I thought I should explain how I got diagnosed with BPD. Although my out of control behaviors in 1995-1996 were due to prolonged emotional and mental (and some physical) abuse at the hands of my ex (on top of having been a victim of narcissistic abuse growing up), the focus of this article isn’t on narcissistic abuse or the way my ex behaved, but rather on my reactions and how out of touch with reality I actually became.
My memory of this time is sketchy and fragmented, almost dreamlike, so what I’m about to write may not flow together well. I believe my fuzzy memories of these two years were due to 3 things: (1) intermittent substance abuse, including alcohol; (2) being so out of touch with reality; and (3) I may have blocked out some of these incidents or partially blocked them out so they seem sort of grey when I think about them now, like a dream.
In 1995 my ex’s mother could no longer live alone so she came to live with us. At first things went smoothly, but she had Alzheimers and was deteriorating fast, and soon her care was left entirely to me. At the same time I was the stay at home mom to a 2 and 4 year old. My ex had started drinking a lot during this time, and said it was because he hated his mother (a malignant narcissist herself) and his behavior toward her was very abusive. He justified his abuse by saying she deserved it because of the way she had treated him. My children saw this behavior but in my emotionally weakened state due to his constant gaslighting, projecting and triangulating (he had turned most of our friends against me) as well as isolating me from those who could help me, I began to collude in his abusive behavior toward his mother. I didn’t physically attack her (he did) but in my frustration with things like her wetting the bed I would yell at her whenever he did and sometimes even when he wasn’t there. I also didn’t try to stop him when he used to spank her like a naughty child.
My ex was drinking heavily and smoking a lot of pot, and I joined him. At night, after the kids were asleep, we would often both be drunk and high. Sometimes his friends came over, who were all younger than we were (my ex’s friends were always younger than him). Sometimes things got wild. I was no longer attracted to my ex by this time due to his constant emotional abuse, so when I was drunk I openly flirted with his friends. I was unfaithful too, but so was he (I am definitely not proud of any of this, especially because I had young children at the time).
We fought constantly. One night, drunk, he threatened me with a gun. I ran down the street screaming and went and hid in a grove of trees for hours in the freezing cold. On several occasions I called the police and they would show up to fund us both drunk and didn’t know who to believe so they would leave and tell us to sober up. At this time I had no control over my reactions or my emotions. I acted more immature than my own kids sometimes.
I used to sleep during the day and wasn’t as good a mother as I could have been. I was testy, impatient and neglectful. I loved my kids dearly, but just didn’t have the emotional stamina or energy to deal with them more effectively or lovingly. (I tried to make up for that later).
Soon the dissociative episodes began. Sometimes things looked weird. People looked like they weren’t real and they seemed demonic. I began to have delusions of reference. I had the weird sensation of unrelated events or conversations somehow referencing exactly what I was thinking. I felt like I was outside my body a lot, as if I was watching the events of my life unfold instead of being in them. This began to happen when I started distancing myself from my emotions into a “comfortable numbness.” (This is common in PTSD and BPD). But it wasn’t comfortable–it was horrifying. I think I was unconsciously protecting myself from feeling too much emotional pain. The abnormal had become normal, the insane had become sane, the evil had become good. I walked through my days in a sort of fog, but not all the time. Occasionally, when triggered, I would come back into myself and “go off” on my ex and experience a tidal wave of unbelievably painful and intense emotions. Instead of spending my evenings doing quiet things with my family, I spent that time on the computer in chat rooms, talking to men. I imagined I fell in love with one or two of them. My emotional reactions to these online entities I had never met were as intense as if they were actual relationships, but all of it was fantasy. To me it felt real.
I couldn’t sleep at night, but would sleep most of the day away. I didn’t take care of the house and only did the rudimentary necessities for the kids, in between taking care of my ex’s mother’s almost constant needs. I lost patience with both her and the kids easily. We ate cereal and yogurt most nights for dinner because I didn’t have the energy or wherewithal to cook anything.
I started a job after awhile at a hotel. I had a short affair with the disc jockey/maintenance man there. I wasn’t in love with him but I enjoyed the kindness he showed me, that my husband wasn’t giving me. One night he confronted me about it and I confessed everything. He didn’t seem upset but admitted he was having an affair too. Strangely, we did not fight about this. I really didn’t care whether he loved me anymore; I was convinced he hated my guts.
I quit my job on a whim even though we needed the extra income, because my ex had squandered over $100K we got from the sale of his mother’s house. One day I just decided not to go in anymore. I didn’t even bother to call, which normally is out of character for me. I started doing really crazy things. One night after a really bad fight I went into the closet in the master bedroom and sat on the floor crying for what seemed like hours. My ex didn’t seem concerned and went out instead. I don’t know why I was doing this; I felt like I had lost my mind and there was no reason for doing this. I had no idea what I was doing; I was just reacting to my pain like a wounded animal. The episodes of dissociation and delusions of reference became worse. I imagined everything–even voices on TV or songs on the radio–were coded messages that referenced something in my life. This is impossible to explain if you haven’t experienced it but it was very strange and disorienting.
One day shortly after the closet incident, I left the kids in the house with him and decided to go driving. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing, but I suddenly thought it would be a good idea to drive at 90 mph (the speed limit was 65 mph). Normally I’m a very cautious driver but during this time I had thrown all caution to the wind. I wasn’t suicidal in the sense of making a conscious effort to kill myself and I didn’t even contemplate suicide, but I was taking huge risks with my life. Miraculously, nothing happened, not even a pullover by police. I returned home feeling exhilarated from my crazy drive, but immediately that feeling disappeared and I was hit with the horror of my reality and started screaming irrationally and throwing things against the wall just to hear them break. I don’t even know what set this tantrum off–probably nothing at all, but I had this overwhelming desire to act out my excruciating emotional pain. I had no control over myself at all. When I thought about my behavior later on, I was horrified. I wasn’t even drinking anymore by now, so I wasn’t drunk. I was just insane.
My ex told me I was crazy. He always did anyway. But I really was crazy. He told me I should commit myself to a mental institution–or he would. To his surprise (and mine) I agreed. In that moment of clarity, I realized how crazy I had become (due to his emotional abuse of me, but that didn’t make me any less crazy). I allowed him to drive me to the mental hospital, which turned out to have an excellent program and engaging activities. I felt relief in entering that hospital and spent the next three months there. My Axis 1 diagnosis was Major Depression and anxiety, and my Axis 2 diagnosis was BPD, as well as substance abuse. I was also diagnosed with PTSD. I received daily therapy–both individual and group, as well as DBT classes–and I was put on Depakote (a mood stabilizer), Prozac (for the depression) and Klonopin (for anxiety). I stabilized during my stay but I wasn’t as committed to using the DBT tools I learned there as I became later on. I remember calling my mother from the hospital and telling her what was wrong with me, and her attitude was like, “so what? You need to be a mother to your children.” She didn’t even know I was in the hospital. So much for maternal support.
I had mixed feelings about returning home. I was overjoyed to see my children, but wasn’t too happy to see my husband at all. I really just wanted to stay in that hospital for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to face reality.
Fortunately, my mental state never got that bad again, but his abuse was to get much worse. He used my descent into the madness of severe BPD and major depression as an excuse to punish me for “having gone batshit insane” when I should have been a better mother and wife to him.
I still have a lot of guilt and shame over the way I neglected my children when they were so young and helpless. I wonder sometimes how much my not being there for them may have damaged them.
When I look back even earlier at my life, I can remember similar incidents of being totally unable to control my emotional reactions to stressors and triggers, with periods of almost robotic numbness and dissociative episodes in between outbursts. It was a pattern I was familiar with, but it reached its pinnacle in 1995-1996. I had a relapse in 1997 and spent a week in the psych ward at the regular hospital, and got the same exact diagnosis as the year before. Over the next several years, while I was still married to my ex, I spent most of my time in a state of emotional numbness, living on “automatic pilot.” It wasn’t until I finally got the POS out of my life that I felt safe enough to begin to let myself feel emotions again–but this time with mindfulness and acceptance instead of allowing my emotions to control me. I still have a long way to go.