“I’M THE GIRL­FRIEND FROM HELL”

An in­side look at the roller-coaster ride of liv­ing and lov­ing with bor­der­line per­son­al­ity dis­or­der |

Best Health - - CONTENTS - By AN­DREA KARR

What it’s like dat­ing with bor­der­line per­son­al­ity dis­or­der

and I couldn’t wait to spend time with my new boyfriend, Steve. But when I ar­rived at his par­ents’ house, he was still in the base­ment work­ing on his com­puter and barely looked up at me when I walked in. “Just a sec,” he said. As I stood there, I be­gan to feel in­signif­i­cant and stupid for get­ting so ex­cited when he clearly didn’t feel the same way about me. The panic was over­whelm­ing. I got back into my car and drove laps around the neigh­bour­hood, cry­ing, un­til he’d sent enough texts apol­o­giz­ing and beg­ging me to come back.

A few days later, I was filled with self-loathing be­cause I couldn’t fig­ure out why I’d re­acted so strongly. We’d only been dat­ing for a few months, and I felt like I’d al­ready mor­phed into the girl­friend from hell. And that wasn’t the last time it would hap­pen. For the next seven years of our re­la­tion­ship, I found my­self en­act­ing sim­i­lar sce­nar­ios over and over again. I was on an un­end­ing emo­tional roller-coaster — cheer­ful and laugh­ing, then rag­ing with anger or mired in sad­ness. Any time I thought he had let me down in some way or that he didn’t love me enough, I would throw things (a plastic pail at his car, a glass vase of roses in the kitchen), scream, cry and say hor­ri­ble things. I would push him away with all my force, but what I re­ally wanted was for him to love me and prove that he would never leave.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was ex­hibit­ing clas­sic signs of bor­der­line per­son­al­ity dis­or­der (BPD), the di­ag­no­sis I later re­ceived from a pair of psy­chi­a­trists in 2017, about a year af­ter my re­la­tion­ship with Steve ended. It’s a men­tal health dis­or­der char­ac­ter­ized in the Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal Dis­or­ders (DSM) by the pres­ence of at least five out of nine spe­cific symp­toms, in­clud­ing:

• intense fear of aban­don­ment;

• a pat­tern of un­sta­ble re­la­tion­ships that may in­clude ide­al­iz­ing some­one in one mo­ment and then be­liev­ing the per­son doesn’t care enough in the next;

• rapid changes in self-iden­tity and self-im­age;

• wide mood swings;

• in­ap­pro­pri­ate anger, im­pul­siv­ity and feel­ings of empti­ness

• stress-re­lated para­noia re­sult­ing in loss of con­tact with reality

• sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies or self-harm (this last one af­fects about 75 per­cent of peo­ple with BPD).

For a per­son to re­ceive a di­ag­no­sis, th­ese symp­toms must sig­nif­i­cantly im­pair func­tion­ing in day-to-day life. The dis­or­der af­fects around two per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

Though BPD can im­pact many ar­eas of life, re­la­tion­ships take the hard­est hit. “BPD can im­pact how a per­son feels about them­selves, how they re­late to others and how they be­have,” says Dr. Va­lerie Tay­lor, psy­chi­a­tristin-chief at Women’s Col­lege Hos­pi­tal in Toronto. “Es­sen­tially, it’s a dis­or­der of in­ter­ac­tions with other peo­ple.”

The re­la­tion­ships in my life that have been most af­fected are with those clos­est to me or with those to whom I want to be close; ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships suf­fer, mak­ing it ex­tra dif­fi­cult for me to be single and dat­ing. As soon as I start to like some­one, which usu­ally hap­pens in a mat­ter of two or three dates, the worry that I’ll lose him rears its head. My log­i­cal mind un­der­stands that it’s pre­ma­ture to fear aban­don­ment when you’ve only known the per­son for a week, but my emo­tional mind is like a com­puter pro­grammed to search for clues that some­one is go­ing to hurt me. A guy waits too long to text, can­cels a date, has to take a phone call when he’s with me or com­pli­ments some­one else and I see flash­ing warn­ing signs to run for cover and pro­tect my heart. This usu­ally means I check in too of­ten, ig­nore texts to pun­ish him, give the silent treat­ment dur­ing dates, throw sub­tle in­sults and cry a lot by my­self be­cause I don’t want him to see just how messed up I am, even though it some­times slips out. For a guy who’s only known me for a short time, it all prob­a­bly seems ab­surd — like the cool girl he went on a cou­ple of dates with turned into a clingy, insecure weirdo in the blink of an eye.

And I’m not just wary at the start of re­la­tion­ships. My fears seem to get stronger with time be­cause end­less sce­nar­ios crop up that I’m able to read as signs of aban­don­ment. “Say he was sup­posed to show up for dinner at 5 o’clock, but there was a car ac­ci­dent and he couldn’t make it,” says Dr. Tay­lor. “It was com­pletely outside of his con­trol, but that can cause a re­ac­tion of ‘If you loved me, you’d have found a way to get here.’” When th­ese seem­ingly triv­ial events hap­pen, I can go from lov­ing my part­ner to hat­ing him. And be­cause I rec­og­nize, on some level, that my be­hav­iour is ir­ra­tional, I worry that my part­ner will tire of me, so I feel like I need to keep test­ing him to check if he loves me. It’s an end­less, ex­haust­ing cy­cle.

Also, be­cause I have an un­sta­ble sense of who I am and fre­quently see my­self as ig­no­rant, lazy and unattrac­tive — though at other times I be­lieve I’m one of the pret­ti­est, smartest women alive — I can’t imag­ine that some­one would love me or want to spend time with me. Ac­cord­ing to I Hate You—Don’t Leave Me by Jerold Kreis­man and Hal Straus, the layper­son’s Bi­ble for cop­ing with BPD, “the bor­der­line’s great­est ob­sta­cle to change is his ten­dency to eval­u­ate in ab­so­lute ex­tremes. The bor­der­line must ei­ther be to­tally per­fect or a com­plete fail­ure; he

grades him­self ei­ther an A+ or, more com­monly, an F.” In the dat­ing world, which is rife with re­jec­tion, I find it easy to take a guy’s lack of in­ter­est in a sec­ond, third or fourth date as ev­i­dence that I’m the worst per­son ever and I’ll never find love.

The prob­lem is, I’m not com­pletely delu­sional. It is harder to find a part­ner when you have BPD be­cause loved ones of­ten end up with “com­pas­sion fa­tigue,” says Hamil­ton, Ont.-based psy­chi­a­trist Dr. Marilyn Korzekwa. “They run out of emo­tional strength to con­tinue be­ing sup­port­ive. When that hap­pens, they ei­ther dis­ap­pear al­to­gether or they get frus­trated and short-tem­pered, and don’t com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively.”

The good news is that most peo­ple with BPD rec­og­nize that some­thing needs to change and seek a re­fer­ral to a psy­chi­a­trist for po­ten­tial di­ag­no­sis. That’s what I did. A di­ag­no­sis helps you ac­cess funded group pro­grams in Dialec­ti­cal Be­hav­iour Ther­apy (DBT) — the gold stan­dard in BPD treat­ment. The big prob­lem is that the wait-lists to see a psy­chi­a­trist can be long, and wait times are even longer for funded DBT groups, so the fastest way to get treat­ment is to pay for pri­vate ther­apy where no di­ag­no­sis is even re­quired. The catch? It’s su­per ex­pen­sive and DBT re­quires months — some­times years — of ded­i­ca­tion.

I’m cur­rently on the wait-list for a 20-week group in Toronto. In the mean­time, I’ve been read­ing ev­ery­thing I can about the ill­ness and work­ing through The Dialec­ti­cal Be­hav­iour Ther­apy Skills Work­book, which has ex­er­cises in emo­tion reg­u­la­tion, dis­tress tol­er­ance, mind­ful­ness and in­ter­per­sonal ef­fec­tive­ness to min­i­mize the im­pact of BPD symp­toms. I’ve been learn­ing to dis­tract my­self in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions so that I don’t over­re­act to neg­a­tive emo­tions, be­cause no feel­ing lasts for­ever and I’m more likely to make smart de­ci­sions if I can wait un­til I calm down. That way, I’ll avoid say­ing or do­ing things that I beat my­self up for later.

I want to get better, be­cause I don’t take pride in throw­ing tantrums, ma­nip­u­lat­ing peo­ple or hound­ing them for at­ten­tion. I feel hor­ri­ble for of­ten treat­ing worst the peo­ple that I love the most, and I don’t want to keep fall­ing into the same be­hav­iour pat­terns. But my BPD traits have been with me so long that they’re at the core of who I am — and they’re not all bad. I’m pas­sion­ate, intense, sen­si­tive and lov­ing. I don’t want to lose those things. Still, I need to gain con­trol of my emo­tions and im­pul­siv­ity, and find a sta­ble sense of self-es­teem if I’m go­ing to have a healthy, happy life. I just hope that my friends, fam­ily mem­bers and maybe a guy some­day will be re­silient and lov­ing enough to stick it out for the long haul. Be­cause I have high hopes that un­der­neath this girl­friend from hell is some­one pretty spe­cial.

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