Dangerous

A risk for us is mooring
Manipulation, survival
A love letter, a lifeline
A break-up, a death sentence
A self, a broken pact
Life, our frenzy

DANGEROUS is a memoir and biography about the perils of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and my decades-long struggle to survive both its torments and its stigma.

Despite having a lifetime prevalence of around six percent and being on the rise, BPD is one of the most misunderstood and feared mental disorders. It tends to result in extreme instability in personal relationships, repeated suicide attempts, wild efforts to prevent abandonment, and self-destructive, risk-taking behaviors like substance abuse. The borderline woman is stereotyped as hypersexual and obsessive, in part due to the character of Alex in Fatal Attraction and other media portrayals. These cultural representations only make it harder for victims of the disease to access proven treatment strategies like dialectical behavior therapy, as many therapists and psychiatrists are afraid to work with borderline patients. Ten percent of people with the disease end up dying by suicide.

One person who did not survive BPD was Lara Gilbert, a Canadian woman born two years before me. Through research into archival materials, including three thousand pages of her journals, I empathize with her life and the factors that drove her to her death by suicide in 1995. Like me, she suffered childhood abuse, drug addiction, and an attack in a psychiatric ward. We both committed ourselves to writing in an attempt to find some stability within the borderline’s frenetic world. In alternating chapters of memoir and diary entries, I use writing to bring the two of us together.

Throughout DANGEROUS, I consider how the borderline woman must contend with her cultural depictions, medical bias, and the traps of the criminal-justice system. The book proves, through my history and Lara’s, that the borderline woman is more endangered than dangerous. At the same time, my story demonstrates that it is possible for a borderline woman to suffer abuse, mistreatment within the health system, and suicide attempts, yet still find peace, joy in relationships, and a fulfilling career in middle age.

At its heart, DANGEROUS is a story not only of a devastating mental illness, but of hope, resilience, and resistance against a culture quick to damn anyone who expresses extreme pain. It is also a reminder to those with BPD that they are not alone, and never have been.