Aug. 1, 2011 — -- Although he's been living out many boys' dream of playing in the NFL and obtaining all the luxuries that fame and fortune can bring, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall confessed this weekend that he was never able to revel in his enormous success.
"I have a dream home, my house is beautiful. My wife did a great job putting our house together finding the right house for us. We have two nice cars, we have three beautiful dogs. But with all that said, I haven't enjoyed not one part of it," Marshall, 27, said in a press conference at Dolphins training camp.
The reason, Marshall revealed, is that he has been suffering for years from borderline personality disorder, a serious mental illness.
"Borderline personality disorder is marked by pervasive instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions," said Dr. Harold Bursztajn, co-director of the Harvard Medical School Program in Psychiatry and the Law. "It's marked by issues with impulsivity." Bursztajn did not treat Marshall, but spoke about the condition based on his clinical observations of other patients.
Those with BPD often experience intense bouts of anger, depression and anxiety that can be associated with aggression, alcohol or drug abuse and self-injury, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Marshall said one reason he spoke out about his condition was to set the record straight about a domestic incident this past spring that culminated in his wife allegedly stabbing him, something she told authorities she did in self-defense. No charges were filed against her.
Marshall defended his wife, saying did not stab him with a knife, and he thanked her for standing by him during his struggles with his illness.
"I wouldn't be able to articulate and paint a vivid enough picture for you guys to show you what I've been suffering from which in turns affects my wife, who's the closest person to me," Marshall said.
Marshall was open about his desire for treatment. There were a number of times when his volatility made headlines. He told the Sun Sentinel newspaper that he went for therapy for four years, but his unstable emotions were still simmering, ready to boil over.
He credits McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., where he spent three months undergoing intensive evaluation and treatment, for finally identifying his problem.
"I was praying that there was a treatment out there from what I suffered from, and there was, and that day brought excitement but a lot of confusion," Marshall said, referring to the day he was diagnosed.
Loved Ones Suffer, Too
According to the Mayo Clinic, the causes of BPD aren't completely understood, although experts believe several factors, such as genetics and traumatic childhood experiences, play a role. Marshall described family relationships as traumatic and dysfunctional.
Bursztajn said friends and relatives of people with borderline personality disorder often suffer just as much as those living with the condition.
"Paranoia, especially when someone is in a down mood, is a common feature of BPD. The person feels if you're not totally with them, you're against them," he said. "If someone continues to be paranoid about you and won't give you the benefit of the doubt, they can become unpredictable and dangerous." This type of situation can be brought about by "all or nothing" thinking that is a feature of the disorder.
BPD is difficult to treat, but is treatable. Treatment typically consists of creating a place where the person with BPD feels safe enough to talk about very difficult feelings, and over time, the person learns how to deal with those feelings in rational ways.
If left untreated, people can become extremely depressed. Suicide attempts are common, and a significant number of people with severe cases of BPD do commit suicide. Self-injury is a common manifestation among women, while men more often lash out at others or hurt themselves by abusing alcohol or drugs.
Many more women are diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Bursztajn believes that's due to the fact that so many more women seek mental health help. Others say misdiagnosis is very common, especially among men.
"Males often get underdiagnosed and go more into the antisocial diagnosis, which is a mistake because they feel sorry for their actions while antisocials do not," said Dr. Patricia Junquera, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. People with antisocial personality disorder often show a disregard for the law and rights of others and feel no remorse about it.
"The most common misdiagnosis is bipolar disorder," Junquera added. "That's also a condition that involves extreme emotional ups and downs."
Marshall said he is committed to educating himself and others about borderline personality disorder so that others who find themselves in his situation can get the help they need.
"With the right help, the right treatment program [and] the right treaters, one diagnosed with BPD can live a healthy, effective and peaceful life."