One striking feature of borderline personality disorder– striking because it is so accurate for me– is described like this: “A pattern of intense and stormy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often veering from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation).”
I have cut people out of my life for slights that, looking back, may have been better responded to in a more measured way. When I got my diagnosis of BPD last year, it caused me to reexamine my harsh and unforgiving attitude about what I saw (at the time) as betrayal.
I managed to mitigate a lot of the disordered thinking that BPD lends itself to, even before my diagnosis, because I resolved some time ago not to be an asshole if I could avoid it. I knew that I could have monstrous mood swings and a lot of self-destructive behaviors. So I taught myself ways to be less of a jerk, and they worked, mostly.
But I know that I have that tendency to idealize people, to put my friends, family, and lovers on very high pedestals, and then feel betrayed and devastated when they fail to be everything I thought they were or could be to me. I have ruined friendships, pushed people away, and caused some very nice people to never want to be in a room with me again.
The struggle now is to separate rational, righteous indignation from… well, tantrums. To realize that my loved ones are, above all, human, and humans make mistakes. No one can be everything to anyone else, and my disorder makes me prone to try to suck the life and love out of people.
I am terrified of abandonment, terrified of being alone in the greater sense, but my disorder has made me act in ways that have caused people to get fed up and leave me. Over and over. It’s a vicious circle. Abandonment leads to greater fear. Fear leads to more abandonment.
I know that I am responsible for my own behavior. But last year I graduated, in my diagnoses, from “mild” to “serious.” Knowing that I have alwaysbeen seriously mentally ill is both comforting and horrifying. Coupled with the bipolar II I was also diagnosed with (at least it’s the less severe form!) I know now that I have always been a fucking mess. And I think, considering everything, I’ve done a damned fine job of building myself into a decent, loving, caring person.
But reading through the list of the symptoms of my mental illness, I see my whole life, every relationship of every kind, all of it.
I wonder how I can change without losing myself. I wonder what the best version of myself actually is. I wonder when I’ll stop doubting my own feelings, because now I know that seeing life through the veil of my unstable emotions has warped almost every intense experience I’ve ever had.
I am a writer. My experiences, almost when I’m experiencing them, become narratives. My life is a series of stories.
But I’m realizing that a lot of the stories I tell are needlessly tragic or dramatic, that every lost love either was the purest love or the greatest heartbreak or most damaging betrayal. I’ve been spinning and repeating these narratives about how I’ve never been seen, loved truly, or deeply desired and wanted for who I really am.
Part of healing will involve being more honest and less inclined to cast myself as the tragic heroine in all these stores of love gone wrong.
When I was in high school, I weighed (at various times) between 98 and 115 lbs. When I got up to 115, I felt fat. When I was under 110, I felt good about myself.
When I got my driver’s license in early 1998, I wasn’t yet 17. The weight listed was the same as on my permit (back when it was true): 105 lbs. I chuckled to myself because I knew for a fact I’d never get back to that weight again. It was a funny fiction, and something I didn’t bother to change. I had that same info on my ID (including the nearly-identical replacement) until I was 29.
This is what I looked like when I was 17, at about 110, much of which was muscle, because I was in the “best” shape of my life.
I showed that picture to a friend last year, and he said “you look like you were dying.” I responded “I was.”
So much of my self-esteem was bound up in being a pretty girl, in being thin and lanky with perky tits and still able to eat whatever I wanted. When the above picture was taken, I was barely eating, and swimming several times a week. I’d just gotten out of my first serious relationship, and I learned for the first time what people mean when they say that anorexia is primarily a disease of control. Weight is something one can control when the rest of the world is chaos. And I was out of control and, yes, I look like I was dying because I was trying to gradually kill myself.
I gained weight and got somewhat healthy. I was still thin, about 120 lbs., but I wanted to lose weight. Not much. Ten pounds maybe. But I had the tiniest hint of a belly. I thought that if i could start working out again and eat better, I’d be as close to perfect as someone with tiny tits and a shitty jawline could ever be. Of course, I’d never be gorgeous but I could pass for pretty. With some work. Here’s a picture of me and my brother, dancing to “Old Time Rock And Roll” at his wedding in August 2001:
Two days after this photo was taken, I found out that my parents were getting divorced. That summer had been, frankly, horrifying and terrible (my parents’ divorce was just the latest disaster,) and I lost a shit-ton of weight again by that winter, when this photo was taken.
But I got “healthy” again. I gained weight. I was eating badly, and kinda chubby for my weight because I was so out of shape, but I was a size 6.
Around the time I turned 22, the anorexia came back with a vengeance. I went from a healthy-ish 125 (someone described me, at this point, as “fleshy”) to 105 in about six weeks. I’d gone through another bad breakup, couldn’t eat without feeling sick, and got ridiculously thin. There was a lot else that went into it; I was doing a lot of drugs and staying out all night and drinking a lot and mostly eating bran muffins from Starbucks and drinking chai. That’s where I got my calories. My shit smelled like… well, shit. Baby shit. Because I wasn’t eating enough solids, I had diarrhea all the time. I was always cold. Shivering when other people were warm.
This is the time in my life when I really wish that someone had spoken up and seen that I desperately needed help. Some people voiced concern, but many of them just stopped talking to me because I was too much drama to handle. I can’t blame them for that, looking back. Not only was I high all the time, I was sort of a bad person for awhile. And I hated myself, but I loved being thin. I knew I was hurting myself. I wanted to hurt myself.
But, of course, when I hooked up with Mike that next winter, he started force-feeding me. I got ridiculously fat!
The way my thighs kinda… blurp… down in those chubby little rolls was a great source of shame for me. I thought I was ugly and needed to start dressing like a fat old fatty because, well, look at me! I had gotten out of control!
And as the years went by, being with an abusive, alcoholic fucktard took its toll, and when we finally did break up in early 2008, I actually– gulp– was overweight. For the first time in my life. And I was goddamned horrified.
I still felt pretty, still felt desirable… but, y’know, for a fat chick. In that picture I’m probably about 170 lbs. I hadn’t weighed myself in forever, and when I first saw that number, I honestly felt like a failure. I enjoyed the big boobs, but I promised myself that I would lose weight and keep it off and never get that fat again. Over the next six months I lost 30 lbs by dancing, eating better, and not being in a relationship with an abusive, alcoholic fucktard.
So let’s skip to mid-2012. I’m living back in California, but about to move to Oregon. Life has not been swell. I had moved to SF, got dumped by my SF-dwelling boyfriend right after I moved, and then was in a car accident where I sustained a head injury and hurt my back. I was not ok. I’d had to move back to my mother’s, and I’d struggled to get medical care, got laid off from my job, and found out my mom was losing the house and I had to move again soon.
I was, once again, the heaviest I’d ever been. 180 lbs! Holy shitballs, I was wearing size 14! I no longer got skinny when I was stressed out, I ate and ate and ate. This photo was me trying to accept myself. Trying to get it under control again, but safely, smartly, with self-love and all that shit. I thought it would work this time. I resolved to swim all summer when I got back to Portland, to get actually healthy. But it didn’t go that way. Life continued to suck. My job situation remained unstable. I got up over 200 lbs.
And in September 2013, I got into another car accident, which triggered an emotional breakdown, which triggered an inpatient stay at a mental health facility, at which point I weighed 210. My boobs were, and are, HUGE. Well, huge for someone who used to have tiny bumps where other women (my mom included, even at her thinnest) had a RACK. I was always comparing myself to other people. I was always comparing myself to myself.
Which is why I was so shocked when that guy said “You look like you were dying” about that first picture up there. Because I’d always thought it was a great picture. I longed to have shoulder blades that jutted, arms that didn’t pudge, knees that I wasn’t ashamed to show in a skirt. He said something else, too: “I think you’re way hotter now.”
My mind was blown.
Who would want a girl with this body? Stretch marks where there used to be smoothness! Thighs that rub the fabric thin on the legs of my jeans! Arms that don’t fit into some dress shirts! CELLULITE.
I’ve lost something like 15 or 20 pounds in the last few months. I’m eating better. I plan to start exercising. And after almost 33 years of a life that has been, in so many ways, colored by my shame over my body (even when I was super thin,) I think I’m ready to fucking STOP. Just stop.
My self-worth doesn’t depend on which parts jut and which parts pudge. My moral character has nothing to do with numbers on a scale. I’m actually a bit sickened by the fact that I know how much I weighed in all of those photos. Why does it matter? Who cares?
I care, I guess. Some other people might care. But what bothers me now is that my back hurts all the time. I don’t move as well as I used to. Plus-size clothing can be super cute, if you know how to shop, but mostly it’s pretty sad. Trying to buy a cute bra when you’re sporting double-D cups is… hard. They’re all “smoothing” and “minimizing” at that stage. As if fat chicks don’t want hella cleavage too.
When I was thin, I hated my tiny tits, and hated myself for not being more “womanly,” whatever that means. When I got fat, every time I reached THE FATTEST I HAVE EVER BEEN OH MY LORD I hated myself for my lack of self-control. I have always been vain, and I have always felt not-good-enough. These things are inexorably linked.
So now, a bit into the new year that followed the worst year of my life (and that’s saying something,) I’m resolving to just… be okay. Be okay with wherever I am, whatever I look like. Be okay with not being the hottest girl in the room, not having a 26-inch waist, not being “perfect.”
And I have a goal weight. 150 lbs. Because of all the pictures of my body, this is the one that makes me the happiest:
This is me at 29 or 30. This is what I looked like and weighed and how I dressed when I was happy. I had curves, but I wasn’t fat. I had a waist, but I wasn’t skinny. My boobs were a tolerable 36C. I could zip up my Doc Marten high heeled boots. And I went out all the time, and I danced, and I ate a lot of avocado, and while I still thought I was fat and needed to DO MORE so I WEIGHED LESS, I did generally feel pretty good about myself. I didn’t worry about what I ate, but I tried to eat well. I didn’t go out of my way to exercise, but I did get exercise. This is the same era when the below photo was taken:
That’s the biggest I’d smiled in a picture in about ten years.
I no longer aspire to be skinny. Not just because it’s unrealistic, but because it’s unhealthy for me. I worried about my weight so much more when it was close to 100 lbs than I do now that it’s close to 200. I was obsessed. Now I’m merely concerned. I want to be healthy and in less pain and able to move around without having to worry about throwing my back out. I want to have boobs that don’t weigh so much that they yank on my shoulderblades (no longer jutting, of course.) I want to be able to zip my Docs again, damn it.
But I’m willing to be patient. I’m willing to give it time. And I’m willing to love myself, as I am, and be kind to myself. Which is something I never was when I had a model-skinny body and turned all the heads.
I never realized how gorgeous I was, just as I was. I never realized that the prettiest thing about me was the light in my eyes. I thought that my life would be easier, better, happier, if I was perfect, but looking back, I see that I wasted years of my life and so much energy trying to be something that isn’t only unattainable, but illusory. There is no perfect.
And I didn’t write this to solicit compliments, or even moral support. It’s just what’s on my mind right now, looking through all these old pictures and feeling so very sad for the girl in the early ones. In a way, getting fat has been a blessing. Not being anywhere within shouting distance of my old ideas of “perfect” has liberated me, mostly, from the desire to be “perfect.” Because life is short, and I’ve wasted enough of it.
And, well, I think I look hotter now than I did when I was starving. Pot belly, stretch-marks, and all.
This week has been hard, and I’ve only had to do three abbreviated days of group therapy. It’s been exhausting. No amount of sleep is enough, but at least I’m sleeping.
Talking is exhausting. Trying not to dominate the conversations is exhausting. Being open to the experience is exhausting, but less exhausting that remaining closed to it. Today it occurred to me that maybe it’s where I need to be, and that thought terrified me. I’m learning things. They are not easy things to learn, sometimes. There’s a lot of common ground. The insight can be validating, and it can also be terrifying. Yes, I know I’m using the same adjectives over and over. They are the best adjectives.
I went to karaoke tonight, for the first time in what might be months. I went to this silly hipster place because they have songs that no one else does, and I wanted to sing Madness. Which I did. So I was at this karaoke joint for about three and a half hours, by myself. Drinking (non-alcoholic) Ginger Beer, which is goddamned excellent.
Last weekend I felt like I was melting, becoming myself again. Now I feel numb. I fuckin’ rocked the three songs I did tonight, and I spoke to strangers, but I realized that I didn’t want to be around or talk to anyone I know. I don’t trust anyone. They might let me down. Most of them have. Caring is too painful. A switch has flipped and I just can’t bother to give a shit.
Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow. I’ve certainly been sleeping a lot, and when I’m awake, I hardly talk to anyone. I’ve been reading the Harry Potter series. I’m partly into book six, and I think I only started on them last Saturday.
People kept saying I seemed manic. Now, when no one is looking, my affect is flat. When I talk to people, what I say is strange. I put on a happy face, but it aches. I can’t do it for long. I’d rather be alone.
I can’t afford to hope anymore. It’s all I can do to go through the motions. Christmas is in three days. I don’t have plans. I have nowhere to go. I’ll probably sleep all day so I don’t have to think about it.
I go through the motions. I eat because I have to, I sleep more than I have to, I have realistic dreams where something makes me angry or sad, and I wake up still angry and sad.
I had a dream a few months ago that I was dying, and someone from my past came to say goodbye. And I felt such peace, and I woke up sad. Because I’m not going to float away on a cloud of morphine and forgiveness. I have to keep on keepin’ on. So I do. And soon I’ll melt again, and feel things again. Maybe right now I should be grateful just not to be in terrible pain.
I know what it feels like to be stalked and harassed. I have an ex-boyfriend who continues to try to get in touch with me even after I told him I never, ever, ever want to speak to him again. He’s slowed down quite a bit, but a month or two ago he tried to contact me through my mother, asking her to send along an email that said how he was and expressed hope that I was well. This would have been a fine olive branch were it not for the fact that he emotionally abused me for four years while we were together, stalked me after we broke up, and has sent similar “friendly” emails in the past as a way to get the door open so he could insult and degrade me more. Of course I didn’t write back this time, and I told my mother not to forward anything else along.
So I know what it feels like to have someone from your past who just won’t go away. And I’ll admit that I’ve been a little, shall we say, obtuse in the past when it comes to other people’s lack of desire for further contact with me. But I’ve learned and I’m trying to do better. I don’t want to be the creepy stalker ex any more than I want to have a creepy stalker ex.
Since moving back to Portland last year, I’ve been very aware of the proximity of both my abuser/stalker and a certain someone whose boundaries I’ve stomped on/over in the past. I can make excuses and try to mitigate it, but the truth is that I was abnormally fixated on this person for years after we broke up. I should have known better, I should have behaved better, but I was insensitive and kind of an idiot when it came to other people. I’m still learning, I guess.
I’ve written a lot on my blog about my feelings about this person. I think it would be dishonest to go back and change or delete what I said, since some people liked those entries, and they are the truth about where I was at the time. But I never intended to bother this person with my writing, I always assumed he didn’t read any of it, and other than his relatively common first name, I didn’t share a lot of identifying details. It was my way of dealing with my own stupid feelings, and I didn’t think it was hurting anyone. But it turns out that some friends of his read this blog from time-to-time, and it seems that some of what I’ve said here was getting back to him. I got a very curt email last year asking me not to contact him again, and other than a momentary lapse earlier this year (which I immediately felt like an idiot about) I’ve done as he asked.
But now we’re both members of a Facebook group that meets once a month. I noticed that he and his wife only went the last meetup I went to after I’d left, which made me think (perhaps wrongly/self-centeredly) that they waited for the all-clear before they showed up.
So I decided to email the wife, in advance of the coming meetup, to let her know I mean no harm:
I wanted you and [redacted] to know that you don’t have to worry about running into me at events. I have no interest in causing awkwardness or confrontation. Y’all don’t need to avoid me, I’m happy to pretend [redacted] and I are strangers. I think we can coexist in this group and let the past be the past.
Perhaps I was an idiot for thinking that a gesture of peace would be welcome. It turns out that it wasn’t welcome at all, and I woke up today to a very angry email from wifey about how little they appreciated my sentiment. Apparently treating me like a stranger won’t cut it because “I’d be glad to meet a ‘stranger’, but we won’t be interacting with you in the least.”
Well. That’s fine.
When I think back to my behavior over the last four-and-a-half years, there are a lot of things I’m not proud of. Several of those things involve good ol’ Redacted. But I have never said or done anything threatening to him or his wife. I don’t follow them, I don’t come anywhere near them at all. I’ve emailed him maybe four times in the last three years, and while I’ve made an ass of myself many times over, I stopped trying to make him care a long time ago. I was a headcase when Redacted and I dated, but I was a headcase that he willingly and eagerly dated for ayear. We were still on pretty good terms for about six months after things ended, we even hung out a few times before things got serious with wifey.He emailed me on my birthday in 2010, but I responded badly (I was going through some shit) and that’s when the pleasantries stopped.
I never hacked into his email, read his text messages, or showed up announced when were together or after we broke up. I know how it feels to have someone do these things to you, and I’d never want to make anyone feel that way.
But it seems I did in fact make Redacted and his wife feel harassed. And for that, I’m sorry. But I’m not some psycho who’s trying to fuck up anyone’s life. I hate there’s nothing I can do to smooth this over or make it right, but it seems that there isn’t.
And that is something I’m just going to have to live with.
I think a lot of us assume that we’re too smart or clever or self-aware to be abused, so when someone abuses us, we don’t want to see it as abuse. “He can’t be abusing me, I’m not the sort of person who gets abused!” And it can go on for years. “But he’s nice most of the time!” Yeah, and the other 5% of the time he’s out to destroy you. Run. It isn’t your job to fix anyone else. No one gets to treat you like that, even if he’s had a hard life. Even if he doesn’t have anyone else. Even if you provoked him. Even if he promises he’ll change.
Here are some signs of abuse, from my own experience and from people I know:
Isolation. Your partner tries to keep you away from your friends, family, and anyone who might influence you or take your attention away from the abuser. No one has a right to tell you who your friends are.
Bad-talking your friends or family.
Making you choose between them and other people or things you enjoy.
Secrecy. “Don’t go telling other people about our problems.” Punishing you for asking for outside support.
Shame. “If other people knew what you were like, no one would love you.” “Your brought this upon yourself.” “You’re not perfect either.”
Minimizing or lying about their actions. “I’m not yelling!” “I never said that!” “I never did that!”
Minimizing the impact of their actions. “What’s in the past is in the past. Why can’t you let it go?” “Oh, come on, what I did isn’t so bad.” “I can’t ever do anything right by you!”
Trying to make you feel crazy or like you’re overreacting.
Jealousy. “I saw the way you were talking to her.”
Accusations and suspicion, especially when used to justify bad treatment. “I know you’re cheating on me!” “I wouldn’t have cheated on you if you weren’t such a slut.”
Excuses. “I had a really bad day at work and that’s why I’m so angry.”Most people can vent frustration without being abusive.
Making and breaking promises. “I know I said I wouldn’t drink, but it’s a holiday!”
Punishing/controlling you with anger and fear of anger. Everyone feels frustrated and angry sometimes, but it’s not normal or right to take that out on other people.
Silent treatment, ignoring, and withdrawal of affection.
Destroying, damaging, threatening to damage, or other violent action (throwing/punching/knocking over) things, such as furniture, clothing, computer files, or other things that are important to you. Abusers often escalate from taking their aggression out on objects to physically abusing their partners. And abusers don’t tend to de-escalate, ever.
Hitting you, “pretending” to hit you, making fast and violent non-contact (pulling a punch or pretending to slap), threatening to hit you– even “minor” things like pinching, back-handing, grabbing, pushing. It doesn’t have to leave a mark to be abusive.
“Jokes” that are cruel, play upon your insecurities, or are repeated when you’ve asked your partner to stop.
Drug and alcohol abuse, especially when it impacts your financial situation, personal safety, or ability to do normal activities.
Pretend helplessness, playing the victim, sympathy-grabbing. “I’m so lost and alone, I wouldn’t have anyone if I didn’t have you.”It isn’t your job to save anyone.
Threats of violence to the abuser’s self or others. “I’d kill myself without you.” “I’d kill you if you ever cheated on me.”
Refusal to allow you to cool down, continuing to act abusive even after you’re too upset to react, or after you’ve asked them to stop. Won’t disengage or allow you to disengage from the fight. Won’t let you close a door, leave the house, or take time to think.
Mocking. “Poor baby!” Repeating back things you say in a sarcastic tone.
Controlling your access to money, transportation or resources that would allow you to get away.
That’s just off the top of my head. It’s not a comprehensive list.
I know a lot of very smart, really cool people who accept terrible treatment from their partners and can’t or won’t acknowledge that they’re being abused. I hope that someone out there will see yourself, your partner, or a friend in this list and get some help.
…It’s also not my fault that I’m one of those people who occasionally suffers from debilitating bouts of depression and anxiety. I’m not a lazy, indulgent jerk for needing to take a break sometimes. It’s not my fault that I had to drop out of college. I’m not weak for taking antidepressants. I’m not just begging for attention our trying to seem special when I have panic attacks. There are some situations that I genuinely can’t deal with. That doesn’t make me high maintenance or a princess. It just means I might have to ask you to turn the music down, or go home early, or excuse myself. I’m pretty good at coping. But there are days when I can’t cope as well.
I wish it weren’t that way. But it isn’t my fault.
So. A couple of weeks ago I posted about this great love I used to love and how I still love him. And about a week after that I wrote him an email that basically said “Hey, what’s up, I miss you and hope you’re well.” And he wrote back:
When we went out, you worried me that you had an unhealthy obsession with me. I was reluctant to introduce you to friends and family because i worried that you would not respect boundaries.
Three years later, you appear to be pining for me. I think it would be best if you don’t contact me anymore.
And… all of a sudden… I was free.
I’m not saying that I’ll never miss him, that I won’t think of him. But he’s right, I’ve been pining. For years. And it’s time to stop now. It’s time to let go.
I think I’ve been waiting for him to say that for a long time, without knowing that I was waiting or what I was waiting for. So I wrote back to say I will honor his request, and then I said:
Thanks for finally saying it. I think this is what closure feels like.
He doesn’t know the person I’ve become in the last few years, and there’s no way I could possibly explain it to him. I believe that, when everything’s considered, he’s the one losing out. But hey, at least he’s finally told me to fuck off. I don’t know why he didn’t say it sooner, and I don’t know why I needed him to say it. It’s done now. I remember all the pain I was in when I was with him. I remember how the pain finally overwhelmed all the love, and I ended the relationship. I ended it. I saved myself.
I can walk away now, three years too late, but better than never.
Anyway. It’s after midnight on April 17th, which means that yesterday was my thirty-first birthday. Turning 30 was really hard for me, but my 31st birthday was delightful. I had a great party on Sunday, with great people, and I felt happy and blessed and all those gross, sappy feelings. It was a good birthday.
I got laid off on Friday. This is my last week at my boring, dead-end job. I’d already been looking to move on, but it’s happening sooner than I wanted and in a rather abrupt and unfair way. Maybe this is the fates kicking me in the ass. I’m choosing to take it that way, anyway.
Something I’m realizing is that we can choose our lives. I mean, things happen to us that we can’t control. Sometimes terrible things happen to us. And a lot of the time, it’s hard to see anything good in these terrible things that are out of our control. But I’m discovering that there’s a lot of power in choosing to own our lives. To, instead of being sad about things or resisting change, to, just… well… choose it. Own it.
Redacted never loved me. Emery doesn’t anymore. My job is phasing me out. I could sit around pitying myself, or I could see all of this as an opportunity to pick up the pieces and move onto something better. I have learned so much from loving these people. I have gained so much from having held a steady job and showing up every day, even when I didn’t feel like it. I’m better for having loved, and I’m better for having lost. I’m sorry if I’m a cliche factory today, but– well, usually we don’t feel any different on our birthday, even when we expect to. But this year, I do. I feel like I’ve turned a corner.
I am choosing to have an awesome year. I am choosing to own my life. I am choosing to be grateful. I am grateful that I finally have a choice. I’m no longer being strangled by depression. I feel hopeful. I don’t feel lost nearly so much as I feel that I’m on an adventure.