Borderline personality disorder has become the “hot” mental illness in recent years.
This is especially true after Johnny Depp’s hired therapist said Amber Heard has the condition.
My ex has BPD. This is our story. It’s a doozie.
The condition is largely misunderstood
Years ago, I learned not to use real names in my writing. It causes me real-world drama.
So we’ll call her Jen.
I met Jen as my generation tended to meet, in a haze of alcohol, impulse, and debauchery.
Initially, things were great. She was funny, zany, and cute. We shared a youthful love of music.
One month in, she began having a ton of personal issues with her family, career, and friendships. We started bickering more.
Four months in, I had my hands full.
She dropped a bombshell on me at dinner. She said, “I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder five years ago.”
Then she said she hadn’t been taking any medications for years.
I convinced her to see a doctor. To her surprise, she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (a second doctor later confirmed this diagnosis).
I’d never heard of the illness.
I was in shocked when I looked at the symptoms. They perfectly described what was happening. Her case was severe (and not indicative of all cases).
Fear of abandonment
We had terrible fights, worse than any I’ve ever had. I would get so confused by her sudden hostility. It went from zero to 100 and never felt justified.
At her worst, she displayed this odd version of “switching”.
She’d shout, “F#ck you! Get out!” Then, as I stood up to get my things, she’d pivot and say, “N-n-n-no don’t leave please. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Emotional instability is a signature symptom. But it doesn’t mean instability in the traditional sense. Instability usually means that patients are hit hard by their emotions.
When things were good with Jen, things were great, as good as any relationship could be. Our time together was flowery and full of joy. She was angelic. She made me feel like the most loved person in the world.
However, this threat of explosion always lurked.
Therapy revealed this reactiveness is often because of avoidance strategies. She would look for ways around any negative emotion.
Treatment involves getting patients to feel and experience emotions, rather than let them bottle up and explode.
Black and white thinking
Friends are often the best person in the world or a backstabbing soulless traitor.
Jen would get obsessed with some new friend. She’d talk about them all the time like they were reunited twins.
It got to the point where I had to ask her to stop talking about them so much.
Then, something would happen. That friend would be cut out completely, or she’d stop talking to Jen.
Jen often conjured up these conspiracy theories about people not liking her. She said these friends were talking bad about her behind her back, or making plans and deliberately cutting her out of them.
I felt like I was always working to bring her back down to earth.
Deep insecurity and self-esteem issues
We’d be sitting in a living room on a peaceful afternoon and she’d start asking, “Why are you acting so weird?”
“Yes you are. You are being so weird.”
“No, I’m reading a book.”
Five minutes later.
“Stop acting so weird. What’s wrong.”
Literally, nothing was wrong. She’d poke me for an hour like this until I’d flip out.
The sad irony is that her fear of abandonment was the very thing that pushed me away.
If a person asks you if you love them like a broken record, you’ll eventually be forced to ask yourself the same question.
The cause of the disorder
It’s not a condition I’d wish on anyone. Treatment is extremely challenging and requires a team of professionals.
The causes are often abuse and neglect (in childhood especially) and other genetic factors.
Jen was put in foster care when she was 12. She never divulged the full details. I know her biological mom was about as toxic and verbally abusive as a parent can get. The stories were crazy.
Jen actually reminded me a bit of Jenny from Forrest Gump.
She was drawn to chaos and more trauma. She was always in search of something that could never be found.
Breakups tend to be monstrously chaotic
The fear of abandonment, combined with an impulsiveness, anger and neuroticism (vulnerability to negative emotions) makes breakups the stuff of nightmares.
Breaking up with someone is a form of rejection. It’s you telling a person you don’t want them.
This touches the nuclear core of someone with BPD. They’ll react aggressively or pleadingly to fix things. Sometimes both.
There is also an untapped resentment that builds up. Borderline patients are often extreme people pleasers.
When things are good, they’ll do everything they can to make you feel like the most loved boyfriend in the world.
Sometimes, they’ll change who they are for you (even if that is the opposite of what you want).
And when things don’t work out, they’ll unleash this huge tsunami of resentment that was waiting like a volcano.
Jen had this mindset that she was unwanted because of her childhood. Her anger towards me, and friends, was a defensive mechanism to protect herself from being hurt again.
I went through absolute hell in that relationship.
Lastly, people with BPD face huge stigma
BPD is becoming the flag-illness of “the crazy girlfriend/wife” which isn’t fair, because the disease also affects men but manifests differently.
The stigma is partially because you only hear about outlier cases — like the one I just shared.
Many people with borderline live good, fruitful lives. However, they have to put tremendous work into themselves and getting better.
Sadly, Jen’s life hasn’t gone well since we broke up 15 years ago. She’s fallen into substance abuse and has struggled to maintain a job.
Near the end of our relationship, her drinking had become a huge problem.
It magnified her symptoms (the volatility) and she was refusing to do therapy or take her medications, which was the final straw to me leaving.
At some point, you have to face the hard truth that things aren’t going to change, and that you have to do what’s best for you.