statutory help and the little there is, has been put on hold due to COVID-19. Now, with the lockdown and social distancing measures, these support groups have also been put on hold, leaving people alone with their difficulties. Not everyone can discuss their feelings on zoom!  For anyone who thinks that BPD is ‘just bad behaviour’, imagine the following scenario:

Female, aged 7, subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by father, and abandoned periodically by mother. Aged 14-16, runs away, police take her back, telling her she is a nuisance; takes overdose, spends several days in A&E, told she is a bad person for worrying her parents; bullied at regular school for having nervous tics; attends special school but is still bullied; admitted to psychiatric ward but is traumatised by seeing an elderly man being aggressively forced-fed by two male nurses; aged 16, discharged from adolescent mental health services. Leaves home with violent boyfriend…..

This is not an isolated case, by any means, but should people like this be blamed for developing BPD…for struggling with their emotions and all the other distressing effects of the condition? Can you see the similarities between this and PTSD? Isn’t it time to stop the stigma of BPD and introduce a little compassion? If you are a health worker, prison officer, police officer or probation officer, please take some time to understand this condition. Seventy per-cent of people in prison have some form of personality disorder and BPD is the most prevalent among women. I know from experience, that this is an avoidable outcome, but without a better understanding and more help, it will not change.