I was so moved to read this beautiful love-letter of a post by Rowan about his experience of his wife, Aeshe, who he so eloquently describes while discussing his own, very real experience as a partner of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. Read on, and be moved as I was. Welcome my guest blogger, Rowan.
On: Supporting my wife, who has borderline personality disorder (BPD)
I feel like I am betraying my wife by writing this, even though I logically know this is not the case. When Debbie asked me to write about supporting a loved one with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), as a companion to my vlog post on YouTube, I was immediately afflicted by the dueling emotions of relief and guilt. I was relieved I would get another opportunity to share my perspective on loving a spouse with a mental illness, one stigmatized by popular media and the psychiatric community alike. I felt guilty because, although Aeshe (my wife) is open about her struggles and healing from BPD, she still feels shame and anxiety about even having this diagnosis.
She worries about the judgment of others, the loss of friendships, the limiting of her options by deciding to be transparent about her life. Even though I believe myself to be balanced and open in my assertions (not assessments) about what is so for me—when maintaining that difficult balance of being a supportive partner and maintaining my own health and wellness—I also desire to shield her from harm and hurt. However, maintaining silence about my experience dealing with my wife's BPD has only made me feel isolated and unseen, while making myself responsible for “protecting” her from the world does not acknowledge her as the dynamic and amazing woman I know her to be.
I met my wife in the early Winter of 2010, and we became friends and lovers in February 2011. Aeshe's BPD symptoms became apparent to me in early spring of last year (2012). Though she'd previously had many diagnoses in the past, there was never one that officially stated “borderline personality disorder,” though many of the markers were there. At first, I felt like I was thrown headlong into a maelstrom of interpersonal chaos, and couldn't make sense of the emotional volatility I was witnessing. Aeshe had impulsivity with food and spending, she became easily emotionally dysregulated seemingly apropos of minor situations, she was angry, she had difficulties being separated from me if I went to work, her dissociation became more pronounced, and she started self-harming again (i.e. after not having done so for a while). I made the decision, with my eyes wide open, to support her and commit myself to our relationship. We married on August 27, 2012, the day after my birthday. I do not regret that decision, despite the inherent challenges of loving someone with BPD.
What followed was an intense crash course in BPD and interpersonal dynamics in the face of the criteria/symptoms she was displaying. My hardest lesson was learning to de-escalate the situation. My initial reaction to what I considered my wife's intense and extreme emotional outbursts and rage was ineffective. I am someone who takes responsibility for his own actions and, sometimes to my detriment, the actions and reactions of others. I also have a minor savior complex. Consequently, I became frustrated; I thought her reactions were all my fault, that if I just tried hard not to “set off” her emotional arousal everything would eventually settle. Instead, my emotions fed off her emotions, which fed off my emotions, turning into an escalating ouroborous of dysregulation. I tried pleading with and cajoling my Aeshe, pointed out how her reactions were irrational and not based in reality...which fanned her frustration and anger because she felt invalidated.
Eventually, through conscious and honest talks with Aeshe, and with the aid of processing and reading on my own, I developed the necessary skills to better support the both of us as she works on her recovery from BPD. The following lessons have been very helpful to me:
1. Consciously remind yourself that you have not caused your loved one's dysregulation or their personal triggers. You are only responsible for your own emotional states and reactions.
2. Validate how they're feeling, because emotions are not logical. Sometimes, expressing interest through a statement of concern—“It seems like you're frightened. That must be difficult for you right now”—is ample.
3. Gracefully remove yourself from a situation if the both of you are unable to control your emotions. Make sure your loved one knows you are not abandoning them, but calming down.
4. Practice healthy selfishness, and partake in self-care. If you are not well-rested, hydrated, fed, and have your emotional needs met (e.g. a good support system for you is also helpful), you will not be happy. This will, in turn, affect your relationship with your loved one.
5. Try to interpret your loved one's reactions in the most benign way possible. People have accused those with BPD of being manipulative in their relationships. Instead, they are trying frantically to defuse fear of abandonment.
I have myriad thoughts and impressions about my experience living with my wife, Aeshe. I've learned so many valuable lessons about the nature of inner strength, what it means to support and love someone unconditionally, how to be authentic and vulnerable without being weak, and how to recognize my own emotional challenges and deal with them. Since accepting and working with my wife's BPD, I have come to recognize my diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and am taking steps to alleviate these symptoms and poor coping strategies that have plagued me for as long as I can recall. There's more to express than just this brief snapshot revealing my general thoughts about maintaining balance when loving someone with BPD.
Here's the crux of my life with Aeshe: She is NOT her disorder. BPD is just a component of her identity, though one that touches all aspects of our life together. Every relationship and every life led has its unique set of challenges and heartaches, triumphs and joys. Honestly, I cannot imagine being with someone more loving and compassionate, intelligent and quirky, beautiful and sexy. She makes me question everything I know, inspires me to be a better person, and loves me unconditionally. It doesn't get better than that.
Rowan has a vlog on YouTube under the name of VadomaPrimal. His wife has a vlog on YouTube under the name of AtypicalAeshe.
Thanks for reading.