Maturing with Borderline Personality Disorder

One of the luxuries of being young and having Borderline Personality Disorder is, during the earlier stages of the disorder you are so wrapped up in yourself and your symptoms that you are not capable of reflecting on the effect you have on those around you. Having a brain disordered by BPD is so consuming that the main focus in early years is solely on survival. Living day to day is about all you can manage as you ride the roller coaster of symptoms that you are trying to figure out. If, in addition to BPD, you happen to have any other co-occurring disorders, just add more to the hellish existence you are trying to maneuver. In my almost three years now of being able to advocate and work with NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (https://www.nami.org/)), I have encountered countless younger BPD's whose survival hangs on the precipice of life. It is a daily toss of the dice as to if they will make it, or not.

Most whom I meet, both virtually (on line) or in person, are living out of their vehicles or on the street, abandoned by their families. They cut themselves off from life and the world in an attempt to shield themselves from the excruciating symptoms they encounter on a daily basis. Due to the extreme nature of the disorder, if the young Borderline is without resources, therapy, access to psychiatric medication, supportive and educated family as to the disorder, health insurance, or NAMI, their state of being abandoned is all the more likely. It is brought on by themselves, and a mental health system that is not only broken, but useless. Their lives discarded by family and friends who are exhausted by the constant struggle and strain of trying to keep the Borderline in some form of stability as they try to understand this insidious disorder. The Borderline, without the proper psychiatric medication to turn to, ends up using recreational drugs, alcohol and anything they can get their hands on to help numb the pain of their symptoms. Most of them self-harm in the most horrendous of ways, carving deep wounds into their upper thighs and arms with exacto knives, razor blades, or any sharp object that will do. They burn themselves with cigarettes, pull out their hair in clumps, punch themselves in the face, hit their head against the wall; all in a feeble attempt to either punish themselves for the self-loathing they feel from the horrific treatment they inflict on others, or, as a way to produce “feel good” endorphins from the pain sensation they become addicted to.

These young BPD’s isolate themselves in an attempt not to engage in relationships, as they know only too well the pain of abandonment when the non BPD ultimately gives up and walks away. They give their bodies to be used for drug money, alcohol, food, gas money; or just to feel the touch of another human being. The slightest thing will send them into a frenzied suicide attempt, which is too often successful. They are incapable of expressing the all-consuming emotional pain they feel 24/7. They will sleep away the day, not show up for work, disregard phone calls or text messages and lose a job as fast as they get it. If free therapy or counseling is available to them, they end up frustrating themselves and the therapist with the splitting that occurs in the brain of someone with BPD. If they are “white” minded, they want to get well, if “black” minded, they want to die. This splitting, combined with issues of abandonment have given the patient with BPD a stigma label that is hard to live down. The struggle to get the young BPD to allow themselves to be treated is so difficult on either side; the attempt becomes aborted before it has a chance to start.

A perusal of the Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat accounts of the young BPD is like a bad scene from the movie “Drag Me to Hell”. They cluster in groups of like-minded peers living with BPD and play out a victims bitch fest on their virtual feed. They hate themselves, hate their parents, hate their friends, hate they boyfriend or girlfriend, and in general hate their life. They find themselves consumed with feelings of uselessness and hopelessness. They will post pictures of their self-harm without shame, lament about a botched suicide attempt, recount their last visit to the psych ward and add in visuals of their eating disorders and lack of self-care. I hold my breath as I go in to their world and try to dig them out. Picking one or two, I will attempt conversation, chime in with their lamenting to let them know I hear them. I try my best to find out the status or lack thereof of their resources and state of their existence. I allow them to barrage me with their torment, knowing that no matter how many times they “get it out” it will never be enough. If I challenge them to participate in well care, I have been blocked, shut down, cursed out and closed down. A rare few will listen for a while and then quietly disappear. My tears flow steadily as I trigger from their confessions of self-harm and horrific stories of abuse and neglect. I continue to engage, as I am able without allowing myself to sink back into an existence only too familiar to me.

The life of a young BPD is fraught with turmoil and drama. Screaming, yelling, fits of rage and temper tantrums at feeling misunderstood or abandoned are the norm. Everything is a personal slight to them and meant to cause them pain and heartbreak. They desperately want love yet push everyone away who tries to come near. They look in the mirror and see a monster staring back at them. The self-hatred of who they are when their symptoms manifest is almost too much to bear. There will be screaming fights that lead to physical damage of property and person. Whole rooms or houses trashed, personal possessions of those they love destroyed. They will destroy the only few physical possessions they own in a rage fit. They will yell “domestic violence” knowing full well that they have pushed and tortured their tormentor to the very edge of stability, bringing on the violence they claim victimhood to. For those with Borderline who engage in relationships with a narcissist, the circle is never ending as to the physical and emotional abuse that ensues. A morbid dance has the ability to end in the destruction of one or both of the parties.

How do I know all of this? Why do I share this torrid tale with you? The reason is, not only did I live it; I survived to tell of it. I crawled and dug my way out of BPD Hell. I devote my life now to trying to help others escape. In honesty, there is no true “escape from BPD”. There is the managing of symptoms and knowledge of ways to control the disorder that consumes our lives and the lives of those who love us. I believe there is hope and help for those who are suffering the ravages of this disorder as I have found it does exist. Although difficult to maintain and having to be managed daily, it is there. I cling to the thought that all of us who suffer with BPD are WARRIORS deep down inside. We are survivors and some of the most interesting and charismatic people you will meet. When we are “good”, we are loyal and loving friends to a fault. We are highly intelligent and have huge hearts. We will always reach out to help those in pain, as we understand the very depths of it. Although our eco symptoms are fragile, we expend our time and resources to help others make it through. I am one of those WARRIORS.

When I married my second husband of now 32 years, I had access to more of the things necessary to start me on a feeble path to healing. Still undiagnosed until I was 44 years old, I lived out my symptoms without the knowledge or realization of what I faced. When I went to the therapist or psychiatrist, it was always the same diagnosis, Major Depressive Disorder and PTSD from a traumatic childhood. When I was finally tested and diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar 2, Panic Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and PTSD, the puzzle pieces fell into place and I had to face the full weight of what I was dealing with. Thus began my extensive journey of discovery regarding Borderline Personality Disorder and my other coexisting disorders.

Having a child was never on my agenda in life. I never envisioned myself to be “mother” material. I was petrified at the thought of being responsible for another human being when I couldn’t even manage myself. As God would have it, I did conceive our only daughter at the age of 29. She is my greatest gift in life. To think of not having her is to imagine a blank page in my own life. Even though I had no experience in how to raise a child, I am thankful that God gave me a husband who did. I think I was a scared bystander for much of our daughter’s early years.  All I knew was I felt a love for this new human being that I had never encountered before. It was so powerful that I knew from day one I would give my life for this new being. In spite of the challenges we faced, my husband and I did our very best to give our child as much love, caring and the trappings of a “normal” childhood that we could. In some ways, we exceeded expectations. In others, we failed poorly, leaving lifelong scars on our child. It is my contention that, even without mental illness in the mix, this is the true result of ALL parenting once said and done. There will be fond memories of love and cherished moments mixed in with a myriad of issues that evolve in any family unit, especially in regard to the relationship of parent/child. Any family has good and bad dynamics that exist within and if they think not, they would be lying. Unfortunately, for those of us with mental disorders, we bring more of the bad dynamics to the table.

Our daughter is now in her late 20's and five years into her own marriage and a full time, successful career. She graduated college with high honors and is the most beautiful and amazing creature I have ever known. She has always been my champion and supporter. On her urging, I came out to the public with my mental health diagnosis; left behind a 25 year career I was fully entrenched in and am finishing a book about my experience with BPD and co-occurring disorders. I am on the Board of Directors of our local NAMI and I blog and advocate on behalf of the mentally ill.

Being a Borderline in my 50's is so much different from anything I imagined it would be. The fact that my husband and I have been able to maintain a marriage for 32 years is a miracle in the world of BPD. I have gone through over 20 plus years of intensive therapy and introspection, tons of psychiatric med changes, multiple therapists, group therapy, NAMI, and have read and researched myself into many a migraine.

I have survived an anomaly. I am in a very elite group of “older persons with BPD”. I have perspective and experience that is invaluable to those younger than I am and I plan to spend the rest of my life dispensing it in every form possible.

 What I did not expect to encounter at this juncture in life was the backlash from my family (and some friends) from the years of having to have survive alongside me for all these years. The assumption can be and it is, that after all this time, I should be “fixed”. The assumption is that I should no longer be exhibiting symptoms of my disorder. I have been told that if I am able to blog, write my book, explain much of what I have encountered and lived through, dole out advice and opinion, why am I still  incapable in many areas of my life of executing wellness. The truth is there are still things I wrestle with on a daily basis. I still trigger from memories occasionally that lead to PTSD or Panic Attacks. The battle with my psychiatric medication is ongoing. I have had to face that, even in my late 50's, I am and always will be under the spell of this disorder called BPD. The consumption of that realization is not only hard for me to swallow, it is especially hard for those who have endured the roller coaster with me throughout my life.

What the passage of time has also brought about in our family dynamic is a turning of the tables. My immediate and extended family (and friends) have had TIME to realize the mark(s) I have left on them. The early damage I inflicted on them has had time to marinate and engrain into their psyche. My family is now having to manage and deal with their own set of symptoms they have acquired over the years of living with a loved one with mental illness. They manifest in various ways and levels of torment. I am here and alive to see the damage my symptoms have done to them and they are here to let me know about it. It is no longer me battling my symptoms alone, they are now having to endure and battle theirs. My daughter asked me, looking me dead in the eye, “did I not think I would have to endure the manifestation of the years of dysfunction I inflicted upon her?” When I think of it, of course, I would have to do this...but I was not and did not realize I needed to be ready for it. Like a sick game of hide and seek, it has crept up on me and left me with more pain than I can bear at times. My cognitive ability and knowledge have left me with the skill set to decipher the scenario, yet I am without tools or capability to “fix” any of it. This whole new journey has crept into my life as insidiously as the damage done to my brain at birth.

If I were an alcoholic, punch drunk, behind the wheel of a vehicle and I killed a family due to my inability to conduct myself properly behind the wheel of a vehicle, I would have to suffer the guilt, blame and torment for the remainder of my life. I would say that is probably as close to what I am experiencing now in what I am living through. There is no way I can repair or restore the damage that I inflicted on others during my early years. The symptoms I had absolutely no control over, the immaturity of my knowledge of this disorder and all it entailed, everything about my early years is now leaking out of those I love to the detriment of my being and theirs. I am having to rehash, relive, take responsibility, make useless apologies for things I can never undo, and realize that none of it did I ever ask for or want to be a part of me.  The fact is I have a brain disorder. It is not curable. Although I have made great strides in my ability to manage my symptoms and make the most of the life I have lived to date, the fact remains that I have this past that will haunt me to death. My family has suffered greatly in supporting and standing by me throughout these years. Now forced to face the wake I have left in my battle to survive. I never anticipated the pain of having to look my victims in the eye and make explanation for something I never wanted or asked for in my life.

 I want to be real about this to all of you. Those with and without BPD, it is a part of the hand that is dealt to those of us with mental illness. If we get to live to a certain age of maturity, we are forced to reflect and have those we love reflect upon us, their journey with our illness.

Mental illness is not for the faint of heart. It will bring you to your knees and draw blood while you’re there. What I want to share at this point in my life, with those of you who are younger, is that IF you are diagnosed at an early age and IF you have resources at your disposal and IF you have support from friends and family, for God’s sake, don’t eff it up! I beg you, yes beg you, for your sake and those who love and who care about you to do everything you possibly can to learn as much as possible, as early as possible and put into practice anything and everything you are capable of to make it easier when you get….here.

I know that, by the grace of God Almighty, I will make it through this time in my life. My loved ones will also learn to live with the scars my disorder left them. It is not a time to relish though. It is a gut wrenching time of having to reflect on things you want to forget forever. Looking your child in the eye, seeing the pain of the years of torment they can finally share with you, as you have reached a point and have an ability to receive that pain and understand it. They feel safe enough now to share it with you and there it is, in all its glory.  It is a time of realizing the wear and tear on the marriage union and recognizing the weariness of years of coping under extreme stress and pressure in the eyes of your spouse. It is the knowledge that you will never be able to thank those who stood beside you all those years, in combat against your brain disorder, and those who stood in the battle trenches with you and actually kept you alive. Last of all, it is recognition and mourning of the realization of lost opportunities and experiences in life that, even if presented on a silver platter, the potential to bring them to fruition would never exist.

Please do not be discouraged by what I write. I want you to know that this time will come, if you live to it. I want you to prepare and not have it sneak up on you as it has me. Do everything you can to know that when it comes, and it will come, you will have to do the hardest thing of all. You will have to forgive yourself for inflicting pain and suffering on those, you love dearly at the hands of a disorder from hell ingrained in your brain from birth. No one deserves a life of mental illness and instability. Yet, those of us who have it, live it. Take that breath in, look in that mirror with tears rolling down your cheeks and forgive YOU for being YOU. Love YOU in spite of all of it. You have no other choice. You can cry a river of tears, or, check out, but offers no help to anyone. The opportunity to check out has been and will always be there. Many have done just that when faced with what we live through. Most recently, we realize that even fame, fortune and luxury cannot save those of us who live with the monster of mental illness in any form. I reflect on Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain taking their own lives from depression. Could it be that they came to a difficult part of their journey. I am their age now; could they no longer handle living?  I ponder this much, knowing what I now know about this time in my life. Even their fame and fortune could not save them from their lamentation. I do not judge them for their act, although it saddens me that their act, although it gave them respite, has only served to heap MORE onto their loved ones. I am tempted to replicate their thought process. My own conclusion is that my checking out may take away my pain, but doesn’t fix the problems I seek respite from; then I realize that the best answer for ME is to live through the whole thing, for better or worse, till natural death do we part. I cannot allow my depression, anxiety, guilt or many other feelings to be my end. I didn’t fight this long, only to give in. Especially when the symptoms of BPD lesson as a person ages and you learn how to manage the remaining ones. Giving up and giving in now only makes my fight worthless for me, and those who stuck by me and fought with me. If you feel this way as I describe, do not take the easy way out, I beseech you. Don’t do it no matter what form of mental health problems you suffer from, there is hope. Receive and acknowledge all that you must face now, even though you feel as though you have faced IT ALL already and know, with hope in your heart, that one day, it will all make sense somehow.

While you are here with us...those of us fighting this fight and living this existence, please choose to fight alongside us. Find your voice somehow and use it. Our slogan is Empathize, Educate and Advocate. It is a journey and we are on it and in it….together.

Alice

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