Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder

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by RI Editors

This essay in our Peculiar Minds series is from Melissa Horsley. 

FamilyThe first time I remember holding a baby was on a vacation, visiting a cousin and his little family. I carried her everywhere, the whole time; I couldn’t put her down. I wanted to be a mom; I loved watching parents, thinking about how wonderful it would be. I was 14 and I wanted a family, a big family. Of course, at that point in time I had no idea what went into raising children. I just knew in my heart that was what I wanted: to stay at home with my children, watch them grow, and be a part of every little quirky thing they would do and say.

I graduated from high school and went to college. Instead of breaking out of my shell and becoming the person that I knew I could become, I sunk  into the darkness. I was depressed. I was lonely. I wanted to die. I stayed up all night. I felt better in the dark. I felt less vulnerable. Nobody saw me, so I didn’t have to feel judged. I didn’t know who I was and certainly knew the way I felt wasn’t normal, as everyone seemed to be so happy around me. The deepness of the darkness was tangible. Some days that’s all I felt.

I decided to take my life one night; I took some medication and went to the bathroom to slit my wrists. Whatever pain that would come with death could not match the pain I experienced on a daily basis. Without any further rumination on this topic, needless to say, I am still here.

School went by, and I had some wonderful experiences that changed my life. I had a special semester where I had a spiritual journey that helped me to see more clearly and gave me a new depth of understanding about myself, and about what was most important to me. I was finally okay. I knew I was. I was certain of it.

Some five months after I returned from this semester I met a man that I married later that year. It was the fairy tale I had dreamed of ever since I held that beautiful baby at 14. I would have a family with the proverbial white picket fence (our first house did have the white picket fence, by the way). It wasn’t more than a week into my new marriage that I returned to a shell, and I realized that the darkness I felt was only held at bay for a short while. It was back, and I didn’t know what to do other than fight with all my might to have that family I dreamed of. I knew it could happen.

Those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder learn that relationships can be pretty rocky. There is a temptation to push people away until they will prove they want to stay. I took on the role to prove my unworthiness, all while praying for his love.

Then this beautiful baby boy came into our lives. Unfortunately, things became more and more unbearable. There was my pushing and pulling, and his volatility. It became a match that neither one of us could bear any longer,but I didn’t want to mess up what we could have. I take ownership of my actions and the difficulty I had maintaining a healthy relationship. Seven years ago my husband left me, leaving me with my beautiful nearly one-year-old boy.

I was devastated. I remember taking my son out trick-or-treating that Halloween. I needed that normalcy. The darkness was deeper than ever. I didn’t understand how I could go from enjoying myself to complete and utter suicidal depression in an instant.

For the next several years I jumped from some short-lived relationships to some that seemed more promising and then to a bunch of first dates that never turned into a second.  I didn’t (and don’t at this point) want to be close to a man. What if he saw me for who I was: the ugly person that dwelt not far under the surface? I felt that I would never feel the love of another person, much less a man. I feared (and still do fear) what could happen if a relationship transpired that I could easily destroy. I’ve done it left and right with friends. With men I tried to conceal it more, because I wanted that family. I wanted to make it work, I could hide under the guise of a perfectly competent and emotionally-regulated human being. After all, I’ve succeeded in my career; I could pull this off too.

I’ve searched for professional help for years and years, continuously trying new therapists who practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It doesn’t work for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder because of the different mindset we have. I finally was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in September 2011 and immediately searched for a therapist who practices Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and found one in Utah. I decided it was most important to be where I could receive the best care possible, so I moved to Utah. Unfortunately, the therapist I started with in January 2012 moved in September, so once again I started over again with a new therapist in October. It is incredibly intense therapy and requires a group session for 2 hours a week as well as an individual session.

My son is now almost eight years old. I’ve hungered for years for more children. I have felt that desire so deeply that it breaks my heart to think that I have played such a role in my own life to deny myself and my son of that opportunity. I realize now that it’s not me, but this horrid disorder.

My life is not what I planned so many years ago. I think all of us experience that to some extent or another. Every day is a struggle, but every day I have one of the most amazing little cheerleaders in the whole world. My son is the most incredible little person I could ever dream to have in my life. He has matured quickly, but he is still my little boy. He inspires me with his passion for what he believes in, and his compassion for those around him. Just the other day he said to me, “I think we both need to say we’re sorry today.” He has seen hard things and he has conquered them. For that reason, I know that I will conquer as well. I don’t know what lies ahead for us, but I do know that I am completely and utterly in love with this little boy. He is my world, and if he is the family that I get forever, I couldn’t be more blessed.

Melissa Horsley picMelissa Horsley is a 31-year-old mother of an eight-year-old son. She was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2011 after years of agony. The opportunity to receive help is one of her greatest blessings. Though she struggles daily, she knows that someday the pain will be alleviated. Melissa blogs at www.battlingborderline.net


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13 Responses to Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder

  1. Becky L. Rose says:

    Washington and Oregon are big states for DB therapy. I believe it originated in WA at the University of Washington in Seattle. It has helped my brother immensely.

  2. Bonnie says:

    Melissa, you are remarkably articulate about this disorder. It’s one that I don’t know anything at all about, and enjoyed reading the links you provided. I especially love the team approach to therapy, valuing the therapist as well as the client. I’m fascinated by the high level of responsibility demanded of the client. Is this confining or overwhelming, or does it provide structure? I’d be curious about your thoughts on the therapy, it’s pros and cons.

  3. Melissa says:

    It is very overwhelming. It is only confining in that suddenly I feel very accountable to myself and my therapist because my therapist expects me to keep my word or call for coaching if I need help to deal with my distress. The overwhelming part is the attempt to change everything you thought was real and normal that really isn’t. A major pro, while we have come to believe we can push everyone out of our life, for once there is a therapist that will stick with you and you learn that even though there are a lot of setbacks he will not leave. The one con is the extreme difficulty of sharing our homework with the group members every week and to know that through this process I will understand myself better, but I will live with it my whole life. I have had multiple cbt therapists give up because they just didn’t know what to do. It feels good to know that someone accepts and understands the diagnosis. Sprry, i jumped all over the place with my thoughts. Does that answer your questions?

  4. Bonnie says:

    I think so. I just wonder why, when one is so wired to push everyone away, you can accept a therapist, with accountability and structure and demands that many clients would find difficult to meet or be consistent with. I ask because I think many people push others away, so I wonder what makes you willing to stick this type of therapy out.

    My experience leans more to dealing with addicts, who must reach a “rock bottom” or a place of powerlessness (many 12-steps have this as the first step – this acknowledgement – and I’ve used 12-steps with myself as well). I wonder if that is true for BPD as well, or if there is some other motivator for you to stay with the process.

    • Melissa says:

      I will do my best to answer this. You make very good points. First of all, I probably skipped some of the process from my last comment. I did hit rock bottom, or below. That was my first of four psychiatric ward stays. I still hit bottom, quite often. There were months and months where I did everything to try to get my therapist to leave me or to tell me she couldn’t handle me anymore. She stuck with me. She said that it would be my choice to end the therapy, but she would continue to treat me unless I was dead, in which case she couldn’t. I did this for a year with her. You see, having BPD means there is usually a constant suicidal baseline as well as constant self-harm problems. At one point she had me involuntarily committed, for my own safety. So, as I saw that she wouldn’t leave me no matter what action I took, I finally trusted her. But, then she moved. So, I was back to square one. I felt deserted even though she had to move for reasons of her own obviously. I felt like that person that was unloved, untreatable, thrown back to the emotions I have felt in most relationships in my life. So then I started with a new therapist back in October. I am supposed to call for coaching when I have distress, but I have lost the will to do so. I am afraid to bother him, to make him upset, or to reach him at the wrong time. He continues to beg me to do it. It will come, but I don’t know when. I have struggled still, and even as I was beginning to accept him, my trust in him immediately evaporated after one small comment he made in group. I am slowly trying to rebuild or find trust. Dialectic Behavior Therapy holds acceptance on one side and change on the other. So, first we must accept, or acknowledge that we are how we are. And as my therapist says constantly, that’s not good or bad or right or wrong. But does a certain action help me get closer to my values? If not, such as the case of self-harm, then slowly you learn to accept, so you can change. At least I think. I will be the first to admit that this process is kicking me in the bum 🙂 And, the wonderful thing about this therapy? He validates, and he validates some more. Sure, he pushes me toward the change end, but not until he knows I can handle it. He makes me feel that just because I feel one way does not mean I am a bad person, it just means that I may be emotionally disregulated, for instance. Again, there is where the acceptance comes in. Every day is a constant struggle with emotions, thinking of excuses to tell my therapist why I can’t be at therapy this day or that day. So, you ask what makes me willing to stick it out? My psychiatrist that prescribes my meds asked me that same thing last week. Her exact question “How do you continue to put one foot in front of another?” The first and only answer that came to my mind was my son. I do it for him until I can do it for me. I struggle with multiple other mental illnesses including generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, ptsd, and most recently diagnosed, mixed bipolar disorder. So, my son is my reason to get up every day. At the same time, that’s a lot to put on one little man, so I pray and pray and pray and try to feel the love of my Savior. Sometimes my brain is so foggy it is hard to feel that. Plus I am darn stubborn, and I’ll be danged if I will let any of this stuff beat me. Sorry for the long answer, and if it is repetitive. 🙂

      • Bonnie says:

        It is not at all repetitive; it was very informative. Thank you for respecting me enough, even though you haven’t ever met me, to teach me about your experience. I hope my mind and heart will be more open because of it. Blessings to you in your heroic journey. I know God will watch over both you and your son.

      • jendoop says:

        Melissa, You are an inspiration. My kids are often my saving grace too, not that I put that pressure on them, but reminding myself of all they are to me reminds me that they need a good healthy minded mom.

        I hope you’ve seen through all of the posts that although our diagnosis are different we have things in common and can support each other. The part of your comment that I identify with is knowing that this illness will be with me the rest of my life. While what I’m dealing with isn’t as intense as your diagnoses, we can share in that grieving. Because it is grief to accept that your life will never be a storybook. Somehow good will come of it though. Our children are an example of that too.

        Thank you again for being part of the series. (((hugs)))

        • Melissa says:

          Thank you! That is very well put and I appreciate your reference to the grieving because life won’t ever be the storybook. I hadn’t ever thought about it as grieving, but it is true, and it is important to have support through that. I am also grateful to know that we are all fighting the fight together. Somehow that helps us all get through I hope.

  5. LB says:

    When I learned about the mental health series, I was really hoping someone would address BPD. I was thrilled to see this entry. Thank you! I can totally relate, Melissa, with you about the willfulness of not wanting to call for skills coaching AND the reasonings (justifications? excuses?) behind my choice to not call, even when I need it.

    I’ve struggled with mental and emotional issues for as long as I can remember. Chronic depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADD, you name it. I’ve been in and out of CBT since I was in sixth grade. Was married at 17 and divorced at 25 with three kids. He was abusive and unfaithful and REALLY messed me up. I married again at 26 and it’s been a rocky marriage as well, though not with the same issues as the previous marriage.

    I was diagnosed with BPD four years ago after going into therapy as a result of some really bad choices. My first reaction after my LDSFS described the disorder was “Oh. That makes sense.” Then I started researching online exactly what BPD is. Oops. The first site I went to was NOT helpful. Neither was the second. What I was learning INITIALLY totally turned my beliefs about the Gospel and Atonement upside down because I was reading that I *couldn’t* change. Ever. I would continue to act as I had with no hope of ever healing–at least in this life. I had ALWAYS felt my entire life that I was Cinderella before the ball when it came to Heavenly Father and the Savior but this just “proved” it to me that I was totally worthless. I made some even more bad choices at that point….

    Ironically, or I believe not so coincidentally, that same week an article came out in Time magazine about Marsha Linehan and DBT. That article literally and figuratively saved my life. I was led to a DBT therapist here in Utah. I’ve since graduated from two group therapy cycles and continue to meet with my therapist as needed–usually once a month, sometimes more often. When I started four years ago, I never thought I’d make any progress but two years ago, she declared me “in remission” because I don’t meet the required 5 out of nine characteristics of the disorder anymore as a result of learning and applying the skills.

    Oh I’m still emotionally sensitive. I still struggle with no self worth on a daily basis, still don’t use skills as well as I would like. One thing that has really helped me especially in dealing with the initial anger towards Heavenly Father about “making me this way” is a scripture in 3 Nephi 22 that I have taken to be an answer from on High for me:

    “6 For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.

    7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.

    8 In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.”

    It continues through the chapter with more promises. In my mind this proves everything I have felt about feeling forsaken AND gives me hope for the future. I have learned to rely on the Atonement and hope first, then faith as it builds. I still wish I could understand some things, especially gospel related, but I try to not dwell on they “why” but on the “I can do hard things through Christ” thought process.

    I don’t share my diagnosis with very many people because of the stigma attached to it. I learned a long time ago that being manipulative doesn’t work but yet that’s what it seems like “everyone” sees… I’ve worried about it but my therapist tells me that you can’t be subconsciously manipulative. It is a conscious decision. If you’re not consciously trying to manipulate someone, then you’re not being manipulative REGARDLESS of what the other individual thinks!

    I am so thankful that I was diagnosed (after years of failed CBT too) and the “coincidence” of that magazine article the exact week I was diagnosed! I’m thankful that I have been able to recognize that there have been people (and a seemingly random article) put in place by a loving Heavenly Father to help me. I can recognize things cognitively, it’s that darn emotional dysregulation that throws me for the loop.

    Anyway, I just wanted to share my story too so you know you’re not alone. When you’re in group, it’s nice to know that there are others going through the same thing. But I also think it’s comforting to know that others with the disorder exist outside of group as well, if that makes sense.

    Best wishes! It is one of the hardest things to do to rewire the brain, but it IS possible!

    • Melissa says:

      Thank you so very much for sharing this and opening up about what you have been through! I am going to look up that chapter in 3 Nephi as well. It sounds like the answer to what I have struggled with many times. I am glad to hear that you have been able to get to a better place in your life. It sure is a process, but I am grateful to see that others have been able to improve their quality of life. Best wishes to you!

  6. Kelly Christensen says:

    Melissa, Thank you for sharing your story. There were some answers to my prayers here. I’ve been searching to understand some things about myself and I think you’ve helped move me one step forward. I have a troubled past but have experienced healing through the atonement recently. I too am divorced, suicide attempts, etc. Ugly… I have been reading everything I can about the atonement and praying. It has helped heal me. I’m happily married now. There is light and beauty in my life. Life is a journey though. Be patient with yourself, you have an amazing little guy and its wonderful to say ‘I’m sorry’…Thank you for blessing my life!

    • Melissa says:

      Thank you for your thoughts. You are so kind and you helped brighten my day. I am sorry for your struggles, but it sounds like you have found joy in your life. That is wonderful and makes my heart smile. 🙂

  7. Howard says:

    What typically lies at the base of BPD is rage occasioned by early abandonment and/or betrayal – almost always by mom. It can’t be touched by surface in the present types of therapy, it requires pre-verbal regression so that which has been blocked and held in the subconscious is quickly introduced to conscious in a way that cannot easily be re-denied and re-blocked and followed up with a couple of years of re-parenting. A cure? No but much improved! The biggest problem is finding a therapist who is actually capable of doing the regression.

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