So, we left off last time just after Michelle received her diagnosis. At the time, this was a huge relief for her; to finally have someone recognize her symptoms and acknowledge what she was going through. Also, to have a name for what she was suffering – when trying to explain to someone how things were for her, she’d been struggling for years to a) find the right words to describe it all, and b) do so in less than an hour.
So being able to simply say “I have BPD” was a blessing in itself, taking a lot of stress out of meeting new people (which is difficult enough for Michelle already). Being understood and receiving validation are two extremely important things to a BPD sufferer, so getting that diagnosis meant a lot to her – so much so, she cried for at least a couple of hours afterward.
So when we got home, we started doing some more research into BPD, it’s causes, symptoms, and treatment. And the more we looked into it, the more there was to look up – it’s an incredibly complex disorder. Imagine a little bit of pretty much anything psychological that could go wrong for someone, and imagine all of them in one brain. Then consider that these negative traits work together synergistically to create a a huge, powerful mass of crippling pain… I can only imagine what it’s like. I’ve seen its effects on Michelle for 16 years now, and it’s horrible to watch.
Some of her major issues are:
Fear of new people/new situations
Anxiety about relationships
Extreme black-and-white thinking
These are just a basic overview of a few things Michelle deals with. Any one would make life difficult, but with them all ganging up, it’s no wonder she’s tried to end her life several times.
So planning for anything is hard, since a) we never know how she’s going to feel at the time, and b) her feelings can change like the flick of a switch. This affects everything: going shopping, going to the cinema, visiting friends, other people visiting us – everything. Arranging anything is a gamble, so I have to be flexible, have contingency plans or be prepared to abandon everything and just go home.
But, as we’ve spread the word about BPD, (we’ve printed out good articles on it that we’ve found, and distributed them to friends and family), people have been more understanding, more flexible themselves. This has taken a lot of perceived pressure out of many situations for Michelle, and made it a little easier to get things done as time has gone on.
Michelle has had counselling from therapists who specialize in BPD cases, and this helped a little. Mostly though, she’s made progress on her own; as she’s realized things for herself, we’ve done targeted research on that facet, and she’s adopted healthier coping strategies suggested in the therapy literature.
My role has been to love and support her. I try to guide her where appropriate, but you can’t force someone to alter their thinking – nor would I want to do that. Change comes from within, and she’s done a remarkable job of recognizing, understanding, and rectifying these negative traits, one by one. She’s climbed that mountain herself, one step at a time; and though I’ve been with her every step of the way, and supported and encouraged her to the best of my ability, I can’t take any credit for her achievements. She is one of the strongest people I know.
So to sum up, my role as a carer has been to:
Support: It’s extremely important that a BPD sufferer can feel that they can trust you. Be reliable. Stick it out! The longer you stay, the stronger their trust can grow, and the better your relationship can be.
Defend: It’s also important that they feel that you’re on their side. Often, a BPD sufferer will feel that the whole world is against them – make sure you prove that this doesn’t include you.
Encourage: BPD sufferers need a lot of reassurance. You’ll find yourself repeating the same things over and over. Try not to get frustrated by this: it’s not that they don’t believe you; it’s that their feelings often go against anything good. Tell them, and tell them again, as often as it’s needed. Time proves your sincerity.
And finally, Love. If you really love someone, you’ll stick by them no matter what. Sometimes, in the midst of a BPD rage, you might have to remind yourself of a) who this person really is, underneath all the pain, and b) how you feel about them, what made you fall in love with them, and what’s made that love grow over the time you’ve spent together.
It can work! This year, Michelle and I will celebrate our 15th anniversary, and we’ve never been closer or more in love.
I hope these little blogs have been of help, and I wish you all the best.