Recovery Part 5: What's Wrong With Me?
Losing a partner can be traumatic for anyone but it's especially painful for someone with BPD due to a strong bond of attachment. This is why I'm taking about the relationship in some depth since it's going to necessary to heal from this in conjunction with BPD.
Out of respect, I emailed J to ask permission to express myself here on my blog and talk about my own perception of events. Surprisingly, he agreed so I'm at least thankful for that.
BPD people can be seen as "needy" since we are terrified of being abandoned by the ones we love which can trigger anger and "clinginess" at best, and violence, self-harm or suicide at worst.
And knowing my fears and pain, I'd never have suspected that J would have left me in such a sudden manner.
As to why it's so intense, BPD individuals usually have a very unstable sense of self. Rather than seeing ourselves as individuals, the attachment bond can mean this loved-one becomes an extension of ourselves.
When someone leaves, it can make you feel like you cease to exist entirely, leaving behind an empty shell.
This attachment often relates to love that wasn't provided during childhood - when this substitute love goes, it reinforces the idea that you're not loveable or worthy which is often carried as a belief from childhood.
In the immediate weeks following the breakup, I desperately wanted to go somewhere I couldn't be heard, to beat at the ground with my fists, and to scream until my throat was sore and no sound could emerge. If I'd done that around here, I'm sure one of the neighbours would have called the police (they did before when they heard us chatting in the back of the camper one afternoon).
At times, I could look forward and think the whole world was an opportunity, but then I'd swing back into denial and keep thinking J was coming back after realising he'd had a moment of madness. I found myself glancing at my email, hoping he might get in touch, and then felt utterly pathetic for doing so.
And there was anger.
I was angry with myself. Angry that I didn't see there was something really wrong sooner. Angry that I ignored my intuition and believed everything he told me. Angry that he'd reassured me we just needed to spend more time together and then removed himself by working away. Angry that I'd been left with the responsibility of the cat. Angry that he'd used my own issues against me when my suspicions about him hiding something had been right all along. Angry that I was even willing to entertain someone who had treated me in such an insensitive manner.
Where was my self-respect?
I was also angry about COVID and Lockdown, angry about being in this house, angry that my plans had been wrecked, angry that I couldn't transport myself and my things anywhere, angry with J for his emotional deceit. I even felt myself extending anger to J's employer - not that I consciously thought it was "all his fault" but my mind was scrambling to make sense of the mess.
I was dealing with betrayal, abandonment, and now rejection when I'd asked for another chance.
Other days, I really worried about J and wish I'd been there to help him with whatever he was going through. I longed to give him a hug or to hear his voice. I could also feel guilty for laughing - like I was being emotionally disloyal or foolishly repressing tears that needed to come out.
Thank God my dad came to stay for a while, which helped with distraction. But then I found myself questioning how much distraction was a good thing....
It's never going to be easy ending a relationship with anyone who still loves you, let alone someone with BPD, and I wondered how I might have managed it.
At the very least, I would have ensured a support system in place for that individual by speaking to a trusted friend in confidence first. J never breathed a word to anyone close to me.
In fact, when he'd left after his final visit in June, my mum had commented on how much better I was when he was around and asked him not to stay away so long this time.
His response was simply "I know".
And the timing was just awful.
It was honestly as though he'd thought to himself "Right, now how can I deliver the most devastation to Louise's life?" and then waited to time it perfectly.
The whole thing said "I hate you".
What had I done to deserve it?
At times, I wondered why, bar one, I hadn't really heard from anyone in his family with a "goodbye" or "are you ok?"
I felt rejected all over again and wondered if J had smeared me...or perhaps none of his friends or family had ever liked me at all. I'd always felt different...removed somehow. I imagined them consoling him and saying "Well, good riddance - she was weird. You got out of that one in the nick of time."
Maybe it was my mind messing with me, but I felt dirty and used.
The end of the van
Not being able to see my home again saddened me a great deal.
While I was to be "compensated" for the van, I couldn't put a value on it. It was priceless to me...not only needed for my business and all the plans I'd just made, but my home.
We'd spent 6 months converting it in 2016/2017 and I'd enjoyed choosing the furnishings and making all those finishing touches. It was one of my proudest achievements, especially since we had no idea what we was doing, yet I got only 2 years in it, 9 months of which were abroad.
It had been only a matter of weeks earlier when J had visited and we drove it over to the woods to go walking. I remember feeling excited and exclaiming "Oh I've missed the van so much!"
Now I would never see it again.
I never thought for a moment that I would lose it before it had reached the end of its lifespan, but as I can't drive, it was pointless me keeping it.
I'd also recently made a number of decisions and purchases based on me having access to the van and J's assistance - things I'd consulted with him about in recent weeks with his agreement, costing me a significant investment.
Now I was homeless with a massive 50kg bell tent I couldn't transport, loads of supplies and stock, no vehicle, unable to drive, and an income that didn't even cover my outgoings.
My self-esteem was trashed and I felt suspicious and guarded.
One week in when I couldn't bear to be on my own, my mother told me the sound me of typing was keeping her awake, it aggravated my emotional wounds and set me off into a meltdown. I stormed out in tears, hating that she hadn't communicated how she'd felt when I'd asked her earlier if I was bothering her.
I was sick of being kept in the dark.
Indeed, the most painful thing was the realisation that I couldn't really understand why this had happened.
I felt like I couldn't even look back on it as an experience since literally all memories have been tainted and I didn't know what was real. I couldn't bear to look at a single photo, of which I have thousands from our travels and when trying to sort through my belongings in the loft, every item of clothing contained a memory and would provoke a flood of tears.
J was someone who said they couldn't stand to see me in pain, yet had discarded me in the most insensitive way, and especially damaging for someone with BPD.
Why had he done that?
Like many people with BPD, trust has always been difficult for me. If I ever did love again, I feared I'd be taking all my suspicion into it yet again, only this this time it would be 100x worse.
"Lou, we're both just too mad"
That was one of the reasons I got for the break.
But honestly...I couldn't piece anything together in any sort of fashion that made any sense. His emails were full of contradictions and I felt all the issues could have been resolved with honesty, communication and love.
And everything was so emotionless. He had cried on the phone the day it had happened but I wondered if he'd been crying for me, for us, or for himself?
One thing that struck me with J is that throughout the relationship, he only ever referred to my pain in relation to how it made him feel, rather than pain for my own sake.
I pondered whether that's how all empathy works.
When I'd seen him sad, of course it made me sad as well, but I never once thought "Oh, you've gone and made me feel bad now".
It was a strange realisation for me to get my head around.
It had literally been less than two months since we'd been laughing in the woods together, he'd posed for a drawing, we'd made chai and reminisced over Nepal. I'd made him my first candle to take back with him, and had just gone halves on a print called "Sacred Heart" by Jennybird Alcantara for our van.
J also compared me to other unidentified couples that he'd happened to have spoken to.
That was unfair.
I didn't compare him to others because we're all unique. What one person brings into a relationship, another one doesn't. One person's strength might be another person's weakness. We also only ever see a tiny fragment, a snapshot, of what someone else chooses to tell us about their own relationship, and we hear only one side of the story.
Surely, the health of a relationship shouldn't be judged by comparisons, but based on a honest look at our programming, with open discussion of needs and future plans at regular intervals?
But there it was.
My BPD issues were initially blamed for most of the breakup, with the rest of it generally being attributed to J's depression, and a few curve-balls in there that made absolutely no sense to me. I wasn't sure whether to believe what he was saying, or whether I'd just ceased to become a distraction from his own problems and instead became the problem as soon as I felt I wasn't getting a fair deal.
The day after the breakup, I'd emailed asking for another try and was turned down, but his response contained a revelation.
I won't write the specifics here, but he'd done something entirely mind-boggling and chosen to hide it from me for some unfathomable reason. He then went onto say that his own issues were just as much to blame as the BPD, and that we were both "too mad".
Not only was I then really worried, but totally confused as to why he'd not told me of his own struggles when I had offered so many opportunities to talk.
While my moods can be very stormy when triggered, I'd never been hospitalised, I'd never physically hit J, I'd never been unfaithful, nor had I really ever called him names when angry. And at any point I'd seen him cry for any reason at all, no matter how mad I was, it stopped me in my tracks and I immediately comforted him.
I always took accountability for my meltdowns and would apologise profusely afterwards, resulting in huge waves of guilt and shame. These weren't meltdowns that happened every week - my triggers are generally quite specific and largely manageable when treated with patience, understanding and compassion...though of course, it's ultimately my responsibility to get a handle on them.
Though J read one book about BPD at my request, he never once reached out to the myriad of support groups, said that he needed some extra help with it, or spoken to any of my loved ones with concern to form a plan of action.
Had I been that unworthy of help?
And from the start, I had suspected he was depressed but rationalised a lot of things due to him being in a job he didn't like, being younger, not having found his calling. Over the years, I went to efforts to share resources, buy books and encourage him to do things that would give him a purpose and more self-confidence, and to find his unique path.
Is this starting to sound like I was trying too hard?
Yes, perhaps I was.
I'd also tried supporting him with the novel he'd been writing. He never let me read a single line of it. It hurt to be shut out of his creative endeavours, but I tried to remain patient.
After 6 years, which coincided with the time I decided I wanted to really tackle my issues, I slowly felt J growing more emotionally detached. But any time I tried to talk and became fearful that he no longer loved me, I was reassured and led to think it was my BPD insecurity making me feel that way.
I felt confused, but trusted in what he was telling me.
When we'd lived in London, we were often going out and I always arranged lots of social events, together and with friends - something he said I did too often and would tell me to stop making so many engagements.
But when he moved to Manchester where he had a big group of friends, J used to turn down my suggestions of parties and dinners and inviting his friends round so I could get to know them better. I felt isolated, as if he was trying to keep me separate when I had moved there for him, knew no one and worked from home.
And yeah, I could be a whiny girlfriend.
When he went out without me, I'd ask him to always text me as soon as he'd realise he'd be back late to avoid triggering a BPD response when I was trying to develop trust. Aside from my childhood abandonment, I'd been very badly hurt by two exes in the past that involved them returning back late so I experienced automatic stress responses every time this happened.
I wasn't choosing to be difficult. The responses were biologically wired. I would feel terrible anxiety, rapid breathing and panic, and I hadn't yet learned skills for how to deal with them.
However, J didn't stick always to his side of the bargain so I could be anxious and angry on his return. I imagined I had a reputation of the "ball and chain", leading to more shame and self-hatred.
I can see it from J's point of view though - the irritation of having to "check in with the missus", accompanied by the embarrassment to your ego of having your friends thinking you're under the thumb.
But this was what I needed while I begun the healing process, and I didn't think it was a big ask since I shone in almost every other part of the relationship.
And while I might have shouted and cried during these times, instead of listening to my advice as to what would help me in these situations, J often stonewalled me instead, making matters so much worse.
BPD can often arise from having your feelings repeatedly invalidated as a child. And you hear fathers say it to their sons all the time.
"Man up - big boys don't cry".
It pains me every time I hear someone say this.
Feelings are valid. It's how we manage them and process them that counts.
Ultimately, J was someone who had suppressed emotions for a long time and wasn't able to deal with mine, leading him to shutdown entirely. During the relationship, I never understood that since the answer to my own perceived abandonment is always empathy, a hug and reassurance, and the mood can subside as quickly as it came.
Was I that much trouble?
One night, after a bad argument when he'd come back late from the pub and not texted, I was shaking and he told me I'd have to be medicated. I asked what would happen if I wasn't. He said he didn't know and I cried.
So I went onto anti-depressants and then anti-psychotics, albeit reluctantly. I've never experienced psychosis but the anti-depressants made me feel like a zombie.
Now when I think back, this angers me.
The only hassle J really had from me was being a needy girlfriend on occasion if he stayed out too long without me, but I had been so good to him in every other department. And since I hadn't been getting many of my needs met such as discussing a future together, my self-esteem had suffered, leading to greater insecurity and more abandonment fears.
I felt taken for granted and angry that it was me who had to medicated for my own issues, while he could be absolved of personal accountability for his. It was as if the moment the relationship was no longer effortless and there was some investment required from his side, he withdrew.
But of course, I did have my issues and I certainly wasn't blameless.
What I did do was make efforts to resolve them on my own - especially jealously and insecurity. I dabbled in entheogens, kundalini meditation, online courses and workbooks, as well as joining a volunteer group to help autistic adults with art. I tried very hard to trust, and pushed myself out of my comfort zone as much as I could, often attending events on my own.
But I felt as though I had little support, no friends nearby, was struggling financially, and my hair had started to fall out.
I also spent 6 weeks seeing a therapist on the NHS, but was then let down when they misleaded me about my treatment and terminated it. Any time I reached out to J for help with a workbook or exercise where I got stuck, or asked him to gently encourage me due to the difficulty with self-therapy, he didn't seem interested.
I also reached out to a few friends to tell them I wasn't too good. In some cases, I was ignored or told that I "wasn't all that bad", which just felt like massive invalidation at the time.
People seemed uncomfortable with my openness. I guess I was just too intense.
I started to assume that J had fallen out of love with me (if he ever had) years ago, and had just strung me along because he couldn't bring himself to end things and I had ceased to become a novelty. For some reason, he'd chosen to reject all the other opportunities he had to discuss and instead went for me when I was at my most vulnerable.
It made me feel sick to my stomach. Not only for the obvious loss of my partner and home, but for compromises and sacrifices that I'd made and intimate moments that now felt were based on a huge lie.
And I was still so confused.
Confused as to whether to fight for the relationship or not since I had no clue whether J still loved me, or whether he had just experienced some sort of mid-life crisis and lost his way, needing a few months to get his head together.
I tried again via email, asking for clarification on his points. Instead, he responded with another emotionless reply, reinstating the same points that I was questioning. He also didn't say whether he still loved me or not, instead telling me to get better, and to go off for a few years to spend time with people who had the same values.
What values are they, I wondered?
I felt like a mild irritation on his shoulder that he was trying to brush off with a wave of his hand.
I pushed once more for an answer, to try and find some closure.
Could I leave with some warmth in my heart?
He ignored me.
Never have I been more hurt by another human being. Or, more accurately, never have I allowed myself to be hurt so much.
Once again, my mood spiked to epic levels, having been aggravated by my mother who was probably finding it all a bit tiresome by this point. The pain was the most intense it had been since the initial discard and I realised I was starting to lose control.
I immediately contacted one of my best friends in a panic when I recognised my thought patterns spiralling, and this absolutely beautiful person and kind soul patiently sat there with me on a video call as I sobbed with so much pain in my chest that literally felt like I was dying from a broken heart, and my body was being skinned alive.
One thing I realised was how uncomfortable and ashamed I felt crying in front of my dad.
I was doing my best to avoid making a noise, though I was shaking uncontrollably while tears streamed down my face. He'd been in the same room and was almost trying to pretend it wasn't happening, occasionally showing me something on You Tube.
I'm sure he must care, but perhaps had absolutely no idea what to do, especially as I didn't grow up with him. Perhaps he'd been trying to distract me. The whole episode was really bizarre.
And that was just it - how much I've become used to hiding my pain in life for the sake of myself and others.
Fear...fear or invalidation, fear of rejection, fear of judgement, fear of hurting people, fear of myself - things I'd learned from a young age.
And who wants to be around someone who's sad?
By the time my friend finally said goodnight to me it was 4.30am. Miraculously, she'd managed to get me smiling a little, and even a few giggles!
But it scared me.
It scared me that I no longer had someone physically with me who could give me a hug to stop a mood escalating. Was it even possible to learn these emotion-regulating skills at my age...knocking on 40?
Despite all the encouragement I'd been getting, it didn't make me feel very confident about facing the world as a single person for the first time.
I felt very lost. Even looking at the sunset hurt.
P.S. Thank you for reading. If you are in a relationship with someone who has BPD, it doesn't have to be a curse.
There is hope.
With self-awareness, motivation to work at their issues, and appropriate support, people with BPD can bring many positive qualities to a relationship that might not be found as easily elsewhere...sometimes known as BPD Superpowers!