little girl in soldier outfit

I was 8 years old the first time my mother told me she was going to kill herself.

Born to loving parents who had been married for nine years and growing up in an idyllic Maryland suburb outside Washington D.C., I got a solid start in life. But within a few years, my home life began to unravel. In addition to depression, my mother had borderline personality disorder (BPD), marked by her emotional instability and dysfunctional relationships, and prescription drug addiction. Experiencing abuse as a child and always possessing a willful temperament, my mother was not an unlikely candidate to develop BPD. But it’s a psychiatric illness that’s notoriously difficult to treat, and despite being in therapy since her early 20s, over the whole of my childhood, my mother declined rather than improved.

My mother had the best intentions when it came to parenthood. In the late 70s, she wanted a baby girl more than anything, and when I arrived she showered me with love and attention. The baby book she made detailing every milestone and the photo albums with all of her captions prove as much. She was the first person to really encourage my writing, and she was always the person I wanted to talk to when I had a problem. Although her nurturing behavior decreased the older I got, there’s no doubt she gave me a good foundation and was an emotional force at a time in my life when my father and other family were absent.

With no real support network surrounding the family, I had no choice but to rely on my mother’s contradictory parenting for sustenance. She alternated between worshipping and loathing me, fiercely protecting me in public and then verbally abusing me in private, holding onto me tightly and then pushing me away. My childhood was punctuated by endless groundings for infractions real and imagined, humiliating scenes at the doctor’s and the grocery store, and the repeated mantra that I was “rude and abusive.” Individuals with BPD are known for “splitting” people as black – all bad – or white – all good. My mother experienced this all my life. I lived for the “white” moments. She was everything to me, and I panicked at the thought of losing her. My life was a game of control, and as long as my mother was alive, I’d won.

Though she’d had her troubles with it. But the year my grandmother died and she finally divorced my father, she began a backward slide from which she would never recover. Obsessed with her physical problems, she traded one drug addiction for another. Every time I would return to my childhood home, which had been meticulously kept up when I was young and was now unclean and cluttered beyond recognition, I would see more evidence of my mother’s condition worsening. The crying jags and suicide threats increased in frequency and intensity and caused unbelievable pain and anxiety. Our experiences turned me into an adult well before my time, but by the time I graduated from college I felt like I was a hundred years old.

Some of the incidents from my 20s are burned in my brain – the time I left a dozen panicked messages on her machine convinced she was dead, only to find out later she was sitting next to the phone, the time I made a list of her insults from one conversation that spanned two typed pages, the time I came home from work and found 20 moving boxes filled with her belongings on my front lawn, the time she called to tell me she had “accidentally” overdosed.

After I got married at the age of 28, I stepped up my endeavors to secure help for her. I moved her to Providence, Rhode Island, where there was a world-class treatment program for people with BPD. I was despaired when she didn’t complete the program and moved back to Maryland against medical advice. There, I continued to fight my war with social service caseworkers, group therapy programs, and Social Security resources. I finally realized nothing I was doing was working because it felt like my mother was not motivated to get better. I mourned this loss. But I continued my efforts anyway until a monumental event happened – I got pregnant.

Eventually I conceded that after 30 years of fearing my mother would leave me, I was going to have to leave her. I told her I didn’t want to speak to her until she re-enrolled in therapy.

A tremendous sense of guilt and accountability for my mother’s life had kept me from making such a move earlier, and it was never easy, for I worried about her every day. We did exchange a few cards and letters. I knew in my heart my mother was losing her ability to be miserable on her own terms.

Then, one fall morning, my mother killed herself. We found out when a policeman from our local district came to our house and rang the doorbell.

Through all the hospitalizations, all of the times my family and I sent the police to her door in the middle of the night, all of the times she did or said something I’d add to the collection of wounds from my childhood, all I ever wanted was for my mother to be out of pain. I hope wherever she is, some part of her knew I would have done anything to help her and how hurt and sad and frustrated I was when I couldn’t turn things around.

When a loved one has a severe mental illness, it isn’t black and white, and there isn’t one way to think or feel about it. The only thing I can do as a survivor is share my experience so others know they’re not alone.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Ally Golden is the author of the new survivor memoir, A Good Soldier. A passionate advocate for those coping with the mental illness or suicide of a loved one, Golden lives in Chicago with her husband and two children.

Follow this journey here.

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Maybe I called him because I was lonely, or maybe it was out of habit. I don’t remember why, but I was angry. Another borderline episode, I thought (and chose not to fight). Horrendously tearing him apart limb from limb, I was somehow still surprised when he said he wanted to leave. The aggressive beast calmed down and regressed to a sweet and gentle voice with innocent intentions.

I softly begged him to stay.

“Please stay… I love you. I need you. I’m sorry.”

Anything I could say to make him stay; empty apologies and promises I probably couldn’t keep.

We discussed a life together and what that would look like. Pure dedication and devotion to one another in different ways. A possible promise to be together forever. But, how could I trust him when no else could be trusted in the past? I told him I loved him endlessly and that I was willing to sacrifice anything to be with him, which are serious, outrageous statements.

He could tell something was wrong, because he questioned the authenticity of my claims and feelings. He wasn’t sure if they were honest and genuine from a loving standpoint, or blurted to keep him around. I was just saying this to make him stay. To avoid another period of abandonment.

I retracted my statement and crumbled apart hysterically.

My borderline is a puppet mastermind with forceful grips around the reins. It lives inside of my head and I am but its puppet. It controls my movement and thoughts, creating a volatile beast I never thought I’d be. It has the control I will never obtain. I can fight as hard as I want, but my borderline is always there, fighting harder than I ever could. It’s angry, ferocious and lets loose on the ones closest to me. And sometimes, I don’t want to fight it. It feels good to feed it.

I compared myself to a little girl, who keeps falling and scraping her knees and cries. It’s the same situation every time, but she still cries; it hurts all the same. That knee scrape is agonizing because it is all she knows. I experience angsty periods of instability like a teenager beginning puberty. I can be “healthy” and respond in adult ways, but the majority of the time, I don’t. I may embody a 18-year-old girl on the surface, working a job and finding her independence, but my emotional range is between toddler and pre-teen.

I’ve been on autopilot for so many years to keep me away from trauma and stay in a safe environment. So much so that I haven’t realized all the time that’s passed. I am not awake. Not alive. Not whole. Everything I do is mindless, out of focus and done without knowledge. Things that take extra thought aren’t rationally thought through, and I barely realize when they’re over. Days go by without notice, and I try to escape to a better place I can barely recall. My emotions haven’t gotten to mature because they haven’t been in control. It’s on a reaction basis of a child.

That instability can be incredibly addictive with an intense high. I can thrive on drama and out of the ordinary situations, and come out satisfied. I may not be entirely happy, but my borderline is in euphoria. When I cry, my borderline is ecstatic. When I’m having a fit and my lungs are rapidly expanding, it’s on the edge of its seat, with roaring cheers. My borderline lives within me, and it’s my drug.

My borderline can’t get enough of the chaos, the crying, the tantrums and scars. “More!” it cries out, despite my body being on the brink of exhaustion. It wants fire, water and earth; it wants the multiplications of forces. There is no gentle, there is only vulnerability. There is no sadness, there is only detrimental depression. There is no anger, there are only countless grudges and violent urges. There is no balance in my borderline.

Fighting it isn’t satisfying. It never congratulates me, and I need its approval. It owns me, and controls everything about me. It has ruined who I once was, and I don’t know who I am anymore…

Crying out “Don’t leave me!” leaves a burning flame inside my chest. It stings; it hurts. But, for some reason, it holds comfort. I’ve been repeatedly exposed to abandonment, crying that out feels like a warm blanket. It feels so good to moan that out, despite the burning and the tears streaming from my eyes. My borderline is watching attentively and making it worse.

Borderline stole the fundamental things that made me MJ, the most vital aspects of my personality. The real me loves dancing, music and writing. She is vocal, popular and loved. She is innocent, brave and confident. My borderline makes me feel untrustworthy, despicable, pathetic and sad, turning to a blade at the first negative thought.

Anytime I’ve turned to suicide, I always thought that, even after death, I’d still be alive somehow. It was clear to me.

I realized that I never wanted to kill MJ… I was trying to kill the borderline for killing who I was. MJ was perfectly fine, functional and was facing success; a bright future ahead of her. Somehow, she came in contact with borderline, and maybe they fell in love. Borderline murdered her, and I don’t think I’ll ever find her again. Out for revenge, I tried to kill the borderline, which happened to live inside of me…

My borderline is to me what a murderer is to a victim’s family. It is the ultimate portrayal of the devil; no good can come from it. Though, a murderer is a physical being that can be locked away in a prison; my borderline is a rampant mental illness that cannot be seen, caged or taken down easily.

I wonder if my borderline ever thought it was strong enough to take me down. Maybe the countless suicide attempts were a war between the rest of me against the disorder. Brawling viciously, we tried to kill each other, all in one entity and body. I was the only victim.

My borderline is a control freak with skewed perceptions that it tries to implant into me. It swings puppet strings violently and thinks it can control me; a mastermind of instability. It feels unstoppable and invincible. It has no care in the world for repercussions or consequences, because they don’t negatively affect it. I can’t function in the simplest of situations. It’s erratic and frantic, always on the edge of panic attacks. It raises a hand at the ones I love, and tries to end me when it wants me gone.

I hate it. I hate how I’ve lost years of my life to this autopilot lifestyle. I didn’t realize the countless losses caused by this disorder and the force it had in my life. I knew it was awful, and made me sick, but not to that extent. I didn’t know it had killed me internally.

I cried like a baby, clinging to blankets and teddy bears. A vulnerable presentation of my life left me restless and exhausted, but I knew my disorder much better. I found its breaking point, the target to strike and where it hurts the most. With the raise of a closed fist, I will destroy my borderline personality disorder.

I will recover.

Follow this journey on Sloth Speed Recovery.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Thinkstock photo via OGri

Dear future lover,

Love me as a whole.
I will give you my soul.
When we get into a small fight,
The fear that you will leave me feels right.

When you say something I don’t like,
I want to say, “Take a hike.”
Baby, please stay.
Accept my fear.
Please, don’t shed a tear.

Dear future lover,

If you make even the smallest mistake,
My heart may break.
I may try to push you away once more.
But please, understand what I am doing it for.

Give me some space.
When I forgive you, I will race,
Race right into your loving caress.
My next episode is our best guess.
Together we can beat my borderline.
Working as a team,
We’ll be just fine.

Dear future lover,

Some days, I may forget what I believe in.
My values may temporarily stray.

But soon, I will awake.
My identity can never permanently break.
I will cherish the love we share.
I will breathe it in like the air.

Dear future lover,

Like my identity, my emotions can flip.
It may not take much for me to tip.
One second, I will be in a state of bliss.
The next second, I may look at you and hiss.

You might not know the cause.
Simply understand that emotional struggle is one of my flaws.
Know that it is not you.
It is everything that I have been through.
Loving me may be rough.
Remember to let the love I give you be enough.

Dear future lover,

Be honest with me,
Just the way you should be.
I trust you with all of my being.
This scares me so much I feel like fleeing.

I may try so hard to keep you that I wind up losing you.
Instead, please work with me to resolve the anxious things I do.
Be clear and firm.
In time, I will learn.
I will learn that anxiety is not my friend.
Not if I want to be with you until the end.

Dear future lover,

Love me as a whole.
I give you my heart and soul.
I trust you with all of my being.
This scares me so much I feel like fleeing.

I will try to push you away.
Baby, please stay.
I cherish the love we share.
I breathe it in like the air.

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Thinkstock photo via jacoblund

After my first ever romantic relationship crumbled, I slowly became convinced I was struggling with borderline personality disorder. Everything fit into place. I begged my ex to stay because the thought of him leaving me felt so overwhelming. My relationship with my ex afterwards – not to mention my relationship with my parents, even my mother then dying of cancer – was tumultuous and aggressive. I went from missing my ex like crazy and defending him to hating his guts five minutes later, something I’d been through with my dad for about two years since my mother’s diagnosis. My identity and self-esteem relied solely on the opinions of others. Since this break up I have since consistently struggled with impulsive behavior: heavy drinking, abusing prescription pills despite their being prescribed to me legally, spending compulsively — now over half my life savings are gone –and sometimes unsafe and impulsive sex with strangers, all meant to quell a pain or boost self-esteem. Before medication, I had thought about suicide almost daily, standing at the edge of the subway platform. I psychologically self-harm by compulsively and repetitively searching out and reading and re-reading things I know will hurt me. I can go from sobbing violently and feeling low for days and all of a sudden feel nothing at all but tired. Chronic stressful situations make me dissociate. Most of all, my outbursts of frightening rage were driving my loved ones away from me. I checked off all the boxes.

After losing an important friendship to me due to these symptoms, I finally sought help. Symptoms that were milder except with my mother (who displayed many similar symptoms) and my father suddenly exploded, making life a living hell, almost unlivable. I saw a psychologist and spoke to him about my concerns… and he waved me off immediately. I seemed too “normal.” Too “nice.” He knew real borderlines, and I wasn’t like “those” people. If I did have BPD I should keep it to myself. Psychologists use “borderline” just to mean a nasty, uncooperative patient. His advice? Let’s talk about it. Learn to meditate. What he didn’t know was that I couldn’t meditate because my brain was constantly under assault by horrible memories and thoughts of low-self worth and pain. We ended our sessions fighting more often than not.

I don’t hold it against him. Eventually he admitted he had underestimated my issues and apologized, which I accepted. Eventually I found a psychiatrist who, after evaluating me, diagnosed me with BPD among other things. The validation alone felt like such a relief, despite the fear of the stigma associated with the disorder. It gave me an explanation. These symptoms were not just… me being me. After being prescribed antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication and a brief stint on typical antipsychotics, as well as infrequent talk therapy sessions, I started to get more of a handle on my out-of-control emotions. A dialectical behavioral therapy self-help book helped a great deal as well.

I knew I needed help, and I asked for it. Someone acknowledging I was right, that I knew my brain and I did, in fact, need help, was the beginning of recovery for me. I’m grateful every day for his validation and help, for the friendships I have repaired because of my treatment.

Remember, if someone in your life is struggling especially from a mental illness, believe them. Ask how you can help. Sometimes all we need is for you to listen, try and understand, and validate our feelings even if they are not necessarily the same feelings you would have in the same situation.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Natalia-flurno

Today, I read a post that made me think about how the stigma of borderline personality disorder (BPD) can lead to its diagnosis becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. This quote in particular really hit home:

“Talking semantics may seem oversensitive, but the rhetoric surrounding BPD has got to change. Stop painting us as delirious, insane, selfish, dramatic, manipulative, etc. We’re battling a cruel, ugly monster that most people won’t understand, and we need help just as much as anyone else living with mental illness.”

BPD is all too commonly seen as a hopeless diagnosis, even by many mental health professionals. For most of my daughter’s teen years, she was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, attempted suicide several times and self-harmed. She was in the juvenile justice system and abused drugs. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but I was positive this was not what she had. My son has bipolar disorder, and while I’m fully aware it doesn’t present the same for everyone, the diagnosis didn’t seem to fit her symptoms.

I had started doing my own research into mental disorders when my son was diagnosed a few years before, and something I read was niggling at my brain. I looked up borderline personality disorder. The description fit her perfectly. Every trait was dead on.

Her doctors refused to entertain the thought that it might be BPD. What did I know? I was only her mother, and they were licensed mental health professionals. I was met with condescension for the most part until she was 15, when a suicide attempt landed her in the hospital yet again and the doctor treating her had more concern for her welfare. He agreed that her behaviors and thought patterns absolutely fit the description of borderline personality disorder and suggested we find a therapist certified in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Still, we almost exclusively heard medication and therapy were “not likely to be terribly effective, so we hate to saddle someone with that diagnosis.” Her official diagnosis remained bipolar disorder, but it was added that she had borderline traits in the interest of getting help geared toward her needs.

But what we discovered repeatedly was that instead of her needs being met, the misconceptions and stigma of BPD often meant she was written off as a “hopeless case” by many. Some therapists and psychiatrists still hold this view, and their clients suffer for it, even to the extent of being given up on or not accepted as patients.

We had one nurse tell us to hang in there, that she had BPD but was finally doing better. The therapist we found was encouraging and wonderful. Only two people amid a sea of professionals were hopeful.

Why is BPD so stigmatized?

Some of the most widely known traits of BPD are often seen as character faults a person could “just change if they really wanted to.” Traits such as attention seeking, intense emotional reactions and manipulative behaviors. In a teenager, they’re often blown off as being “dramatic” or “acting out.”

It’s not that simple. BPD is a disorder, not a state of mind. Treatment can help a person mitigate and manage those traits, but one cannot just “decide not to be that way.”

I’ve frequently seen it said that treatment doesn’t help because those with BPD often don’t seek it or think they don’t need it. This idea is misleading because a number of people with other mental illnesses also don’t seek treatment, think they’re OK or think they don’t need it. Yet BPD is the disorder most commonly associated with this belief. BPD is too often treated as the “redheaded stepchild” of mental disorders, even among others who have mental health disorders.

With these and other misconceptions about BPD, is it any wonder many give up hope or lack support?

The amount of negative information or misinformation about BPD and the lack of positive information on the internet is appalling, which inspired my now-adult daughter to write an encouraging article about parenting with BPD which was published on The Mighty.

BPD is not a hopeless diagnosis. My daughter may still have room for improvement (don’t we all?), but over the past five years, she’s made amazing strides. She stopped using drugs and has been sober for five years, she’s back in therapy, she’s maintaining well and she is a wonderful mother to my “grandspawn.” She’s reached out to encourage others with BPD via the article she published. I’m incredibly proud of her and all of she’s done and is doing for herself and her son.

BPD is not a hopeless diagnosis. The right therapy for an individual, a good doctor, perhaps medication for associated illnesses like depression, anxiety and a strong support network — these can make an invaluable difference for a person struggling with BPD.

And aren’t our loved ones and ourselves invaluable enough to deserve those things?

My daughter is living proof that BPD isn’t a hopeless diagnosis, as are many others. But a great many need hope. Let’s help spread that hope for them instead of stigma.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via contributor.

When we think of mental illness, we often tend to get dragged down by the idea it’s all bad. That’s not always the case. We are allowed to be happy sometimes, we love unconditionally and we do even laugh. Disorders like borderline personality disorder (BPD) are no exception. In fact, there are even some very positive traits to come out of it.

People with BPD are often described as “manipulative” and “toxic,” which is something I, and I’m sure many others, find highly offensive and can be very damaging to hear — especially from professionals. Yes, some people with the condition might have manipulative traits, but so might someone else without. That being said, I believe people with BPD can be among the most caring, empathic and compassionate people you will meet. For example, having experienced such intense sadness and pain gives me a great knowledge and understanding of the people around me. I want to help and share my knowledge, and being as intuitive as borderlines tend to be, I pick up on emotions easily. Yes, the unbearable sadness is a bummer, but what comes from it is beautiful and for me, it’s so important to channel those feelings into helping others and being an all-around good person.

The excitement I may feel about something as small as remembering the chocolate cake I’ve been saving in the fridge can make me feel like I am bursting at the seams and bouncing off the walls. The love I can feel for my pets, partners, family and friends make me feel like I am floating on a cloud. Yes, many people with BPD have abandonment and attachment issues that can cause a lot of problems with relationships, but catch me on a good day and I am full of love I only want to share. Something made you chuckle? I’m probably on the floor in hysterics laughing because this feeling of complete euphoria needs to present itself in one way or another.

Of course, as we know, it’s not all jazz hands and confetti all the time. In fact, these feelings of euphoria usually only last a short amount of time and can be overshadowed by the bad. But it’s so important to hold on to these feelings and remember we are capable of happiness, even if it is just for 20 minutes before the inevitable crash.

Passion is a huge positive trait of BPD. For me, it’s what keeps me going. It gets me out of bed in the morning. I am probably one of the most passionate people you will meet. Talk to me about musical theatre and you’ll have me rambling for hours — it’s like a release.

If you can tap into someone’s passion and show an interest, you will instantly see their face light up, their eyes widen and their smile grow as they talk about that one thing in their life that is “OK.” I’ve been told by many different people as soon as I’m in the vicinity of a theatre, whether it be to perform or to watch a show, I can become a different person — a better version of myself. That’s because it is my one constant, it’s safe and familiar. Of course, there are so many things to be passionate about in the world: people, TV shows, music, cars, makeup, animals. I believe if you know someone with BPD, there will be something they are passionate about. And if you ask them about it, you might just make their day.

I consider myself a very creative person. I like to sing, act, craft, paint — the list goes on! Many people with BPD are creative. Sometimes it’s something those who are lucky enough to access therapy come to learn, that any kind of creativity can be very mindful and aid in recovery. In other circumstances, it’s instilled in their makeup as a person. Personally, I have always been creative. As a child, I was always making something and getting busy with glue sticks and glitter. People with BPD often have creative outlets and excel in them!

I am currently on a waiting list to start a group therapy course called “Therapy Through Activity,” under a team specializing in personality disorders. In this two-year program, patients get the chance to learn new skills — often artistic — while exploring their emotions. This “unorthodox” method of therapy has proven very successful in patients with BPD (among other personality disorders) and I’m really excited to get started.

Those of us with BPD are not scary, nor are we horrible people. We are just a little more in tune with our emotions (maybe a little too much sometimes!) and we can, in fact, make very loyal, understanding, spontaneous, loving, funny and passionate friends.

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Thinkstock photo via artlazareva.

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