Living and Learning with Borderline Personality Disorder
I’ve struggled with my mental health all my life. Feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation were interwoven with my life experience for as long as I can remember. But something else was going on in my mind and relationships that was not explained by just these issues, and I often experienced myself as different from others and quite lonely as a result of that pervasive feeling.
My history of abandonment (my mother left me when I was 11) ripped through friendships and relationships in a predictable pattern, yet I only realized that looking back. Within me, there was so much need, and that scared people away.
When I felt a friend had failed me, I was not able to let it go. People went from being supportive to very cruel so quickly in my head, and I went through incidents over and over again in my mind, trying to find a measure of peace and understanding in them. My strong, overwhelming emotions seemed understandable in these situations given the betrayal I felt. Now I know there were times when my needs and anger were too great, producing the abandonment that so terrified me. Even therapists, I thought, let me down over the years when I bumped up against the limits of their understanding and compassion.
At age 50, I started therapy for the dozenth time in my life. The main catalyst for this was struggles in parenting my son. The clinician soon zeroed in on my black-and-white thinking, fear of abandonment, strong emotions, poor relationships and the impulsivity that marked my teenage years and young adulthood. She suggested several books about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). While it was very difficult to think of myself as having BPD, it was an awakening to read these books and, for the first time, view my history, thinking and behavior as meaningful patterns within the framework of BPD.
I found a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) group and a therapist trained in DBT, as I learned this was a very useful approach to working with borderline behaviors. I again made the commitment to seeing someone who could prescribe medications for me that would help ease my agitation/strong negative emotions, continual review of negative experiences, interpersonal conflicts and difficulty seeing grey areas. Therapy and medication together also helped me address the ever-present anxiety that came from trying to manage my strong emotions and ongoing experiences of disappointment and isolation.
DBT and medication allow me greater peace inside my mind and better interactions in the world. I still get tangled in interpersonal difficulties and my own heaviness of thinking. Sometimes I get tired of practicing my DBT skills, and sometimes I tire of the side effects of my medications. But I know I need them to live a less tortured life—one that includes even a little bit of joy and better relationships. My progress has been slow, yet profound.
One of the hardest things about having BPD is not being able to tell people. The label itself holds so much stigma and I have not been willing to deal with that except for people closest to me or unless my story could be useful to someone else and therefore worth the risk.
I wish narratives about BPD were as common as those about anxiety and depression and bipolar disorder. Perhaps in the future, if those of us with BPD speak out about our illness, experiences, and healing processes, that will begin to happen. Perhaps our voices together will in time reduce the stigma and increase understanding.
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