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What I Wish My Mother Could Know About Me and Borderline Personality Disorder

Dear Mum,

I wish I’d been able to explain to you everything sooner, that I hadn’t felt like you’d dismiss the concept of my mental health problems, but I remember how you would react when someone would suggest something you had was psychosomatic — in hindsight, I realize this was probably more about not being believed than about your lack of support for mental health problems — or the way you would just seem to dismiss them in other people, probably because you didn’t understand. I wish the way I think hadn’t made it so that I thought you’d reject me if I told you. I did try to tell Dad once, but I won’t have explained myself properly and again, a failure of understanding depression led to an offhand comment I took to heart.

You see, that is my problem, along with emotional dysregulation.

I can’t place an exact moment when all of this started. I know I thought a lot of my behaviors were “normal” for a long time, or I was just classed as a sensitive child. I don’t know why I am the way I am. Assuming I have emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD) aka borderline personality disorder (BPD) — a diagnosis that feels like it fits but I hate being that person who has Googled something and self-diagnosed, even though getting an actual assessment is likely to take at least another year — they say there could be a genetic component, and environment definitely plays a part. You read a lot about people having traumatic or abusive childhoods, but I think there can be more subtle things at play. I am not blaming anyone. I have, for years, believed there is something different about my brain chemistry, hence why antidepressants are a massive part of my life and why they have been for a long time. I used to think that my aim should be to live drug-free, but if I accept that my brain chemistry malfunctions just like my thyroid is malfunctioning, I accept that drugs are just there to reestablish a balance that will put me on a better footing to address my other problems. But I should go back to explaining those.

I don’t know why I am like this, but I will sometimes latch onto the most offhand and throwaway comment, like Dad saying you never expected me to be like Brian. I can see now that it wasn’t meant to be a slight on me but more about you both being happy and proud of me regardless, but my head took that thought and turned it into something that has massively affected me for my entire adult life. I don’t blame you for the comment, as I appreciate that no one could know I’d be processing it the way I did.

The tiny comment fueled my drive at school and spiraled me into a panic every time I felt I wasn’t coping or doing as well at university or work as I should be. It built up so much that I became terrified you’d judge me for not being able to work at times, for not doing that well at university, for my marriage breaking down. Comments (again offhand and never directly aimed at me) about gay people or people on benefits, or anything negative really, would go into the bank of skewed information.

It became so important to not upset you, to not disappoint you, to not cause conflict, because I don’t handle emotions well. Probably because of the second main issue I see in myself: my emotional dysregulation.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t emotional, crying easily as both a child and an adult. I also remember often being told to stop being so upset, to stop crying, to not get upset over nothing. Whether or not my “overreaction” compared to how most people would react, I don’t know. Those emotions felt “normal” to me.

Over time, they stopped being manageable for me. I stopped being able to control my anger in a healthy way. Little things happened and they would devastate me or enrage me. It took a very long time to realize how not-normal my reactions were. I internalize a lot of my emotions, especially anger, and if they end up becoming too much or I can’t dissipate them quickly enough, that’s when the self-harm on things starts. If it builds up enough, if I can’t control situations well enough or my thoughts start really spiraling, that’s when I start thinking about suicide. I just want the emotional pain to stop. I want it to all go away and stop hurting me. My spiraling thoughts will generally be about not being good enough because I can’t handle my emotions or thinking no one understands me and getting more and more frustrated. My anger makes me try and push everyone away because they can’t really care about me because I don’t feel worth it. I can’t believe the logical, even if a small part of my brain is trying to tell me that it’s there and true. I feel that I am “bad” and must be punished and isolate myself from people around me. If others get upset around me, I feel immense guilt that it’s all my fault and I’m terrible for causing someone else emotional pain.

I find it particularly hard if you’re the one I think I’ve upset, Mum. So, I have avoided pretty much all the situations where I could cause that pain and have put you first again and again, even though I use so much energy pretending I am OK. Even though I want to lead my own life and feel like an adult who can accomplish things, being around you makes me regress because I must make you proud.

The problem is, spending time with you is exhausting. Firstly, I end up using a lot of energy trying to maintain my façade of mental stability and emotional restraint. I’ve very, very rarely snapped at you in anger because of this, despite all the times when I could have. That self-control, though a coping mechanism, isn’t getting rid of the emotion; it’s just pushing it down until I snap at some other point.

Secondly, you are, intentionally or not, emotionally abusive and manipulative. And maybe that is because you process emotions as I do. When you get upset because someone criticizes you, you go on about how you should just never say anything again. It’s an extreme response to what someone has said to you. You make so many situations about you that it’s infuriating. I think you feel you’re empathizing, but when I’ve sat there in hospital post-surgery and you’ve been complaining about aches and pains, even though they will be genuine, all I want is you to be a mother to me and care about how I am feeling. You’ve thought about yourself first when I have mentioned I may be moving. I’ve mentioned being away when it happens that you are too, when I say no to you about almost anything. You are jealous when I talk about being busy with my friends or when I have a hobby that takes up my time. You’re upset at me not being with you on a birthday, even though I take you out the very next day, even though you have been away for mine plenty of times.

You talk about wanting to be friends again, when we never were; you’re my mother and that’s what I want: a mum.

I want to feel that, when I need emotional support, I can come to you. I want to feel that genuinely, no matter what happens, you will leave your judgment behind when it comes to me. I want to feel that I’m not a friend substitute for you. I want to feel I can talk to you about my life, my plans, what I’m up to without jealousy. And I want you to stop talking to me about how Dad is annoying you or how my brother is being terrible at replying to you. Those are your relationships to manage and you can’t expect me to get involved. I have my own relationships with them, which have their own problems. I want to not feel obliged to see you when I’m not at my best, or just too busy. At the end of the day, I just want to feel like I am loved, unconditionally, by the mother I feel I could have but didn’t when I was growing up.

I suspect this would make you blame yourself if you ever read it. It’s what you did when I told you about my hip; it’s what you do about lots of things. It reminds me of how I am. Blame isn’t relevant, but what is would be how you took the information on-board and actually changed how you interact with me. I keep thinking you have begun to truly understand and then you start repeating patterns of behavior. This time, the changes need to come from deeper.

Photo by Scott Broome on Unsplash