Much more is now known about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) than when Jerold Kreisman and Hal Straus published, "I Hate You—Don't Leave Me" in 1987. At that time, BPD was a relatively new diagnosis in the latest DSM bible used by psychiatrists to identify and diagnose the spectrum of mental illnesses and personality disorders. When I was first diagnosed with BPD in April 2006, their book was my first foray into the murky world of this disorder.
In their book, Kreisman and Straus described BPD as "emotional hemophilia: [a borderline] lacks the clotting mechanism needed to moderate his spurts of feeling. Stimulate a passion, and the borderline emotionally bleeds to death." Marsha Linehan, the researcher who developed Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), to date, one of the most successful treatment programs for the disorder, says, "People with BPD are like people with third-degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement."
BPD is an agonizing personality disorder to have and recovery is difficult, but not impossible. Relationships, unfortunately, suffer a great deal from the intense mood volatility and poor distress tolerance most BPDs display daily. Recently, my abandonment fears, a common component of BPD, almost destroyed my eight-year relationship with DT, my common-law husband. Handsome, loving, affectionate, patient, funny, and kind, he could no longer tolerate the rollercoaster ride of living with me. Complicating matters was my inability to be affectionate and my difficulty with the sexual part of our relationship.
Although I've been in DBT therapy for over a year and have made significant progress, DT and I recently encountered an unexpected situation that severely tested his commitment to me. While he sat beside the bed of his dying mother in Seattle, my abandonment fears kicked in after several days of coping relatively well alone in Vancouver. I asked him to come home for a few days and then fly back to be with his mother, but he wouldn't. Instantly, I interpreted his refusal to do so as proof that he didn't love me, even though my rational mind told me I was being unreasonable. The stress DT was under at the time pushed him to the edge of tolerance and he became extremely angry with me—understandably so. As such, he didn't contact me for the two weeks he was in Seattle waiting for his mother to die and helping plan her memorial service.
DT's refusal to speak to me was unbearable, or so I thought at the time. The shame I felt for my selfish behaviour went beyond anything I'd ever felt before, but no amount of apologizing to him did any good. And, rightly, so, as the words "I'm sorry" can't always right a wrong. I knew in my heart that, while he probably still loved me, I'd dealt a serious blow to our relationship. My fears of losing him soon had me contemplating suicide, so I voluntarily committed myself to a short-stay psychiatric unit at a local hospital, where I stayed for three days.
When DT finally returned to Vancouver, my relief at seeing him was short-lived. Without delving into any sordid details, while in Seattle, DT had an affair with the daughter of a family friend who lives there and had been close to DT's mother. DT had always harboured a not-so-secret passion for this woman, and a close rapport developed between them during the harrowing experience of watching DT’s mother die. DT told me unequivocally that he loved her and they planned to marry soon as we sold our house in Vancouver. The two of them planned to move to Seattle to live with DT's father, who has a large house overlooking the water and a private walk-out suite on the main floor.
I wasn't surprised by his announcement, nor was I shocked by the infidelity. Borderline Personality Disorder is tough on relationships. I pushed him directly into her arms through my inability to demonstrate the deep love I feel for him. A combination of childhood abuse and BPD, which had been diagnosed only a year ago, had tested our relationship many times. Nonetheless, DT remained faithful, loyal, and supportive despite the difficulties. However, feeling as though I'd asked him to choose between staying with his mother or coming home to me (which wasn't entirely accurate, as I'd asked him to return home for only a day or two, and then fly back to Seattle), DT hardened his heart and closed the door on our relationship. My despair, grief, shame, and guilt were interminable.
Finally, after one too many nights waiting for him to come home while knowing he was with her, I lost my ability to see reason and seriously contemplated suicide for approximately three hours. This was enough time for the RCMP to become involved and commit me to a psychiatric hospital for my own protection. Initially embarrassed by my impulsivity, selfishness, and disregard for the gift of life, I found solace in my hospital stay. The gentle care and psychiatric intervention helped me arrive at a place of resignation. I didn't have to like what was happening to my life, but I had to accept reality. By the time I returned home three days later, I was prepared to deal with the realities of what I hoped would be an amicable separation.
However, a strange thing happened when I returned home. Initially, DT was understandably apprehensive and cautious around me, anxiously waiting for the “borderline zone” to appear. But it didn’t. It seems that the skills I'd absorbed through DBT, while not alleviating the sadness or despair, did provide the coping mechanisms I needed to wade through a complicated and painful break-up. As each day passed, DT noticed that I wasn't falling apart. Certainly, I cried, as did he, but I nonetheless began to plan a future without him. DT no longer felt pressured, which subsequently allowed him to sort out his mixed feelings and chaotic emotions. In doing so, he was able to differentiate between the grief he felt over his mother’s death and the emotional bond he’d formed with a woman who’d provided comfort and love when I didn’t. Each day brought DT and I a bit closer and our former bond slowly strengthened.
My sincere attempts to be more affectionate and loving, however, created the most profound change in our relationship. I discovered how incredibly satisfying it is to give love, as well as to receive it. Although DT was initially cautious, he finally allowed himself to compare a passionate, relatively sane, and loving long-term partner with Borderline Personality Disorder to a childhood sweetheart who has been married three times and clearly carries her own set of Samsonite. DT noticed the hard work I’ve put into repairing our relationship and it gave him hope that we could, perhaps, have a happy life together.
Miraculously, DT ended his relationship with the other woman last week and asked me for another chance. He realizes that the affair was an attempt to run away from his problems and that the demise of our relationship was not entirely my fault. When I first found out about DT’s affair, I did a fair bit of research on infidelity. I discovered that unless someone is a serial adulterer, infidelity is usually a wake-up call for a troubled relationship. In my case, the wake-up call was long, loud, and clear.
I’ve been given a second chance to be with the love of my life, and I thank the powers-that-be every day. We're both working hard on repairing the damage to our relationship and do plan to seek counselling. Whether or not we'll make it remains to be seen. But, without the skills I acquired through the DBT program, there is no way DT and I would even be contemplating a reconciliation. If you have Borderline Personality Disorder, or have been recently diagnosed, I highly recommend that you look for a DBT program in your community. It will change your life; it did mine.