Stop Walking on Eggshells

When someone in your life has borderline or narcissistic personality disorder

The Buddha and the Borderline: a new BPD memoir

"The Buddha and the Borderline" is a funny memoir about BPD.

Today, I'm going to review the new BPD memoir The Buddha and the Borderline : My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder Through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism and Online Dating by Kiera Van Gelder.

First, a confession: I know Kiera quite well. In fact, she's a friend. But I will endeavor to make an honest appraisal and not even mention her tiny obsession about keeping her home more orderly than a Marine barracks.

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I love the book: I've read it twice, one to write a blurb and once for fun. For a memoir about BPD, the Buddha and the Borderline a real hoot. In fact, this may be the first funny book about BPD ever written. My blurb read, "This book is a cross between Girl Interrupted and Bridget Jones's Diary."

Not that the book doesn't have its heartbreaking moments. On its web site, publisher New Harbinger writes:

Kiera Van Gelder's first suicide attempt at the age of twelve marked the onset of her struggles with drug addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress, self-harm, and chaotic romantic relationships-all of which eventually led to doctors' belated diagnosis of borderline personality disorder twenty years later.

The Buddha and the Borderline is a window into this mysterious and debilitating condition, an unblinking portrayal of one woman's fight against the emotional devastation of borderline personality disorder.

This haunting, intimate memoir chronicles both the devastating period that led to Kiera's eventual diagnosis and her inspirational recovery through therapy, Buddhist spirituality, and a few online dates gone wrong. Kiera's story sheds light on the private struggle to transform suffering into compassion for herself and others, and is essential reading for all seeking to understand what it truly means to recover and reclaim the desire to live.

Kiera is an artist, educator, and writer diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. An international speaker and advocate, she is featured in the documentary Back from the Edge: Living With and Recovering From Borderline Personality Disorder.

The following excerpt from her memoir gives family members--especially partners--a glimpse into the black and white thinking and intense fear of abandonment experienced by those with BPD. Is also gives valuable communication tips that can lead to better relationships.

In this section, Kiera and her clutterbug boyfriend Taylor have an argument about his ex-girlfriend Tanya, who crashed at this house after going to a concert late. This made Kiera very insecure and jealous, even though Tanya was a platonic friend.

By this time in the book, Kiera is being treated with Dialectical Behavior Therapy and trying to use her DBT skills to manage what clinicians were would call "severe emotional dysregulation."

 ***

Apparently the emotional experiences I'm learning to deal with in stage two of my BPD recovery are all about abandonment. And Taylor's relationship with his ex girlfriend Tanya lays the groundwork for all of my previous fears to be rekindled.

Shortly after the sleepover issue (which we both deftly sidestepped with a version of "don't ask, don't tell") I arrive at his house for dinner and discover a pair of women's pants on his dining room table. Actually, many odd things reside on Taylor's dining room table: a windup plastic ladybug with tiny wheels and flapping wings, a computer hard drive partially dismantled, finger puppets, mail from the 1980s-and now a pair of women's pants.

I stand in the dining room on the edge of hysteria and point at the jeans lying on the table. My only consolation is that they're a size 18.

"Whose are these?"

Taylor is washing his hands in the kitchen and doesn't know what I'm talking about.

I hold the jeans up as he walks in. "Oh, those are Tanya's."

"What are her pants doing on your dining room table?"

"She stopped by after work yesterday to pick up her bicycle."

"And she just happened to leave her pants behind?"

Taylor thinks for a second and I scan his face for guilt. "I think she changed out of her work clothes when she came over." He shrugs. I can almost hear bombs exploding in my brain and the shrapnel trying to force its way out of my mouth.

"What the &%$#?"

"What the &%$# what?"

"First of all, I've explained to you I have problems with you being close to her. Second of all, I have BPD, and I've told you that this situation triggers me. Don't you get it?"

Taylor shakes his head. "But there's nothing to be threatened by. I'm not even close to her."

"Just enough for her to accidentally leave her pants behind."

"That doesn't prove closeness, just that she's a space cadet."

Talking to Taylor only increases my upset. What do I feel? Use my DBT skills to observe and describe! I feel rage, hurt, betrayal, and then I want to slam my head into a wall. "I can't talk about this anymore," I say, as the fury inside me builds. Disengage, I tell myself, turning toward Taylor's bedroom. Think of this as an opportunity to practice the skills. Just knowing that he doesn't understand how I feel amplifies my rage.

Usually I'd escalate at this point. As I go into his bedroom, the pressure in my chest  ecomes unbearable and I notice that my left hand aches. It's as though a dull knifepoint is pushing into the skin on my palm, but when I turn my hand over to see if I've accidentally done something, there's nothing there. I'm craving Taylor's assurance like crack, even though I still want to berate him.

Climbing into his bed, I assume he's going to come in and check on me. But he doesn't. Underneath the floor, coming from the basement, I hear the clatter of tools and the cadence of a voice on an NPR talk radio show. He's puttering around in the basement.

Wait! He's not supposed to do that. He's supposed to apologize and pull me into his arms. Now what do I do with this pain?! I want comfort and understanding, and as the pain increases, I start to cry.

The ache in my palm turns sharp, like a stigmata. I hold my hand and sob, and consider my options: Do I go into the basement and say, "I'm sorry; I overreacted," and ask for a hug? I seriously consider whether I'm overreacting. I know the emotions are huge, cataclysmic, but there's no smoking gun-just a very large pair of pants. Still, emotion mind is in full force. I've been "triggered ," as we learn to say in CBT.

I feel too vulnerable now to go to the basement, so I burrow under the covers, where it smells like Taylor-like when we wake up in the morning, his body fit perfectly behind mine, one hand cupping my breast. I pull the pillows all around me and weep. And when he finally comes to bed, I wrap myself around him like a vine, hair and legs and arms, as close as I can be without breaking the contract. I want to possess him completely.

***

"What evidence do you have that he's being unfaithful?" My therapist Ethan asks a few days later. We've spent the past half hour doing an extensive behavioral analysis of the pants incident, teasing out the thoughts and feelings that led to my meltdown. We look at my vulnerabilities, such as spending all my free time with Taylor, not grounding into my own life, not going to the gym and working out, and sitting at a desk seven hours a day with these thoughts and fears constantly barraging my mind.

All of this has disconnected me from myself and turned Taylor into the hub of my life.
And if he is the center of my world, of course Tanya becomes a threat.But how much of a threat is she, really?

At the end of the behavioral analysis, I still don't know. I see I made the assumption that they'd had sex. Then I made the assumption that if they didn't have sex, Tanya left the pants on purpose: to torture me and to sabotage my relationship with Taylor, because she must know he's clueless about these things. That's what is most upsetting in all of this, that Taylor doesn't get how painful this is for me.

But I need his help. I say, "When I start to get agitated, it helps me the most if you can stay calm, and for you to pay attention to me when I feel unmoored and alone. And instead of trying to convince me I'm being paranoid, just help me ride out the storm, then I'll be able to think straight again."

And so I must constantly remind him: "Please look at me when we're in social situations." "Please ask me how I'm feeling." "Please remember that it's hard for me to ask for things more than once." And "Please, please, please move the litter box out of the kitchen!"

 

Randi Kreger is the co-author of Stop Walking on Eggshells.

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