I’m not sure how to introduce these essays, poems, comics, and fiction, and, like everyone else, I am swimming in the cold waters of exhaustion and overwhelm. Bi+ Visibility Day lands 6 months into the novel coronavirus pandemic. Every one of the contributors to this zine, from Aoife in Ireland to the folks in the US and those of us in Canada, are affected by the pandemic.
Search for “bisexual health outcomes” and you’ll find years of studies that demonstrate that, as the HRC puts it, “bisexuals face striking rates of poor health outcomes” (you can read the Health Disparities Among Bisexual People brief here).
And we know that the pandemic has already highlighted multiple systemic health and social inequities. The economic impact, the differential access to health care – none of these fall equally on different communities. Fat folks have faced significant increase in fatphobic discourse during the pandemic. Women are bearing the majority of the increased burden of childcare and at-home education. Black, Indigenous, and brown communities are seeing the pre-existing unequal access to health care and social support escalate.
And it is not just the pandemic that impacts these (and so many other) communities. Overt acts of racist violence are more frequent – white supremacy and colonialism lashing back at those who are protesting. The pandemic arrived in Canada as the invasion of Wet’suwet’en was ongoing, and as the pandemic crosses the half year, more colonial violence is being enacted on Mi’kma’ki – coast to coast, Canada has escalated the violence against Indigenous communities. In the US, police violence (in response to protests against police violence!) has been going on for months.
In Alberta, where I live, Bi Visibility Day comes as disabled Albertans are under increasing and aggressive threat, as our government cuts funding from the most vulnerable.
These issues matter on Bi+ Visibility Day because the bi+ community includes fat folks, women, Black, Indigenous, and brown folks. The bi+ community includes parents, and folks who are living alone. This community includes trans and non-binary folks, disabled folks, poor folks, homeless folks. This community includes folks with difficult relationships to substances, and folks who have experienced trauma, and folks who are experiencing trauma right now.
Every issue of justice is an issue that matters for this community, and when we ignore any part of this community – when we forget that this community includes all of these intersections, includes every intersection! – we just recreate the harms that are already happening.
So, how do I introduce a zine into this context that is so overwhelming?
I think, first, by acknowledging that it is overwhelming.
And then, perhaps, by also acknowledging that despite these daunting realities, there is also a resilience, a persistence, a revolutionary ongoingness within this community.
It is worth celebrating our lives and our experiences.
It is worth being visible, today and every other day.
The pandemic, the colonial machine, the vice-grip of capitalism, the clenched fist of patriarchy – these things are not more meaningful than this community.
We exist within these hostile waters.
We exist, and we have always existed, and we will continue to exist.
We are jellyfish – you can find us in every ocean, in every part of the ocean.
The pieces of writing in this zine touch on issues of aging, parenting, and navigating relationships (with others, with communities, and with selves). They include poetry, essays, fiction, and art.
Multiple essays address the tensions between bisexual and lesbian spaces, and the questioning of “queer enoughness”.
This zine is not representative of the entire bi+ community. There are so many intersections missing in these 32 pages, so if you read this zine and find it interesting or inspiring or encouraging, I hope that you go out and find more.
We are here in every space.
We are telling our stories.
We are visible, not just today but everyday, if you know how to see us.
Jocelyn LaVon is an A++ parent, friend, and community member. (This bio was written by Tiffany, not Jocelyn.)
Candice Robinson-Horejsi (Calgary, Canada). Wife, mother, engineer, NaNoML, writer, runner, knitter, nerd. Candice wears many metaphorical hats. You can find out more here: candicerobinson.ca
Gloria Jackson-Nefertiti is a breast cancer survivor, public speaker, workshop leader, panelist, artist’s model, published poet and soon to be published memoirist. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram as GloriaJacksonNefertiti, and on Twitter as @gloriajn. She lives in Seattle, WA.
Aoife Byrne is an artist living in Dublin, with her Partner and two Pups. She focuses on illustration, photography, animation or a combination in her work. She loves cosplay, choirs and dancing.
Sheri Osden Nault is an artist of Michif and mixed European descent, whose art practice and research are grounded in queer, feminist, and Indigenous world-views. Osden lives in Tkaronto on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations, under the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, which precedes colonial treaties on this land. Through their work they strive to elicit a sense of social and ecological responsibility to one another on a damaged planet.
Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized: Poems (Unnamed Press) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press). She uses her skeletal dysplasia as a bridge to scientific writing. Marlena is a bisexual writer and serves on the planning committee of OutWrite, Washington, D.C.’s annual LGBTQ literary festival. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Breath & Shadow, The Deaf Poets Society, The Little Patuxent Review, Noble/Gas Quarterly, Paper Darts, Rogue Agent, Stoked Words, Wordgathering, and more. Find her at marlenachertock.com and @mchertock.
Julene Tripp Weaver, a native New Yorker, is a psychotherapist and writer in Seattle. Her book, truth be bold—Serenading Life & Death in the Age of AIDS, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and won the Bisexual Book Award. www.julenetrippweaver.com. Twitter: @trippweavepoet
Jan Steckel’s latest book Like Flesh Covers Bone (Zeitgeist Press, December 2018) won two Rainbow Awards (for LGBT Poetry and Best Bisexual Book). Her poetry book The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) won a Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction. Her fiction chapbook Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) and poetry chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) also won awards. Steckel moderates the Facebook group Bi Poets and is an active member of the Bay Area Bi+ and Pan Network. She lives in Oakland, California, USA with her husband Hew Wolff, host of Berkeley BiFriendly.
This zine was initiated and formatted by Tiffany Sostar for Bi+ Visibility Week 2020. Tiffany is a writer, editor, community organizer, tarot reader, course instructor, and narrative therapist. They are bisexual, non-binary, and chronic-pain enhanced. You can find them online at tiffanysostar.com and foxandowltarot.com or email them at email@example.com. You can support their work by picking up this zine, enrolling in An Unexpected Light, booking a narrative therapy session or tarot reading, hiring them to facilitate a workshop for your group, or backing their Patreon at patreon.com/sostarselfcare.
THE SUPERPOWERS o The Superpower of Community (and community care) o The Superpower of Showing Up o Resilience o Endurance o Dialectics as a Superpower (holding multiple true stories) o Empathy and Compassion o The Superpower of Quick Turnaround of Emotions o The Superpower of Being Able to Get Out of a Bad Situation o The Ability to ‘Chameleon’
From the document:
This document follows a conversation, facilitated by Osden Nault and Tiffany Sostar, whose goal was to center the voices of folks who identify with BPD (either diagnosed by a professional or self-claimed), and to shift the dominant narrative about Borderline Personality Disorder. This document includes quotes from participants as well as quotes from BPD folks who were not at the event itself.
This event was the result of both Osden and Tiffany noting the lack of BPD voices in the resources available about, and especially for, the BPD community. So much of what is available includes harmful stories about what kind of people have BPD, and how difficult and even dangerous it is to be in relationship with them. These stories obscure the complex lived experiences of BPD individuals who have valuable insider knowledges into how to navigate big emotions and the ongoing effects of complex trauma.
Because we live in such a complex, overwhelming, and traumatizing social context, we hope that this resource might also provide help and insight for folks who do not identify with BPD but who have experienced complex trauma or are living with overwhelming Feels.
We also hope that this resource will help folks who are facing the injustice of inaccessible mental health supports. We recognize that the BPD community faces intense stigma and is also significantly underserved by medical and mental health professionals. If you have found this resource because you haven’t found anything else, we hope that it helps. You are valid, your experiences are valid, and no matter how much you may struggle with your big feelings at times, we know that you also have skills, strategies, superpowers.
There’s so much more that we could have put into this document, and we hope to continue this work both within the BPD Superpowers group and through engagement with other folks who identify with borderline personality disorder (either through self-identification or through a formal diagnosis). Maybe there will even be a book!
Acknowledging the political climate in which we are releasing this work and the intersections of oppression and mental illness / neurodivergence.
At this moment, Black people in the USA and marginalized groups worldwide are mobilizing against white supremacist, racist, and anti-Black violent systemic oppression. We are unequivocally in support of this ongoing struggle for more just futures. In releasing this document at this time, we wish to acknowledge the compounded effects of anti-Black racism, white supremacy, colonialism, intergenerational trauma, and many more forms of violent oppression and marginalization on individual mental health and neurotypes.
An Indigenous participant has shared:
One of the first definitions of BPD I saw described it as resulting from a “genetic predisposition” and trauma. I immediately thought about my own family’s intergenerational trauma. At a point in time when we know ancestral trauma affects us to a genetic level, I wondered how the history of colonial violence plays a role in my present day neurodivergent experience.
We see the effects of violent oppression on physical and mental health, spanning generations and present today. In what Angela Davis has referred to as a “very exciting moment,” and about which she says, “I don’t know if we have ever experienced this kind of a global challenge to racism and to the consequences of slavery and colonialism,” we acknowledge that there is a great deal of ongoing work and healing to be done. We release this collective document with free access and the hope that it will aid in the future and ongoing well being of oppressed individuals and communities.
With love and solidarity, The BPD Superpowers group
This will be another incomplete, last minute, hastily written letter. Still shiny, I would like to think, but shiny like the rainbow slick on a puddle – a brief glimmer in a storm.And wow, are we in a storm.
The Shiny! Speculative Writing Group will be meeting tomorrow, June 7, from 4-6 pm mountain time. Email me for the link.
There is never a cost to attend the Shiny! writing group, but I would like to invite any participants at tomorrow’s event to make a donation of whatever amount you feel the writing group is worth towards supporting a Black creative, or towards one of the organizations supporting protesters right now.
I recognize that this group includes a lot of folks who are living with financial precarity, made worse for the folks in Alberta by the UCP attacking AISH. If making a donation is not possible, I would invite us each to find some other way of offering support. Supporting the work of standing against anti-Blackness and police violence is so necessary. Being part of that work is so necessary.
I would also like to invite the non-Black members of this group to engage meaningfully with the work of Black writers this month. Not just the critical and necessary non-fiction writing about this current political moment, but also the writing of Black romance writers, humour writers, and, of course, speculative fiction writers. Check out the Spring book list at Well Read Black Girl for some ideas.
Have you heard about the Heavy Hitters Poetry Festival? Sonya Renee Taylor, author of The Body is Not An Apology, is performing on June 9th! You can get tickets here – https://awfulgoodwriters.com/
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, whose short story Evidence is featured in An Unexpected Light, and was the very first prompt we used in this group, has a book called M: Archive that follows that trajectory and imagines Black ongoingness after a worldwide cataclysm. Relevant! https://www.alexispauline.com/
We are collectively witnessing a phenomenal volume of Black pain in the news, and it is so critical that we do witness this, that we see it, recognize it, understand that it is not ‘shocking’ or new. That we recognize how anti-Black and anti-Indigenous violence are two strong threads in the rope of capitalist colonialism, and that we work to fray and unravel and dismantle that rope.
But we also have to recognize, and have to actively seek out, the other stories. Black lives matter all the time, not just when they are suffering. Black joy matters. Black imagination matters. If you are invested in supporting a movement for change, I really believe that you must also be invested in seeking out more than just the trauma.
So, you may have guessed that tomorrow’s writing group will focus on what is happening politically right now.
It’s going to be a bit of a different session, more reflective writing than fantastical writing, though I think that reflection can also be speculative in nature. At its best, reflective writing invites us to speculate about our own preferred selves and lives, and can be incredibly future-enabling work.
My goal in writing these prompts was to find ways that we could engage as a group with what is happening culturally and politically in ways that generate and sustain hope without turning away from pain and struggle, and in ways that invite a variety of voices without appropriating stories or experiences that are not our own.
I wanted to invite us to step more meaningfully into our own story, rather than taking the too-frequent path of stepping into the story of someone who is marginalized in ways we are not. I didn’t want to set us up to “imagine what it’s like for someone facing this injustice” because, although I think it is absolutely critical that we read the first hand accounts of people who are facing hardship, and we believe them, that is different than trying to speak in their voices.
It is sometimes easier to imagine ourselves into a life that seems like it is harder than our own, easier to cast ourselves out into that other voice and experience, than to really sit with our own experience, and with the ways in which our own lives are entangled in systems of oppression and harm, the ways in which our own stories are shaped and constrained by colonialism and capitalism, the ways in which we have been invited to be complicit and the values we hold that do not align with these systems of harm. I hope that this event can help us polish off some of those shiny values.
So these prompts are meant to invite reflection on our own experience of this time, on the stories we are being told of this time, and what we can contribute at this time.
My hope is that this event tomorrow will leave participants feeling that their critical eye on the stories we’re being shared has been sharpened, and that their hope for the future and energy to take action in support of justice have been strengthened.
Here are our writing prompts for tomorrow:
What is the story of this time, right now?
This may not seem like a speculative writing prompt, but “the story” of any time is always an act of imagination. There is no single true story of any event. In this prompt, I want to invite us to consider what we are being told about the nature of this current political and cultural moment. Who is telling us this story? What is being valued in this story? Who does this story serve? Does this story align with our own experience or understanding of this time? What is the story we are telling of this time? What is the story we want to tell?
What is the story of this time, 50 years from now?
This is a more directly speculative prompt. What is the mythology of 2020 that evolves over the next half century? How do you imagine the grandchildren of this generation will speak about this time?
What is being asked of you at this time?
This is an invitation to use our speculative writing powers to imagine what we might have to offer, and what might be asked of us or needed from us at this time. What do we have to offer? What do we wish we had to offer?
If you plan to attend tomorrow, please let me know! If there are less than four confirmed attendees, I will be cancelling the event.
The following is a slightly modified version of the text of a presentation given on August 24, 2019. The second part of this event was an interview with Kay and Sam, which will be shared next week. Both of these posts are shared in celebration of BPD Awareness Month. The image is a still from the presentation., with Kay on the left, Tiffany in the middle, and Sam on the right.
Welcome to “Recognizing BPD Superpowers”, on the topic of sharing and celebrating the hopes, skills, insider knowledges, and experiences of folks who identify with Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD. This includes people who have claimed the label for themselves, people who have had the label applied to them, and people for whom both are true.
I want to note up front that this presentation will include references to self-harm, suicidality, and to some of the stigmatizing and pathologizing language that is often applied to folks who are identified with BPD. This has the potential to be triggering. If, at any point, you need to take a break – that is a-okay! Also, it’s a long post! Sorry!
Before we get started, I’d like to introduce you to my co-facilitators.
Kay D’Odorico is a queer, neurodivergent human of Indigenous and European descent. They advocate for Sex Workers and own and operate their own perfuming business full-time here in Mohkinstsís.
Sam is just a human pursuing her best possible self. She is passionate about her recovery, her intersections, and wishes to hold space for others while creating it for herself.
Both of these humans have been phenomenal supports and collaborators, and I’m honoured to have shared this space with them. The narrative interview with these two lovely humans, which followed this presentation, will be shared next week on this blog.
My name is Tiffany Sostar. My pronouns are they/them. I’m a narrative therapist, community organizer, editor, writer, workshop facilitator, and tarot reader – I do a bunch of different things, and they all sort of orient around engaging with stories. The stories people tell about ourselves and others, the stories we’ve been told about ourselves and others, and, especially, how we can tell our stories in ways that make us stronger. That phrase – telling our stories in ways that make us stronger – comes from Auntie Barbara Wingard, an Australian Aboriginal narrative therapist who has done profoundly meaningful work on many topics, including creating ways for Indigenous communities to grieve together in ways that are consistent with their cultures.
My own work is significantly influenced by the work of Indigenous narrative therapists and community organizers, including Auntie Barb, Tileah Drahm-Butler who is another Australian narrative therapist, and Michelle Robinson, who is a community organizer and politician here in Calgary. (You can find one of Aunty Barb’s projects, a walking history tour here, and one of Tileah’s project, a presentation on decolonizing identity stories here, and Michelle Robinson’s Patreon and podcast here.)
Colonial Violence and BPD
As a white settler who works in the field of mental health, a field that has historically been incredibly harmful to marginalized communities, including Indigenous, Black, trans, queer, two-spirit, fat, unhoused, sex working, substance using, and so many other communities who have come to professionals for help and been met with stigma and harm, I think that recognizing how much I have benefitted from the work of marginalized communities is critical. Any good work that I do in communities that are more or differently marginalized than I am myself is entirely due to the generosity and wisdom of the people within those communities who have shared their insider knowledges.
This workshop happened on Indigenous land, and this blog post is being written on Indigenous land. All land is Indigenous land. Here, I am on Treaty 7 land. It is the land of the Blackfoot Confederacy, including the Kainai, Siksika, and Piikani First Nations, and the Stoney Nakoda, including the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations, the Tsuut’ina, the Metis Nation of Alberta, Region 3, and all of the other Indigenous men, women, and two-spirit folks who are here as a result of child removals, forced relocations, economic pressures, or other reasons.
This work was inspired by Osden Nault, and we had been talking about getting this project underway for quite some time. We both noted the lack of BPD voices in resources and writing about BPD, and wanted to do something to address that. This presentation, and the resources that are currently under development, would not have happened without Osden. They also co-facilitated the first group discussion that created the foundation for this workshop. Osden is an artist of Michif and mixed European descent, whose art practice and research are both grounded in queer, feminist, and Indigenous world-views. Osden lives in Tkaronto on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations, under the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, which precedes colonial treaties on this land. Even though they weren’t at this workshop, their influence was present!
This presentation was, and is, part of a larger series of resources that the BPD Superpowers group is creating around BPD, some of which will be shared during BPD Awareness Month in May of 2020. If you live in a colonial country and don’t know whose land you’re on, it would be worth looking that up. The land you’re on is now part of this project, too.
Here in Canada, the Final Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people found that:
“The significant, persistent, and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human rights and Indigenous rights violations and abuses – perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state, designed to displace Indigenous Peoples from their land, social structures, and governance and to eradicate their existence as Nations, communities, families, and individuals – is the cause of the disappearances, murders, and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and is genocide. This colonialism, discrimination, and genocide explains the high rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.”
We must talk about colonial violence when we are talking about trauma-related mental health experiences, which many people experience BPD as being, because otherwise we risk perpetuating harm. For example, the 2014 research paper “Characteristics of borderline personality disorder in a community sample,” published in the Journal of Personality Disorders, finds that Native American and African American communities are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with BPD, and with other conditions such as depression, anxiety, etc.
I think that, knowing this, we must look at racial trauma, and acknowledge how racial trauma impacts individuals if we are going to talk about these experiences and diagnoses. Otherwise, we are missing key context.
Rebecca Lester, in her paper, “Lessons from the Borderline” writes:
“Most people diagnosed with BPD grew up in situations where their very existence as a person with independent thoughts and feelings was invalidated (Minzenberg et al., 2003). Sometimes, this entailed chronic abuse, either physical or sexual. Sometimes it was more of a grinding parental indifference. People diagnosed with BPD overwhelmingly experienced their early lives as involving constant messages that they do not – and should not – fully exist.”
How can we separate this from the findings of the Final Report, which identify exactly this dynamic of abuse and identity invalidation as having been directed at Indigenous communities since the beginning of colonization? I don’t think that we can.
What even is a “personality disorder”?!
So, borderline personality disorder, like many “personality disorders” is a contested and controversial term and diagnosis. Heads up for some stigmatizing and pathologizing language in this next section. I want to give you a bit of context for the social location of BPD, and for my own positioning here.
I have never received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Although there are many BPD characteristics that I do strongly identify with, and I share an experience of trauma that many BPD folks might recognize, I do not feel a strong attachment to the BPD label. In my own life, I am comfortable recognizing certain shared experiences without claiming a shared identity.
In my own work, I do not diagnose the community members who consult with me for narrative therapy, but I do respect and work with the diagnoses that people bring into our sessions. There are lots of reasons for this, but one important one for locating myself within this work is that as a narrative therapist, I am interested in externalizing problems – meaning, locating the problem outside of the person I am consulting with. I think that many contemporary ways of speaking about borderline personality disorder invite us to view BPD as a set of traits inherent to an individual.
BPD is often described as a volatility that can make people dangerous, an instability, a lack of cohesive identity – all of these ways of speaking about BPD locate it within the person, rather than within their context. I think that this obscures the many ways in which folks who have been identified with BPD respond to the problems in their lives. These ways of speaking, of telling a story about BPD, can end up having the consequence of giving BPD more agency than the person in front of us!
And I think that this is a problem.
I also think it’s a problem that can arise even when we’re not being malicious or trying to be stigmatizing – “You can’t help it, it’s the BPD” is a framing that invites neither accountability nor dignity and agency, even though it appears to be a compassionate approach.
Instead, I am interested in how people respond when BPD shows up in their lives. I’m interested in learning when this problem first showed up, what it wants, and how people have responded to it. What are they valuing when they pick up a DBT workbook and start developing their strategies for emotional regulation? What are they hoping for when they continue to show up in relationships despite the BPD voice telling them to bail? Who taught them that they could respond? Who in their lives knows what they cherish, and would not be surprised to learn that they are taking actions to respond to the problems in their lives?
Rebecca Lester writes:
“I understand BPD somewhat differently than my clinical colleagues who see it as a dysfunction of personality and my academic colleagues who see it as a mechanism of social regulation. In my view, BPD does not reside within the individual person; a person stranded alone on a desert island cannot have BPD. Nor does it reside within diagnostic taxa; if we eliminated BPD from the DSM, people would still struggle with the cluster of issues captured in the diagnosis. Rather, BPD resides – and only resides – in relationship. BPD is a disorder of relationship, not of personality. And it is only a ‘disorder’ because it extends an entirely adaptive skill set into contexts where those skills are less adaptive and may cause a great deal of difficulty. Yet due to the contexts in which the skills were developed, the person has a great deal of trouble amending them (Linehan, 1993). Since BPD resides in relationship, BPD can also be attenuated through relationship: it is not a life-sentence, and it is not even necessarily problematic if managed constructively.”
One of the foundational beliefs of narrative therapy is that the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem, and the solution is rarely individual. I think that this is an important framing to bring to discussions of BPD.
So that’s where I stand.
Questioning the Discourse
How about the discourse around BPD?
In her fantasy book Borderline, author Mishell Baker, who identifies as BPD herself and has written a badass BPD heroine for the novel, writes, “Sometimes, the first thing people learn about borderlines is that you can’t trust them. And there’s not always much learning after that.”
That’s why it is so important to think critically about the stories we are telling about BPD, and about people who are identified with BPD. To keep learning. To interrogate what we have been taught or told about what it means to live with BPD experiences.
Does the story leave room for the dignity and agency of the person being described?
Does it position the person as the expert in their own experience?
Who does this story serve, and what are the potential outcomes of this story?
We need to ask these questions anytime we read an article, a post, a book, a webpage – what, and who, is being supported in this narrative?
What, and who, is being diminished?
Bring these questions with you anytime you engage with writing or speaking about BPD (or anything else!)
BPD is recognized as one of ten personality disorders in the DSM, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. In the ICD-10, the manual used by the World Health Organization, this diagnosis is named “emotionally unstable personality disorder.”
The Mayo Clinic defines a personality disorder as:
“A type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. A person with a personality disorder has trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people. This causes significant problems and limitations in relationships, social activities, work and school.”
We’re going to come back to this idea of “trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people” because, in fact, many participants in our BPD Superpowers group identified themselves as being uniquely and specifically skilled in observing their environments, relationships, and selves, and in building community and empathizing and connecting with other people. Although it is true that many folks experience BPD as getting in the way of their relationships at times, this does not mean that they cannot perceive and understand what is happening around them.
BPD and Abuse
This framing, this story of what a personality disorder is, can be weaponized against a person who is identified with BPD. It can actually leave them more vulnerable to abuse, because it frames them as being somehow inherently and perpetually incapable of accurate perception. Even if this is not what a clinician might mean when they use this language, this is what you get from a quick google search. Very little discussion of the social contexts within which these so-called “personality disorders” arise, and almost nothing that describes the skillful and intentional ways in which people respond to these problems.
Gaslighting refers to actions that cause someone to question their own memory, perception, or sanity. Gaslighting can happen intentionally – lying about, denying, or misrepresenting what has happened.
But it can also happen unintentionally when we treat someone’s perception as unreliable, when we default to the idea that they are lying or mistaken, when we refuse to position them as the experts in their own experiences. The discourse of personality disorders as meaning that a person “has trouble perceiving situations” can create a context within which a person with BPD is being constantly, and often unintentionally and non-maliciously but still harmfully!, gaslit. It can leave people who are identified with BPD in the position of not being believed if they are subjected to abuse. It is not a helpful framing.
How are we witnessing BPD?
As an alternative framing, it might be helpful to ask ourselves what is influencing how we are witnessing the people in our lives who are identified with BPD. Are we kind witnesses to their experiences? Are we holding space for them to share their insider knowledges into what they need, what they are experiencing, and what is helpful for them?
And on the topic of helpful or unhelpful, here is what Wikipedia has to say about BPD:
“BPD is characterized by the following signs and symptoms:
Markedly disturbed sense of identity
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment and extreme reactions
Splitting (“black-and-white” thinking)
Impulsivity and impulsive or dangerous behaviors (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
Intense or uncontrollable emotional reactions that often seem disproportionate to the event or situation
Unstable and chaotic interpersonal relationships
Frequently accompanied by depression, anxiety, anger, substance abuse, or rage
The most distinguishing symptoms of BPD are marked sensitivity to rejection or criticism, and intense fear of possible abandonment. Overall, the features of BPD include unusually intense sensitivity in relationships with others, difficulty regulating emotions, and impulsivity. Other symptoms may include feeling unsure of one’s personal identity, morals, and values; having paranoid thoughts when feeling stressed; depersonalization; and, in moderate to severe cases, stress-induced breaks with reality or psychotic episodes.”
The wiki page also includes the Millon subtypes, which include Discouraged borderline, Petulant borderline, Impulsive borderline, and Self-destructive borderline. Fabulous.
So that’s Wikipedia, which is one of the first places that many folks look when they receive a diagnosis of BPD or when they are trusted with a disclosure from a friend or family member, or when they hear about someone having BPD.
If you are here as a friend, family member, or someone in community with folks who are identified with BPD, imagine what it might feel like to read that about yourself, and to have that be the dominant narrative of who you are. Imagine what it might feel like to know that people around you are reading this about you, and may be talking about you and people like you in these terms.
If you are here as a person who identifies with BPD, know that I and every one of the people involved in this project, and many people beyond this group, see you for more than these degrading and diminishing descriptors. We recognize your superpowers. We recognize your resilience. In one of the group discussions, a participant said, “Every single person with BPD who is still with us, and those that aren’t still with us, I think that we absolutely deserve to be acknowledged and that our hard work should be acknowledged. Not tokenized or pedestalized, but having that work acknowledged and witnessed.”
And I agree with Rebecca Lester when she writes:
Through challenging embedded bias, honoring the testimonies of individuals, questioning of our own motivations, and renewing a commitment to reduce injustice, silencing, and suffering, our intellectual, clinical, and human potentialities are being stretched and, if we are fortunate, will continue to grow.
What I find most compelling about my clients with ‘borderline’ symptoms is that they are still struggling to exist despite the deep conviction that they do not deserve to do so. And they are still struggling to connect with others, despite being told again and again that they are manipulative and controlling and difficult. Far from being inauthentic, then, these individuals are reaching out into the world in the most honest, direct, vulnerable ways they possibly can, all the while bracing for the invalidation and hostility that they know is likely to follow. They cannot help but reach for connection, and to hold out faith, however dim, that they will find it. I find this incredibly inspiring; it puts front-and-center the impulse for growth and health that I believe exists in all of us, no matter how encrusted with despair, dysfunction, hopelessness, or defeat.
I learn from these clients every single day. Their struggles and their resilience humble me. They remind me that intellectual critique is but one piece of a much larger puzzle, and that they have experiences that deserve to be heard and validated, even when (perhaps especially when) they challenge our interpretations. They push me to become a better scholar, a better clinician, and, I hope, in the end, a better human being.
One of the contributors to the BPD Superpowers project, Dottie Ayala, shared the following on her facebook page and has given us permission to use this quote in the resource.
with my bpd symptoms, I just can’t handle cbt or dbt thanks to fucked up experiences in the past. And I don’t trust any therapists bc they’re only getting my POV about what’s happening and I think they side with me more than is valid sometimes. And also trusting someone else’s judgement more than my own is so damaging as an abuse survivor.
but I notice my reactions getting less and less severe over the years and that’s just like a combination of introspection, community, and also others holding me accountable. Plus realizing I have bpd helped me be able to recognize when I’m having a flare and prepare accordingly.
basically, mental health care can look really different for different ppl. I feel like my doctors act like I’m resisting treatment when really I’m just resisting being harmed more.
Dottie Ayala, Facebook post
Difficulty in relationships is one of the most common traits associated with BPD, and yet our group has maintained such a strong focus on community and the role of cherished friends and community members. This group, and so many folks identified with BPD beyond this group, prove how thin and simplistic are the dominant narratives of BPD.
I’m going to end with the list of superpowers that were identified in our group conversations. These superpowers will be explored more fully in the collective document, which I hope to have ready to share by the end of this month!
The Superpower of Community (and community care)
The Superpower of Showing Up
Dialectics as a Superpower (holding multiple true stories)
Empathy and Compassion
The Superpower of Quick Turnaround of Emotions
The Superpower of Being Able to Get Out of a Bad Situation
The Ability to ‘Chameleon’
Check back next week for the next BPD Awareness Month post, which will be the video and transcript of the interview with Kay and Sam.
(Cross-posting from Facebook – I’m going to be posting over the next couple weeks as I work through Dr. Lynn Gehl’s Ally Bill of Responsibilities.)
If you are non-Indigenous and feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to do as you watch the ongoing colonial violence committed on Wet’suwet’en lands, consider this an invitation to find one specific and tangible action to take.
You can start with the Wet’suwet’en Supporter Toolkit 2020, which is full of resources and ideas. There are places to donate, articles to read, historical and contemporary information to learn.
If that feels daunting for you, and you’d like a single specific task, you can join me in spending some time with Dr. Lynn Gehl’s Ally Bill of Responsibilities.
There are 16 responsibilities listed in this bill, and I’m going to be working my way through these, focusing on one per day, for the next two weeks.
The first responsibility is –
“Do not act out of guilt, but rather out of a genuine interest in challenging the larger oppressive power structures.”
This requires us to examine our own hearts and find where guilt is our motivation. This is hard work, but it’s important.
What do you feel when you read stories and articles about what is happening on Wet’suwet’en land? When you read the racist and anti-Indigenous comments on articles and scattered throughout social media?
I think that many white settlers, like myself, are feeling guilt in these situations, and we know that we are implicated in the violence because we are part of the dominant group.
How can we recognize and validate those feelings of guilt, but NOT keep those as our motivation for being in solidarity with Indigenous communities?
Acting from guilt positions us as the ones with agency, the ones who can take actions to make things right. Acting from guilt can lead us to think that we’re the ones with the power to harm, and therefore the power to heal. It can lead us to think that our job is to “help” Indigenous communities. But this isn’t right. These larger oppressive power structures harm everyone, and challenging them is not an act of charity towards Indigenous communities, it is an act of mutual aid towards our mutual survival.
How can we shift our motivation so that we are acting from an awareness that these larger oppressive power structures must be challenged?
What will help us stay connected to an awareness of moving towards justice, rather than simply moving away from guilt?
Acting from guilt can also lead us into trying to gain absolution from our Indigenous friends and community members. Trying to be reassured that we’re not “bad”. Seeking out comfort for the uncomfortable feelings of guilt.
But acting from genuine interest in challenging oppressive power structures means that we can just do that work, without asking for reassurance and comfort from the people we are trying to be in solidarity with.
For myself, this responsibility feels more possible when I have other white settlers to discuss my feelings of guilt with, so that I’m not just ignoring or dismissing those feelings, but I’m also not allowing them to be the motivator of my actions. Accountability companions who share my white settler privilege and won’t be harmed when I talk about my guilt are important.
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. This is a topic that impacts so many different people, including trans and non-binary folks who experience gender erasure and harm in both medical contexts and support spaces around this loss; Black, Indigenous, and brown people who experience racism in medical contexts and support spaces; disabled folks; neurodivergent and mad folks; so many people who go through this experience (which can take so many different forms, and can be felt in so many different ways) undersupported, underserved, dismissed.
The You Are Not Alone project was first conceived in 2017 as a response to loss resources that are highly gendered, and that implicitly assume their readers are straight, white, and cisgender. It was also created to try and provide something free and easily accessible.
This is the third edition of You Are Not Alone, and we hope to reissue this document yearly with more and better information and resources. In 2019, we have added Aditi Loveridge’s personal story, and expanded the section on handling racism in medical contexts with Aditi’s help. We have also expanded the resources section to include information about Aditi’s Calgary and online-based charity, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Centre.
Although this resource attempts to be intentionally
inclusive and anti-oppressive, the two primary collaborators – Tiffany Sostar
and Flora – are both English-speaking white settler Canadians, with stable
housing and strong social supports. Our privilege means that we are missing nuance, and we do not see
what we’re not seeing. We are open to being corrected, and to hearing from
people who do not see themselves represented in this document. You can reach
Tiffany at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This document is designed to be a grief and loss
resource, and we have included abortion stories and resources. However, we
recognize that not every abortion is experienced as a loss or followed by
grief. (This is true for miscarriages, too!) We also recognize that it is
possible to feel grief without feeling regret, and this is true for any
pregnancy loss, whether it’s abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or adoption.
We are so thankful to the individuals who contributed to
this document. Our call for contributors was met with courage and generosity by
people who shared their stories despite the pain that telling the story brought
up for them.
We are also thankful to Andi Johnson and Randi van
Wiltenburg, both full-spectrum doulas in Calgary, Alberta, who contributed not
only their personal stories but also a wealth of knowledge and information.
Their professional contact information is listed in the resources section.
Parents we want to honour:
Those who have lost a child to miscarriage
Those who have lost a child to abortion
Those who have lost a child to stillbirth
Those who have lost a child after birth to medical illness
Those who have lost a child after birth to adoption
Those who have lost a child after birth to structural violence
People of any gender identity
People of any sexual orientation
People of any relationship status and structure
People of any race or culture
People of any state of mental or physical health
People of any religious belief
People of any socioeconomic status
This kind of work – creating resources that help serve the margins is exactly the goal of my Patreon, and it’s why I do what I do. I am thankful to be invited into this kind of work by people in the community who recognize a gap and want help filling it, which is what happened in 2017 when this resource was first created. I will continue to do this kind of work. If you would like to support me, you can find my Patreon here.