I cried in TK Maxx yesterday, I stood in front of a chenille pink flamingo baby rocker – of all things – and suddenly I was balling. In public! Not tucked away in my bedroom hiding my sadness from the rest of the world, but blubbing in the baby aisle.
A relationship breakdown at fifty feels so very different to that in your thirties. It is a bittersweet blow to feelings already made anxious by peri-menopause, unique vulnerabilities suddenly desperately highlighted by what feels like rejection and the promise of years of insecurity ahead. Of course I am trying so very hard to see this latest episode in the saga that has been both the best and the worst of times, through the lens of Ste’s mental health issues, but sometimes anger and sorrow, oh such sweet sorrow, get the better of me.
“People with Borderline Personality Disorder are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.”
― Marsha Linehan
And so it was in the hustle and bustle of Saturday afternoon in TK Maxx, having pulled myself together and taken myself out to apply a little retail therapy to wounds still oozing so much it feels as if they might never, ever stop. Of course I am in shock. The smashed to bits kind of shock that sets your world on fire and abandons you to try to choke your way out through rancid smoke. And worse, I am in bewildered shock – still reeling from someone deciding not to talk his distress through, to try to sort it out because this is our life and he has nothing else, but instead to simply declare, not for me thanks, and head off to blow his whole world up, never to be seen again.
“A borderline suffers a kind of emotional haemophilia; he lacks the clotting mechanism needed to moderate his spurts of feeling. Stimulate a passion, and the borderline emotionally bleeds to death.”
― Jerold Kreisman
It seems impossible. Though apparently his love for me is not in question, and exists as much as it ever has, despite it all, logic demands an explanation and there isn’t one. Something I can hardly bear, because I am a deeply logical person, if this, then that. When something seems to add up to if this, then no not that, not anything I can help you make sense of, because I do not know myself, I cannot make sense of who I am so why would you expect me to make sense of my feelings about our life together, then it becomes something of a nightmare for me as I try to dissect the truth in every sentence, and all the mysteries within it.
“You are a warrior in a dark forest, with no compass and are unable to tell who the actual enemy is, so you never feel safe ..”
But logic cannot be applied to poor mental health, and certainly not to Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder/Borderline Personality Disorder. Or at least not the kind of logic those of us who depend on it can use to soothe our fright. Normal thought patterns do not apply, and while normal is somewhat of a loaded word when it comes to those suffering, like Ste, nevertheless, the majority of us have expectations about having our needs met and our emotions respected and when it doesn’t happen, when there is silence instead of discussion, erratic, impromptu decision instead of carefully considered plans and apathy instead of consideration, a person can get to experiencing all manner of distressed discombobulation of the kind she can barely endure.
“I would like this to end now, no more mornings, goodbyes or fighting determined sunsets. I would like this to end now, no more tear drops, suffocated breathing or life’s cruellest memories. I would like this to end now, no more thinking beyond thought, eggshell walking or awkward hyper-self awareness. I would like this to end now, no more masking, imitating, or mindless mirroring.
I would like this to end now, no more, me.”
I would like this to end now, resonates with both of us. It is no doubt, the reason why he has gone. Ste because he so desperately wants to escape who he is because the guilt and shame are overwhelming and me because while I try with all my might to provide stability and support and to show consistent positive regard, the intricate intimacy of a complex relationship and the dailiness of love we all thrive on, he perceives it all as frightening, claustrophobic and something to rage against or treat with the kind of disdain it apparently deserves, wanting it and needing it but pushing it away in case it consumes him.
“I thought the doctor’s diagnosis was the first step to mending her. I know now that a diagnosis is taken in like an orphaned dog. We brought it home, unsure how to care for it, to live with it. It raised its hackles, snarled, hid in the farthest corner of the room; but it was ours, her diagnosis. The diagnosis was timid and confused, and genetically wired to strike out.”
― Christa Parravani
But knowing why doesn’t help. Over the past twelve months I have fought so very hard for intervention from the local community mental health team, and I have sat week after week watching the man I love rub distressed hands through his hair, sometimes rubbing his entire face in deep despair as he tried to explain how he feels to a kind and gentle man called Craig, who would come and sit in our living room, watching quietly as together Ste and I shared our week, making notes, asking questions and gently intervening when he identified the kind of wrong thinking that was tearing Ste apart. It was a lifeline. And eventually it led to psychology and psychiatry. And then a diagnosis. And for me relief for it gave me context, something to research, understand and predict its idiosyncrasies and for Ste nothing more than proof that he was fundamentally flawed and his very presence here a burden, he didn’t understand I would simply never feel, because I love him. As my Dad said today, rather he is here, loved, supported and believed, warts, arguments and all, than isolated in his childhood bedroom in a house where his needs have so long gone ignored.
“For those of us with BPD, entering into a shared experience means passing through the ring of fire that leaves us feeling even more burned—and in this case branded with a label no one would ever choose to wear.”
― Kiera Van Gelder
But of course I don’t want him to burn. To experience skin so raw every sentence feels like acid. I don’t want him to hurt at all, ever, I wanted to give him home, security, and support, but I had deeply underestimated the fierce independence those who have suffered childhood attachment issues and teenage trauma, display. Their instinctive drive to fend for themselves when life starts to get on top of them, something almost impossible to resist, and the “splitting” that is a common characteristic of EUPD/BPD something that would become reason to run back into the safety of the very home where the emptiness inside him goes unacknowledged – a place where that particular brand of empty pain is predictable and expected. A form I suppose, of self-flagellation for his sins as he sees them.
“Owing to a poorly defined sense of self, people with BPD rely on others for their feelings of worth and emotional caretaking. So fearful are they of feeling alone that they may act in desperate ways that quite frequently bring about the very abandonment and rejection they’re trying to avoid.”
― Kimberlee Roth
Two weeks ago, I showed Ste a picture in my phone, taken on the night before my Mum died. Though it is horribly rare for me to toot my own horn, I looked beautiful. Life was good and I was as relaxed and certain of my own worth as I would ever be again. I showed him because I was a little bit proud of that picture. It represented all that I was before my Mum died on her bedroom carpet before my very eyes, before I sold my darling little cottage in my confusion, before Finn got himself run over and I was reminded again that I must not take my guard down, before the pandemic came and my business took a hit, before a wider family misunderstanding that almost tore us all apart, and of course before the bloody menopause. Seven years of relative hell, supported throughout by a man whose love I so appreciated. I showed him because I wanted him to remind him who I was, to say look this was me, and now perhaps it can be me again – it was never, ever meant to be an accusation. Nor the allocation of blame for a face tireder than it used to be. I was by no means saying, look what you have done to me, and yet somehow it horrified him. A day later, with tensions building over various different, terribly ordinary stresses, he was gone.
“But what if you simply don’t have a solid self to return to—if the way you are is seen as basically broken? And what if you can’t conceive of “normal” or “healthy” because pain and loneliness are all you remember?”
― Kiera Van Gelder
And gone he has remained. Silent. My number blocked, and cold, formal emails the only form of communication he is willing to grant me. Today I had to pack up his clothes, tears tripping me, ready to pack into the car, I have to park around the corner tomorrow so neither have us have to experience the raw pain of seeing other. His move to a different area meaning a move to a different healthcare team that our doctor told me would, if not undo all the relationships already built, almost certainly push him down the queue again, making me feel as if it has all been for nothing. All the agony, all the love. Shaking her head as she said that sadly so many men with BPD retreat into themselves after diagnosis. But he will not be talked out of it and now I have no choice but to let him go, his mail re-directed and our shared financial life slowly picked apart. My own financial security at the age of fifty when life should be calm, now utterly decimated and somewhat terrifying.
“They love without measure those whom they will soon hate without reason.”
― Thomas Sydenham
People do not know what to say. Knowing all that we have gone through, knowing what I have done for him, they are embarrassed by my pain. His friends offer a variety of versions of For Fu*** Sake, mine bring home-baked bread, flowers and wine and leave them discreetly on my doorstep as if he has died. My family, deeply familiar with the ADHD he is also likely to be diagnosed with, demand the deep compassion I hope I will never not show him, while his family, say nothing. Nothing at all. Not a single text to say how are you, do you need anything, how can we help – not because they are not kind, but because they will simply see all this, as none of their business and merely more evidence of Ste’s chaos.
“It’s not about blame or wallowing…you are all moulded by so much more than a dysfunctional past, and you must ultimately take responsibility for creating the life you want.”
― Kimberlee Roth
All this. All this wasted potential. A man my Dad describes as such a good man. All this that has got me with tears tripping standing in front of a pink flamingo and sobbing as the nurse took my blood in the doctors yesterday, the shock cutting so deep I can barely eat, let alone sleep. Heartbroken for our boys, both so dignified in the face of something they have no power to stop, but understanding that as the doctor told me yesterday, we have to keep on separating our beloved man from the illness that lets him make terrible decisions for us all. An illness that tells him lies about what matters and who he is. An illness that has got him stating that his values have changed: as if the love he says he feels and the security of home are not all that matters at his age – a safe, liberating springboard for the rest of his life, instead knowingly choosing a difficult existence without a home of his own, the unspoken judgement of those who will never understand him giving up so much, financial worry and all the pressure of navigating life without someone at your side rooting for you.
“I’m so good at beginnings, but in the end I always seem to destroy everything, including myself.”
― Kiera Van Gelder
But of course this too will pass. I do know that. I promise I do. Day by day I am getting a teeny bit better. Trying to approach the trauma of having survived the slings and arrows of uncovering mental illness, with dignity, hope and kindness. Hope not because I think he will ever come back now, but for his own search for himself to be successful, in whatever way he visualises it. I know you see that love is not transactional. That while many will believe he owes me his presence, after all the love and support Finn and I have shown him, my love has always been, and will always be unconditional. Because he deserves it, he has fought wars in his own head that most of us will never understand: wars I so desperately want him to win so that he can finally be the whole, funny, intelligent man we know him to be even when he cannot quite believe it himself. If he needs to do it alone, I have to let him, with all the grace I can muster from a broken heart.
“I’m sorry to be all over the place, my mind doesn’t know how to stop, but I’d rather rise up to the insanity, than to further depress on the drop.”
― Vera Hollins
Tonight then a glass of wine, and the music that is keeping me semi-sane, because I cannot currently manage TV.- and tomorrow tucking my pain and fear deep down into my tummy so that I have the strength to face the day.
“The only way love can last a lifetime is if it’s unconditional. The truth is this: love is not determined by the one being loved but rather by the one choosing to love.”
― Stephen Kendrick
This too will pass, I know now that I have to walk away and that eventually the tears will stop and I will survive, but our little Ste (as Finn calls him), will always, always have a home in our hearts. Just keep me away from pink flamingos and I will do my best to keep myself together.
*I know some of you may not know what Borderline Personality Disorder or as it is now interchangeably known, Emotionally Unstable Personality disorder is and so I’m providing the three videos below to explain more for those interested, because across the wider internet it is deeply misunderstood. The first is a succinct description from Jordan Peterson, who I know is a somewhat controversial figure, but who does a great, sympathetic job of explaining it, and the second is about how to cope when someone you love doesn’t want to be helped and then in the final video Dr. Todd Grande, provides real insight in to the effects on partners of those with BPD that I wholly relate to, though I agree with his tenth point only in so much that I feared there would indeed always be an end to our relationship, not due to violence, (of which there has never been the merest hint) but to the illness winning as it seems to have done.
*Most of you know that Ste has long been happy to share his mental health journey and indeed in happier days even wrote a blog I created for him sharing his own journey, so please don’t worry that he will have any issue with me sharing this: in the next few weeks he will complete his Level Four Counselling training and I know how deeply keen he is for the conversation around men’s mental health to be both deepened and widened. He’s a good man.