I am a mother, and I have bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD) traits, meaning I have some but not all of the criteria needed to meet the diagnosis for BPD. Two years ago, my life was changed due to learning the skills taught through Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Below is part of my story which was originally published at Healing from BPD.org.
What it used to Be Like
I bee lined down the hall into the bathroom, and shut and locked the door behind me before falling to my knees. Covering my face with my hands, I sobbed. Outside, my two and six-year-old girls banged on the door. “Moooommy! Moooommmyyy!” I thought, “Oh, my God! Why can’t they just leave me alone?”
I dialed a friend’s number and when she answered I cried, “I can’t do this. I can’t be a mom. I don’t know what I am doing. It’s too much. I can’t do this!” She calmly asked me what was wrong. I babbled through snot and tears, “One won’t eat her dinner, the other one always needs her diaper changed, they are fighting over toys, the Disney channel is driving me insane, and of course my husband is working all night again!” I was spiraling out of emotional control…over every day, typical motherhood stuff.
That was six years ago – four years before I would be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD.) On many occasions, my husband would have to come home from work to calm me down during times like this. Feelings of inadequacy, fear of harming my children or myself, anger, self-pity, gripping anxiety, immobilizing depression and loneliness were my constant companions.
The unpredictability of the children’s behaviors and moods, and my inability to set boundaries and provide structure in my own life, let alone theirs, only heightened my anxiety. I was permanently in fight or flight mode – instincts gone haywire. I was filled with self-doubt and self-hatred. I felt like a caged animal ready to chew off its own foot to escape the chains shackling it to the cold and filthy floor.
Then I learned (in Dialectic Behavioral Therapy – DBT) that this chaotic environment, in which I felt like a prisoner, was imitative of my own childhood home. Sure, I wasn’t walking around drunk all of the time like my parents, but the moodiness, anger, and self-absorption that consumed me were not much different from theirs. Also like them, I had no real sense of how to be a parent.
Everyday interactions with my children baffled me and left me reeling in emotional binges filled with terror like when I was a child. I felt as if I lived in a carnival fun house filled with mirrors that distorted my view of the entire world while everyone else had regular old mirrors to look at. In hindsight, this was closer to the truth than I realized at the time.
The Turning Point
I was already being treated for alcoholism and bipolar and anxiety disorders when my psychiatrist suggested that I might have BPD as well. My first response was, “Great, another fricking diagnosis!” What I didn’t know, however, is that being diagnosed with BPD would be the best thing to ever happen to me and for my mental health recovery. For if I was never diagnosed with BPD, I may have never sought out DBT, which did for me in one year what years and years of individual and group therapies based on other psychological theories could never begin to do.
What it is Like Now
In DBT I learned how to be mindful of and radically accept my limitations as a highly emotionally sensitive person and mother. For example, this past spring I was beating myself up over not being emotionally balanced enough to take my children to church on Easter. The old me would have ignored my high anxiety levels and begrudgingly gotten them ready while screaming at them to, “Hurry up. Do this. Don’t do that!”
Then I would have suffered through the service feeling like a martyr while becoming angrier by the minute. Or I would have had a panic attack and then drove us all back home in a dangerous state of mind. Then I would have spent the rest of the day in bed, completely abandoning the kids to the television and their own devices. And let’s not forget the verbal hell my husband would have received for having to go to work, thereby leaving me to deal with the children alone, and on a holiday at that!
Instead I sat back and observed my thoughts and feelings as if I was watching another person go through them. I acknowledged the guilt and anxiety rather than fighting them. I also consciously did not make them who I was, but chose to view them as an experience of something separate within me. I chose to believe that deep down all was ok – that I was ok – no matter what thoughts and feelings occurred in my mind. I also made special care not to judge my thoughts and feelings as good or bad. The just were there or they were not…period.
Later that morning, I found an Easter service streaming live online, and my girls and I worshiped along with them from the comforts of our family room. It was a blessed day in which I owed no apologies at the end, neither to my kids or my husband, and most importantly, to myself.
What is it like for you as a mother with BPD? Or if you are the child of a mother with BPD, what is that like? What are some positive aspects of being a highly emotionally sensitive mother?