It’s hard to even begin to talk about my experience with borderline/narcissistic personality disorder.
BPD rarely stands alone. There is high co-occurrence with other disorders.
I didn’t even know it existed as a real thing until about two years or so ago. I remember sitting with my best friend on her couch, in tears with my laptop resting on my legs, reading the latest email from my mother that had torn me to shreds.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is an often misunderstood, serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self image and behavior. It is a disorder of emotional dysregulation. While less well known than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), BPD is just as common, affecting between 1 – 2 percent of the general population.
It seems like such a first world problem when I talk about it, but in truth, it has been the thing in my life that has the largest effect on who I am, the relationships I allow in my life, and my health.
I remember being a little kid and being left at the pool for splashing her. I remember having to beg for a quarter to use the pay phone to call my uncle to come pick me up and take me home. I remember being made fun of because I was the only kid in high school who tied their shoes with “bunny ears” because they never taught me the advanced, adult way. I remember being told repeatedly if I was crying that she’d “give me something to cry about.” I remember my dad sitting in his recliner pretending he didn’t hear her call me an “disgusting excuse for a human being” so he didn’t have to join the argument because it was easier that way. I remember him taking me for ice cream and making fun of her in the car and how confused that made me, his trying to bond with me and pacify me against this person he wouldn’t otherwise protect me from or take to get help. I remember her saying I “should be sterilized” because I was “an atrocious daughter.” I remember the look of excitement in her eyes when I had braces and she threatened me with a back handed slap to the face because it would make my mouth bleed. I remember the taste of blood in my mouth when she did it.
I remember her demanding that I sing for my visiting aunt and, when I wouldn’t, her trying to hold my bedroom door shut to hold me in my room. Then when I ripped the door open and broke her nails, I remember her going in my purse and taking my car’s keys to hide them from me. I remember her trying to get the hotel to break into our hotel room safe to get the car keys on a Disney vacation so she could leave my father and I there. The reason? I posted about it on Facebook and she didn’t want anyone to know so they wouldn’t ask to come with us. She was convinced I did it to hurt her and not because I was excited to spend time with my family in Disney. I remember my subsequent fear of going anywhere with them without my own form of transportation.
I remember her walking naked through the upstairs when I asked her to please cover up. I remember her using the bathroom with the door open and having to close it myself. I remember being asked repeatedly not to lock the door to the bathroom when I was in the shower. I remember having the details of my period, weight, and bra size discussed at the dinner table while company was present.
Somehow, through all of this, she made me believe that I was the one who needed correction, the one who was glaringly wrong and why couldn’t I see that. I learned pretty early on that lying was the only way to avoid upsetting her because, somehow, being myself always made her angry. What was fine one day made her irate the next. There was no way to tell which direction the wind would blow and it was psychologically torturous. One of my first memories was sneaking food to my room because when I binged, I felt numb. I don’t even remember why it started, but it started, and ever since then, that’s how I’ve self-medicated. Of course, now that I’m older, years of trying to make the pain go away have wreaked havoc on me mentally and physically.
A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self image and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood ** and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1) Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior*** covered in Criterion 5.
2) A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
3) Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
4) Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).
Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior*** covered in Criterion 5.
5) Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior***.
6) Affective [mood] instability.
7) Chronic feelings of emptiness.
8) Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
9) Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.
*Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association
** Data collected informally from many families indicate this pattern of symptoms may appear as early as the pre-teens
***The preferred term is self-harm or self-injury
When the chance came to move far away, I jumped at it. I needed to start over. I needed to be a part of something special that actually wanted me. It’s a lot easier to hang up a phone than it is to slam a door or get slapped in the face or have her tell you she’s done, giving you a moment of hope that the arguing will stop, the hurting will stop, and you might actually heal, only to turn around and begin fighting all over again until you are so numb that you can’t remember what loving your own mother feels like.
She always said I never remembered the good times, only the bad. That’s not true. I remember Christmases with our family, baking the family cookies, watching A Christmas Story three times in a row during the yearly marathon, watching The Godfather trilogy, ringing in the New Year, our family pup Henry’s long life, vacations in the Outer Banks. I remember the good times. For more years than I want to admit, they were the things that kept me in an abusive relationship. They fooled me into thinking that the rest of it was ok. That it was normal. All families fight, they said. We’re family and you deal with it. Except she fought with friends too, pushing them out of our lives because she overstepped her control and they dared to reassert themselves.
But I never fought with anyone like that. No one else in my life made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of life or love. Not even Tom and he broke me down pretty hard. Not even when i had two major surgeries in 2012 and I was out of work for almost 12 weeks recovering, and my best friend got me through both of them. Without Erika and her family, I would have never made it, as the depression was crippling the last few weeks of rehabilitation. The family I chose for myself was the one that loved me unconditionally.
Those vacations in OBX were great because I was there with the other people in our family that I loved. Not because time and time again, she’d volunteer me to sleep on the couch while everyone else got a room, because “Oh Bri won’t mind, put her anywhere.” I wouldn’t have minded if she would have asked me, but she never did. She just always assumed that I would just move around like a game piece, content just to be included.
I guess no one counted on the fact that, even when broken down, bruised, and bleeding, I still have a sense of self-worth. I just had to find it in myself and it’s still a daily struggle to understand that my feelings of worthlessness that have been ingrained in me are not real.
When my furkid has surgery and she becomes angry that I won’t chat on the phone because the sound of my voice keeps the furkid awake and anxious while still medicated, that sense of self-worth enabled me to tell her to grow up.
When a month went by afterwards without either of them answering my texts or calls, but she called on Thanksgiving to express her disappoint in me that I hadn’t called them on the holiday, that sense of self-worth enabled me to tell her that I will no longer show respect to someone who won’t give me the same courtesy.
When he emailed me to try to get me to contact her and apologize and didn’t expect me to stand up for myself, that sense of self-worth enabled me to tell him he was dreaming and years of appeasing her only made her disorder worse.
A chronic disorder that is resistant to change, we now know that BPD has a good prognosis when treated properly. Such treatment usually consists of medications, psychotherapy and educational and support groups.
In many patients with BPD, medications have been shown to be very helpful in reducing the severity of symptoms and enabling effective psychotherapy to occur. Medications are also often essential in the proper treatment of disorders that commonly co-occur with BPD.
There are a growing number of psychotherapeutic approaches specifically developed for people with BPD. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a relatively recent treatment, developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. To date, DBT is the best-studied intervention for BPD.
When I told them I wasn’t coming home for Christmas and he told me that I was no longer a member of their family, that she thought I’d “let it slide” because I “know she has a history of mental illness,” that sense of self-worth enabled me to stand up for myself, to wake up every day and keep living.
It’s not easy. It’s hard every single day. I’ve been in mourning a long time – longer than I even knew for a mother and father I never really had in the first place – and it’s been the hardest time of my life. I am eating horribly, am terribly depressed, and most days I’m surprised I am as functional as I am. But I still have that tiny glimmer of self-worth, even if it’s only there as a product of the stubbornness that no doubt came from her, it’s still there.
The paranoia that my mere existence was somehow a slight on her life and the lengths she went to in order to control the paranoia and control me made her a stranger to her own daughter. I’ve told only those close to me: I’ve always said I didn’t want to have children and the reason is that I can’t stand the thought of doing the same to my children. BPD/NPD (borderline personality disorder/narcissistic personality disorder) often runs in the family and I fear what I could become.
I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, just to get it out. No doubt they’ll somehow see it, become angry, and threaten me to take it down, but that small glimmer of self-worth says, “No.” I’ve never been an extension of her. She says I’m “not the daughter she raised.” I’m exactly the daughter that results when you raise a child the way they did. I am too independent. I am too stubborn. I hope to continue to meet people like my friends and other family members who love me for everything I am and everything I’m not. Some day, I hope the glimmer of self-worth will grow and I’ll feel “normal” again. But until then, I’m trying to do the best I can with what I have.
Note: If you are suffering from BPD or one of its associated disorders, or are affected by someone who has it, take a look at this NAMI brochure: BorderlineBrochure