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Borderline Personality Disorder:  Stories of Hope

by Diane and Jim Hall

Boderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is an illness that centers on the struggle to manage emotions: the symptoms include chaotic relationships, rage, self harm, fears of abandonment and substance abuse. In 2006, NAMI voted to include this highly stigmatized and misunderstood disorder as one if its five mental health priority populations. Two years later, in 2008, the U.S. Congress resolved that May is Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month. Today we know that with correct diagnosis and intervening effective treatment, people with BPD do recover.

Through awareness, persons diagnosed and in treatment for BPD are leading an active mission of hope.

There are now many outstanding individuals in BPD recovery leading organizations and movements to educate the public and dispel the stigma and biases about this illness based on decades of misinformation.  Here are the stories of Tami Green, Kiera Van Gelder, Amanda Wang and Amanda Smith:

While addressing a Congressional briefing about her illness, Tami Green of Houston said, “Twenty years ago, I walked these very halls, lobbying and educating Congress.” The illness ravaged her career, her health, her family. “Why am I here?” she asked. “I am here because you don’t know about this illness. I would not be here, alive, if I had not been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and received the treatment I have been undergoing. This illness is highly treatable, and those of us who have it can have a life worth living.” Tami has since resumed her career as a life coach, become a NAMI Peer-to-Peer educator, a NAMI Connections Peer Recovery and Support Group facilitator and a national spokesperson for BPD.

Kiera Van Gelder of Boston, featured in the BPD documentary Back from the Edge, advocates and educates about the disorder through speaking engagements and publications. Her first book, The Buddha and the Borderline, will be released by New Harbinger Publications in June 2010. Kiera strongly advocates active collaboration between treating professionals and those who have been successfully treated. “As the patient leaves the role of ‘disabled’ and comes to shed the BPD label, he or she can then become an educator,” Kiera aptly states. “BPD recovery ultimately comes to the transition from believing one is broken and bad to that of being whole and good—from being incapable to capable. The need for evidence in the form of lived recovery is critical.”

Amanda Wang of New York, organizer of a peer-led support group for BPD consumers, spoke at a National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD) conference at Yale in May of 2008. She recounted her frightening journey of 13 years in treatment before her BPD diagnosis: “It made sense. It was like a breath of fresh air.” Through treatment, she learned to ”think pro-actively, pragmatically, concretely; to stay in the here and now instead of the past; to assess, to learn, to build, to track, to prioritize.” Amanda agrees with Kiera that those with the disorder “must realize our potential to become enlightened leaders. We have the opportunity to challenge the bold and subtle biases, prevailing stigma and misunderstandings. We have the opportunity to find solidarity in each other and not be ashamed of who we are and what we are diagnosed with. We become the very hope we are looking for.”

Amanda Smith is the executive director of the Florida Borderline Personality Disorder Association. Amanda and her organization are serving professionals, families, consumers and the general public with regularly scheduled programs, activities, workshops, social events and a newsletter.

This summer, NAMI has invited Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., a leading expert on BPD and designer of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), to present the Research Plenary at the NAMI National Convention in San Francisco on July 8, 2009. The NEA-BPD Web site offers a discussion on the evidence-based treatment of DBT designed by Dr. Linehan, as well as numerous other BPD-related resources, videos, conferences, family guidelines and the Congressional Resolution.

NAMI has also created a new brochure on BPD, available for purchase in the NAMI Store.

An electronic version in PDF format is also available for download.

With the growing partnership of NAMI, NEA-BPD, active consumers and other public and private supporters, advocacy and awareness will expand beyond the month of May. Come join us in July in San Francisco. Together, our awareness and action will lead to hope.


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