While this label has been never been used to describe me I know that if I had been in psych wards today instead of 25 years ago, I would have certainly been labeled with it. It was not as commonly used when I was frequently hospitalized. I did, however at the time, not make doctors happy. I, indeed, as Ruth writes in her post, perpetrate the “bitch pisses off doctor” sin. I pissed off all the staff . I couldn’t stand being treated with so little respect when I was hospitalized, so I did not “behave” well.
I’m going to write about the label from a slightly different perspective. I’ve not said much, except in passing, that I was a social worker in mental health. I no longer identify with the role that took front and center stage in my life for so long. I was a social worker dammit, not a psych patient! In any case, in truth, I was a social worker and a psych patient and in my practice I really did behave as both, though my employers never knew it.
Looking back I now see I may have gotten burnt out for a reason. I identified with my clients. You are always told not to identify with “them”. To have empathy instead? What does that mean? Really. I have no idea. If you identify does that mean you might catch something? Was that my problem–is that what in the end brought me to my knees? That I dared consider those I was meant to serve as fellow human beings? I may have not done myself a favor, but I think I certainly may have done my clients a favor. And just so you know–I’m just wondering aloud here–I really don’t believe it hurt me at all. The time simply came when the drugs I was on beat my ass. I was tired and stretched to my limit. I couldn’t work anymore–and not just as a social worker–I couldn’t work at anything. I needed to get off the drugs.
Anyway, as a social worker, I had the habit of volunteering for all the people all the other clinicians refused to work with. All those damned borderlines as well as a host of the other so-called personality disordered (the bulk, of course, were labeled BPD.) I loved them. And I loved them because I identified with them…they dared to show their pain in a way I found honest even if not always straight-forward. And they liked me. I never got harassed and no one ever knew why I so emphatically fought for their rights and needs when everyone else wanted to just let them slip into oblivion. If you respect these folks, I argued, they respect you back. And it was the truth. It’s pretty simple. It was true for me too. I behaved like a shit in the hospital because that was how I was treated. You know, my colleagues, more than a few times, suggested I was being manipulated by these clients. That was why I supported them. Sadly, I simply understood what it was like to be subject to my colleagues care.
Anyway it’s not like I actually have deep insight into the so-called borderline personality. I know I have some traits, but they are minor. No one outside a psychiatric ward would have ever labeled me that. My behavior in psych wards was out of control simply because those “treating” me were out of control. Hence, the reason I’m sure I would be labeled borderline today in a psych ward and hence the reason the same “borderlines” who behaved so well with me could not work with my colleagues who simply could not empathize with them let alone identify–the clinicians were out of control–perhaps angry and scared, certainly condescending. I think identifying with a client is actually a good thing? Yup, a fellow human being. I’ve never given it a lot of thought, but I imagine that peer counselors are effective for exactly that reason. And wasn’t I, though in the closet, just a glorified peer counselor?
I’ve always had respectful relationships with providers outside of hospitals–no risk of being labeled outside, even if I now view the relationships as completely messed up because the power balance was so skewed and I lapped up all their advice to my great detriment.