Dispatches from the Borderline: Boundaries

6 years ago

I'm having a good day, nothing but good news from my accountant, my new client and a prospective client (I run an editorial services/copywriting business). It's a picture perfect August day in South Jersey, where I'm visiting a college friend in her lakefront home surrounded by lush greenery. Her cockapoo, Gracie, is sitting on my lap. It doesn't get much more serene than this. And still, I'm filled with anxiety.

Earlier this week I wrote about my mother's and my own battle with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). As I mentioned, right now I should be at my mother's, helping her. Unfortunately, that may not be possible.

I Hate You—Don't Leave Me (Avon Books, 1989) is the seminal book about understanding BPD. The book’s title sums up the disease perfectly: The borderline spews hatred at those closest to her and then becomes panic-struck when the target of her rages leaves.

With a borderline, it’s always a no-win situation because the rules are constantly changing.

Confronting someone with BPD is a delicate dance. You can’t accuse them of having the disorder.  Even if they were able to face their own behavior without justifying it as everyone else’s fault, without a great psychotherapist, the borderline would have no tools for dealing with information about the disorder. The disorder is, in fact, coping skills gone terribly awry.

I was able to address my BPD after many years of psychotherapy where my therapist first helped me understand why I constructed the particular coping mechanisms I did. After understanding why I did what I did, we spent years building my self-acceptance and self-esteem. After rebuilding a healthy foundation that included dispensing with black and white thinking, refraining from acting out with histrionics in my own intimate relationships and practicing telling the truth despite my terror, then, together, we faced my BPD.

Anger is the predominant symptom of my BPD; anxiety, which has been omnipresent in me since childhood, is my body’s primary reaction to my mother’s BPD. As a kid and well into adulthood, I awoke anxious and fell asleep the same way. Most of the minutes in between were characterized by my being easily startled, nervousness, preoccupation with trying to control every situation I faced and the feeling that no matter what I did, it would not be enough.

I’d made a lot of headway with recovering from both BPD and anxiety until I arrived at my mother’s to help her after spinal surgery and her development of a pulmonary embolism. Stress is exacerbating my mother’s BPD; and her escalating BPD is exacerbating my anxiety. Whereas in the past my mother would sometimes seem able to catch herself after having a meltdown, now she doesn’t appear to have any awareness of her behavior or her words. She’s 76 years old and I’m wondering if dementia might be playing a role. I’m certain the oxycontin she’s taking for pain isn’t helping to stabilize her mood.

Several books I’ve read suggest setting boundaries with the borderline. Good luck with that. My attempts at self-care only incite increased fury from my mother. I can’t talk about boundaries; I can’t talk to her about anything reasonable. Because that’s the thing about a borderline: she cannot be reasoned with.

The other day my mother told me that she couldn’t believe how stinky the bathroom was after I used it and that she would never do that. She actually said her shit doesn’t stink! And she basically accused me of having stinky shit just to piss her off. How the hell can you reason with that!

I mentioned in my last post that prayer is the only truly effective tool I have. Awareness and prayer. I try hard to bite my tongue. I do not reason with her. When my prayers are not working I have only one other tool: to leave. Sometimes you’ve got to put your own sanity ahead of the borderline’s disease.

Tomorrow, after a two-day respite at my friend’s lovely home, I’m returning to my mother’s. Please say a prayer for me.

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