As part of May’s Mental Health Month, we’re sharing stories that raise awareness about mental illness and empower those who suffer from it. This piece is part of our Darkest Day series, a collection of stories from people who’ve made it through the worst of their illness and now light the way for others. #LightYourWay
Am I a good person? It’s a question we all ask ourselves from time to time, but for people with Borderline Personality Disorder, it carries special significance.
As someone living with BPD, I’ve heard all sorts of negative comments about those dealing with the condition: we’re manipulative, angry, selfish, unable to empathize, incapable of maintaining long-term commitments — the list goes on. While it’s true that many people with BPD do exhibit some of these qualities at various times, they don’t describe all of us, at all times.
I’d love to say that I’ve never exhibited any of these qualities, but BPD, like most mental health disorders, exists on a sliding scale of severity. It’s a spectrum, one that changes depending on the amount of pressure being applied.
I’ve never been under as much pressure as I was in 2014. My second marriage fell apart in February (seemingly overnight, but was actually the result of many years of neglect and denial). In the weeks that followed, I enjoyed a tryst that ended horrendously (another story for another time). Then, on a rainy April afternoon, I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child (I’d spent the two years leading up to that moment on a waiting list to get my tubes tied).
Everyone expected that I would get an abortion. Even my ex told me in no uncertain terms that having another child would “kill me.” The excruciating decision of whether or not to keep that child nearly tore me apart. I decided to keep her, only to find out when my pregnancy went public that everyone thought I’d cheated on my husband and gotten pregnant with someone else’s kid, and this was the reason our marriage fell apart.
Manipulative, angry, selfish, unable to empathize, incapable of maintaining long-term commitments—those are just some of the words I heard about myself that year. In fits of self-loathing, I even used them on myself a few times.
Such broad generalizations only perpetuate the stereotypes and stigmas attached to a complicated disorder. Even if someone with BPD does exhibit these traits, they need our support not our judgement.
Judgement. That’s the word that began my transformation from someone who was truly losing my mind into someone on the path to recovery.
We all pass judgements daily, most of the time without even realizing it. We judge the people around us, the situations we observe, even inanimate objects.
There is literally no end to the amount of judgements you can (and probably do) pass throughout your day, let alone throughout a lifetime. In mindfulness training, you become aware of these judgements and learn to simply observe your surroundings without judging the people, objects, and situations within it.
For someone with BPD, judgement is an invisible cloud of constant negativity that can set off a chain reaction of overwhelming negative emotions. It can also aggravate co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety.
As I learned about my disorder and became more aware of myself, I discovered that I am constantly making judgements about my surroundings. It was important for me, therefore, to try to become a more positive, less judgmental person.
Now, whenever I think negatively about someone or something, I try to turn that negative into a positive. I take it even a step further, sometimes saying my positive thoughts out loud by giving someone a compliment. It doesn’t matter if they’re a complete stranger – everyone loves a sincere compliment.
It might not be precisely what mindfulness teaches, encouraging its practitioners to judge their surroundings as neither positive nor negative, but it’s a step in the right direction for me.
I used to think that my judgmental first instincts defined me as a bad person. I’ve come to learn that it merely defines me as human. I’ve learned that we are not defined by our thoughts or our disorders — we’re defined by our actions as individuals.
Yes, we all make mistakes. We all do things from time to time that others might judge negatively. But I am willing to emphatically state now that I am a good person. It took almost everything I had to ignore the judgements of others and take back control of my life.
No matter who you are or what your disorder, always remember that it takes true strength of character — real work — to turn a negative into a positive.
Bio: Jessica Trudel is a freelance writer and editor, and a mom of four. She is a proud supporter of the arts in Northern Ontario and advocate for mental health awareness.