Life, Interrupted

I don’t think I’ve written about it here before, but I’ve been going to workshops at McLean Hospital every month for the past year. The series addresses a topic which has become close to my heart:  educating people about Borderline Personality Disorder. That may seem like a narrow purpose, but because the illness pervades so many aspects of sufferers’ lives, the workshops’ applicability is further reaching that one might expect. Some months focus on behaviors, others on treatment options. The clinicians are unbelievable people, exuding hope and empathy in a room filled with friends and family members desperate for both.

While I’ve found every workshop interesting, this month’s meeting was by far the most poignant one to date. Instead of an expert lecturer, there was a panel of patients. They raged in age, background and treatment level. Some have been diagnosed only in the past month or so; others have been living with the diagnosis for years. Without exception, though, they were smart, creative, kind. But they were also, by their own admission, troubled. They were liars, cheaters, thieves. Master manipulators who had developed maladaptive coping mechanisms in order to survive. Every one of them had a story that would break your heart.

“It’s hard to make up your mind when you have no idea who you are.” -panelist

Some came from solid families, others from broken homes. Most had had issues succeeding in work, not because they weren’t smart or hardworking, but because they often found it hard to stick to one thing for very long. Other times they’d run into conflict with teachers or colleagues. Negotiating interpersonal problems was next to impossible, not because they wanted to be mean or selfish, but because chronic feelings of guilt, shame and emptiness made them so sensitive that it was easier to self-medicate, self-harm and/or shut-down entirely.

As is typical for people with BPD, many of the participants had had histories of substance abuse and/or eating disorders. All had had experiences with self-injurious behavior. Hearing story after story about how these sweet, articulate, desperately sad people had found themselves bounced around through life, chronically making things worse and worse, was devastating.

But at the core of their message was hope, which is really saying something about their strength, courage and, most of all, their resilience. One after another they repeated that their road to treatment came only after they hit their own personal rock bottom. Often they had alienated friends, family members, everyone who tried to help. Life started to get better only once they were willing to accept the reality of their situation, to embrace an idea I’ve heard over and over again at these workshops:  It may not be your fault, but it is your problem.

Across the Universe.

• The video from last night’s panel should be posted soon. I hope you watch it and remember that everyone you meet has a story. Show them the same compassion and empathy you’d want to be shown. ❤

• McLean Hospital’s Center for BPD Treatment is perhaps the best in the world. I had the pleasure of meeting the Center’s leader, John G. Gunderson, in December, and I can’t say enough wonderful things about this man. He’s truly doing God’s work by helping a population of people that is often stigmatized, overlooked and abandoned. He’s a true inspiration.

“Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life and a secret life.” -Gabriel García Márquez


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