How Undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder Stole My First Few Years of Being a Mom
The nursery was ready. Everything washed and smelled like baby powder. I felt like a nun in a nightclub — I was scared, but yet so excited! I was going to be a mom!
But that faded quickly. When I held my daughter for the first time, anxiety overwhelmed me. It was not the emotion I was expecting. And it stuck around. I was a very nervous first mom. I was convinced my daughter would start to flicker and disappear, like PacMan, when I would do something wrong. I followed the baby books — chapter by chapter. If my daughter would not fall asleep within a 60-minute time frame, she will be overtired, struggle to sleep and she might never sleep … ever … again! If I ate anything but steamed spiceless chicken breasts, she will be gassy, blow up, start flickering and game over. I was a nervous wreck!
That part is apparently still kind of normal. First-time moms freak out and tend to raise their kids in bubble wrap. Apart from the anxiety, new moms are also usually sleep deprived — the worst kind of torture! But still, you love that little person so much that you will endure anything to see her flourish and grow. For me, a hardcore businesswoman at the time, it was the biggest task and challenge of my life. I remember standing in the corner of the nursery in the early hours of a summer’s morning, holding my baby against my chest and just crying. “I can’t do this. I cannot do this. I am not a mom. I am not lovable. She will never love me,” I whispered over and over again.
It is normal to be anxious. It is normal to feel exhausted and feel out of control. Your life has been invaded by a little alien you love so much.
However, it is not “normal” to believe your baby hates you. My rejection issues ran so deep in my soul that I was convinced she wouldn’t want to be near me. I made a silent deal with her — I would feed her, clothe her and give her shelter. And apart from that, I would leave her alone, because I didn’t want to be a burden to her. I understood she wouldn’t want to spend time with me — who would? No one can love me.
On top of those rejection issues, I also wanted to protect her against the pain of rejection. I thought if she cried, her dad would not bond with her and would not love her. I was worried she would not be the perfect baby, like the perfect person I had to be at all times. That fear was so real that I ended up sleeping inside the garage, in the car, so that her crying would not wake her dad. In the morning, after very little sleep in the car, I would tell her dad she was such an angel and slept almost the whole night.
Through early year tantrums and growing pains, I was always convinced I was just a nuisance to her. I was not enough. I didn’t measure up as a mom. I was the reason for the tantrums — it was her way of showing she hated me. And my anxiety grew, together with my depression. I never gave her, nor my husband, a glimpse of that side of me. I thought it might just lead to more rejection, so I kept on pretending to be the perfect mom — wearing myself very thin, never asking for help, always being there at everyone’s beck and call.
I lost myself.
I had no self-worth and lots of anxiety. I went from being a committed mom one moment, to an insecure wreck the next. I would withdraw because I loved her so much and expected nothing but rejection. No matter what I did, how many gold stars Martha Stewart would give me, I was still a failure in my mind, set up for another painful rejection. And, according to me, the world knew it. They could see it. Everyone judged me, and her. I wanted to protect her from possible rejection, from judgment. I wanted her to be perfect, because I thought, maybe perfection would bring love and acceptance.
I lost the precious first years of my daughter’s life to my BPD.
I believed so many lies I told myself. Beliefs that grew in the muck of my insecurities, intense emotions and depression.
Today my daughter is a strong, compassionate, bright leader with so many dreams of making the world a better place. She survived despite my shortcomings. But despite everything, I also believe my BPD traits formed her into the person she is today. She knows emotions, and can deal with them. She has real empathy for anyone in need. She actively looks for happiness and opportunity — no dark thought can hold her back. And I can use my DBT skills to help her navigate the teenage years and emotions. I can be honest with her about mental health and help her shape the way she sees the world and approaches problems.
I lost a few years of my life as a mom in the mist and confusion of BPD, but DBT helped me to emerge from that. I have one impossible wish — to go back in time and tell myself that it’s OK. That thoughts are just thoughts and not facts. That emotions come and go — that I don’t have to hang on to each one and analyze it to death.
I would tell myself to be mindful. To be in the moment and take in the smell of the nursery, the early morning feedings, the precious gift of being a mom. I would take away the bag of stones I kept throwing at myself after every little mistake. That heavy bag of stones that drained my energy and joy.
I can’t go back. I can’t change anything. But considering how she turned out, I’m not sure if I want to change anything. But if you are a BPD mom — give yourself a break. Don’t lose out on fleeting precious moments. Don’t let those memories be clouded by the dark hues of depression and anxiety. Challenge your negative thoughts — they are not facts. You are an awesome mom. You are the best mom for your little one. Believe it and enjoy it.
Unsplash photo via Tanja Heffner