The Ups and Downs of Living With a Partner With BPD
First off, to clear any confusion, I’m referring to borderline personality disorder, not bipolar. Two very different animals on the spectrum of mental health issues. No, I want to talk about BPD because I live with (and love) someone who suffers with it. Living with a partner with BPD can be incredibly difficult, sometimes painful and draining. It can also be wonderful and exciting and incredibly loving.
For a long time Alex and I assumed (along with his doctor) that he was battling depression and anxiety, and yes he does have symptoms of both conditions. But when there seemed to be no obvious triggers or cause, it slowly became apparent that something else was going on. Certain aspects of how he suffered just didn’t fit. For example, the harrowing void
where he literally feels nothing, not for himself or for anyone else. He’s shut off to a point where no-one can reach him. It was so vastly different from how I would describe the numbness of depression. The times where you have to be numb because otherwise your feelings would overwhelm you
. It just wasn’t the same.
It was literally feelings of nothing. Not for anyone or anything. Empathy, compassion…all gone. To hear someone you love say this is how they feel is both heartbreaking and terrifying. I’ll be honest it frightened me, and was perhaps the biggest clue that Alex was not just dealing with depression. I will be honest I genuinely feared we were looking at something more akin to him being diagnosed as a sociopath. But even I knew that didn’t really fit either. It was only after long discussions with the psychiatrist that he finally filled in the gaps and diagnosed Alex as having BPD.
What’s in Their Head
Living with BPD is exhausting and depressing for the sufferer. Their emotions are so wildly out of kilter sometimes. Part of them knows how they are behaving is not appropriate to the situation, which in turn leads to feelings of inadequacy. They beat themselves up because they know their irritability at the world is out of proportion, they struggle to show sadness and then feel guilty because they couldn’t. They can be over-excitable to the point of annoyance. Logical one minute and chaotic the next. After seeing Alex day in, day out, struggling to cope just like this, and reading up online, it became increasingly apparent I was living with a partner with BPD. Getting the firm diagnosis from the doctor only came about after he’d talked with both of us. When I described the vast shift from highly excitable to down in the depths of despair that occurs (sometimes multiple times within an hour, let alone a day) the treatment focus moved away from depression to Borderline Personality Disorder.
But what makes it worse is how others can see it. They mistake the irritability and isolatory behaviour as rude or aggressive. They see the difficulty in expressing emotions as being narcissistic. The truth is sufferers of BPD do feel, they’re often very loving, there’s just something blocking it. Maybe fear of not being able to control it? That the emotions will so consume them they will end up in chaos ? All I know that with Alex, it’s incredibly hard for him. Being vulnerable, either with me or the children, is something that he truly struggles with. Watching him go from feeling nothing at all to emotions so intense they are crippling, is hard. There are times when it breaks my heart as I watch while he battles against it.
Know What You’re Getting Into !
Living with a partner with BPD can be extremely difficult. It will require patience, understanding and love. BPD sufferers often have issues maintaining relationships because the vast majority of people don’t bother to look past what they see. They hit the wall of irritability or emotionlessness and give up. They take it personally and write off that person as ‘a tool’ and walk away. Which then just feeds the depressive symptoms, it reinforces their feelings of inadequacy and forces them to become even more isolated.
Yet behind it is someone who loves, deeply. They care incredibly about what others feel. Their empathy for others is both a gift and a curse, because they take things very, very
personally. When someone they care about walks away, someone who they would have moved mountains to help, it wounds like nothing you have ever known. So somewhere along the lines they learn an instinctive defence to just not feel. It’s better than getting hurt.
But break past that, be patient (and believe me sometimes a saint’s patience would be tested) and it’s worth it. It will be a bond like you’ve never known. Yes it will be difficult, but at their heart is someone who loves fiercely and completely, they’d defend you to the end. So don’t mix up when they’re being irritable because you didn’t answer their message as them being a tool, it’s just because to them, it hurt. It equates in their head that they’re just not important to you. A lie that their condition has constructed. But one their condition tells them daily and has sadly been reinforced by all those who walked away before you.
So, you will have to be strong. But like I said, it’s worth it. Practise your own self care
. And talk. One of the biggest ways we’ve been able to move forward is by sitting down and talking
. When the irritability side of BPD has been getting the better of Alex, the fastest way to stop him in his tracks was to talk to him about it. Just a gentle reminder that we are on the same team. Or it can be just give them some space. If they don’t want hugs, don’t. Just remind them you’re there.
My final piece of advice is that no-one is perfect at dealing with a loved one with mental health issues. I get it wrong. We all will at some time or another. The important thing is we keep trying.
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Disclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified. This blog is based on my personal experiences only. Always seek medical advice in the first instance.