Spending the last two weeks visiting my extended family in England provided a great opportunity to reflect on my journey over the past few years.
I had not returned from America to my homeland for six years. In 2007, the symptoms of BPD had a powerful hold over me. Extended travel away from home was so stressful that I could barely appreciate the positive aspects of a holiday trip to visit loved ones.
In the past, overwhelming feelings of being alone, abandoned, and afraid would prevent me from relating meaningfully to my extended family. Being healthier emotionally than my own parents, my uncles, aunts, and cousins would make genuine efforts to reach me and make me feel accepted.
However, these efforts barely reached me, because my emotional suffering canceled out everything else, and because I had no idea how to love or be loved by others. In fact, I experienced my relatives’ efforts to show me love as a threat. Emotional closeness had barely existed in my immediate family, and so its sudden appearance in them seemed alien, strange, and frightening.
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies, there is a scene where King Theoden of Rohan is possessed by the evil spirit, Lord Sauron. Theoden looks aged beyond his years, and is unnaturally cold, with his coat and beard covered in ice. He barely recognizes his loving daughter and son. When the heroes of the story visit him, he unfeelingly asks why he should welcome them.
As those who have seen the movie may remember, Theoden is freed after the wizard Gandalf exorcises Sauron’s spirit from him. With the curse lifted, Theoden appears immediately younger, warmer, and is shocked at how coldly he acted previously. He returns to life and becomes able to love his family again.
When I saw this scene, I immediately associated it metaphorically with the way in which traumatic, neglectful experiences “possesses” people who are later said to have Borderline Personality Disorder. Abuse and neglect can warp people’s personalities and transform them into shadows of who they otherwise would have been. In technical terms, they are possessed by “bad objects”, or negative experience from the past, which prevents them from becoming the loving person they could be in the present.
Back to my trip to visit extended family – I had a fantastic experience! For the first time, I could deeply feel the love they had for me. I was nervous about how my family might react, since I had not visited for many years. However, they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. They provided a warm place to stay, included me in family meals, helped me get around London, and showed real interest in how my life in America was going.
When I was swamped with borderline symptoms, it had never dawned on me that these people had their own work, relationships, and interests. But now, I could perceive my relatives as separate, distinct people and really come to know them in the meaningful sense of that word. Previously, I would use them, but have no interest in them beyond their ability to satisfy my immediate needs. This year, I discovered my uncles, aunt, and cousins as real people for the first time.
While exploring London, I was fascinated to discover how people in London, UK live so differently than in my American suburb – for example, they use public transport all the time, walk great distances, have few big cars, shop at tiny grocery stores, etc. Christmastime was fantastic – there were crafts markets full of international artisans, outdoor ice skating rinks everywhere, magicians and acrobats peforming in public parks.
These varied sights were meaningful in that when I was severely borderline, I would not have noticed them, or at least would not have delighted in them. I would have been like King Theoden, “possessed” by my negative emotions and prevented from taking in good things from the outside world. However, in 2013, a childlike sense of wonder and discovery dawned on me.
In his great writing on borderline conditions, the psychoanalyst Harold Searles described how the successfully treated borderline patient would eventually experience a psychic “rebirth”. The person would belatedly experience a sense of wonder and discovery, of being the child that joyfully explores the world for the first time.
It is important that such a regression not go on too long, because it is also critical to mourn the real losses in a childhood marked by severe abuse, and to develop mature adult emotional capacities in general.
However, every borderline deserves to one day feel this childlike joy – the delight of knowing that you are better, that you are alive, and that the world is there for you to discover.
Another primary emotion in me right now is vindication. This recent vacation is yet another, among hundreds of positive experiences in the last few years, by which I have disproven those who say that BPD is incurable and hopeless. I know that one can recover fully from Borderline Personality Disorder – and not even have the disorder at all anymore – because I am living that recovery.
If I’m to become more fully mature, I’ll need to fully relinquish the desire to get back at those who kept me down in the past. However, proving people wrong remains one of my favorite things, and so it won’t be too damaging to delight a little bit in my ongoing victory over the “false prophets of Borderline Personality Disorder.”
Among the “false prophets of BPD”, I include:
– Those therapists and laypeople who say that Borderline Personality Disorder is life-long, i.e. that once you have BPD it cannot ever fully go away, the implication being that it can only be managed while living a life periodically afflicted by its symptoms.
– Psychiatrists who believe BPD is biologically- or genetically-caused and needs to be treated primarily with medication.
– Anyone who says that borderlines are bad or evil, that they are not motivated to get better, and that they have a bad prognosis or are hopeless.
To all such pessimists, I am delighted to prove you wrong on a daily basis. There is a reason this post is titled, “Life After Borderline Personality Disorder.” Whether or not you believe what I write doesn’t matter one iota, because my feelings and experiences are 100% real to me. I am your reckoning.
I only hope that other borderlines will take heart from people like me who have recovered. Borderlines have enough challenges with which to deal on the road to recovery, without being burdened by the discouraging opinions of those who stigmatize them.
My message to borderlines reading this is – Don’t pay one bit of attention to the pessimists and liars that say you can’t get better. Borderline Personality Disorder can be fully recovered from, and life can be far better than you imagined. Let yourself dream of a better tomorrow for yourself and those you love.
I welcome any correspondance at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are struggling with BPD yourself or are trying to help a borderline individual, I would be happy to listen to your story and provide feedback if possible. Feel free to provide constructive criticism of this site also.
This article is the opinion of a non-professional layperson, and should not be taken as medical advice or as the view of a therapist who is professionally qualified to treat Borderline Personality Disorder or any other mental health condition. Readers should consult with a qualified mental health professional before undertaking any treatment.
– Edward Dantes