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My Experience Growing Up with BPD in Punjabi Culture

By Kerry Fisher

Content warnings: cross cultural experiences, suicide.

09.01.2024


The reason for me writing this piece regarding my experience with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is to help people who feel there is no way out regarding their symptoms and personal life, as the stigma around personality disorders is still very large compared to other mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. That is not to say that general mental health should be taken lightly, as those who suffer with BPD know anxiety, depression and low mood can and generally do come part and parcel of BPD. 


I was born into a Punjabi family but my parents moved us to a predominantly Caucasian part of England where I, with my extrovert personality, easily made friends from different backgrounds and had the opportunity to live an idyllic life. At home we spoke English and knew very little Punjabi (the naughty words). Through the perceived smothering and authoritarian parenting, there was an underlying need to defy the rules and this started with accessing chat rooms and talking to people I did not know in person. 


Having been brought up in a “Western lifestyle”, I felt safe in the knowledge that I would not be given an arranged marriage. If this were the case, knowing little about my roots would not have helped. Inviting friends to come round to my house caused me a great deal of anxiety, as I knew once they had left there would be a discussion with my mother. She would have judged them for the way they spoke, where they lived and/or the simple fact they did not meet her expectations. These encounters would usually have ended up in arguments. There was always the cultural backdrop of having to compete with the rest of the family's children. I was not doing as well as they were at school, but I always felt enriched with my friendships and my sporting achievements. I was always told that I had all the freedom in the world yet, whenever I spoke with my parents about certain aspects of my life there was always a restriction and a reason as to why I was not allowed to do it. This was the second indication to me that something within me was not the same as my family and whilst they may seem like normal behaviours and requests, these constraints caused me to develop an internal conflict between what was expected of me and what I wanted. In my mid-teens, I had a mobile phone payment plan which included a certain amount of free text messages a month and whilst I appreciate now that this was in place to help me manage my phone use, it was just another sign there was something more underlying. I would frequently, if not monthly, overuse which indicated that I could not be trusted with finances. 


Group of children holding hands.

More and more, I could see that there was a lot of contradictory information being part of two cultures. It became hard work to juggle both, while staying true to who I was. Many areas were frequently brought into question, including my weight, what I wore, my music interests, competing with family members and just generally losing myself to the requirements of others. To avoid the internal conflict, I resorted to being a “yes” person. I believe that whilst the above highlights the environmental factors, my ancestral biology will also be a factor. 


Since being diagnosed with BPD in my mid-20s, I have been on a 10 year pursuit to find the underlying reason (that does not relate to a significant trauma) as to why I developed this illness. Many times I thought I was suppressing painful memories, as I have read a fair bit regarding individuals who block out situations that have happened to them. Something that was drummed into me on a nearly daily basis growing up was that my mother had to go back to work when I was merely 6 weeks old.


I was cared for by childminders, so that my mother had the opportunity to rightly pursue her career. Up until recently, I had not given this much thought in regards to this playing a significant role in my upbringing. After studying Contemporary Developmental Psychology at the beginning of this year, as part of my degree, it came to my attention that this lack of maternal attachment could be the trauma that instigated my BPD journey. Never in a million years would I blame my mother for pursuing her career, as at that time it was a widely known fact that women could have it all, including family and career. However, the situation started to take effect when I was in my mid-teens and we moved to a country that prioritised a relaxed party lifestyle, becoming the catalyst in my ever-evolving underlying illness. Although my mother and I tried to pursue not just a mother-daughter relationship but also a friendship, there was still an underlying issue: she felt the need to be an authoritarian presence, still conflicted by her cultural upbringing. This is a far cry from the relationship that I had with her in my earlier years and whilst to this day the relationship is still fraught regarding certain situations that occur, things have improved. 


After being exposed to this very liberal lifestyle, the areas in which I was affected included promiscuity, binge drinking, an eating disorder, insomnia, risky situations including two car accidents, “friends” with inappropriate individuals, running away, a suicide attempt – the list goes on. My extended family were never told about my condition and to this day still have no idea that I was diagnosed with this. However, they were exposed to an isolated incident at a family gathering and decided I had “gone off the rails”. 


Although I still have sporadic sessions with my psychologist, these are more to check in with me, as opposed to working on specific situations. I was on a lot of medication when I was first diagnosed and slowly weaned off. I dress how I want to, I listen to the music I want to, I have few friends but they are closer than family and I can now confidently say no. Over 2 years ago, I married my husband who is a Caucasian British male and due to my openness regarding BPD, he has known about my diagnosis since day one – he has never questioned my state of mind and accepted me as I am. 


Woman writing in a notebook.

A coping mechanism for me, even whilst going through various situations with individuals, has been to write my thoughts and feelings down on paper. For me, if I had an argument with somebody whether it be my husband or my parents, I would either write a handwritten letter or an email expressing how I feel. Due to the nature of BPD, the anger and emotion can get the better of you subsequently leading to you not articulating well and coming across as something other than a person voicing their opinion. To this day, I will write my experiences, opinions and publications such as this one as I find it therapeutic. If it can help individuals in the future to overcome their own thoughts and feelings, I know some good has come of my BPD diagnosis. At the moment, I am nearing the end of my BA in Criminology and Psychology and my dissertation surrounds BPD, as I feel it’s something that needs to be normalised as much as other mental illnesses. After 10 years of hard work, I am clear on who I am and make it obvious to others who enter my life. It has not been an easy journey and making yourself happy may seem selfish, but at the end of the day it keeps us safe and healthy.

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