Borderline personality disorder continues to weasel its way into my life—sometimes more or less sought out, sometimes popping up out of nowhere. I had been promoting my book to an online support organization for family members of people with BPD, when the person with whom I was exchanging emails suddenly called me one day. She started talking, fast and furious, before I could tell her I was at Walgreen’s dropping off a prescription. Since she barely took a breath, I ended up listening in a chair by the pharmacy counter, occasionally saying, “uh-huh.”
She was trying to help me deal with my mother by telling me a lot about BPD. Her information, however, didn’t help so much with my mother, who’s been gone for many years, but was very relevant to living friends and relatives who seem to be on the BPD spectrum. She commented that my book was about the only thing out there for children of mothers with BPD. She was thinking how to address this need, wondering how to develop workshops through her organization to help children like me. “What would have helped you?” she asked. “What could someone have done?’
Variations of that question keep arising since my book, Missing: Coming to Terms with a Borderline Mother, came out, and always make me feel dumbstruck and numb. Those attending my readings ask, Why didn’t you ask for help? Why didn’t you seek counseling? Why didn’t your dad step in and help you? I respond politely, explaining that in 1960’s and ‘70’s Canton, Ohio, people didn’t generally get therapy or take psych meds, or talk openly about their problems. I explain that my family and my home were all I knew, and I would not have been able, then, to articulate what was wrong. I had no idea how to verbalize all this until I actually verbalized it in my book, beginning a few years ago.
Today, I’ve been reading Ariel Leve’s An Abbreviated Life, which I picked up seemingly randomly at the library. It tells the horrifying story of a mother with insatiable need and no boundaries. It’s one of those sneaky BPD things that wiggle into my life. Ariel’s mother was worse than mine, but Ariel, like me, adapted and accommodated. She tried to escape but never tried concretely, as a child, to get help. Neither did Augusten Burroughs, who describes his dad’s craziness in A Wolf at the Table, or the novelist Edward St. Aubyn, whose father sexually abused him, chronicled in the Patrick Melrose novels.
Right at this moment, after reading Leve’s book most of the day, I wouldn’t offer my polite answer to a question about getting help. Instead, I might shout, “How do I know?” Why didn’t some adult see Ariel’s anguish and rescue her, and Augusten’s, and Edward’s? Why was it our job as children to know how to get help? How, even now, should I know what could have helped? I was there, and I got through it, and I’ve written a book. The book is the answer to the question. That’s how I dealt with it, and that’s how I got help. I wrote a book.