A while ago, I said I would write a letter to my mother, trying to explain, and perhaps improve things. This has been a long time in the coming and this is only a first draft. I would really, really appreciate your thoughts/comments/critique on this – anything I should add? Take out? Change? Please be brutal, and help me. This needs to be right as I will only have one opportunity to do it.
First of all I need to explain to you why I am writing the following letter instead of coming directly to you and speaking about this face to face. I know how do not understand my condition, in fact I would probably go as far to say you are in denial about the fact that I have a recognised condition, but regardless of this it makes me vulnerable especially after confrontation, and because of this I need to look after myself. I sometimes wonder whether you realise quick how deeply your words and actions have affected me in the past and although I am not blaming you for this, I would like you to understand that it is because I love you that I allow you to hurt me so.
I want to talk a little about my condition, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It is a personality disorder which is a recognised mental health condition. This means that I do not make up my symptoms and a lot of the things I have done in my life can be attributed to this condition. I am not looking for excuses but at least I can give you some reasons.
There is a wide range of symptoms, and to be diagnosed with the condition, you must suffer from any combination of nine of them. To quickly run through the symptoms I suffer from might help you to start to understand where I am coming from; Self harm, suicide attempts, promiscuous behaviour, mood swings, inability to control emotion, tactlessness, unstable relationships, lack of identity, confusion of sexual identity, impulsive behaviours, intense feelings, depression, anxiety, lack of self esteem. Of course, there are many more but by now you will probably be able to see how I came to be diagnosed with this condition. You are always saying I am too impulsive – well now you might start to understand why. Dad is always blaming me for doing the wrong thing or being rude to people – well this is why. A borderline does not understand social boundaries, and is severely lacking in social skills. Some might say we have the emotional skills of a child, of course when you are a child you are allowed to make mistakes. At my age – you aren’t. Sometimes I will say things without understanding how they will come across – this isn’t me being rude, I simply don’t understand the impact of what is coming out of my mouth.
Some people think that BPD has a genetic cause, others think that it is the way you have been brought up. Personally, I think it may be a combination of both. I have spent a long time blaming you for the way I l felt you treated me when I was growing up, but now I understand that you did the best you could, what you thought was right. I couldn’t ask you to do any more, but perhaps after reading this letter we may be a little more on the same page, and maybe our relationship will start to improve as you understand me a little better, and find out what makes me tick. I know you didn’t understand what you were doing and did what you thought was best, to the best of your ability. Perhaps, unfortunately, I was genetically determined to require something different and this is where the problems began.
There are several things that happened in my childhood and teenage years which I think about now and again, and I believe that these are unresolved issues, and unless I talk about them with you, I will continue to think them over for the rest of my life.
The first was an incident when I was about 19. You had agreed to drive up to Hartpury and pick me up at the end of my lecture, at 6.30. Of course, you were busy, and it is only since I have been involved within the business that I have started to understand quite how stressful this environment can be, and how easy it is to find yourself late, or even forgetting to do something. Either way, you were over an hour late, and in the meantime, I had walked along the busy road to Gloucester, in the dark and rain, like you asked me to. You must understand how your lateness made me feel. I already felt as though I didn’t matter to you as much as your job, and your absence simply confirmed this. On a side note, my condition causes me to take any chance of plan or cancellation personally. Unless it is explained to me why the change has happened, I will automatically take it as a personal rejection. If you remember, when you finally arrived, my wrist was swollen, and I said that I had slipped in the road and twisted it. This wasn’t true mum. I stood on the side of that road and hit my wrist on a farm gate until I was convinced it was broken because I was so angry with you for not coming when you said you were going to come. Looking back, I don’t blame you, I blame my disorder. But I needed to tell you this so I can have some closure on the situation.
Your absence is what we know as a ‘trigger’. This means I certain situation, person, memory or even a smell that causes a destructive reaction, such as self harm. My biggest triggers are tiredness, seeing pictures of other people self harming, and talking about the past. This is why, for a long time, I refused to come into work at 9am. I know you must have thought I was lazy, but I really wasn’t. I was just trying to protect myself from becoming too tired and then being unable to control the urges to harm myself. You see, being a self harmer is much like being an alcoholic. When something is hurtful, instead of turning to the bottle, I turn to a razor. It is the first thing that comes into my head, my first port of call in a crisis. I know you don’t understand how I can do it, but maybe after reading this you will have a little more insight. The feeling of pain that I am able to control is reassuring to me. Not being able to make sense of the thoughts and words flying around my head is distressing, especially when coupled with emotional pain. It is much easier for me to give myself physical pain, which gives me something to focus on in a time of need. It is so loud and strong that it makes everything else go away temporarily. I also use self harm to punish myself. Being unable to understand the impact of things I say can lead to people getting hurt, which then leads to me feeling as though I need to punish myself. Do you remember the time I told you I wished you were dead? Ironically, I could have easily ended up killing myself that night because I punished myself so much with a razor.
Do you remember the occasion when you came over to the house when I was living with Lyn and we tried to talk about our issues? I felt like I needed to tell you how I felt about things that had happened but I see now that I was aggressive because I was unable to be assertive. Because of my Borderline, I do not have the skills to be assertive yet. You became defensive, and accused me of not being there for you, and being a bad daughter. Why couldn’t you see that I was not going to be able to deal with this? You don’t know this but after you left, I went upstairs and sliced my arm open several times, and had to go to Frenchay to have stitches in my arm. I didn’t do this because of you, I did it because I couldn’t process the way you had made me feel. This is the reason why I have not been able to broach the subject again, because I will not be able to process the emotions I feel if you become defensive and lash out at me. You may think that I am thick skinned, but this is only because of the image I put across to you. What you see on the surface with me is most definitely not what you get and I feel unable to tell or show you my true emotions, I suppose because I fear that you will reject me because of them.
I would also like to talk about dissociation. At that time when we were having that conversation at Lyns, you will notice that towards the end I seemed to ‘dose off’ and nearly fall asleep. This is called dissociation, it is characteristic of Borderline and it is a coping method that, presently, I cannot control, but I am hoping to be able to learn. It happens in times of extreme stress, and it happens to protect myself from further harm. From the outside, I look as though I am in a trance, and in the inside, I feel nothing. Sometimes this happens to me at work, when things are hard, or going wrong. I find myself staring at the screen with nothing inside my head. There are certain methods I know to try and ‘snap out of it’ but it isn’t easy. A lot of Borderlines cannot work, let alone hold down a full time job, although I am aware that you make allowances for me, and I am grateful for that.
I know that at times my actions have hurt you. I remember the day that I was going to university, and I was taking my things to the halls at university. When you looked as though you were getting ready to come, I asked Dad, in front of you, why you were coming. I know this hurt you a lot and I am deeply sorry for that. I think about it a lot, about how your face looked, how hurt you must have been. I wasn’t trying to hurt you, mum. I simply didn’t know how to cope with showing you affection, and so it would have been easier if you weren’t there. Dad had to be there as he was towing the horsebox, it was a matter of practicality. I also didn’t understand why you wanted to come. We had had such a turbulent relationship for so long, I suppose I thought you would be glad I was going.
I also know that the way I dealt with you having cancer hurt you deeply, and I cannot apologise enough. Firstly, I remember the fact that I refused to visit you in hospital, and when I finally did, I didn’t say a word, I just sat on your bed, looking at the white woven blanket hunched over your legs. I wasn’t trying to be horrible, I promise I wasn’t. The thought of visiting you in hospital made me cringe inside, it made me want to be sick. I was scared to show my feelings to you. The whole time I was visiting you I wanted to cry, but held it back so much that my throat hurt. I was sixteen mum, dealing with difficult emotions as well as Borderline, and I simply couldn’t show you I loved you. I also remember telling you, when you picked me up from school, that I wanted you to drive up the road so that my friends wouldn’t see you picking me up from school with no hair and a bandanna. There is no excuse for this. I was shallow. I guess I had a hard enough time keeping friends at school that I didn’t want to give them any other reason to not like me, or make fun of me. I also remember, vividly, the occasion when you were walking into the bathroom, and I looked away, because it was the first time I had seen you without hair, and the shock of it made me look away. I know I was wrong, I know I was shallow. But in my defence, I was a young girl. You screamed at me that I was embarrassed because you had no hair, and yes, I was. There is nothing I can say to make it any better, other than that I am sincerely sorry for how I reacted to this.
One of the major problems that I think about a lot in recent times, is the way you treat me at work. I am doing my best to make things work but quite often you will speak to me in a way which humiliates me. I understand that you get angry, and I wind you up, but I really would like you to know how this makes me feel, and how it affects my health. I don’t understand why you call the people who work in the office your ‘girls’ and are so protective over them, when I feel as though you should be protective like that about me. I am trying to do my best at work in the way that I have been trained, but you are doing things that are against the law and will impact on the business. I know you have always done things this way but you need to understand that you sent me on those training courses for a reason – to find out the most recent legal obligations with regards to lettings – it doesn’t make sense that you now completely ignore what I say and just carry on like you were. Can you see how frustrated this makes me and why I sometimes act the way I do? I understand that it is your business to do with what you want, but it you are honestly considering letting me take over in future, then I do have an interest in making sure that things are done the right way.
I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you and Dad for helping me to buy the cottage and for always thinking of the best way to provide for my future financially. I do feel a terrible guilt that I wasted my education; that you paid for me to go a prestigious private school from a very young age right up until I was 18, and then financially supported me to go to Hartpury, my lifelong dream, when thousands of others didn’t have that option. I appreciate that you have wasted thousands and thousands of pounds on me when you could have saved your money and I would have had the same outcome anyway. I am so sorry for making you waste this, and not achieving the dreams that you had for me and my life. I just hope that by become well, and happy, and improving our relationship we can find some middle ground and reach a point where I don’t feel so guilty and you don’t feel so disappointed.
I know recently you asked me outright whether I was cutting again and I told you I wasn’t. I lied because I am uncomfortable being honest with you about something you don’t understand, and something I feel you will judge. I know my lies were ridiculous and unbelievable but it was all I could do. I simply couldn’t admit the truth. The reason behind my recent relapse was the way Mark treated me whilst we were in Iceland. I know you and dad have been discussing whether or not something has been going on between us for a long while, and you are right. I have been sleeping with him, but he is not a boyfriend. He is simply what I would call a ‘friend with benefits’ – a friend who I occasionally have sex with. I know you will find it hard to understand how I can have that sort of relationship but please don’t judge me, or think of me as cheap. After a lifetime of dysfunctional sexual relationships, I was happy with this one. Until, that is, I realised the real person that Mark was. I won’t go into a too much in this letter, but needless to say, when we arrived home, I felt guilty and the need to punish myself, resulting in the cuts you saw on my arm, and the blood in my room. Don’t get me wrong – I had a fantastic holiday. I have two very good friends, Jen and Kim (you have met Kim). I talk to them about these feelings in a way that I wish I could talk to you. From previous experience, the thought of opening up to you makes my stomach turn as I know how you have reacted, how you have been judgemental because of your lack of understanding, but I am willing to give it another chance as long as you can keep an open mind and try to understand me. I understand you need to learn how to deal with the ‘real’ me, not the daughter that you thought you had, and that is going to take time, but although I am a lot better than I was this time two years ago, I am still much more vulnerable that I allow you and dad to see.
As much as it makes me feel nervous to suggest this, I would very much like to attend a family counselling session with you and dad, with someone who specialises in Borderline Personality Disorder. I promise I will be completely open and honest, but you must promise to remain calm, and not become defensive, as if I open myself up to you I will become very vulnerable and liable to dissociate. You need to learn to understand me before our relationship can improve and we can become the mother and daughter team that I know both of us so desperately want.