• Tilly Rivers

Do I have a personality disorder?

Let me ask you this: if you had to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, would you prefer to be Borderline or Emotionally Unstable?

There are plenty more to choose from of course, a whole variety pack, and of course none of us would actually choose to have one at all.

Personality disorders are characterised by ‘distorted thinking patterns, inappropriate emotional responses, lack of impulse control and social impairment.’ Who’d want that?

I certainly didn’t. But my kind nature combined with my unkind nurture eventually led me in weary middle age to the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM) - the handbook widely used by clinicians and psychiatrists (and me) in the United States to diagnose psychiatric illnesses – and to my amazement I ticked every single one of the nine criteria for BPD.

Instead of feeling mortified I was thrilled. ‘I know what I’ve got!’ I cried to a passing cat because I live alone in a van. ‘I’m not crackers or bonkers or ridiculous like everyone says! And more importantly I’m not alone - there are loads of us out there.’

That’s actually something that’s hard to prove as statistics very wildly and won’t include the millions of people like me who are undiagnosed: none of my GPs thought of considering depression, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, insomnia, extreme anxiety a succession of failed relationships and an eventual nervous breakdown as being symptoms of one personality disorder. The symptoms are the sickness in the NHS, which can be a dinosaur when it comes to mental illness... And yet 15% of the population here in the UK are thought to be personality disordered and most of them have BPD. (Although, going back to my original question, I prefer to be emotionally unstable rather than on the borderline between neurosis and psychosis, which is where the term comes from.)

Anyway. I excitedly called my daughter to tell her my discovery and she laughed and called me crazy. I called my mother and she laughed and said I was being ridiculous. I then, hesitantly, called my friend and she laughed and called me bonkers. Or was it crackers? So now I’m telling you, dear reader, because if you laugh, I won’t hear you.

The core of Emotional Instability Personality Disorder is a molten mess of insecurity and shame. It stems from lack of validation in childhood. Validation is essential to curing it in adult life, so I’ve jolly well decided to self-validate myself by writing this blog. Because no one else around me will. And I desperately need to be understood.

Which is perhaps partly why I wrote the books. The path to my Eureka moment was a long one but was paved when I started to write a series of novels starring someone a bit like me, but living a life where she is seduced by a handsome General in the Royal Marines and is swept away from her narcissistic, abusive husband to a life of ecstatic love, erotic sex and um, luxury. Yachts and stuff!

Well, that was supposed to be the happy ending. But it didn’t quite work out that way as all that other nasty stuff started insinuating itself into the narrative.

Like self-harm, obsession, gaslighting and gaaaa – SHAME!

Never mind, I thought, I’ll just lighten it up a bit and we’ll be fine. I’m always getting into scrapes and Maddie can too. Oh, and I’ll have her commit some terrible crime and end up on trial with her mental health being questioned. Yes! facing life imprisonment and the scorn of her family and village. So that way, I thought, I’m writing the book I’d like to read: a gripping romantic comedy with humour, psychological suspense, eroticism, and best of all DOGS. Tick, tick, tick.

The problem was that in being completely honest while writing the books I started to realise I was describing me. And that eventually led me to ticking boxes in the DSM manual.

It was an eye-opener.

Surely my darling father’s patriarchal strict upbringing abetted by my distant mother’s patriarchal adoration of him didn’t amount to – shhh - childhood abuse?

And was my handsome, intelligent husband who appeared tortured by his need for me actually mentally ill?

Oh, and my daughter getting into drugs and bad boys couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with me and my relationship with her dad, not to mention my drinking problem? Or could it?

Ouch. It could and it did.

But onwards and upwards. There is a happy ending, it just doesn’t involve a life of bliss with a Royal Marine General.

I continue to write the series. The book launch of books one and two is coming soon and I’d love to know what you think.

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