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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Jenn Crowell Spreading Awareness about BPD Month

May is BPD Awareness Month.

No, that doesn’t stand for “bipolar disorder”; it stands for “borderline personality disorder.”
“Borderline between what and what?” asked Winona Ryder’s character in the film Girl, Interrupted, echoing the sentiments of the memoir of the same name by Susanna Kaysen.

It’s a good question. BPD is a controversial diagnosis, given mainly to women who self-harm, frequently attempt suicide, or possess significant histories of abuse and trauma.

People with BPD are often re-traumatized in a medical and psychiatric system that sees them as manipulative, difficult, and unlikable. Insurance companies often deny coverage of treatment because personality disorders are seen as intractable and incurable.

I wish I could say that my knowledge of this shameful state of affairs is due simply to years of meticulous research, but unfortunately I have experienced it first-hand as a consumer of mental health services. Just a few examples:

I had one therapist tell me there was no way I could have BPD because I was a pleasure to work with.

Conversely, I had an ER psychiatrist diagnose me with BPD after a five-minute conversation, based on the fact that I was experiencing urges to harm myself.

And worst of all, when I took legal action against a hospital where I was sexually assaulted as a patient, the hospital’s attorney told mine that “We both know the only reason this case is happening is because your plaintiff has borderline personality disorder.” (This was almost ten years after my initial diagnosis, since retracted, and almost five after I’d stopped self-harming.)

I’m among the “lucky” ones, though, believe it or not. Other women have had their self-harm injuries sutured without anesthetic as a sort of punishment, or even lost custody of their children. My latest novel, Etched On Me, is inspired by one such case in the UK in which a successfully recovered mother-to-be faced removal of her newborn at birth, all due to a history of BPD and self-harm back in her teens.

People who have been diagnosed with BPD need compassion and validation, but everywhere they turn, they find just the opposite. Mental health professionals refer to them scoffingly as “borderlines”; self-help websites for their families demonize them, painting them as Fatal Attraction bunny-boilers. What an affront to individuals who already feel such tremendous shame!

Thankfully, there are some caring professionals and advocates out there. Chief among them is Dr. Marsha Linehan, a courageous psychologist with her own history of BPD. Dr. Linehan devised dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), one of the most effective – and validating — treatments for women who self-harm.

Valerie Porr, who lives with a loved one with BPD, has also spearheaded a movement for education of family members about the disorder. Her book, Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder, is in my opinion the most respectful and positive book on BPD for families available.

I hope you’ll join me in educating yourself about BPD and self-harm, treating people with BPD with the kindness they deserve, and supporting efforts to spread hope for recovery.

Girl, Interrupted meets Best Kept Secret in this riveting, redemptive coming-of-age story about a young woman who overcomes a troubled adolescence, only to lose custody of her daughter when her mental health history is used against her.

On the surface, sixteen-year-old Lesley Holloway is just another bright new student at Hawthorn Hill, a posh all-girls’ prep school north of London. Little do her classmates know that she recently ran away from home, where her father had spent years sexually abusing her. Nor does anyone know that she’s secretly cutting herself as a coping mechanism…until the day she goes too far and ends up in the hospital.
Lesley spends the next two years in and out of psychiatric facilities, where she overcomes her traumatic memories and finds the support of a surrogate family. Eventually completing university and earning her degree, she is a social services success story—until she becomes unexpectedly pregnant in her early twenties. Despite the overwhelming odds she has overcome, the same team that saved her as an adolescent will now question whether Lesley is fit to be a mother. And so she embarks upon her biggest battle yet: the fight for her unborn daughter.

Jenn Crowell is the critically acclaimed author of the novels Necessary Madnessand Letting the Body Lead.  She holds an MFA in creative writing and lives near Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter.

Would you like to win a copy of Etched On Me? Just comment on this post and I will choose one lucky winner in a few days. (US ONLY)


  1. Thank you , for the giveaway

  2. I would love to read this book. I personally suffer from many anxiety disorders (general, panic, OCD, etc) and have tried all the meds for various other "possibilities" and finally drew a conclusion that doctors don't know much about them either. We've ruled out BPD in my case, but I know many people who have it (and probably even more who have it and have not been diagnosed). There needs to be a better understanding. In my case, my disorders aren't used against me...except when it comes to my insurance rates, which is stupid because I'm not a threat to anyone and I've never had extraneous expenses. Anyway, thanks for the chance to win. :)