What Turning 55 With Borderline Personality Disorder Was Like


I turned 55 today.

I stood in a very cold garage smoking a high-end cigar and drinking a maple bourbon and coke, listening to Sinatra’s “September of My Years,” wondering what all my dead relatives would think of me now.

It’s play acting, I know. I try to catch a feeling and a place in time because they don’t come naturally to me. Memories do, but I need props to feel and in this case, it was music, a cigar and a glass of bourbon.

There were family parties with all of those things. At the time, you never really think that this is something you should remember or that you will care to remember. After all, your whole life lies ahead of you and there will always be other days.

And then these people made of flesh and blood become memories and your memories become foggy and your own reality becomes indistinct.

I reach back and try to grab on to a memory, wrapped in an emotion, shrouded by time. Sometimes I can, but sometimes they elude me, as everyday names now tend to escape me.

Borderline personality disorder does not mellow with age. I am particularly afraid that if I live long enough, I will at some point become dimly aware that I am strapped to a restraining chair screaming something incoherent about Jello pops and “All in the Family.”

Every person has a different point in their lives when they come to the realization that there is no sense trying to recapture either lost youth or a lost age. We must admit a stage of advanced age, and that once familiar things and people have irrevocably passed into history.

I reached that point in my life today. I think it was finally the number — 55 — the way it looked, the way it felt and the inevitability that these numbers never decrease and the world will never look the same as it did when I was younger. And I have to accept this because not to do so would be futile and ridiculous.

A cigar – an older man’s indulgence. Bourbon — the drink of my father’s side of the family, until each of them died. And in this garage, I look with a weird amusement at a Kia Soul which has replaced my midlife crisis Mustang; the practical, yes, but still reaching back for a little funky to go with the Sinatra and sagging neck.

To the twilight zone between late middle age and old age: we all go there in our own ways, with our own challenges. I remind myself that despite my own battles, there were people I once considered friends who did not make it here with me. Why I am alive and these good people are dead, I have no idea. Perhaps I will live to 100 as some kind of sick cosmic joke.

My mother always marked my birthday with a card, either given or mailed, in which she would recall the day I was born – in the middle of a “thunder snow” event where the power had gone out and the hospital (now Lake County West) was operating on a generator. And that my famously large head had to be pried out with forceps and other oft-putting details.

But in every card, she always said that I was more than worth it – worth all the fear, all the pain and all the crap I put her through growing up. And that she was proud of the man I had become. I wish I had saved some of those cards.

I burn through friendships and family with a flamethrower because I cannot seem to control my angry emotions to perceived slights or misunderstood words or acts. There is not enough regret in the world to cover my sins, so I remind myself this is part of the reason that I stand in a cold garage enjoying my cigar and bourbon by myself. My wife in the adjacent basement is left as the last person standing who can stomach my mercurial moods.

But my deceased mother and my very much alive wife will always share, apparently (I will go out on a limb here with my wife) their love for this fundamentally flawed and guilt-ridden man who managed to make it to 55 alive, employed and non-incarcerated.

At least I have that; and the cigar, and the bourbon, and Sinatra and the memories.

If birthdays wishes were granted I would have but one – not to live to any certain age or be showered with wealth – none of that. I would just like, for whatever time I have left, to know who I am. With this burden of not knowing lifted, I could walk through the world without this terrible fear, suspicion and anger inside of me. I would like to be neurotypical just for a little while to see what I missed. Maybe I could even make real life friends I could keep rather than the good people on Facebook who are a safe distance from the real me.

This is probably asking too much. I am grateful enough to have finally found my primary diagnosis and battled it to a draw at this point.

I’m not sure what the future will bring. I only hope that I can face it with more bravery and joy than I’ve been able to muster thus far in middle age. They say growing old is not for wimps and they are right. All I can do is stop apologizing for my illness while at the same time stop from hurting the people closest to me.

So I feel like I’m opening the last great door in my life. I hope that it is more like a garden than a minefield. But if I’m left to finding solace in cigars, bourbon and Sinatra, well, I was old before my time anyway. I could do a lot worse.

Follow this journey here.

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Getty image via danr13


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