On The Realities Of Being A Black Woman With Borderline Personality Disorder

On April 28, the world of DIY publishing will get a stellar new addition with Do What You Want, a one-off U.K. zine about mental health and wellbeing. It’s the work of author and food writer Ruby Tandoh, who’s edited the publication with her long-term partner Leah Pritchard. Contributors include actress Mara Wilson, Tejal Rao of The New York Times, and Tandoh herself. “We wanted the stories, and the tellers of those stories, to be a diverse as possible,” said Pritchard in a press release. “Mental illness can affect anyone, and we wanted the zine to reflect that.” Read on for an excerpt by U.K. writer Christine Pungong, and pre-order the zine here — all proceeds will be donated to charities Mind, Beat, Sisters Uncut, and more.

I’ve never seen my mother cry. When I was younger I came to the conclusion that she was cold, but with time I realized this simply wasn’t true. I know my mother is emotional: I’ve seen her joyful, I’ve seen her furious, I’ve seen her excited and scared and even sad, I’ve just never seen her cry. I later grew up to understand that we live in a world that doesn’t grant black women vulnerability — and that black women everywhere suffer for it immeasurably. It is for this exact reason that I couldn’t admit to myself that I was ill for a very long time. I associated vulnerability with weakness, and as Ghanaian-American writer Meri Nana-Ama Danquah writes in her memoir Willow Weep For Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression, “weakness in black women is intolerable.” In a way, that’s what made my Borderline Personality Disorder an even more terrifying diagnosis — emotional instability is not in the black girl repertoire.

Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, is characterised by unstable emotions and relationships, impulsivity, self-harming behaviour, and disturbed thought processes. BPD has always been a complex and controversial diagnosis amongst clinicians. Some (like my old psychiatrist) even refuse to refer to it as a mental illness, and instead acknowledge it only as “a series of maladaptive behavioural patterns.” These people, regardless of who they are, are terribly misinformed.

Unlike anxiety or depression, it’s not so easy to pinpoint any exact things that I do, or think, and attribute them to having BPD. It influences every aspect of my life and my reality. It affects all of my actions, interactions, and relationships. It also means I spend a lot of time worrying about how I can ever separate myself from it. What parts of my personality are me as an individual and what parts are just the pathology? Are they one and the same? When your identity is constructed around an illness, you can’t help but ask yourself: who am I without it?

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