Interview with BPD survivor Tina Burgess

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Tina Burgess, BPD survivor, was kind enough to answer some questions I had about Borderline Personality Disorder. She has been through so much and has come out a brave, strong individual. I’m so happy to have her here today.

AB: What prompted you to seek medical attention leading to your diagnosis? What was your mental state like?

TB: The second part of that question is very easy to answer. I was hopeless, paralyzed with guilt, fear, self loathing, and anger. I had no desire to live and didn’t care about the consequences of my actions. There was also a part of me that wanted to hurt everyone that had ever caused me pain. Also I wanted those I cared about to hold me and make it all OK. Make me want to live again.

The first part of your question, however, is not so easy to answer. My journey with mental illness began to manifest as a teen. I remember wanting to leave the house every chance I got. I ran track, got a job and volunteered after school every chance I got because being home made me remember the pain of the abuse I suffered for five years at the hands of my cousin. It also kept me from thinking about the abandonment I felt by my mother for not believing me.

I had my first suicide attempt at nineteen years old. That resulted in a hospital stay that lasted almost two months. When I was released it was to live on campus at college. There was a recreational therapist (twenty-five years my senior) that gave me his number and said to keep in touch. After about a week on campus, he emailed me stating his feelings for me and that I owed him for all I did to him. I didn’t have any interest in him but I felt as though I should repay my debt to him. After a few months of casual conversation I was raped on campus and turned to him for help. I was pregnant as a result of this rape and the therapist made me get an abortion and allowed me to stay in an apartment he rented and stayed in part time when he was not with his wife and children. After a tumultuous three months of suicide attempts, physical fights, and manipulation, I was pregnant with his child. This child is my twelve-year-old son.

Fast forward a few years. I had left him and graduated college, and formed a life as a single mother, working full time student. I graduated and married the man of my dreams when my son was 4. This is when things began to take a turn for the worst. I finally had a great life, good husband, awesome son, a job which was enjoyable and rewarding. I was supposed to be happy but I wasn’t used to being treated well; I didn’t know what it felt like to have someone love me for who I was and not want to manipulate and hurt me. This put me in a tail spin that made me go in and out of the hospital for suicide attempts or thoughts. The last one was this past winter holiday when I took 200 pills and drank a large cocktail of alcohol. I was almost dead. I lost about five days of my life unconscious. This made me realize that I needed and wanted help. While in the hospital on the psychiatric unit, all I wanted to do was die. But then I would speak to my son who is now twelve and my four-year-old daughter and my husband who spoke to me with such love and patience. How could I leave that? Although I wanted and still sometimes want to die, I owed it to them to live. I will eventually have that desire to live on my own but for now, they are my motivation. I am now enrolled in a four-week intensive outpatient program. I also am trying new medications and DBT therapy. I am also looking into TMS therapy.

AB: Do you have triggers that you have noticed? Anything in particular that brings on these emotions for you? Stress? Pressure? Memories? Dreams? Something you see or hear?

TB: I do recognize that I have triggers which I can sometimes recognize, but it is not usually until after my feelings of anger, depression or hopelessness have already escalated to a point which I am not always able to control. In the past I would be unable to withstand any kind of physical contact because it would give me flashbacks of my abuse. When I am under a lot of stress, whether related or unrelated, I tend to have more of a reaction of anger. My husband is a big trigger because sometimes I don’t feel I deserve his love and good treatment. I displace my feelings by thinking that he is only pretending to love me. When I have contact from certain people in the past, I am really triggered.

AB: Is it anger you experience primarily? Is there any confusion attached to that? Would you call it uncontrollable to the point that you are unable to tell yourself in the moment that you are reacting irrationally?

TB: I primarily feel anger when my BPD is manifested. Rather, I am experiencing extreme pain and neglect which outwardly is manifested in anger. I don’t feel confused or foggy at all when I explode. As a matter of fact, I am thinking very clearly. In some ways it feels kind of like a super power, one which a super villain might possess. I feel more deeply whether it is negative or positive. I tend to take everything personally and I am so extremely angry I just want to hurt the person whom I felt has done me wrong. The confusion usually comes after, when I am able to calm down (it can be hours or days). I am finally able to think about the things that happened and I usually end up asking myself, “what the hell was I thinking?”

I think it is uncontrollable to the point that when I get to a certain level of fear, anger, betrayal, hurt, or any other negative feeling I cannot control what I do or say. Sometimes it is so crazy I feel like I am reading the script to some crazy psycho botch movie. Once I really think about it, I am so embarrassed by what I have said or done that I withdraw and try to disappear.

AB: Is there anything you’d like to tell people suffering from this illness?

TB: There are a few things I would like to tell people suffering from this illness. First of all, you have this illness, but it is not who you are. There are many people who shrug Borderline Personality Disorder as a troublesome illness. That is not the case. Some people will use manipulation as a way to get what they want, but I choose to believe that  most people are inherently good and the use of manipulation is not to hurt or deceive. It is a way of getting the needed attention. Think about it, if a person is dying but no one is listening, they will say whatever is needed to get the required help. It is the same with BPD. We are so afraid of being abandoned that we will do or say whatever it is to keep those we love when we are threatened with the thought of them leaving.

I also want to say, you are in charge of your feelings. It is easy to fall back into the same habits. With that said, it is one of the most difficult things in the world to accept completely that we have an illness. In order to begin to live a life with less symptoms, we must examine our actions. Are they symptoms of the illness or something else? Just like cancer or any other terminal illness, BPD does not have a cure. We can treat the symptoms through therapy (mainly DBT) and a good regimen of medication but remember that we may sometimes relapse.

If you relapse, take it for what it is and keep going. Do not beat yourself up over it. It has taken many years to develop coping skills. The problem is that they were the wrong skills. It will take years to retrain your mind to use effective coping skills instead.

Know yourself. Set healthy boundaries with everyone. Learn your triggers.

Most importantly, LOVE YOURSELF!

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Tina Burgess

I am 34 years old (will be 35 in 10 days.) I was born in Jamaica West Indies but moved to NYC right before my 7th birthday. I was raised in NY. I have many many sisters and brothers. I love with my incredibly supportive and patient husband of eight years. Living with us is my genius, twelve-year-old son and my four-year-old miracle daughter who lights up any room she is in. We have two cats whom I treat like my human children. I have a bachelor’s degree in English/secondary education from GA State University. I currently work in a public school for the severely and profoundly disabled. I received a master’s degree in Human Services/Marriage and Family Counseling from Liberty University. I am working towards becoming certified as a Licensed Professional Counselor with a certification in drug and alcohol counseling as well as crisis counseling. I absolutely love doing drama improvisation!

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5 thoughts on “Interview with BPD survivor Tina Burgess”

  1. What evidence is there that BPD is an “illness” that cannot be cured? I was once borderline but am now free of its symptoms, and have been for years. I’ve functioned well, had good relationships, and no longer have any of the 9 symptoms in any way like I did 8 years ago, when I had all of them. I’d call that a “cure” even if that is an inappropriately medical term for what are really emotional problems and “problems in living”.

    My point is that not everyone wants to think about BPD as an “illness” with a “cure”, nor do we have to.

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    1. Thank you for your comment.

      The NIMH makes no reference to a known cure of this illness. Furthermore, there is no known treatment for the illness that is approved by the FDA at this time.

      I appreciate your perspective on the matter and I am sure Tina does as well. I am so happy to hear that you are living a better life than you were those years before. Thank you again for your feedback.

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      1. I don’t see the logic here… Is the NIMH the final arbiter of whether or not a condition can be cured?
        If they don’t say there’s a cure, is full recovery not possible?
        And, does a treatment have to be approved by the FDA to work? (and why would the FDA be involved anyway?).

        Help me with this logic. I’m not trying to be dismissive. I’m saying that just because some authority says (or doesn’t say) something, doesn’t make it so.

        And lived experience is a much better teacher than what the NIMH or FDA say. My lived experience has taught me that cure for “borderline conditions” is possible.

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      2. Thank you again for your feedback. I am actually not in a position to answer your question because I am not a doctor. Please reference my health disclaimer wherein you can see that I make no claims to be professionally trained in medicine, diagnosis, treatment, and/or cures for any illness. Both the NIMH and the FDA would be more qualified references than I, which is why I mentioned them.

        I would again like to congratulate you for experiencing a full recovery from this illness, and point out that the reason I interviewed Tina was not to claim that Borderline Personality Disorder is either curable or not curable, but to share someone’s experience with the illness in an effort to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness. The fact that she mentioned that it is incurable is based on what she knows from her doctors and references that are available to her. Unless a certified medical entity confirms or denies it, she has every right to make that statement just like you have every right to make yours.

        Thank you again for your comments.

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