A few weeks after I graduated my Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) I was invited back to talk to the group about to enter the program.
I remember meeting the woman who did this as I was about to begin my six months. She was honest and happy and listening to her made me believe that I could be better. That this might actually work. I was very surprised to have been invited back as a “guest speaker”. There were people who did better than I did during group, who took on the teachings more freely and who turned up each week ready to get stuck into it. I’m thinking of one man in particular who radiated healthy emotionality at our graduation. For him, DBT had explained and helped him unravel over fifty years of confusion and grief.
I tended to turn up a little grudgingly, gave my one-to-one therapist approximately twenty minutes of good therapy time and simply not do the homework outside of the diary card. I spent entire days drawing and colouring spirals on various pieces of paper. At one stage in the middle of my second cycle I and everyone else involved (they made sure they told me, after the fact) believed I was going to drop out. I’m not sure whether my own guilt or the guilt tripping by those around me ultimately won out, but I am proud to say that I completed the course.
After recovering from my initial shock, I wanted to give this new group a similar impression that this woman had given me. I wanted to tell them all that if you put in the effort (possibly a little more effort than I did at times) that you could feel better. That you could be a more rounded person with more typical emotions. That you wouldn’t need to be a slave to hyper experiences of everything. That being rejected by someone you loved would no longer feel like the world ending. That you will find peace within yourself and that it’s so, so possible to just feel like a person. Things can and will feel right rather than wrong. That there’s a whole spectrum of greys where we all thought there was just black and white.
After I gave my little talk, the group was invited to ask questions. And there’s one question that I am still considering some six months later. One girl asked me if I still felt I fitted the diagnostic criteria – did I still feel I was a borderline?
And it stops me now in the exact same way it stopped me then. Because I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. From reading I can see there is a lot of conjecture about whether the disorder can be “cured”, whether people simply grow out of it or whether it’s just a matter of learning to cope with the way the trauma makes you. The latter being the exact purpose of DBT.
The latter has definitely happened to me. With my ex-boyfriend I would often (half) jokingly say that I saw killing myself as a medium-term solution. A friend who shares many mental health problems with me just the other night told me she was coming to my state so we could enact a suicide pact and I realised there in that moment that I was actually quite recovered. Because I didn’t see the appeal. Rejected by my ex, and still crying about it six weeks later I didn’t see suicide as any kind of solution any longer. Similarly, I don’t entertain cutting myself as a solution to anything either. I believe it’s possible to live a life without suffering. There is pain, certainly, but suffering is self-created.
Other things are harder though. My emotions often still feel extreme and I don’t know if that’s because I am continuously pitted against extreme circumstances (my former psychiatrist certainly believed this to be the case) or that I just haven’t gained any sort of handle over them. Which is a self-slight on my own progress because I am experiencing the best emotional health of my lifetime. I am self aware now, I see myself sinking into dangerously bad feelings in the same way I see myself getting drunk on dangerously good ones. I experience a great deal more introspection than ever before and can nearly always effectively name and justify an emotion. And in the situations where they are unjustified and invalid, challenge them and my thinking.
I think that I will always consider myself borderline. The label formed a crucial part of the healing of my identity and I still use it now to help myself (and some others) understand things that I do, say and feel. When discharged from the care of my psychiatrist five months ago, I continued on my mood stabilisers indefinitely. My emotions, while much stabler and controlled, still go off the charts at times. I am mindful, but still get lost in my head and lose precious moments.
Living with this disorder is something of a journey. It will always be a part of me, but I don’t believe that I still carry it as a “sickness”. That part is curable.