borderline personality disorder

These Foolish Games Are Tearing Me Apart

Hearing my parents’ ringtone two days after I had just spoken with them was jarring. We speak once a week and email or text other important – and unimportant – news as we feel led. Additional calls during the week signal BAD NEWS. Family members dying, in the hospital, losing jobs, getting divorced. Crises.

This was the sense of panic I felt as I answered this unexpected call. It was a crisis and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

My grandmother Zelda is in the hospital. She has COPD due to years of heavy smoking and late last week her health care worker found her struggling to breathe. The episode was so intense that an ambulance was called and my grandmother was rushed to the hospital. Tests were run, as the staff at hospitals love to run tests, and it turns out my grandmother has a couple of life threatening issues beyond the COPD.

Apparently Zelda has cancer that started in her colon and is now in her lungs. She also has an extremely large aortic aneurysm located in her abdomen. Doctors are concerned. A vascular surgeon is being consulted regarding the aneurysm. Zelda would not be able to withstand treatment for the cancer so that will not be tested or treated. For now.

I feel as though I should be sad. My grandmother is basically dying. I’m not sad. When I first heard the news my first thought was one of immense relief. Behind it came shame. How could a granddaughter feel relief that her grandmother is dying? Joining shame for a little shindig was anger. When it comes to my grandmother, there’s always a little anger swimming around within my psyche. Why? To explain you need to know that Zelda has an axis-II personality disorder: borderline personality disorder, or BPD. Like many people with BPD, she can be manipulative and she is not a safe person.

For years she has pulled out the Queen/Witch persona and reigned hellfire down on people in her path. She emotionally, verbally, and quite likely physically abused my mother and my two aunts for years. Zelda’s favorite form of abuse is to withhold her favor from one or two of her daughters while singling out the other daughter as the “Favored One”. Her favor is never without strings. You must kowtow, placate, do anything to please her or she will yank her favor out from under you so quickly you won’t see the floor rising up to hit you on the ass.

While I have no doubt this is a frightening time for my grandmother, I can see her using this as a final opportunity to force her children to care for her while she criticizes, manipulates, and spews toxicity upon them. She will want them to suffer as much as she suffers. She will blame her discomfort on them.

I’m not saying this to be mean or to malign my grandmother. She is God’s child. She is also mentally ill and that illness has been untreated all her life. I struggle as I write this. How vulnerable can I be here in this space where I chronicle my journey? What does it help to talk about a woman who has BPD and is so very mean within her mental illness? What point is there to sharing about her repeated abuse of her daughters, her grandchildren? Why write about a woman to whom I haven’t spoken in years?

In some ways, Zelda holds keys to my identity and some of the spiritual issues I have been dealing with as of late. I have very real and twisty feelings toward my grandmother and layers of things to forgive. I have guilt that is displaced and needs to be shed. I have anger, pity, compassion, and shame all having a party within me.

Despite or because of her mental illness, Zelda is a very angry, very bitter woman. When she is not locked up in her apartment avoiding the world, she reigns supreme and demands…everything. Grown men have walked in fear of triggering one of her cold rages. Lesser mortals shrivel and die a bit inside when faced with her displeasure.

And as I write this, flipping through my mental picture album for those few and far between good memories of time with her, I realize that I am also angry and if left unchecked I could become very bitter. There is legitimate anger within me, but very little mercy. At least not toward her. Not toward the woman who spoke curses over me when I was a very young child. Not toward the woman who emotionally eviscerated my mother in front of me every chance she got. Not the woman who, at my high school graduation, told me a looked like a tarted up slut. Who seemed to find pleasure in criticizing a person for dreaming or reaching for something more.

As I type, that anger starts to seethe. And that scares me. Is this the legacy Zelda is leaving me? Anger and bitterness and judgement? Is this who I want to be?

I think there’s a place for anger when there is injustice. I think that mercy must also exist alongside anger. And that anger, it can’t be where a person stops. There will be justice, but that’s in God’s hands. And what does justice look like? Is it suffering due to illness? No, what Zelda is experiencing are the natural consequences of her choices and of a fallen world. That’s not justice. Sure, I could call it that and feel self-righteous that she’s finally getting what’s coming to her. That doesn’t make me any better than she is. It makes me smug and arrogant and hard-hearted.

Maybe justice would be Zelda understanding she can make different choices. Maybe it’s contrition. Maybe justice is her three daughters undergoing therapy to undo the years of abuse and manipulation so they can lead stronger, healthier lives. Maybe it’s coming to Papa and falling into His arms, a broken woman in need of healing. Maybe mercy and justice aren’t too far apart.

My grandmother is dying and I still don’t completely know how I feel. I do know this – it’s more than time to stop living under Zelda’s legacy and instead live the life God wants so dearly for me to live.

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The Vampire Finch is Landing

This is the code name I’ve given my mother-in-law. Vampire finches are a subspecies of ground finches that live in the Galapagos Islands and are known for poking holes in other birds and drinking blood from the wounds. They do eat other things, but these innocuous looking birds will actually draw blood in order to ingest it. This feels like my mother-in-law. She doesn’t appear to be unstable or cruel or mentally ill. She’s this older woman who has a great laugh and who looks delicate, almost frail. Tired. She has a sense of humor that starts funny but turns biting and if you’re not looking, you don’t see her slip into a waif-like persona that draws people in to her world like flies to honey.

I’m not trying to demonize her because I have a poor relationship with her. She is a borderline personality and if you’ve ever lived with a borderline, you know they can suck the life right out of you if you let them. There is a borderline fantasy of complete and utter attachment, of two people merging to become one entity. I have seen this in action with her children. And I have seen my husband subconsciously fight this merger. His independence actually works to his advantage.

My mother-in-law does not like me. Some of this stems back to a huge disagreement we had years ago that I have since confessed and sought forgiveness for. Some of this is because I see through her and have seen the truth of the spiritual miasma that is part of the borderline. There is something else with her all the time, and I pray for it to be leashed and muzzled and like Gandolf, I draw a line in the sand that this spiritual ooze will not cross. I will not have my privacy disregarded any more. My space, time, and belongings will not be used without my permission. And I will fight for my husband so he can be brought out from under the yoke of being the son of a borderline mother who is not under the care of a mental health professional and who appears to want nothing more than to keep him her little boy at her beck and call.

She called this morning and is on her way to our city. She has other family in this city – another son, some step children. She has friends here. But…she calls my husband first. Some might think this is a compliment. It’s not. It’s difficult to explain, but trust me, it’s not. This is an out of the blue request. She was going to be in town next week and she had made plans to stay with someone else while she was here. However, this morning she called while she was on the road. Driving from half a continent away to here. Asking to stay overnight with us. Complaining of an ailment. Coming from somewhere that is not her home and coming ahead of schedule. Way ahead of schedule. No other explanation given except she wants to go to Urgent Care when she gets here.

I have a bad feeling about this. Not that she will be in our home. The Holy Spirit resides in my home and my home, the people in it, they will be safe from harm. I have a bad feeling because my mother-in-law has made a male friend over the internet and I think she was visiting him and something went very wrong. I have a bad feeling because what went wrong may be twisted in the mire of her expectations and the truth may be difficult to tease out. I have a bad feeling because even should this be an awful crisis, she carries around with her generational sin and curses and these are nasty and made stronger through her pain. I have a bad feeling because in crisis, she has this way of sucking the life out of everyone who attempts to help her. It’s her nature. Much like the vampire finch. It’s not an evil bird, it’s simply evolved to nip at other birds and drink blood from the ensuing wounds. My mother-in-law isn’t evil. She has an untreated mental illness and is bound up in generational sin and spiritual oppression.

So, I pray. I ask God for wisdom. For the truth to be revealed. I pray for compassion and for boundaries. I pray for protection – mine, my husbands, my mother-in-law. I pray for that which is oppressing her to be muzzled and leashed while in my home. And I pray for healing. I pray for an absence of fear.

As I have been praying, one of my inheritance words has been rolling around in my brain so I claim this promise as well. For my mother-in-law, for my husband, for myself.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

~ Isaiah 41:10

 

The Joy and Unique Torture of Family

My cousin Tasha was recently in town. She’s a wonderful young woman with an amazing sense of humor and a strong spine. It’s been interesting to have her around and to get to know her as an adult. Of all the cousins on this side of the family, I am the oldest and almost 14 years her senior. Tasha and her family live in the land of my grandparents and during my time of family vacations my cousin and I had little in common. When she was about ten I stopped making my annual pilgrimages to visit and missed out on seeing her grow up. Since marrying, I have only seen her a handful of times. I’m very thankful she loves to travel and has been curious about the part of the world I call home.

During our visit we have discussed many things: our undying love of Dr. Who (David Tennet is the best Doctor ever!); all things Firefly/Serenity (who doesn’t love Mal?), young adult books; the fantasy genre; good food; family. We have many things in common, including a love of the written word, a geeky appreciation for sci fi and fantasy, and a desire to write stories. But we diverge as well. I have a master’s degree in psychology, own a home, and am married. She is single, is motivated to self-educate herself, and rents. I have a relationship with God. She’s not sure God exists, though she does believe in past lives and the power of the universe.

I don’t judge this. She is on her journey and I am on mine. And some day, when she has questions about what it means to have a relationship with God I will be there to hear her out and ask her questions and share with her my experience. Until then, I am going to live my faith, not speak it.

There are some good reasons why she isn’t so sure of this thing called faith. Remember that my grandmother is a borderline personality and has the potential to turn into the wicked witch of the west? We share this grandmother and it turns out that Tasha’s older sister, Lola, may also be a borderline personality. The markers are there. Lola has a history of threatening suicide when she perceives someone is about to leave her. She has a history of risk taking behavior – addiction, running away from home, indiscriminate sex. There are the mood swings, including horrible rages and potential violence and an inability to regulate her impulses. She fears being alone and has never really been alone. I’ve not seen a lot of this behavior, but as a small child I do remember her being a black hole of neediness.

It is possible that Lola is a borderline. Lola has a husband who is starting to appear afraid of her and a child who is somewhat isolated from the world. Tasha has never had a strong relationship with Lola and for some very good reasons is resentful and angry with her. Lola has made life very difficult for everyone in her little world. When you live in a world that is so broken due to someone with undiagnosed mental illness, or with a chronic health condition, or who is just plain mean and abusive, what are you supposed to think? That a loving God sanctioned this? That a God who wants to have a personal relationship with us, to show us favor and grace and delight could create a world so completely broken?

I don’t know what spiritual teaching there was in Tasha’s home. I don’t know what she learned at church or youth group, but if it was anywhere near close to what I was taught, I can see why Tasha isn’t so sure about God. Spirituality, sure. But God? No, she’s disillusioned by the picture of God religion has painted and this God is distant and mean. Or at the very least disinterested. There is no way Tasha can have a relationship with that. Nor would she want to. I don’t want to. That picture of God is wrong. And it drives so many people who God wants to reconcile to Him. It gets in the way of the real message of peace and hope and healing.

I can’t answer for Tasha the question of why. Why is Lola the way she is? Why Tasha’s life is colored by the very fact that she grew up as Lola’s younger sister. Why any of the things that have happened in Tasha’s young life have happened. I can’t answer the why to my own experiences. But I do know this: Tasha is an amazing young woman who God loves very dearly. And who I love as well. I’m glad God gave me an opening to be a part of her life again. Perhaps as I live out a differently kind of faith Tasha can come to see a different picture of God. And God can give meaning to the things that have happened in Tasha’s life so she can move forward without the baggage of her past weighing her down.

One of the gifts of being a seer is that God shares with us His love for others. As we were saying good-bye to Tasha at the airport, God showed me a picture of Tasha standing on a sunlit courtyard dancing, the smile that was always on her face brighter and wider than I have ever seen it. There was such joy as she was spinning about, her face lifted toward the sun. She was dancing for herself, for her Father. She was free of the pain from her childhood. She was bold and brash and oh so lovely. That’s my cousin. This is what I pray for her so she might know her true identity. So she might be free.

I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down

I was anticipating an opportunity to practice love with boundaries this week with a visit from my MIL. We knew she was planning on coming to town over her spring break (she teaches at a community college down South). We had discussed whether to invite her to stay with us or not, and to make a long story short, because my husband does love his mom and want to spend time with her, and because he feels a strong sense of family obligation, he wanted to extend the invitation. I was less excited about this proposition but after prayer, felt the Holy Spirit tell me to say yes. That in order for the family to truly understand her mental illness and how it impacts their lives, they need to see her. Truly see her.

So, we extended and invitation when she requested to spend a portion of her stay with us. I was cleaning like a mad woman, knowing that while she is here, she wouldn’t say anything about my particular brand of housekeeping but she would judge it nonetheless in looks and sideways digs. Never in front of her son. Always in front of me, or directly to other people who she knows will repeat her words back to me.

How difficult it is to see someone like this through the eyes of love. Or to treat someone with compassion and gentleness when they treat you in the opposite spirit. As I cleaned, I started to feel dread bubble up within me. Scenarios based on past experiences played themselves over and over in my mind and I started to feel paralyzed. My eyes, they weren’t on Jesus. They weren’t on who I am in Christ. They were on the dread I felt every other time my MIL visited in the last twenty years. I forgot about the freedom I have in dwelling within Christ.

I cried out to God in that moment. I couldn’t live in a world of what if. I couldn’t walk on eggshells in my own house just because my borderline MIL was here. I couldn’t live through another visit where I felt like we were playing tug-of-war with my husband, his mother against me, may the best woman win. I couldn’t handle being reminded in direct and indirect ways that I was a disappointment of a daughter-in-law. And I couldn’t extend grace I didn’t feel. So I prayed. I asked God to stand before me. To protect me where my husband either could not or would not. To expand in me enough to fill the hurting, betrayed places and to start to heal them. To give me a vision of my MIL, something to help me see her not with my own judgement, but how He sees her. I asked that the words of judgement be left outside the door. Not just her words, but mine as well.

I don’t know how God is going to ultimately answer that prayer. You see, my MIL decided at the last minute she would stay down South for her spring break. The relief I feel is almost a living thing, beating strong and bright in my body. She’s not coming. I have a reprieve.

But the issues, they remain. Even if my MIL is out of sight, the issues she represents are not out of mind. Nor should they be. You see, while my MIL is a source of pain in my life, she is but a symptom. The real issue is within my marriage – which is another post or series of posts entirely.  It doesn’t take one gifted in the prophetic to see that when we don’t see an issue in our lives, over time God will use different messengers to illuminate the issue until we can’t ignore it anymore.

This isn’t God’s way of shaming us or being the cruel man up in the throne room of Heaven. God doesn’t shame. God doesn’t want us to live in situations that are hurting us, either. How He is going to resolve the situations and behaviors that are damaging to our growth and well-being, that will be unique for everyone. But I know in my heart of hearts, He doesn’t want me to live in fear and pain. He doesn’t want me to see myself as undervalued and less. He doesn’t want me to continue to live in the old nature, the nature that died on Calvary.

My MIL, she reminds me of who I was, and I forget

 “This is why we are not to be caught out dealing with the old nature. We are not pastoring someone who God has already deemed to be dead (Romans 6:11). That would be like babysitting a corpse! “If we have died with HIm we believe that we will live also with Him” (Romans 6:8). We are walking in newness of life learning to be alive only to God (Romans 6). We are therefore not declaring what we are not, but proclaiming who we are in Jesus. No one can be ordinary when they are in Jesus. It is not allowed. Heaven comes to us because of our placement in Jesus, not because of our performance as believers.” ~ Keys to Brilliant Focus, Graham Cooke

So, my MIL is not coming to visit but the issues her presence, or the threat promise of her presence, those remain. And I give them power because I declare who I am not, rather than who I am.

“Take a few moments to really imagine what it feels like to have Jesus reside in you. Ask for his perspective on that part of your life that needs an upgrade. Ask Him to show you what He is seeing and thinking about you in Him. Relax into a place of thanks and rejoice in His presence.”–Keys to Brilliant Focus, Graham Cooke

Jesus will answer my prayer, to expand within me, to stand for me. He’s reminded me that my MIL is not the enemy. He’s reminded me that my marriage is a three-way partnership and that if any part of this relationship is neglected for too long, the foundation will do more than crack. But He’s also reminded me that He holds great things for me, for my husband, and yes, for my MIL. To see that, I need to find that place of thanks and rejoicing. That upgrade. That future. No more focusing on what was. How simple. How difficult. How very much like God.

Without Love

When I first ran up against the spiritual gift of prophecy I had this image in my mind of the prophets of the bible. Or my Americanized version of grizzled men who were at turns angry and depressed. Men who beat their chests and ranted at the people, spouting words of judgement. Who wants that? Not I.

This is part of what I was running from when I ran from myself. I was already a melancholy soul. I didn’t need visions  of destruction and despair driving me deeper toward depression. Never mind that when I “saw” people, while I might not always see their best sides, I always saw them with a layer of grace. I can only attribute that to God because my nature was to judge and to use what I saw to build up my own self esteem. Looking back, I wasn’t secure enough in myself and my relationship with God to truly embrace the prophetic. I didn’t love myself. I couldn’t fully love others. And without love, all the other spiritual gifts are just noise. That’s what I Corinthian’s 13 taught me.

One of the first lessons I learned from Claire was that a seer must love people. It took a while for that to sink in and wasn’t really put to the test until I had to apply what I was learning to my mother-in-law. Isn’t it funny how it’s usually from our relationships with family that we truly start to see our own growth points?

I don’t have an easy relationship with my MIL. I wish I did. I do love her and she has her strengths. I have learned about dreaming big and a strong work ethic from my MIL. But there has been something that has never been quite right between us. She is different around me then she is around my husband. Passive aggressive. Laying claim on my husband and all that she perceives belongs to him in subtle and not so subtle ways. I’m never restful around her. And yet she presents a very different face to my husband and his siblings. To everyone else.

For the longest time I thought it was me. That I was the one who was off in our relationship so I tried harder to love her and to see only the good in her. I made excuses for her behavior. She was lonely. She had been hurt, likely victimized growing up. She had low self-esteem. I compensated. Some of this compensation was to allow my husband to stay stuck in unhealthy patterns and to put pieces of my marriage on the line.

What I didn’t realize was that the nudges and the unease was part of my gift. I was seeing her true self and God was telling me there was something wrong. He was urging me to pray, but I had numbed myself to the prophetic so that all I knew was that I saw someone very different than everyone else did. This is a risk I’m learning about this particular spiritual gift. I see the world through a different lens.

When there was a death in the family I was filled with an unease that bordered on panic. I did what I usually do. I prayed. And I called Claire. I prayed for love and to see clearly. God spoke to Claire and gave her a vision of a hen trying to be a peacock. A woman who wanted to be the center of attention, to be the epicenter of her family. We both got the sense that there would be bad behavior from my MIL the weekend of the funeral and we both felt strongly that the most loving thing to do was for me to pray for eyes to be opened so her children could start to see her true self. See the bad behavior that has always existed in a way that they could no longer ignore it or overcompensate for it.

This doesn’t sound loving, but it is. I’ll tell you why. My MIL has borderline personality disorder. She has not allowed her children to differentiate from her. She has in a sense brainwashed them that certain behaviors are acceptable in her relationship with them. For her children to heal, they needed to see so they could ask questions, see her behavior superimposed against normal, positive behavior. For her to heal, she needs boundaries set by her children. They love her. They want relationship with her. But they won’t be able to grow to their full potential in their marriages, in themselves, if they do not address their mother’s mental illness.

So I prayed. I asked for grace and mercy. For eyes to be opened. For my mouth to be kept closed and my inclination to protect my husband to be numbed. I prayed for my MIL, that she would allow herself to be truly known by her children. That she would see God’s love in a new way. I prayed for God’s vision of her to replace my experience.

And in the end there was a breakthrough. There was bad behavior. There was questioning. There was a turning in my relationship with my husband.

What does this story have to do with the prophetic? It was time for a family to start down the road to acknowledgment healing and God needed me to hear this so I would take the information He gave me and hold my family in prayer. A prophet doesn’t always speak, but a prophet needs to have a relationship with God so she can discern a clear interpretation of the information God is sharing with her. And she needs to feel God’s love for people. If I hadn’t had that, I would have been so smug when my MIL starting behaving in such an outward manner no one could miss it. I would have felt self righteous. I may have even held this over my husband.

I was tempted. Oh, the times I was tempted. Instead, I prayed for a vision of love for her and her family so I could see what God sees. Without love, I wouldn’t care about the relationships or the pain. I certainly wouldn’t care about anyone’s journey of healing.

There may have been easier ways to learn this lesson, but as usual I’m pretty sure I was deaf to the more subtle messages God was giving me. So, instead of waiting any longer, God threw me into the deep end of the pool. Thankfully, I had a good friend and the Holy Spirit to help me swim.