Living With (Undiagnosed) Borderline Personality Disorder & a Narcissistic Mother
Trigger Warning: Mental illness, self harm, BPD stigma from a mental health professional, break ups, narcissistic abuse, resentment over narcissistic parent that was NOT written with the intention of discrimination against everyone with NPD but may come across that way to those who are feeling vulnerable and suffer with both BPD and NPD. Read my story at your own discretion.
Ages 11 – 17
Thanks, I guess. Signed, a narcissist’s scapegoat.
Like a lot of people with BPD (but certainly not all), I’m the daughter of a narcissistic mother. Of course, I didn’t know my mom was a narcissist growing up but I realised in my early 20’s (with the help of therapy) after my mom betrayed me in a way I never wanted to believe she could. The betrayal hit me like a ton of bricks. All these memories of my teen years, the worst years of her abuse, flooded back like dominoes. I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was.
It’s safe to say—I didn’t have a proper role model growing up, but what I did have…was a bunch of bad examples:
- Toxic and abusive relationships with random men.
- Putting your dating life over the health of your children.
- Screaming at your child for inconveniencing you because they’re crying and saying they feel suicidal.
- Trash talking your partner to every person you know, including your children.
- Talking about the explicit details of your sex life to every person you know, including your children.
- Denying any wrongdoings and never apologising.
And the list goes on.
My mom taught me what not to do in life and how not to behave. Since my early twenties, I’ve made it my life’s mission to break the cycle of abuse and avoid following in her footsteps.
A pre-teen mental health crisis
From the time I was 11—I struggled with anxiety, depression & suicidal ideation. I started cutting myself after I saw it on an episode of 7th Heaven. My moods were unpredictable and I feared being left out, left behind or rejected. I was often jealous and would rage easily if I felt slighted, devalued or forgotten. My friendships were dramatic and mostly short lived. I lived in a constant daydream. When I was 13, I developed an eating disorder.
A teenage love obsession & my first (BPD) favorite person
All throughout my teens, I was in search of a relationship. I wanted what I always fantasized about. I guess I felt like it would fill a void in my life.
My first relationship began when I was 13. His name was Jake and we met through a friend. He was my “first love” and unbeknownst to me at the time, my first favorite person.
(Read about BPD Favorite Person on Borderline Talks Back)
Jake and I stayed together for a year. Our relationship mostly consisted of nightly phone calls that would last for hours (we didn’t go to school together) and “weekend dates” completely unsupervised at my house.
She got angry whenever I seemed happier with a boy than she did with her current love interest.
I had openly made a vow to not have sex before marriage when I was 12. (Mainly to please my mom, who looked down on—pretty much everyone, but more so those who “live in sin.” Sigh.) She claimed my vow was enough for her to “trust me” and didn’t properly set any boundaries for what was or wasn’t appropriate for a 13 year old in a relationship.
Instead, she got angry whenever I seemed happier with a boy than she did with her current love interest. In a sick way, I’d become competition.
A teenage mental health crisis
A year relationship is lifetime to a 14 year old. I was heartbroken when Jake and I broke up. No, that’s an understatement. I went ape shit on him for leaving me. Months of harassment, burning of love letters and reckless behaviour. Things I was not proud of but couldn’t seem to stop even when I’d vow to myself I’d do better. The blow of abandonment, when everything at home was already shit, was too much for my young self to handle.
I was hospitalized numerous times for severe depression and suicidal thoughts in my freshman year of high school. It became a comforting home away from home. A place to go because my actual home was either full of unpredictable rage, strange men playing dad and emotional neglect or it was completely empty while my mom tended to her men and went out on fancy dates.
I don’t remember eating many dinners…or lunches, or breakfasts for that matter.
Eric’s mom was better than mine
I was isolating myself from the few friends I had left when the next boy, Eric, pursued me the summer before year 11. I was just about to turn 16.
Eric was a soft spoken gentleman. I remember he opened the doors for me on our first date and insisted on walking along the outside of the pavement. We had dinner and went to the cinema.
Eric’s mom was a stern Catholic. The kind of mom that made it her duty to instill respect for women into her son. I’d decided within twenty minutes of meeting her that she was a good mom.
I remember admiring her for it whenever I went over and she’d check to see if Eric’s bedroom door was still open. Or when she always seemed to know exactly how Eric was doing in school. And when she talked about where they went shopping for back to school clothes over the summer. (It made me think of how my mom’s boyfriend of the year hadn’t let her take me in August, so I had gone alone. It was almost funny to me that she was already broken up with that man by the time Eric’s mom triggered me back into that flashback.)
I never once wondered why I had an almost instinctive need to observe the way other moms raised their children.
No good mom would want their young gentleman son to be sucked into the drama of a teen like me’s family or her mental illnesses.
I remember the way my chest hurt when Eric broke up with me five months later in the hallway by our school’s cafeteria. Deep down I was sure his mom had something to do with it. Even though she was nothing but kind to me, I figured she (reasonably) thought I was too troubled to be with Eric. I also understood that no good mom would want their young gentleman son to be sucked into the drama of a teen like me’s family or her mental illnesses.
The reason I felt certain of this was because only a couple months before our breakup, I’d ran away from home after a massive fight between my mom and I. The power had gone out for the thousandth time. I had enough and scolded her for not paying the electric.
“Dad is paying you child support and you work full time! Why is the fucking thing not being paid?!”
Eric’s mom was the one to pick me up in the pouring rain after I called Eric on a prepaid phone my mom had no idea I owned (and not because I hid it). Eric’s mom was the one to tell him to give me a pair of his pajama pants and a dry shirt. She let me shower and spoke to me about what had happened. Then she drove me back to my mom’s house.
I remember walking in that night and seeing the headlights reflecting off the wall as Eric’s mom pulled out of the drive. I felt a slight sense of abandonment but tried to rationalize it with myself. Eric’s mom wasn’t my mom—although I almost wished she was, and she had no obligation to continue to help me.
My own narcissistic mother was nowhere to be found when I walked down the dark hallway to my bedroom. I didn’t see her again for a couple days, but the lights came back on while I was in school the next day. I guessed she was at work, then out doing God knows what during the evenings on a quest to find her new lover. We were passing ships.
The boy who hated to sleep alone
My next relationship, a couple months after Eric, was with Mike—who I stayed with for six and a half years. He was more of a match, in my eyes, because his family life was shit too.
We were each other’s only solace and became each other’s family.
He used to spend the night at my house when his parents went off to the casino every week. He admittedly didn’t like to be alone all night. I quickly understood why. His mom would attempt suicide quite frequently and call Mike wasted out of her mind to tell him goodbye. Eventually she started to call me too and ask me to watch over her son. Mike’s father was distant, emotionally and physically. Even more so after his parents finally divorced.
Being two years older than me at 17—Mike also had a car, which only further increased my freedom. We’d go everywhere together. We were each other’s only solace and became each other’s family.
Who is this creepy old guy?
My narcissistic mother’s brand spanking new and suddenly live in boyfriend didn’t like Mike from the start.
He sat us down on his second night of living with us to talk to Mike and I about whether or not we’d had sex (we hadn’t) while my mom cleaned dishes and pretended not to listen. Mike and I were completely aghast and were quick to defend ourselves.
But no matter how many times I told this random man I’d made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t have sex before marriage (“a vow I’ve kept for 3 years already”), he wouldn’t stop the awkward and inappropriate conversation.
He insisted refraining from having sex wasn’t natural or something teenagers were capable of. He even said he’d buy us condoms once I turned the legal age of consent (16). Creep boyfriend claimed he was only concerned because Mike was about to turn 18 in two weeks and I would still be 15 for another five months.
I didn’t see (and still don’t) why my sexual relations or lack thereof were any of this man’s business. I didn’t even know this man knew my birthday. I didn’t even think he’d last until my birthday. I told him as much (outspoken as I was) to which my mom finally chimed in with a loud yell.
Mom, I told you so
For the record, Creep boyfriend was gone within months.
Mike and I were the ones to clean up the (literal) mess he’d left as he angrily moved his belongings out back in 2006. My mom was too busy wailing in her room to help. In all honesty, her crying always sounded forced. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her actually tear up before.
A mini adult…kinda sorta
The Christmas of year 12 (I was 16), my older brother would be away with his girlfriend. So my mom decided to skip Christmas. I begged her to reconsider but she wouldn’t budge. My brother was her golden child.
So Mike and I had our own Christmas. Like husband and wife, I remember imagining and suddenly I couldn’t give a f### if my mom wasn’t there.
We bought and set up a tree in my room and visited my dad (who I adored but didn’t see enough) on Christmas Eve. When we got home—we baked cookies while listening to Christmas music, placed our presents under the tree and stayed up late talking until we fell asleep on my bed. It was the best Christmas I’d had since my dad left when I was 9.
That year I started thinking of myself as an adult. I was never given a choice to be anything else, anyway.
In 2009, when I was eighteen, Mike and I got married. We found an apartment and left our toxic homes.
Ages 18 – 24
A baby changes everything
I thought life would get dramatically better being married and out of my narcissistic mother’s sketchy nest, but it didn’t. I was still depressed. Still anxious. Still afraid of abandonment. Still unsure of who I was or wanted to be. Still perpetually moody and unpredictably angry.
Less than a year after our wedding, I found out I was pregnant. Nine months later and Bobby entered the world. I was 19 years old. Mike was just about to turn 22.
Overnight, my life completely changed. I felt an instinctive need to protect Bobby from the start. But I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew, was that I wasn’t a very good mom. The reality crushed me. Parenting was nothing like my fantasies.
Enter postpartum depression and an inevitable relapse into my long time on and off again eating disorder. Bobby’s first year of life wasn’t what I wanted for him. I was very sick, very stressed and not very attentive to anyone or anything.
I thought life was going to be easy once I left home. But I’d been wrong. Mike made the call to a treatment program for my eating disorder and brought me to my intake. I voluntarily began intensive outpatient treatment the next week.
(Read ‘Life, Defined by an Eating Disorder‘)
I’m sorry, I’m so sorry
I was 21 and three years into my marriage when I realised I didn’t love Mike anymore. I wasn’t sure I ever really loved him the way a spouse should. Our relationship—while backed by years of trauma bonding and a deep understanding of each other, had become codependent and toxic.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but over the years, I’d become increasingly more emotionally and verbally abusive towards Mike. And in the last six months of our marriage, I began to fall in love with someone else.
What set off my separation with Mike was yet another fight and me crossing a boundary I, at the time, didn’t want to take back. After angrily leaving him at home with Bobby, I called the guy I’d developed feelings for and admitted I had feelings for him.
“Me?” A nervous laugh. “What, why me? I have nothing. I’m not Mike.”
“Exactly.” Suddenly, I felt repulsed by the idea of Mike. I didn’t want him or anyone even remotely like him. Something had switched off inside me. My dreams with him were instantly over. I was scaring myself with my recklessness but I went against my better judgement and kept asking myself what if. “This is crazy, right?”
A long pause. “It’s not…crazy. I’m just…shocked.” Stillness. “You have to do what will make you happy. Whether that’s ending things with Mike or…ending our friendship and not talking to me anymore.”
I didn’t want that. I’d only known the guy for eight months and yet, thinking about going back to life without him hurt. I had a sense it hurt him too.
He sighed heavily. “I really…don’t want to say this. Because Mike’s a good guy. But…I guess you should know before you decide what you want to do…..I can’t say I don’t feel the same.”
It took a safety net in order for me to abandon the one I feared being abandoned by.
That was all the validation I’d needed at the time. It took a safety net in order for me to abandon the one I feared being abandoned by. It’s a fact about my past that I still wish I could take back, but have since learned from and accepted.
Mike and I were officially broken up the next day. Within three weeks of our separation, I moved on officially and started dating the new guy.
For years I hated myself for the way I treated and eventually left Mike; even long after he’d moved on to someone else, someone better suited for him, and forgave me. Only time brought genuine remorse and self forgiveness. Even though he was both devastated and pissed, the separation and subsequent divorce was amicable and we were able to coparent on (mostly) friendly terms. I was grateful for that. I knew I didn’t deserve it.
You had me at first note
The new guy’s name was Brian. He was 26. Our seemingly instant connection was mainly sparked by music. He was a guitarist, I could hold a note and write lyrics. We wrote together and formed an acoustic duo back when I was still with Mike.
Writing music with Brian was supposed to be a hobby to help with my mental health. Our music gave me an outlet for all the crappy memories and emotions. But it had also attracted me to him in an almost magical way.
Coincidentally, my stepfather (a musician whom my narcissistic mother married sometime after Creep boyfriend left) had warned me about this when Brian and I first met.
“I’m telling you right now, you form that band and you’re gonna fall in love with him.”
“I would never do that to Mike!” I asserted, so confident.
“I’ve seen it too many times. Just be careful.”
The first three months with Brian were exhilarating. The chemistry between us was strong and we seemed really compatible. Life was suddenly new and adventurous.
Saying no to someone with (undiagnosed) borderline personality disorder
Once Brian moved in much too soon after our relationship began and when Bobby was almost three, things started subtly heading downhill.
My fear of abandonment kicked in. So my controlling and emotionally abusive ways took hold. Brian had become my newest (BPD) favorite person and I began to “split” on him, which is a symptom of borderline personality disorder and something I also did regularly with Mike. Again, these are things I didn’t know about at the time.
(Read about BPD Splitting on verywellmind)
But Brian wasn’t Mike, who was more agreeable and eager to please. Brian held his ground and maintained boundaries. He didn’t care if you liked it or not. He knew what he wanted and no one would sway him otherwise. He wasn’t (still isn’t) one to be controlled, bullied or manipulated.
Admittedly, my borderline personality hated it. Not because I was evil or an abusive person by nature. But because I could never communicate (with anyone, even Mike) how I was actually feeling. So Brian’s nature, which I also highly respected oddly enough (these were traits I didn’t have), was a huge shock to my usual way of doing things.
Instead of openly communicating, my first instinct was to cause a fight which would force my favorite person to leave very late or come home early.
I couldn’t say, “I’m afraid you’re going to leave me if you play basketball tonight” because deep down I already knew that was irrational even though my intense emotions & distorted thinking processes didn’t agree.
The truth was, I was ashamed of my feelings. Instead of openly communicating, my first instinct was to cause a fight which would force my favorite person to leave very late or come home early. Having more time with my favorite person and securing their love (and therefore, preventing an abandonment) was the actual goal. But it never worked out the way I wanted it to. I was either unsatisfied and resentful with an agreeable partner or butting heads with a partner like Brian.
I quickly realised it didn’t matter who I was with. Because the problem was me.
But I really like this guy
The thing with Brian was, I didn’t want to lose out on developing a stronger relationship with him. Behind the toxic tendencies, we had a solid friendship and the longer we were together the more we realised how compatible we really were.
I also didn’t see anything I wanted to change about him. Which I had already figured out was one of the many things wrong in my young marriage: even though Mike was a great guy whom a woman would be lucky to be with, I married him so young expecting him to grow up into someone he never wanted to be.
I can’t let what happened to me happen to you
Around the same time as the start of my and Brian’s slow downward spiral, Bobby started showing signs of trouble.
Bobby wasn’t your average preschooler. He was overly energetic (even for a 3 year old), never seemed to listen even if you were answering a question he himself had asked, he had a hitting problem and was frequently kicked out of daycares or other caregiving settings for being too “rambunctious” and “out of control.”
Brian was the one to first mention there could be something underlying going on. Unlike me, he had experience taking care of young children after helping care for two much younger siblings as well as a handful of cousins as a teenager and young adult.
I myself wasn’t sure. I was convinced Bobby’s struggles were just a result of bad parenting.
The day a new babysitter quit on us two hours in, is the day I had made the conscious decision to change my own behaviour and learn a better approach to parenting. I couldn’t do what my mom did to me to Bobby: leave him hanging and being a piss poor role model when he clearly needed more help, more guidance, more love. I couldn’t let what happened to me happen to him.
Maybe I could do better I started thinking. Maybe I could have a healthy family and a healthy relationship. And thus began a (going on) nine year personal growth journey of actively working on myself. It’s been a long road.
Actions speak louder than words (& thoughts)
Within a couple of days of the 2 hour babysitter incident—I called to start the process of getting Bobby evaluated through our school district’s CSPE for behavior intervention services. Setting up an evaluation was a big feat at the time considering my bad phone anxiety & parental insecurities. When we were initially denied, I almost gave up. But we appealed, and won. In the end, he qualified for an integrated pre-school program and an IEP.
That initial call I was almost too petrified to make jumpstarted years of services, therapies, parent trainings and meetings to help support Bobby.
I also found Bobby a therapist and a psychiatrist. That year we’d learn Bobby has a condition (which I will not name for his privacy) that runs in both my and Mike’s family. In hindsight—that initial call I was almost too petrified to make jumpstarted years of services, therapies, parent trainings and meetings to help support Bobby. The calls got much easier the more I made them and my phone anxiety has seemingly vanished as a result.
Bobby, 11 now, still struggles but he’s doing well. I’m grateful for the support our family has received, because we would never be where we are today without it. And I’m proud to be Bobby’s mom. He’s unintentionally changed me for the better. I owe it to him to never give up on myself or give in to my BPD.
Ages 25 – 29
All the right moves in all the wrong places
To think I only got diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2019. It went undetected for so many years despite being in and out of therapy for just about half my life. At the start of my path to self reflection and self growth—I worked on my eating disorder, codependency, parenting skills and my narcissistic mother without getting to the core of the problem and my most debilitating symptom: my fear of abandonment/rejection and the back and forth idealization and devaluation of the people I love (that infamous BPD splitting).
I’ve only recently gotten better at talking about those deep rooted fears and thought processes that sometimes cause me to react in very irrational ways. And I’ve only recently learned there were terms for some of the things I did.
The one that got away
Brian and I broke up three years into our relationship in 2016. Bobby was three months shy of 6. The chemistry and compatibility between Brian and I remained as strong as ever but the undetected BPD naturally caused massive problems and resentment. We didn’t have strong enough communication skills at the time to work it out, plus we were both exhausted and bitter.
We sat Bobby down and explained what was happening, that it wasn’t his fault and that although Brian still loved him, he wouldn’t be in his life anymore because he was moving across the country (to stay with family until he could get back on his feet).
We didn’t have strong enough communication skills to work it out.
After I helped him pack up his car, we cried together and kissed goodbye just before Bobby back ran out. Brian gave him a big hug and told him he loved him and that he was sorry he had to leave. Then we watched him drive away.
I remember my cheeks had already dried by the time Brian peeked back at us through his rear view mirror. And I remember the way I suddenly went numb. And how Bobbly only started crying the moment Brian’s car was out of sight. And how I held him tightly and told him we’d be okay until he stopped crying.
I stayed numb for a long time. It was the only way I could cope with the pain of losing Brian. I focused mainly on Bobby’s emotional state, new hobbies I picked up and continued to work on myself.
It was all for nothing
This time, I didn’t throw a shit fit over the one that got away. I knew I needed to spend significant time alone so I could be an even stronger role model for Bobby. I couldn’t fall apart like my mom always had after her traumatic breakups.
I even remember her saying, “How are you my daughter? You don’t even seem upset over this! Did you even love the guy?”
Yes, mom. I loved him. I genuinely loved Brian. I loved him differently than anyone else I’d ever loved. If I believed in soulmates, I would have thought mine was him. I respected him, felt safe with him and liked who I was becoming with him. I liked how he taught me about boundaries and patience, taught me how to protect myself both physically and emotionally, supported my determination to fix myself and even started working on himself as a result.
Even after three years of living together and seeing the worst & most secretive parts of each other, we still had moments of spontaneous flirting and playfulness—things you would normally see from a couple who’d just started dating. We’d still spend the entire night curled up in each other’s arms while we slept. We had a system and a way of doing things. We’d accepted each other’s quirks and small flaws.
And yet, we’d fight every other day over seemingly small situations that were further exacerbated by miscommunications and misinterpretations (not to mention, fueled by undiagnosed BPD). The resentment from it all killed us.
In my eyes, I’d been trying for years to be someone who could be in a healthy, functional relationship. Which was true—Brian and I had both tried. But it wasn’t enough. But it still didn’t work. But he still left us.
Sometimes when the numbness suddenly vanished—it was easiest for me to just hate him for it. To blame it all on him.
So I did…until my anger became so great, it felt like it could tear up my insides if I didn’t destroy something to release it. And I couldn’t go there. I couldn’t let myself go there. So I’d push all the sadness & hatred away, will myself to forget Brian even existed and go back to being comfortably numb.
A divorced, single mom
Soon after Brian left, I got a new job with a higher salary and signed my first lease all on my own. Bobby and I moved into our new apartment. I trashed everything I’d bought with Brian and bought all new decor, furniture and clothes (well not all new, I’m an avid thrifter).
Much to my mom and brother’s surprise, I managed to run a household without any major issues. I set my own routine with Bobby that was a little different than the one we’d had with Brian. I found a groove that worked for us. I didn’t know it then but for the first time in my life, I didn’t have a favorite person. I felt free and proud of myself.
I’m not so exhausted anymore
Around Christmas, Brian messaged me in the early hours of the morning his time:
“Audrey, you look great. I’m really happy for you. And I’m sorry. I wanted so much for us. I wanted to marry you. I wanted to grow old with you. I still do because I love you more then you could ever imagine. Please respond. I can’t sleep. I can’t do this anymore. I promise I would do whatever it took for me to become what you and Bobby need and deserve. I could prove it to you. I’m sorry. I miss you so much. I want my family back. I want you. I want Bobby.”
I was angry at first, because it complicated things and over the months I had convinced myself his bad traits (poor communication skills) were all he had and that he only ever wanted to toy with my feelings. It was like one long devaluing split.
(Read about BPD Splitting on verywellmind)
His respect for my anger and for my boundaries after I’d told him off reminded me he wasn’t always an asshole. He was generally supportive and respectful. And it wasn’t just on him that the relationship had ended.
Over the course of a year, we slowly re-developed a friendship and wrote songs together remotely. We spent time talking over the phone, texting and bettering our communication. We weren’t an official couple. I wasn’t ready for that but eventually we both openly stated we wanted to get back together some day.
This was a want I had that I didn’t share with Bobby. Just in case. He didn’t even know I’d been talking to Brian again.
We spoke in depth about our own needs, how they weren’t met and what we’d do differently to meet each other’s needs.
Brian and I spoke about what each of us had done wrong more times than either of us could count. We began to take accountability for our actions despite the pride that always held us back in the past. We spoke in depth about our own needs, how they weren’t met and what we’d do differently to meet each other’s needs. We talked about Bobby and his progress with therapy.
Bobby missed Brian and would sometimes ask if I’d ever talk to him, just so he could talk to him. After months of considering the repercussions and only after Brain promised to maintain a relative type of relationship with Bobby if things went south between us again, I let them speak on the phone. I didn’t want Bobby to experience a second loss. So I treaded carefully. They spoke about once a week until Brian made arrangements to come back to our home state.
But I can do better than this
Brian and I reunited in an airport. We agreed to get back together officially and be exclusive again, but still took things slow and lived in separate homes. Bobby was ecstatic to see him. It was a relief to have our blended family back together, even if we lived under different roofs and only saw each other a few times a week.
We did experience another (although much less intense sans butterflies) “honeymoon” stage of our new relationship, but things were different this time. There was newfound respect and a deeper love & understanding between us.
While our communication had drastically improved, we did run into struggles again when our old friend moved in with Brian about six months after he’d moved back to our home state. We didn’t know it then, but my BPD was acting up because the roommate situation was an easy trigger for my fear of abandonment and rejection.
Brian wasn’t easily influenced by others, as I’ve stated already, but that didn’t stop the scary thoughts.
Was I missing out on anything important or super fun that I would later hear and feel left out about? Would our guy friend—who notoriously played the field while having a wife and baby back at home be a bad influence on Brian?
Scenarios, even ones that would be totally uncharacteristic of Brian, would play in my head over. And over again. Brian wasn’t easily influenced by others, as I’ve stated already, but that didn’t stop the scary thoughts and intense feelings.
I’m not who you think I am
The difference between our “first relationship” and our new one was that I felt more comfortable with Brian. So I was better able to voice what I was feeling about my less intimidating triggers, instead of being so quick to react in anger.
That made things easier, but it didn’t fully fix the problem (because we didn’t know what we were actually dealing with). I was still in therapy but it didn’t seem good enough. I’d still get triggered on an almost daily basis.
I finally came to terms with something I’d been in denial about for a long time.
Not wanting to break up all over again, further traumatize Bobby and have all of our effort be for nothing, I finally came to terms with something I’d been in denial about for a long time: I still felt deep shame for having such “childish” fears. Even though I had slowly opened up to my therapist about my love obsession and constant need for reassurance over the years, I still had a hard time taking my mask fully off in front of her. It wasn’t even fully off with Brian. Not yet at least.
I knew I’d have to take the mask off if I wanted to save my family. But the thought of it scared me into paralysis. I was raised not to have feelings and was severely punished & abused for displaying them by my narcissistic mother. I was taught perfection was the only option in life and anything less was just not okay.
I remember when I was 13, telling my mom about a situation with my boyfriend that triggered my fear of abandonment. I was looking for advice. Instead I was ignored as I watched her walk slowly out of the room distracted with her old flip phone. There were even times my happiness caused her rage. She’d call it, “excessive happiness.”
I remember sitting in the car with her around age 12 and telling her about my (at the time) daily maladaptive daydreaming in 12 year old girl speak.
I wasn’t sure why I fantasized so much about a group of made up pre-teen friends but it scared me for some reason. I guess because I did it an awful lot: on the bus, during school, after homework, in the shower…all day, everyday. I barely lived in the real world.
I wanted my mom to reassure me this wasn’t unusual or tell me what to do to stop it.
Instead, I was met with sudden rage and a ring in my ear as she yelled, “Don’t say that! That’s the kind of thing they lock you up for. You sound crazy! Just shut up!”
Duly noted, bitch.
I’d been hiding behind my true feelings & fears for as long as I could remember. I’d only let it slip by mistake when I was triggered into uncontrollable rage. This usually only happened in front of people I felt close enough with, but sometimes it happened in front of strangers or acquaintances, if I wasn’t able to control it.
What would they think of me, if they knew how pathetic I really was? What if they think I’m crazy? What if I am crazy? went through my mind more times than I’d like to admit.
I went against my better judgement and kept silent about it during therapy. I continued using my coping skills for what I figured was just (incredibly intense) codependency and kept looking for answers online—all while trying to (unsuccessfully) forget my fear of fully voicing my less rational triggers.
I felt anxiety about my procrastination on overcoming my fear, being the type A personality that I am, but as also habitual, I let myself suffer and procrastinated on.
Do I have BPD? (Thanks Dr. Google)
By our first “new relationship” anniversary in 2018, Brian and I moved back in together. We’d managed to overcome the obstacles BPD threw at us the first year without damaging our relationship. If anything, the struggles brought us closer together because we’d communicate through the bad days and learn more about each other in the process.
About six to eight months after, on yet another late night Google search for self growth articles (I’d become obsessed with personal development & mindfulness in order to learn and feel better), I stumbled across a blog post about borderline personality disorder.
I read the BPD symptoms and mentally checked off each one that I had. All of them…with the exception of impulsivity (“although I can be impulsive when I’m set off, I was much worse in my early twenties…”) Shocked at the similarities but a bit unconvinced, I continued to read about it until I fell asleep.
It was like finding home when you’d always been homeless.
In the following weeks—I read personal stories of BPD and posts from people with BPD on support groups. I found out about (BPD) splitting and finally had awareness that I’d been switching between idealizing and devaluing people, jobs, hobbies…everything, my entire life.
All those times I’d overthink the world of someone after having a positive interaction with them. I’d convince myself they’d never hurt me, never not love me, never be anything but perfect. Only to have the extreme opposite thoughts and feelings whenever we had a not-so-positive encounter (minutes, days, weeks) later. Sometimes I’d imagine scenarios with them that I knew would trigger me. Which only intensified the hurt feelings and would make me question that person’s motives or love for me. Then I’d be convinced I hated them.
All of it actually had a name.
I learned the term (BPD) favorite person or “FP” and related it to every boy and man I’d ever been with. That my sole existence depended on theirs and I could not physically stand to be without them. The clinginess, the complete change in preferences to match theirs, etc etc. There was a reason for it. It all clicked.
The deep shame. Check. High conflict in numerous interpersonal relationships. Check. Self harm. Rage. Check, check. Shifting self image. Check.
I also read people with BPD frequently change their hair color. I thought back to every color my hair had ever been and couldn’t remember all of them. I’d impulsively dye it, sometimes multiple times a year, all throughout my teens and early twenties. I thought back to high school and all the times I changed the spelling of my name (Audree, Audri, Audry). I’d spell it the new way on every paper possible to reflect the “new me.”
Reading all those stories of BPD and their posts…I never related to another community of people more. On one hand, it was like finding home when you’d always been homeless. On the other hand, it was as though my life up until that point had all been one big lie.
I needed answers.
Suddenly, I felt a strong urge to get an evaluation to find out for sure if I had borderline personality disorder. I was strongly convinced that exact moment would be the instant I became strong enough to overcome my deepest fears and finally get the help I needed all along.
The five stages of grief before getting a BPD Diagnosis
But I was wrong. Well, it wasn’t instantaneous that is.
My denial and then initial acceptance quickly turned to anger. I sat with my self-diagnosis for a couple more weeks. I’d been second guessing myself (you can’t rely on Dr. Google, after all) even though in my gut I just…knew.
The first person I told my suspicions to, was of course, Brian. He remained calm and told me not to worry. He reminded me this would be a good thing, if it was true, because it brought me one step closer to feeling better. He said he was proud of me and that I deserved to be loved no matter what.
My anger soon turned to depression. I spent a good week or two moping around and feeling sorry for myself. I drank alone one night while Bobby was at Mike’s house. Brian found me walking on the side of the road. When I got into his car, I burst into tears.
Finally my depression turned into a sort of acceptance (I wouldn’t allow myself full acceptance until I got a formal BPD diagnosis, just in case).
While accepting just the possibility of having borderline personality disorder, I was able to write down a list of my most common triggers and what happens to my body (or the symptoms I experience) when I’m triggered. It took two weeks to write. I sat with it for another week before mustering up the courage to bring it up in session.
We’ve had this conversation before
I read my list to my therapist. It took awhile. My heart was in my ears for the first couple of minutes, but then I got sucked into reading and felt that old familiar numbness (dissociation). My body’s way of defending itself, something I’d been doing since I was 11. When I finished, I boldly looked her in the eye because I felt too numb to feel afraid.
Her eyes were wide in shock as if she was just seeing me for the first time. She stumbled with her response but I don’t remember what she’d said.
Her eyes were just as wide as they were present day.
I was suddenly busy remembering a session I’d had with her at least 4 years before.
“I was reading online about some of the things I deal with,” I’d said, sitting on the exact same couch. “…like the codependency and the anxiety I get whenever Brian leaves. And I came across borderline personality disorder? I kind of related to the symptoms. A lot, actually. Do you think—”
“There’s no way you have BPD,” She had said in her kind, motherly tone I’d grown to love since I first appeared in her office as a sick, teen mom with bulimia.
Mom figures. It hit me then, during that session so long ago. I was always looking for a mom figure to lean on and learn from. That’s why I’d naturally pay attention to my friend’s and boyfriend’s moms and their parenting tactics.
“People with BPD are a lot to handle,” She’d continued, still in the past. Her eyes were just as wide as they were present day. “I’ve had some patients with borderline. They storm out mid session, they don’t continue therapy. They have serious rage and they don’t change. But you, Audrey, you’re the perfect patient. You hold yourself accountable and take action. You’re driven. You’ve already made so much progress.”
I’d nodded at the time and went home feeling better about myself. Her words were so easy to accept then. But I had rage. I’d tell her about it, trying to hold myself accountable so I could actually change, but I never once displayed the intense emotions to her. Because of my fear but also because I’d already be over whatever had caused the intense feelings by the time therapy rolled around. It only kept my mask further intact.
Back in the present moment—watching her stumble over a response and was that embarrassment on her face? I knew then she had helped me as much as she’d be able to help me. I went to her initially for my eating disorder, after all, and that was something I already had under control thanks to her.
She clearly didn’t understand BPD anyway which is a sad truth with too many mental health professionals. My one (probably unrealistic) hope was that she had the same suspicions as me during the session, or at least realised there was some kind of personality disorder that plagued me. I hope she realised she’d been wrong about me. And I hope I (the “perfect patient”) changed her mind, even just a little, about her misguided generalizations about people with BPD.
It was time to move on. I needed a new therapist with better experience in personality disorders and an evaluation from a psychiatrist to confirm or deny my suspicion that I had BPD.
There is hope
I found a replacement, my therapist Ellen, and a psychiatrist from the same practice in a week. My first appointment with Ellen was scheduled for two weeks out. This time I won’t keep a mask on, I told myself. The consequences of putting up a front were greater than facing my shame. I wouldn’t do that to my family. I wouldn’t do that to me.
It’s treatable. People with BPD are not a lost cause.
After 2 months of seeing Ellen (and anxiously waiting for my evaluation appointment with the psychiatrist), she said borderline personality disorder seemed like a high possibility. Unlike my last therapist she had a completely different outlook on BPD. It’s treatable. People with BPD are not a lost cause.
When my evaluation with the psychiatrist came, I felt my file from Ellen properly reflected my symptoms. I’d even managed to write down my thoughts & intense emotions as they came during an episode that lasted for hours (since I tend to forget what exactly happened once the episode ends). Writing that down was huge progress according to Ellen, since I couldn’t get out of my head enough to focus on writing anything when we first met a couple months before. What I wrote really confirmed our suspicions.
(Read ‘What Happens During a BPD Episode: Borderline Thoughts & Feelings Recorded‘)
Before this turn of events—I was worried I’d be brushed off. But I took the risk and I wasn’t. In December 2019, just over two years after Brian had come home, I was formally diagnosed with BPD.
The psychiatrist was also optimistic about recovery, mentioning recent studies & research on it and DBT therapy—a complete 180 from my old therapist.
What came next
My BPD treatment involved weekly individual therapy and a weekly DBT group. I couldn’t say my life magically got better. I had a lot of dark days and moments. But over time, I learned new skills and made progress in all areas of my life. There were a lot of set backs in between, reflection, mindfulness and trial and error.
My relationship with Brian continued to grow stronger as we tackled living with BPD together. Neither of us could say it was easy, but we both agreed it was worth it.
He proposed soon after my BPD diagnosis in 2019. Almost seven years after we started our journey together. For a long time, I thought I’d never see him down on one knee in front of me.
The proposal was simple and romantically peaceful and laid back. Just like Brian. He lit a fire, made a toast and stalled until he eventually popped the question at my favorite beach in the dead of winter.
When Bobby was dropped back home later that day, we sat him down and told him the news.
He went, “Yay!” as he moved to hug Brian, then me. He sat back down and looked at us expectedly, waiting. “Is that it?”
“Cool, can I play my game now?”
At first, the distorted thoughts crept in. Is Bobby not happy about us getting married? Does he actually not like Brian? Could this somehow affect him when he’s an adult?
No, I stopped myself. Bobby doesn’t care to gush about “what’s-an-engagement” because in his eyes, we’re already a family and Brian is already his stepdad.
This wasn’t the beginning of a new start in life where problems would never happen and everything would be perfect.
In that moment, the surreality of the engagement ceased in my hazy brain. Like the fog in my head had cleared. I looked over to Brian and saw the same man I’d woken up snuggled next to that morning. He was just a little more done up and visibly more excited than usual.
We were both excited but the ring on my finger changed nothing. And that was the beauty of it. This wasn’t the beginning of a new start in life where problems would never happen and everything would be perfect. This wasn’t an enchanted rescue.
The ring on my finger was just what it is: the first step to legalizing our commitment to each other and to our family of 3 humans and 2 dogs. A commitment we’ve already been holding true to. A commitment I pray, every night, we never stray away from out of resentment, miscommunication or toxic behavior. I pray for healing, strength, patience and wisdom to grow and live in His will.
I caught Brian’s eye from across the couch. His eyes both brightened and softened as he smiled at me.
I don’t want a new start, I thought, smiling back. I just want to do right by my family and do right by me. I want to enjoy the good moments, overcome the bad and cherish the little things.
One year after completing DBT
It’s 2021. Brian and I have since gotten married. We eloped with Bobby back in Oct 2020. I graduated from my DBT group and therapy over the summer. However, I’m back in therapy now (spring) for preventative measures after feeling myself slip back into old patterns and feeling generally more depressed. It’s a constant battle but I’m still kicking.
(Read ‘How I Overcome Regressions in BPD Recovery‘)
Two years after completing DBT
I’m doing a lot better now, mentally. My moods are more regulated, my communication is more effective and my fear of abandonment is virtually gone. I feel stronger and better equipped to handle my anxiety. I don’t feel depressed or empty. Actually, I finally feel fulfilled.
It would surprise my younger self to know that I feel this way even though I still have stresses and issues in my day to day life. Even though not everything is perfect. Life will never be perfect, and yet I can still cherish and be thankful for it. That’s something that took me a long time to learn.
I’ve been attending maintenance therapy with Ellen since my last update. I’ve done DBT twice now and still use the skills in my everyday life (creating content for BPD Beautiful really helps me retain and implement them).
I now only have 4 symptoms of BPD which means I no longer meet the official criteria for a BPD diagnosis. I’m still working on getting those symptoms down to 0. I know in time I’ll succeed, even if I have setbacks along the way.