Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) affects more than 3 million people(!) in the United States and is a mental disorder characterized by unstable moods, behavior and relationships. BPD usually sets in during the transition from your teenage years to your young adult life because of trauma experiences from early childhood. Emma Lengquist presented right on schedule.
The Mayo Clinic website goes on to say, along with a long list of Symptoms, that “you have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and you may have difficulty tolerating being alone. Yet inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though you want to have loving and lasting relationships.”
For more information on the “clinical” definitions of BPD, feel free to Google. There are some very good websites on the subject. To be absolutely clear Borderline Personality Disorder can take alternate forms in many degrees. Emma was unfortunate to have what seemed the worst. Combine being born prematurely, cerebral palsy and delayed cognitive development with a rough start as a child witness to things you don’t even want to watch on television and well, a recipe for disaster.
Now, let me tell you what this looks like in real life. CAUTION: From this point forward this post will contain graphic language and description. If you, or a family with a loved one you know, are struggling with a Borderline Person you need to be aware of what everyone surrounding them is experiencing.
“Fuck you stupid asshole! You ALWAYS take her side and she’s a bitch! I HATE you you dick!”
That would be the warm up. And yes, every sentence ends in an exclamation point. There probably could have been three exclamation points at the end of each sentence, or six. We would call this “raging.” No, this is not your average teenage angst. Emma was our third teenager. Believe me, we know the difference. Some say people with BPD have unbelievable perception at reading body language and with Emma it was the face. Emma could read your facial emotions before you even realized you were feeling those emotions. Does that sound crazy?
It is not. There were times I was upset with her and no matter how hard I tried to mask it and use a calm tone of voice she could see it. She could feel it. Then there were times when she could see it and feel it and we were absolutely not upset with her. Still, she would internalize her perceptions (real or imagined), jumble them around and send the emotion created right back at us multiplied by 1,000 in a “I’ll get you before you get me!” sort of a way.
In the days before we knew what we were dealing with and began to recognize the patterns we, I, handled this in ways completely opposite of what is productive. I would get defensive or lash out at her or try to argue things point for point. None of which worked, ever. In fact, every normal human reaction is usually 180 degrees the opposite of what will help a BPD Person get stabilized. Our families didn’t truly understand. Most of our friends didn’t get it. And you could feel the judgement pour down from people that just didn’t know.
At the very crux of Emma’s BPD were two fears; the fear of abandonment and the fear of rejection. Emma was constantly musing on when we’d leave her and she’d be all alone. After all, her mother had given her up, her friends weren’t returning her calls, no one was answering her texts, and yes, we’d leave her sooner or later. Maybe we would move to South Padre Island and not come back to visit. Or die, either way she knew she’d be on her own one day. Sadly, this was not an unusual topic of conversation.
In fact, this became a weekly discussion those last six months between the two of us often overheard by Marie, as well. Most married couples, parents, can talk about their dreams with their children. Not us. We couldn’t discuss the future with Emma. She would always work it back to how she would be alone. Of course, the feelings of abandonment and rejection were reinforced daily when her friends, both real and social media based, and acquaintances would start blocking her and not answering her calls or texts after she had raged at them a time or two.
I ask you honestly, how can twenty-year-olds possibly be prepared for a BPD person fully in rage mode when they don’t know what Borderline Personality Disorder even is and are still trying to figure out who they are? It’s not their fault. It’s not my fault. Heck, it’s not even Emma’s fault. It just was.
The whole thing is set up for failure. Borderline patients are masters of manipulation and splitting (playing one person off the other). The truth and your words are always twisted and re-molded in ways you simply cannot fully understand unless you have lived through the experience. I would stand there sometimes and ask myself, “Did I really say or do that?”
Or, “Should I do this…or that?” I was fully aware that at times I was feeding in to her manipulation but chose this option over the option of watching her torture herself through cutting or worse. This once beautiful child who had so much promise was being internally tortured by a mental illness she did not, could not, understand. I can only imagine the pain she was going through and the lonely road she was walking surrounded by loved ones that wanted to help and often times didn’t know how.
Emma did not choose this mental illness.
Then came the moments of complete clarity for her. Did that help? Seldom. Rather it would set up a cycle of self-loathing because she could now see how awful she had been to the very people whose opinions of her meant so much. Friends. Siblings. Parents. Online “friends” she’d never really known and yet had so much influence on her. #Dangerous
Folks, this is only the surface of what our interactions with her were at the end. If you think mental illness harms the family, and believe me it does, then I ask you; What must Emma have been going through?
Imagine knowing you cannot trust your thoughts or emotions. Imagine never being able to relax. Imagine never being able to fully trust the very people you depend on for nearly everything in your life. Why did Emma have to go through this? On this side, I’ll never fully understand.
Author’s Note: This post isn’t published for you to feel sorry for us. I wanted to share with you Emma’s internal struggle and what the families of mental illness patients face; judgement, isolation, loneliness, helplessness, hope, exhaustion, despair…
These patients and families need your understanding. Your relief. Your prayers of intercession. Your patience. Your compassion.