Wednesday, January 6, 2016

BPD - The Family Secret

2016 will be the first year I’ve lived without a parent.  There is a definite void and a sense of feeling lost without my foundation. Despite the challenging relationship my mother and I had the last few years, I miss her deeply. There was a time we were very close and that is the mom I miss to my core. I haven’t spoken of this except to those whom I am closest to, but my family had a secret. Our mom suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder*** for many years. Hindsight, I believe she always did, but the symptoms certainly got worse the older she got. As a result, my siblings and I had a very difficult time dealing with her mood swings and the wrath that would be bestowed upon us if we did not meet one of her expectations. At times, she was impossible to be around which would blanket my soul with guilt. After all, THIS IS MY MOTHER! Yet I had to protect myself and the only way I knew how was distance.
I sought professional help for answers to help me cope with the internal battle that began to break me. For the first few years, I blamed myself. Despite her hurtful actions and words, I felt I must deserve it. Why else would she act this way? One day my therapist introduced me to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and handed me the book “Stop Walking on Eggshells”. 5 pages in, I was sobbing. The words that my mind began to process paralleled the life I had been leading with my mom. There was a pinnacle moment when I stopped blaming myself. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief for myself and, equally, an overwhelming sense of sadness that this was something I knew my mother would refuse to acknowledge. It was up to me to change how I reacted, how I handled her moments of rage… this sensitive girl must learn to desensitize in regard to her mom; a nearly impossible task for someone who had spent her life trying to please her mother. There were times I was able to achieve my emotional tough skin, but there was a price. Now suddenly, I was her cold and callous daughter. No matter what I did, I could not win. My new coping mechanism only sent her into more rage and emotional manipulation.  I was left with no choice, but more distance, in turn, resulting in more guilt. This was a cycle that would continue for the last years of her life. Instead of talking every day, it became a couple times a week, then once a week, then a couple times a month. My heart was heavy because I missed her, but the distance also saved me from inevitable heartbreak. When she wrote me once stating “I always knew you wished it was me that died instead of your father”, the cold and callous daughter was there to stay. How does one recover from that? I can tell you……

They don’t.

While I KNEW it was the BPD talking, the vessel in which these hurtful messages were delivered was from the one person whom I adored, who once nurtured, loved and protected me. My mind tried so hard to adjust to her seesaw of “I love you. I hate you. I love you. I hate you” but inevitably, I gave up trying because, well…. I had no choice. When she started displaying BPD tendencies toward my boys, I had to draw a line in the sand. They were too young to fully process the whirlwind of confusion that came with a Nana’s love “with emotional strings attached”.

Now that she has passed, I see more clearly the personality disorder that took my loving, vivacious mom away from me years before she left this earth. It was difficult to completely comprehend while she was here, because I was too busy building walls and dodging bullets. My defensive mode overrode any sense of empathy toward her suffering. My reaction was 100% selfish, I know that. But I had begged her to seek an understanding of what she was doing to her family, to comprehend how her words and actions hurt those around her. My words only made her angrier, more defensive, sending her deeper into a mindset of emotional warfare. She held me in contempt and ridicule. The emotional tug of war was more than I could bear at times. And the guilt began to bury me. I knew the pain she inflicted on others was the result of a mental illness that left her feeling empty, neglected, lonely and sad. As hard as I tried to fix it, she was the only one who could truly fix herself.

It’s been nine months since mom left us suddenly. Thankfully I was still able to say goodbye, to find closure, to hug and kiss her, to tell her how much I loved her. I understand and fully realize that Borderline Personality Disorder had my outgoing, full of life mom trapped in a mind and body she had no control over. I mourn the good years with my mom and feel an immense amount of guilt for the years I had to push her away to save myself and, eventually, my kids.

Today, my siblings and I continue to clean up the debris left behind by BPD’s destruction. I find that I still continue to struggle with anger toward her for the emotional mess she left us with despite a full understanding that she had a mental illness. My brain knows she could not help it. I just wish it would communicate that to my heart so it could heal.

Mom, I am sorry for hurting you, for pulling away these last years. I did what I had to do to survive emotionally and to salvage our relationship. As I write this, I want you to know that when I find myself in deep thought about you and how much I miss you, BPD never crosses my mind. I remember ever so fondly, JoAnne, the mom who loved cooking Christmas dinner.
The mom who traveled around the world on church mission trips.
The mom that took care of me when I was sick.
The mom who got more excited about a chance of snow than us kids.
The mom who once got pulled for speeding leaving Disney World (and somehow got out of the ticket).
The mom who, without question, opened the car door for my invisible friend, Jimmy.
The mom who unapologetically screamed at her grandsons' games.
The mom with a contagious smile and spirit.
The mom who loved her family with her entire being.

That is the mom I look forward to greeting me at heaven's gate.

I love and miss you so very much.
***Borderline Personality Disorder: A serious mental illness that causes unstable moods, behavior, and relationships. It usually begins during adolescence or early childhood. Most people with BPD suffer from problems regulated their emotions and thoughts, impulsive and sometimes reckless behavior, and unstable relationships. They typically display 5 or more symptoms below:
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Unstable relationships
  • Unstable self image; struggles with identity or sense of self
  • Impulsive or self-damaging behaviors
  • Suicidal behaviors or self-injury
  • Varied or random mood swings
  • Constant feelings of worthlessness or sadness
  • Problems with anger; including loss of temper or physical fights
  • Stress related paranoia or loss of contact with reality

Research has shown the outcomes can be quite good for people with BPD, particularly if they are engaged in treatment. With specialized therapy, most people with BPD find their symptoms are reduced and their lives are improved.


Do you have a loved one with Borderline Personality Disorder? I highly recommend the books:
“Stop Walking on Eggshells”  
“I Hate You. Don’t Leave Me”
“Understanding a Borderline Mother”