This submission comes from a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous.
Wheaton College has done a lot of talking about mental illness lately. From Chapel messages to special events and conversations in dorm rooms, I have been encouraged by the willingness to share, the willingness to be vulnerable about mental illnesses. This vulnerability has helped to break down some of the stigma attached to having a mental illness, but I can’t shake the feeling that there are still some disorders that are “okay” to have and others that are not.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is one of those disorders I would immediately put into the “not okay” category. And yet, it’s the very disorder that I’ve had to learn to navigate during my time at Wheaton.
I started going to Wheaton College’s Counseling Center this fall. I was experiencingoverwhelming emotions that I was only able to control through self-harm. I was also having recurrent thoughts of suicide. I felt lost and confused. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. Within a few months of going to the Counseling Center, I stumbled upon the possibility that I had BPD. When I mentioned this in counseling, it was confirmed. I still can recall with vivid detail that moment of confirmation. Sitting in that chair in my counselor’s office, my heart felt like it was shattering into a million pieces, never to be put back together again.
In the months to follow, I felt like I was in survival mode. I was trying to live my life as if everything was fine. I couldn’t have a personality disorder. It might be okay for me to be depressed or have anxiety, but it certainly wasn’t okay to have BPD. It became my sole job to deny what was happening, but denial takes quite a toll on a life. You can only run from a mental illness for so long before it completely overtakes you.
It was finals week when I reached my limit. It was a wake-up call for me, a startlingand scary picture of what it looks like to get lost in Borderline Personality Disorder. I felt isolated, insecure, and overwhelmed by rapidly changing emotions, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. I couldn’t study for more than five minutes at a time. I remember thinking repeatedly, “how could anyone live like this?” Ironically, reaching my limit was the first step in a long journey toward acceptance and recovery. It was the week when I decided to face what some people call a “trust disorder” rather than a personality disorder. Gradually, I have come to understand my “trust disorder” and how it affects my experience at Wheaton.
Living in a place that loves “intentional community” can be challenging with BPD. As a sufferer of BPD, I have both an overwhelming desire for intimacy and an overwhelming fear of intimacy. Many relationships I’ve had at Wheaton reflect this complicated dichotomy.. When I first get to know someone, I am often overwhelmingly intentional about building a lasting friendship. But at the slightest chance that the other person could leave me, I leave first.
I am often the destroyer of the community that I so intensely desire. While this mayseem counterproductive, it’s protective. It seems safer than the possibility of being hurt or abandoned by others. The majority of the time, this paradox has left me feeling alone, feeling distant from the “intentional community” I need.
But by the grace of God, my story doesn’t end there. I have found incredible supportand help through the Counseling Center and a few close friends who know that I have BPD. For those who truly know what I’m going through, I have found nothing but patience, grace, and love. They have stuck with me despite my attempts to push them away out of fear. I am gradually rediscovering the potential to be happy in the very thing that caused me the most distress.
Healing from BPD is healing in the context of relationships. For too long, I let the fear of having a diagnosis of BPD keep me from accepting the healing I was being offered. Wheaton, we need to continue talking about mental illness, but we can’t just talk about the illnesses that make us slightly uncomfortable. We have to talk about the disorders that make us extremely uncomfortable, the ones that are unfamiliar and scary.
In doing this, we may come to realize that there shouldn’t be a distinction betweenmental illnesses that are “okay” or acceptable and ones that are not. In doing this, we will be more prepared to respond in love when our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering from a mental illness. If you’re struggling with a mental illness, don’t let the fear of a diagnosis stop you from getting the help that you deserve. When you reach out to friends, professors, or even a counselor for help, you deserve to find nothing but acceptance, grace, and love. Help is possible.
You are so loved.