Coming Out as BPD

Coming out of the Psycho Closet

By Kiera Van Gelder

When Merinda Epstein, a Policy and Law Reform Officer of the Mental Health Legal Centre in Melborne Australia, made the decision to “come out” with borderline personality disorder as a consumer advocate, her therapist was horrified. She asked Epstein, “why would you want to talk about that diagnosis in public for? You’ve got a perfectly good psychotic diagnosis to use in public!”

Such unfortunately is the reaction many of us who self-identify as “borderline” encounter. You can be a drug addict, have depression, OCD, schizophrenia, or any other number of diagnoses and people will shake your hand and congratulate you on your courage and honesty. But if you say you have BPD, everyone—from counselors to well meaning friends to even DBT therapists, will prophesize that you’ve just ruined your chances of ever getting a good job, relationship or credit rating. The last thing you ever want to be in the line-up of mental illnesses is borderline. Even if you have it. Perhaps, especially if you have it

I didn’t know this at first. I came to the diagnosis from the twelve step community, where they say “you can’t save your ass and your face at the same time.” I didn’t care what I had, so long as I knew there’d be a solution to it. And the doctor assured me there was, in the form of a new treatment called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). I called one of my few remaining friends as soon as I got out of the doctor’s office. “Good news!” I gushed “I have borderline personality disorder! And it makes perfect sense!”

There was a pause on the other end of the phone and then Laura shrieked, “there is no f-ing way you are borderline!!” I pulled the phone away from my ear. “Why not?” “Think fatal attraction.. Knives and stalking. Psychobitch from hell. That’s not you!”

My drug and alcohol counselor had a strikingly similar reaction when I told her during my next session. “You are not one of those!” she exclaimed. Both she and Laura begged me not to accept the borderline diagnosis. It wasn’t yet even an issue of going public, as with Epstein. Just self-identifying, just hitching my little wagon of dysfunction to this wildebeest elicited overwhelming negative reactions from others. (Borderlines, I should say here, don’t do well with negative reactions. Which is probably one of the reasons why so few of us “come out.”)

And yet, little by little, the trickle is becoming a stream: Borderlines are coming out, voices gathering:
Amanda Wang, AJ Mahari, Tami Green, Amanda Smith, Lisa Johnson, Merinda Epstein, Lisa Dietz to name just some of the most prominent. Go to Facebook, to Myspace, and other social networking sites, and the focus is shifting from message boards with anonymous sufferers to people with real names who are dedicating themselves to advocacy, building community, educating others, and sharing their experience with recovery. In the last year alone, we’ve seen more videos, books, e-books, blogs and public appearances by self-identified borderlines than we have in the past decade combined. Tami Green calls it BPD 2.0. The Borderline Recovery Movement has truly begun.


The thrill is not just that it’s happening, but how invaluably therapeutic the “coming out” process can be when there is the right support. There is more to recovery than treatment. Life is exposure, and challenging the stigma of BPD by “outing” oneself and connecting to others is a powerful technique in transforming shame and building resilience. It is not easy. But we are learning that in standing up and being open about the illness, we are able to challenge and overcome the deep self-hatred and guilt that fuels so much of our BPD symptoms ; that in facing the stigma and surviving the exposure, we are able to deeply accept all aspects of ourselves and others, positive and negative; that through this, we don’t need saviors or caretakers to fix us, but communities and companions to journey with us; that in risking the rejection and braving the pain of having “outed” ourselves, we discover the deep freedom of no longer having to hide; that as we stop fearing the diagnosis, we are no longer controlled by it.

With BPD 2.0 now a reality, a central question becomes
: how can treatments and supports help people with BPD navigate the process-- should they want to “come out” and connect with others in the recovery process? The answer is actually quite simple. Help us. Stop telling people with this diagnosis that it’s bad or shameful to have BPD. Affirm that when it’s time, it can be a good thing to “come out.” Just look at all the wild and wonderful people who’ve done it so far! Begin to harbor a conviction that borderline personality is not a curse but an opportunity for growth—both for those who have it, and those near and dear. Catch yourself if you start to think of Borderlines as “them”—the incurable, the lepers of psychiatry, the untreatable. If we continue down that route of condemnation, the river will dry up. Those of us who are finally emerging will retreat back into shame and despair. We will cry, why can’t people recover? And then there will be no recovery. We will never hear the voices of those who’ve passed through the fire, or gained the wisdom of transforming these painful symptoms into strengths. We’ll be right back where we started. Without hope.

And yet, that is the furthest thing from the truth. There is actually much more than hope. There is our experience, a serum of courage and strength that we’ll spoon to each other so long as there are mouths willing to open and hands willing to reach out.

[DBT Self Help] [What is DBT?] [DBT Skills (defined)] [Connecting Skills] [DBT Lessons] [DBT Video Text] [Everyday DBT] [Instant Mindfulness] [Instant Access DBT] [Links] [About this Website]

© 2003 - 2012 by Lisa Dietz. Please read the Copyright Page to learn how you may or may not use these materials.