What Happened When My 'Favorite Person' Left Me
Like many other people with borderline personality disorder (BPD), I had a “favorite person” or “FP.” This is used in the BPD community to refer to the person your emotions become dependent upon. My FP was my best friend Sarah (not her real name). Sarah and I had a very intense and relatively short friendship, but she became my FP very quickly. I could tell her anything and she was always there for me. If I texted her, she usually replied immediately. She never made me feel like I was being a burden. She was kind and caring. At the time I met her, I was just realizing I had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I told her about it and she was understanding.
But things started to get worse with my health — I actually don’t think this was a coincidence. At the time, I didn’t realize I had BPD. But my BPD thrived on her attention. The more attention she gave me, the more I got hooked on it and the more attention I needed to get the same “high” I felt when she showed how much she cared. She continually said she would do anything for me, drop everything to be there for me. Nothing was too much trouble. I couldn’t believe a friend could care for me that much.
I started to feel jealous when she said she was seeing other friends. If she was ever busy, even if she told me in advance that she would be busy, I thought it meant she no longer cared about me. She was entitled to go out and see other people and do other things, but my brain took it as evidence that she was drifting away from me and didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I was constantly in fear of her leaving me and saw evidence in every tiny thing.
We would always talk about me. All our conversations in person, in text and in emails revolved around my problems. I knew she didn’t like talking about herself, so we both had reason to focus on me. I’d ask how she was and she would always say, “Fine.” I knew that wasn’t really the truth but I didn’t question her because I wanted to talk about myself. If ever I tried not to, I would end up caving in a few minutes later. The attention she gave me made me feel like I was worth something. I needed the attention to validate me. As long as she cared about me, there was a point to my life.
I have a wife but I became so close to Sarah that I would tell her more than I told my wife. My wife sometimes struggled with my illnesses and so I became afraid to talk to her. Instead of confiding in her, I tried to keep things hidden from her and I didn’t even try to make things better because I had Sarah. I wasn’t being fair to my wife, but Sarah was always sympathetic and never angry with me. She even rang my therapist to discuss how best to support me.
Until one day I got so bad I ended up crying on Sarah at her birthday outing. She was so caring, telling me she thought I was so ill that I needed to go to hospital. I had never seen anyone that worried about me and it proved to me she cared about me. But it couldn’t carry on like that. I needed more and more evidence from her that she cared. As soon as Sarah stopped replying to my messages, I would become convinced she had stopped caring. How could anyone show they cared more than telling me I needed to be in hospital? In my eyes, they couldn’t, and something had to happen. It couldn’t go on like that.
The week after that she sent me a long email telling me things needed to change between us. I told her I agreed, but I was terrified at the thought of it. I needed her. I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to deal with things without her constant contact.
Two weeks went by without her texting me. It drove me “mad,” my brain was filled with continual thoughts that she hated me and that I was a terrible friend and not worth anything. I tried to think of a way for things to go back to how they used to be. I would do risky things and tell a mutual friend, hoping Sarah would find out and feel bad and come back to me. I couldn’t deal with the perceived abandonment and I didn’t know what to do to make everything better.
I had thought before I might have BPD, but my doctor was very dismissive and told me he saw no evidence of it, so I had forgotten it. But when all this happened with Sarah, I started to think about it again. I went to my therapist who did a questionnaire on me and diagnosed me with BPD. Turns out she had had her suspicions that I might have it before. I met seven of the criteria needed for diagnosis (you need at least five out of the nine to be diagnosed).
After this, I sent Sarah a long email telling her about my BPD and that I was sorry and that things would change. I even offered her the chance to walk away, although I hoped she wouldn’t take it. She replied with another long email that was positive, saying she had zero intention of walking away and that she had needed the space and it had helped.
I had every intention of making sure things didn’t go back to the same pattern they had before. It had been a close call, and I could have lost her. But I couldn’t stick to it. I’d apologize a lot, worrying I had gone back to how I was before, but Sarah kept reassuring me I hadn’t, that I was better. But I knew deep down it wasn’t true. I just kept getting sicker, and telling her I wanted to be even sicker. She started to say things like my illnesses couldn’t justify me doing bad things. It was obvious it was getting too much for her, but I just kept on pushing, needing her to show she still cared.
Then we met up for what turned out to be the last time. There were other people there, so we couldn’t talk about my problems. And I struggled massively. I had nothing to say and was quiet. Afterwards I texted her to apologize and ended up telling her how I felt, that I felt empty unless I was talking about my problems. She seemed sympathetic.
A day later I mentioned that another friend had suggested I ask my friends to tell me what they think defines me, without mentioning illnesses. A day passed and then Sarah told me she couldn’t answer that as all we talked about were my illnesses and she really had no idea who I was without them. As soon as she sent that, I knew things had changed. I apologized, but she didn’t reply. A couple of weeks went by and then I ended up sending her a drunken text about how much I loved her and was sorry. She didn’t reply again. I felt like I was in a living hell, in limbo. I decided I hated her because she had let me down when I was sickest.
Finally, a week or so later, came the message I had been dreading. She told me we couldn’t do this anymore and that the right decision for her was to step away. She wasn’t mean, the message was reasonable. But I was very hurt. I sent one back saying I was upset that she had taken so long to say it but that I respected her decision. That was the last conversation we had.
My FP had finally left me. The one thing I had feared for so long had actually come true. By trying so hard to keep her near me, trying to prevent her abandoning me, I had actually made it happen. My desperate attempts to stop her leaving had driven her away.
So surely this must have made me a lot worse? Well it was terrible, in the beginning. This proved to me people would leave me unless I did things to keep them and made me believe I was a bad person. I texted a few friends to tell them what had happened and they were sympathetic, but I was worried they didn’t get how bad I was feeling. So I did the thing I always defaulted to to try and make people care, and hurt myself. And then I immediately told someone. This friend insisted on calling help for me and I spent the afternoon on the phone to various doctors, who told me I would be fine after asking a serious of questions.
Yet I now realize Sarah actually did me a favor. The one thing I was terrified of actually ended up making me better. For two main reasons. Firstly, I felt so bad in those first few days and weeks that I was properly suicidal. I wanted to die, but I knew I couldn’t do that to my wife and to my family and friends. And also, I couldn’t bear to keep feeling that bad. So the only other solution was to get better. Secondly, it proved to me the idea I believed I had to stay sick to keep people’s attention was totally wrong. In fact, the opposite had happened. By refusing to try and get better so I didn’t lose Sarah, I had lost her. I didn’t want that to happen with anyone else, so I had to make the effort to try and recover from my illnesses. It was the only option. I couldn’t completely fall apart. It wasn’t fair to anyone, least of all myself.
Two months have passed since then. And I am getting better. I have bad days, but a lot fewer than I used to. And I have way more good days. I am making an effort with my recovery, not resisting getting better.
I will always miss Sarah. I hope maybe one day she might give me another chance, but I am also prepared for the fact that day may never come. Either way, I will always be grateful for what she did for me. I thought her leaving would be one of the worst things that could ever happen, but I got through it and it gave me the motivation to fight my illnesses and try and get better.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via berdsigns.