Living with someone living with BPD – part II

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.

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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:

Post-traumatic stress

Fear of new people/new situations

Anxiety about relationships

Panic attacks

Extreme hopelessness

Depression

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.

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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.

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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.

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I hope these little blogs have been of help, and I wish you all the best.

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Suspension of Disbelief

I write stories, and I’ve been an avid reader since as far back as I can remember. I loved Isaac Asimov as a child, and Arthur C. Clarke; as I became older I discovered Iain M. Banks, Dan Simmons, Alan Dean Foster, Steven Baxter, and many others. (As you’ve no doubt noticed, they’re all authors best known for their scifi). But I also read a lot of fantasy stories too, and some of my favourite tales combine these two genres.

With both fantasy and scifi, the characters and settings can be pretty outlandish, and some authors seem to find it difficult to reconcile this with a believable plot. Keeping the reader interested without losing them to ‘yeah, whatever’ is a tricky balance, and this is what is described as the ‘suspension of disbelief.’ This is the ability of the author to get the reader to be willing to put aside their incredulousness for the sake and duration of the story.

Finding the balance between interesting things and plausible things is the bullseye that fiction writers aim for. If the story is good enough, if you care about the characters, and if the weird bit is explained sufficiently in the narrative context, that’s a win!

Of course, not all writers explore this concept in detail, but most know when something in the story doesn’t ‘feel’ right. Sometimes, the cause is this issue: a reader simply wouldn’t believe this part of the plot, even in the world in which it’s set.

So as a reasonably self-aware writer, I try to hit that sweet spot between entertainment and disbelief. I don’t always hit it, but fortunately friends and family who read through my stuff are kind enough to point out anything that doesn’t feel right. It’s always good to get another opinion.

So, just a little tip for any writers out there – aim for that bullseye!

Living with someone living with BPD

Some of you who know me may know my wife as well, she runs a blog on here about living with Borderline Personality Disorder and tries to explain what it’s like to experience this strange and horrible condition. I think she’s a better writer than I am when it comes to this sort of thing. If you would like some insights into BPD and how it affects someone, I can highly recommend her articles at https://tigerchellesborderlineandbeyond.wordpress.com/

In my blog here however, I’ll try to explain what it’s like to live with a BPD sufferer, and things I’ve worked out/discovered that have helped.

First off, it’s not easy. This is actually one hell of an understatement. For me, and I guess for the majority of people (as BPD only (currently) affects around 4% of the UK population) it is very hard to understand where a BPD sufferer is coming from. They will think and thus feel things totally differently, and then react to those thoughts and feelings in totally unexpected ways.

It’s like their mind is running a completely different operating system to ours – normal rules, techniques, and remedies simply do not work.

I went into our relationship knowing that Michelle had some issues due to a less-than-ideal past; but – as many of you already know – it’s not until you actually live with someone that you really begin to understand them. Michelle was having therapy at the time, but hadn’t yet been diagnosed with BPD, so she was being treated for generalised anxiety disorder and depression. Although any kind of counselling can be beneficial, if it’s not targeted accurately it will at best only help so much. At worst, it can miss the point altogether

…and can sometimes just make the situation worse.

So we were both blundering around in the dark for a good few years, loving each other but not knowing how to help. Michelle’s sudden and unexpected mood swings were a complete curve-ball for me to begin with. She’d get triggered by something, react to that and then fall into an emotional vortex that made her whole world seem dark, cold, painful, and hopeless. At these times she would say hurtful things to me, and I’d wonder if our relationship was going to last the night, let alone a lifetime.

But just as suddenly, her mood would switch again and she would be so upset, and so genuinely contrite. She would apologise profusely and try to explain her feelings, but it was very difficult for her to describe – let alone for me to understand. I muddled through many times, and eventually started to see patterns forming: she would be closed, insular, quiet; then sullen, then angry – angry like I’d never seen before. Occasionally there would be some physical violence, either against myself or (more usually) an inanimate object or two. After this would come a wailing despair and self-loathing, an uncontrollable wave of crying and convulsing. I really thought she was having a fit the first time, it’s horrible to watch. But then would be a period of calming down, reconciliation, and often expressions of deep regret, and affection.

So I finally figured out that if I didn’t react, but just stayed calm, eventually her emotions would cycle through this pattern and everything would be all right. But it took a lot for me to accept that, in the middle part, there was nothing I could do.

So we somehow got through ten years together, our love conquering everything, over and over again. We both did some research on what could be affecting her so badly, and from what we found, BPD was one of the likely candidates. Then a new doctor suggested that Michelle have a consultation with a psychiatrist, who evaluated her and officially diagnosed her with Borderline Personality Disorder.

This was a huge relief for Michelle, who finally had a name for her demon; and I had a target to aim at.

Now our research could be more finely tuned, and therapy aimed squarely at the cause, rather than the symptoms. But this was really just the beginning of our journey – the more research we did, the more we realized just how complex BPD is.

This has turned into quite a long post, however. So I think I’ll continue in another, in the next few days.

I hope that this has helped set the scene for what follows, and given you some inkling of how bewildering our first few years together were. For anyone out there who’s living with someone who’s living with BPD, remember: there is hope. Things can work out. You can get to a place where you and your partner can deal with the disorder better, prevent some of the badness, and manage the fallout.

I’ll try to go into specifics next time – thanks for making it this far!

A brief ramble to set the scene

I have only blogged a couple of times before, once about the inanity of British Summer Time, and the other I can’t recall (it was some years ago). Those were on a different site, however – this is my maiden voyage on WordPress.

So, although I don’t really have strong points of view about many things, I thought perhaps a moderate voice of reason would be a welcome change for anyone online who encounters it (there are more than enough poorly-researched, loudly-opinionated blogs, I’m sure you would agree).

So I shall endeavour, whatever the subject matter, to be rational, sensible, and reasonable; and hopefully provide a little oasis of calm.

If anyone notices that I have got something wrong, please call me out on it – feedback is always welcome, as I believe that we never stop learning.

All set, then? Let’s boldly (and reasonably) go!