You'd probably never know it if you met us, but my husband and I met each other inside a psychiatric hospital. We were both there because we'd been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Maybe this is a bad way to start this article, especially since I know it will feed into the preconceptions people seem to already have about this particular mental illness. Everything I say from this point onward will simply be understood as me trying to defend BPD in some way. But I want this article to serve as proof that what you may have heard or read about this condition may not be entirely accurate.
What is BPD?
Borderline personality disorder (also known as BPD) is a mental illness characterized by black-and-white thinking, stormy interpersonal relationships, fears of abandonment, often recurring suicidal ideations and gestures, and uncontrollable anger. Sufferers tend to feel chronically empty inside and periodically paranoid and, probably as a result, they also demonstrate dissociative symptoms during which they feel out of place in reality, or like they're watching their lives from behind a window.
It's a severe, and increasingly common, mental illness that is incurable and somewhat difficult to treat. Sometimes it disappears on its own. Other times, it lasts a lifetime. In either case, its origins are still debatable, but most diagnoses seem to have their roots in genetics and sociological factors.
It is a constant cycle intensely feeling the entire gamut of human emotion in mere moments. It's hating someone you can't stand to live without, or, similarly, loving someone you can't stand to be near. What you believe to be a firm moral or ethical stand on a subject becomes less important in less time than it took to think about it earnestly.
Even though BPD is severe in general, it also seems to situationally be controllable, depending upon other factors pertaining to the sufferer's circumstance -- in other words, researching "low-functioning" and "high-functioning" borderlines produces some interesting results. When referred to in terms of "low" or "high" functioning borderlines, low-functioning individuals never seem to have a handle on their violent swings of emotion -- they are unstable and incapable of reigning in symptomatic outbursts no matter which situation they're in, be it personal or professional. This still does not mean they are violent; it only means they're generic normality is more dependent upon prescription medications and intensive therapy.
High-functioning borderlines are able to perform responsible tasks, even in social settings, for a limited time. They seem able to suffer covertly by exerting a steady control over their emotions and inner turmoil. The proper term for this, however, according to dialectical behavior therapy (also simply known as DBT), is "apparent competence," and it is important to note that such levels of control are strictly circumstantial and vary from individual to individual.
My personal experience
I was diagnosed when I was just seventeen, though I am positive my affliction began at a much earlier age, given the diagnosis criteria and my memory of exhibiting those symptoms for far too many years. In my case, I believe genetics to be the predisposition -- my mother has long suffered from borderline schizophrenia and major depression. My sperm donor was a chronic drug abuser and violent alcoholic, undoubtedly suffering from some mental ailment, though I never learned which one(s). Suffering for such a length of time doubles time itself and left me missing something, leaving something to be desired.
I had lived with a guilt of past misdeeds so embedded in my psyche that I expected it would be the last crushing weight I felt before I died. My thoughts were this rotting, negative energy that steadily began to affect my physical health as well. I was down for anything that would quell the pain and emptiness suffocating me from inside. Over the course of ten years, I developed and kicked a pill-addiction, letting one lead me adventurously to another until at my very wit's end, I was so hooked to Suboxone that I couldn't even begin a work-shift without snorting a huge line first.
I could never find that feeling that comes with being inside and watching movies on a rainy day; or that comes with walking through the front door after a long day's work knowing you have the next three days off. I could never find comfort within my own skin.
I began self-harming when I was twelve. At first, the acts involved the foil envasing pencil erasers. By the time I was 27, I had very telling keloid scars resulting from using steak knives, shards of glass, nails and hammers. Self-harm never really has a ceiling -- the longer you do it, the more it escalates, the stronger it needs to become to overwhelm both the pain and the tolerance to physical pain.
At 28-years-old, I found myself planning a real life plan to end the consistent misery I felt. Having grown up in a semi-religious household, suicide seemed the one place I'd ever been hesitant to go, but by mid-2015, it was the only option I had left, and I prayed to God to show me His grace and mercy when the deed was done. I had convinced myself that He had indeed made me this way, and therefore understood and even saw this moment prior to my conception. This was the path my life was supposed to take.
I planned a video in my head, thought carefully about the words I needed to say. I thought of what would offer the best comfort to my family and wondered how, if even possible, I could try to make them understand that this had been the only thing left to do. I honestly expected them, after grieving, to understand what had driven me to take my own life, and I convinced myself that they would eventually grasp the severity and come to some peace with my absence.
That kind of persistent emotional pain makes you bargain with yourself about everything you think you know -- it's like life has been holding your hand upon a scalding hot stove eye the entire time and you finally concede that the measures you once thought were wrong or immoral or unforgivable may not be so terrible and unforgivable at all. I reached out to people I knew, not necessarily good friends, but good acquaintances, because in my diseased mind, it seemed better to ask them to do outlandish things like sit with me while I bled out and died more acceptable because we hadn't yet created a bond of legitimate friendship between us.
How they responded isn't the issue. It's how demented I had become in my desperation for relief that shocks me now.
I decided, while laying in a drunken pile on the front porch, clinging to a bottle of Everclear, that I wanted, needed, some kind of intervention. Even if it failed, I'd tried, and there had to be something to be said for that.
I put on my best smile on July 4th, so I could enjoy one more holiday with my family before committing myself, and the next day, a friend of mine drove me to the hospital. I was lucky to have received a grant from the state for my stay -- I was unemployed at the time, and my bill would have been upwards of $20,000.
The craziest romance story ever told
I knew he would be a huge part of my life the moment I saw him. And sure enough, it wasn't long before he and I became immediate friends. He was a bit more sociable than I was -- I didn't mind being part of the conversation, but I tried most of all to be alone when others were in the common area. He made sure to keep me engaged in some interaction, though, for which I was grateful. He kept me from feeling like the one patient without anyone to have anything in common with.
We endured excruciating group therapies, during which we listened to a therapist tell us that recovery was as easy as simply "wanting to be better," and how we should basically suck it up. We then lined up for our meds (I think I was the only one who wasn't given Valium), either retreated to our rooms for naps or convened in the common room to talk and watch TV, then went to bed so we could repeat the cycle the next day. Of all the other times I'd been hospitalized, this visit was definitely by far my most successful.
My soon-to-be husband checked out of the hospital a few days before I did, and I remember how heart-broken I'd been, thinking he and I would never have the kind of relationship I'd convinced myself was destined to happen. He'd left me his number, and I guarded it with my life. But I was sure he had things on the outside he was returning to, and I knew he'd forget all about me.
He was the first person I contacted when my mother came to pick me up. Hospital bracelet still in place, the first thing I did after stepping back into the sun was light a cigarette. I'd survived off of nicotine patches long enough and missed the familiar act of lifting a stogie to my mouth and drawing off of it. Then, my mother took us to the Waffle House to treat me to a decent plate of hashbrowns. And I messaged him on Facebook while I stuffed my face.
It took several attempts to convince him to come pick me up so we could celebrate my birthday at a little bar called Numan's. He said later the reason was because he figured we'd go out one time and it would be awkward and we'd never speak again. Persistence paid off and we had an amazing first date, with me getting much more hammered than him, even retreating once to the bathroom to vomit profusely. I was sure I'd ruined any hopes of keeping his interest, but, if anything, my intrigue was more than he could ignore.
And it was the same with him -- after spending hours talking, I learned so much about the things he and I had in common. What stuck out in my mind first and foremost was that we both shared the exact same diagnoses, the only difference being mine was coupled with psychotic features. It broke my heart to hear the story of how he ended up in the exact same hospital, and how close he'd come to taking his own life. He was one of the kindest, most diverse person I'd met in a long time, but unless he told you of his experiences, you'd never know that this bubbly joker with a somewhat intimidating exterior suffered from a debilitating illness that just constantly drained him inside.
It was just as heartbreaking to hear that he would continue to suffer because he couldn't afford the medications the hospital had prescribed him since they cost upwards of about $300 a month.
We became an item after that, and I could immediately tell the difference between this relationship and the few others I'd had in the past. This one wasn't built on the premise that we were both perfect, or that we had our lives together and all figured out. We literally met each other in a psych ward, at our worst, at the lowliest points of our lives. He saw me with frizzy, unbrushed hair, and wearing a bright green t-shirt with red and black pajama bottoms. He listened as nurses asked me about my bowel movements. We didn't meet in a glitzy restaurant wearing our evening finery.
Put simply, everything was already out there on the table. We both knew the afflictions of the other and we still chose to take on that additional load. Why?
When one partner has BPD, there are tales of manipulation and the confusion that comes with trying to understand their emotional instability and seemingly random outbursts. When both partners have BPD, there is always that understanding and empathy from both parties because they know, on a very personal level, exactly what you're going through. It's a beautiful thing to have, and many people aren't as lucky as I have been to meet my soulmate and help him bear the burdens of his mental illnesses the way he helps me.
Because the emotions are amplified tenfold, our happiest moments are pure bliss, even though our worst moments can be hell. We may blow up at a moment's notice when we're fighting, or if there's tension, but these arguments are usually over as quickly as they started. That doesn't mean, however, they aren't intense and, in those moments, make us question whether or not we are cut out for this relationship. Once the fire burns out, though, we are able to think clearly and conclude that maybe we acted irrationally, after all. We can try to recognize the behavior that started the argument to begin with so we can attempt to avoid it in the future.
It is by far the easiest and, simultaneously, the hardest relationship I have been in. It is the easiest because there is no illusion of normalcy; we both acknowledge and accept the others' illnesses with love and open arms. But it is also the hardest because when he is going through a hard time, I feel for him and his pain, and I know there's nothing else I can do to help him through it except be there. Together, though, we make a helluva team.