Eleven years ago, on a cloudy, warm afternoon during my freshman year of college, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I'll never forget the day I was diagnosed because I'd waited years to start seeing a psychologist regularly, after growing up with a family that believed that church was the only solution to one's mental heath problems. Sure, I saw a school counselor behind my mom's back through middle and high school, but I always gave them vague and incomplete information about my life and problems. They never had any reason to worry because I never gave them one.
CW: This article contains descriptions of disordered eating, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.
But, when I was finally hundreds of miles away from my family and living on my own as an undergrad, my freedom was accompanied by more access to harmful distractions than ever before. I was successfully hiding my eating disorder, regularly self-harming, throwing myself into unhealthy relationships, and finding new reasons to hate myself every day. Since that was what normal life meant to me for years, I didn't think much of it. Until I starting writing a list of different ways I could end my life.
The feeling of wanting to die while longing to want to live is one that has kept my heart beating for as long as I can remember. Even though I was suicidal, plagued by constant feelings of emptiness and hopelessness, having violent mood swings, and cutting myself, I figured that since it was all probably just side effects of having an eating disorder it wasn't serious. A close relative, who was a medical professional, told me years before that they were proud of me for finally taking care of my appearance when they found out I was binging and purging. So I never took bulimia as seriously as I should have, either. It was finally the overwhelming thoughts of suicide that caused me to seek out a therapist in order to give them more than just vague and incomplete information.
After meeting with a psychologist weekly for a few months, and slowly opening up to them about what I'd been going through since middle school, I received a diagnosis. A diagnosis I'd never heard of before. Borderline? I thought to myself. I just have bulimia, not whatever this is.
Eventually, I'd stop seeing that psychologist because I left that college and moved to New York City. But I knew I still needed to find someone to talk to. After struggling to find help I could afford, I finally found a social worker who helped me find a psychotherapist. I started dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and learned skills to help me regulate my emotions and cope with stress in healthy ways. I didn't always apply the skills I learned to my life but I felt thankful to have them in the back of my mind while in recovery from bulimia. And while learning more about borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Now, as a mom, living with borderline personality disorder is much different than it was years ago. I've been in recovery from bulimia for about seven years and I can no longer remember the last time I cut myself. But the thoughts and worries that once led to binges, purging, and cutting still live with me. I don't want to die but the desire to not exist lingers in my bones when my feelings of emptiness and hopelessness cloud my vision and fill my heart. And my fear of abandonment and perfectionism continue to impact my relationships in ways that embarrass me, only furthering my fears of being hated by everyone in my life.
I know what it’s like to live with a diagnosis that is misunderstood, mocked, and linked to violence. I know that speaking about my diagnosis openly could lead people to make unfair assumptions about me.
But, honestly, living with borderline personality disorder as a Black mom comes with added fears and concerns that make it difficult to cope. Institutional racism in the mental health field and systemic inequity make it difficult to cope with BPD as a Black mom, but thankfully my journey towards diagnosis and treatment made it possible for me to function with the disorder today. And while things like diagnosis and treatment are privileges that aren’t afforded to many people, stigmas surrounding mental health in the Black community and stereotypes force many people into silence or avoid seeking help.
My extreme mood swings and anger sometimes make me feel like a bad mother. I feel like the embodied Angry Black Woman trope, while also shifting from feelings of rage to despair to mania to worry to anger to sadness to unwavering self-hate to paranoia all within the span of an episode of Rolie Polie Olie. Luckily, I have the skills learned during DBT and the support of an incredible partner to keep me from spiraling out of control when therapy doesn't seem to help.
Being the best mom I can be is my number one priority in life. My child is everything to me. Even on days when my symptoms catch me off guard and I feel impossible to love, my child’s smile snaps me back to reality and I feel compelled to do some exercises in my DBT workbook. Everyone’s experiences with BPD are different, and I’m only speaking for myself, but even when I’m at my worst, it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone. It’s comforting to know that treatment is available and that I do have the skills required to manage my symptoms in a healthy way. In a way that would never prevent me from being a mindful, loving parent.
I know what it’s like to live with a diagnosis that is misunderstood, mocked, and linked to violence. I know that speaking about my diagnosis openly could lead people to make unfair assumptions about me. But as a Black femme, and as a mom, I want everyone to know that people with BPD are more than their diagnosis.
For me and people like me living with borderline personality disorder, a name was given to observed patterns in our behavior. With that name comes understanding, so that we can learn to live with ourselves and our diagnoses, even if that means living in a way people don’t understand. Many of us know what it’s like to reach our breaking point and some of us have emergency plans in place for when things get out of control.
And some of us, like me, want nothing more than to be good mothers who protect, nurture, and care for our children.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.