Guest columnists and contributors are generously sharing their talents and insights while I’m taking some time to care for my new baby. Today’s letter is answered by freelance writer, Rachel East, AKA ReginaRey.
About four months ago, I met up with a guy I had been messaging back and forth with on an online dating site. We hit it off (our first date lasted six hours) and pretty much since then we’ve had a growing, serious relationship. He is everything I could ever want or ask for in a partner: he’s patient, intellectual, passionate, and he makes me laugh…he really is someone I admire.
The problem is, I have been battling some mental illness issues and recently was diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. Learning more about this disease, I was pretty shocked at how “textbook” my pattern of behavior was/is: the uncontrolled anger; the alternating clingy/distancing behavior; the childhood sexual abuse. And this has obviously caused a lot of stress within our relationship (not to mention right now I’m also in a challenging graduate degree program).
I’ve read a lot on the internet about partners/spouses of people with BPD and basically it sounds horrible to be in their shoes. I know that I’m not always the partner I want to be (in fact this is one reason why I sought out professional help), but he says that he cares enough about me and wants to be supportive and stay around throughout my treatment as he knows he’s “in love with the real me” and not the “sick me.” But I’m worried that I will revert back to my unstable behavior, especially when I encounter high stress situations and basically be that crazy girlfriend that he’ll eventually dump (for good reason).
Am I being unfair in trying to stay in a relationship that is still pretty new given the serious emotional baggage I’m dealing with? — Borderline Breakup
Give this relationship a chance. If you two are able to get through everything you’re experiencing now as a couple, it bodes very well for your ability to make it through the rest of life’s challenges together, too. And that’s worth testing. But if he’s serious about supporting you, he needs to know exactly what to expect. Ask your therapist for information that will help him understand what you’re going through, and how he can best support you and your mental health. Can he go with you to some therapy sessions? It might benefit the both of you for him to be there to listen and share his own struggles in the relationship. Support groups and online forums for loved ones of those with BPD could be another great resource for him.
He also needs to remember that BPD is, as far as I’ve read, a lifelong diagnosis. The “sick you” and the “real you” that he mentioned are the same person – and he has to choose to love the whole package for this relationship to work. Can he handle the fact that, while you’ll certainly improve over time, this is your new “normal”?
As for your part, you need to stay as mentally sound and healthy as you can, which means always taking ownership of your BPD. Continue to go to therapy regularly and be ready to accept and act on the advice your therapist gives you. Prioritize your mental health, because if you’re managing it well, your relationship and the rest of your life will be positively impacted as well.
Just as critically: don’t ever use your disorder as an excuse. If you find yourself becoming clingy or angry or distant, don’t be content to blame it on the BPD. If you and your boyfriend get into an argument, which is inevitable, don’t write it off as the BPD talking. Again, take ownership of your disorder. Don’t let it drag you down into the “crazy girlfriend” behavior that you fear.
Everyone has their own setback to work through in life, and this is yours. It doesn’t make you “damaged” or unworthy of a lasting relationship, but it does mean that to do yourself and your disorder justice, you’re going to have to consistently and honestly evaluate what’s good for your mental health…and what isn’t. There may come a point when your current relationship is no longer working, or when a particular job or friend or insert-whatever-you-want, is exacerbating your BPD. If that happens, you need to assess (with the help of your therapist) whether you’re better off without that stressor in your life. Have the strength to always put your health, and your quality of life, first.
*ReginaRey (Real Name: Rachel East) is a full-time Events & Promotions Coordinator and a part-time freelance writer focusing on dating and relationships. One day, after tackling grad school, she plans to be your Marriage and Family Therapist…because the only thing better than talking about relationships all day is getting paid to talk about relationships all day. You can check out her weekly column here and follow her on Twitter @MissRachelEast.