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Book Review: The Buddha and the Borderline: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism, and Online Dating by Kiera Van Gelder

November 23, 2010 6 comments

Woman holding buddhist mala beads.Summary:
Kiera here recounts her struggle with mental illness, first undiagnosed and indescribable, marked by episodes of self-harming, frantic attempts to avoid abandonment (such as writing a boy a letter in her own blood), alcohol and narcotic abuse, among other things.  Then she recounts how she was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (definition) and her struggles to recover from this difficult mental illness usually caused by a combination of brain chemistry and trauma in childhood.  Kiera recounts her experience with the most effective treatment for BPD–Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).  She honestly discusses her struggles to encounter and interact with the world and establish relationships, often utilizing online dating websites.  Finally she brings us to her final step in the recovery process, her embracing of Buddhism, which much of DBT’s therapy techniques are based upon.

Review:
Many memoirs talk about events in a person’s life, but the thing about mental illness, is the person writing the memoir must somehow be able to show her audience what it is to be inside that head.  Inside that person who perceives the world in her own unique, albeit messed-up,way.  It takes a certain level of brutal honesty with yourself to be able to do so.  Kiera achieves this with flying colors here.

BPD is an illness that, unless you have encountered it in your own life either by having it yourself or caring deeply for someone who does, is often difficult to clearly describe in a sympathetic manner.  Popular culture wants us to believe that these, by and large female, sufferers are akin to the femme fatale or the main character in Fatal Attraction.  But people with BPD aren’t bunny boilers.  They are individuals who experience emotions much more extremely than everyday people do.  A visual Kiera uses throughout the book that I believe is quite apt is that a person with BPD is like a person with third degree burns all over their body.  A touch that wouldn’t hurt a non-injured person makes the burned person cry.  That’s what emotions are like for people with BPD.

Kiera depicts what it feels to suffer from BPD with eloquent passages such as these:

I am always on the verge of drowning, no matter how hard I work to keep myself afloat.   (Location 236-240)

In an instant, I shift from a woman to a wild-haired girl kicking furniture to a balled-up weeping child on the bed, begging for a touch.  (Location 258-263)

Similarly Kiera addresses topics that non-mentally ill people have a difficult time understanding at all, such as self-injury, with simultaneously beautiful and frightening passages.

I grew more mindful as the slow rhythm of bloodletting rinsed me with clarity.  It wasn’t dramatic; it was familiar and reassuring.  I was all business, making sure not to press too deep. (Location 779-783)

But of course it isn’t all dark and full of despair.  If it was, this wouldn’t be the beautiful memoir that it is.  Kiera’s writing not only brings understanding to those who don’t have BPD and a familiar voice to those who do, but also a sense of hope.  I cheerleader who made it and is now rooting for you.  Kiera speaks directly to fellow Borderlines in the book, and as she proceeds throug her recovery, she repeatedly stops and offers a hand back to those who are behind her, still in the depths of despair.  Having BPD isn’t all bad.  People with BPD are highly artistic, have a great capacity for love.

I become determined to fight–for my survival, and for my borderline brothers and sisters.  We do not deserve to be trapped in hell.  It isn’t our fault.  (Location 1672-1676)

So while it’s undeniable that BPD destroys people, it can also open us to an entirely new way of relating to ourselves and the world–both for those of us who have it, and for those who know us. (Location 5030-5033)

Ironically, the word “borderline” has become the most perfect expression  of my experience–the experience of being in two places at once: disordered and perfect.  The Buddha and the borderline are not separate–without one, the other could not emerge. (Location 5051-5060)

Combine the insight for people without BPD to have into BPD with the sense of connection and relating for people with BPD reading this memoir, and it becomes abundantly clear how powerful it is.  Add in the intensely loving encouragement Kiera speaks to her fellow Borderlines, and it enters the category of amazing.  I rarely cry in books.  I cried throughout this one, but particularly in the final chapter.

This is without a doubt the best memoir I have read.  I highly recommend it to everyone, but particularly to anyone who has BPD, knows someone with BPD, or works with the mentally ill.  It humanizes and empathizes a mental illness that is far too often demonized.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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DBT and Me

April 21, 2010 6 comments

When I tell people my current career track is librarianship, they often answer, “Oh, that is so you,” and they’re right.  It is so me.  Unfortunately, some of the things that make me a good librarian don’t always mesh up with the type of person I want to be.

I am a perfectionist, which works really well when organizing, cataloging, and hunting down the proper information.  It doesn’t work so well in cooking dinner, hanging out with people, getting dressed in the morning, etc…

I tend to see things in black and white.  This is good when you’re researching a topic, and there is such a thing as wrong information.  It’s not the best when discussing life topics with friends or just getting along with the populace in general.

Of course I know the wise adage–Everything in Moderation.  I can be a good librarian who is attentive to details and carefully checks the facts without being a black-and-white seeing perfectionist.  So, I am working on it.  Those character traits above are just some of the things I’m working on in my Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

DBT is a therapy technique that helps people with, let’s call them “personality flaws,” rewire their brains so that their personality moves toward a healthier place.  The thing is, DBT is all about small steps that take time, and sometimes I really just wish I was re-wired now instead of having to wait on the baby steps.

I want to be calm, loving, completely attuned to and in control of my emotions now.  But it doesn’t work that way.  So, it can get tiring and frustrating.  It’s hard to do small things every day and have to wait a long time to see the big picture results.  Sometimes, I neglect to notice the small ways that I am changing for the better.

Like how in undergrad, I would cry if I didn’t get an A. (We’re talking an A minus would make me cry).  Now I don’t care about my grades as much as I care about making sure I’ve learned something from class.  So I got an A- on that presentation.  Big deal.  I learned a place my presentation techniques can improve.

Or how a couple of years ago a toddler asking me “why” repeatedly would make me frustrated, and now I enjoy doing my best to answer as many “why” questions as I possibly can.

Sometimes people ask me why I’m even trying to change myself.  Aren’t we supposed to accept ourselves for who we are?  Well, I say who I am is who I want to be.  I’m not the personality quirks that I landed with as a result of genetics, brain wiring, and my childhood.  My inner self tells me who I truly am, if I can just get fix the wiring.  So DBT is about accepting myself for who I am.

So, yes, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I am better now than I was then, and if I keep plugging away, someday I’ll be fully realized as the person I want to be looking back and saying, “All those small steps and struggling and work was the real me trying to get out, and here I am, and I’m just as proud of me then as I am of me now.”

In the meantime, I will do or say some things that don’t match up with who I am inside, but taking baby steps means that it won’t happen overnight.  There is no magic pill.  Beating myself up over it is just making it worse.  Mistakes are part of the process.  At least I know there’s less of them now than there used to be, and I will keep progressing until I truly just am who I am.

Book Review: The Creation of Psychopharmacology By David Healy

Summary:
A historical look at the emergence and development of psychopharmacology (psychiatric drugs) from the earliest time of psychiatry to the end of the 20th century.  Particular attention is paid to the impact psychiatric societies, economic systems, cultures, and drug companies have had on psychopharmacology.  Psychiatric drugs explored in-depth include chlorpromazine and SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors aka antidepressants).

Review:
I was quite excited to learn about the topic of this book, as psychopharmacology is one of the key aspects of psychiatric treatment.  It is therefore unfortunate that the author, Healy, allows his own biases to get in the way of presenting factual information.

The first portion of the book that discusses asylums and the original drugs discovered by scientists to work on psychoses does present the facts in an unbiased manner.  Unfortunately, Healy could not possibly write in a much more boring manner.  I have never in my life read a text that is so stale, and I do read scientific nonfiction for work on a fairly steady basis, so this is not a bias of my own against scientific writing.  The man just drones on and on.

The larger problem  arises in the second half of the book when Healy arrives in the 20th century.  Healy’s obvious anti-drug and anti-psychiatry bias emerges.  He flat-out gets facts wrong and displays paranoia, ranging from the typical conspiracy theory that the mental health community is in league with the drug companies to the more extreme idea that depression shouldn’t be treated because then there would be no more art or spirituality.  He also claims that personality disorders should not be treated, comparing such treatment to cosmetic surgery.  This claim is offensive and harmful to people who wish to become higher functioning, happier individuals.

Healy goes on to offer predictions as to the direction psychology and psychiatry will take in the 21st century.  Now that we are a decade in to that century, I can definitively tell you his predictions are wrong.  He argues that an increasing number of drugs will be used to remove most individuality and that therapy will continue to fall by the wayside.  In fact, the first decade of the 21st century saw a new movement toward CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), which are all about helping an individual change their harmful behaviors, thoughts, and tendencies purely through therapeutic techniques.  Healy is attempting to fear-monger his readers into believing psychiatry and psychology wish to drug us all up, when in fact the mental health community wants to use what works best in each situation.  Contrary to his claims, there are in fact biological bases for some mental health issues.

Although his facts are accurate in the earlier history of psychopharmacology, the second half of the book presents false facts and harmful ideas.  Due to this fact, I cannot recommend this book.  For an educated look at mental health and drugs, take a look at the DSMIV and the PDR.

1 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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