Treading on Eggshells

As part of Borderline Personality Awareness Month I will be having different posts about BPD. Today I have Janet who is sharing her story of what it was like to grow up with a parent who has Borderline.

My mother's wedding 1964Growing up, I knew my Mum had “manic depression” (bipolar disorder) but as I grew older, this made less and less sense. As an adult, I’ve known many people with bipolar – including one of my dear friends – and it just didn’t seem to fit.

It was all a bit of a puzzle – until the day about 10 years ago when I was working as a library assistant.

As I paused to shelve a book, I was mesmerised by the title: “Stop Walking on Eggshells” by Paul T Mason & Randi Kreger.

You see, I had long said that if I ever wrote a book about my childhood it would be called “Treading on Eggshells” – because that is what it felt like, living with my mother.

As I read the back cover, the tears began to pour down my cheeks. At last, I had a name for what was wrong with my mother: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). And even better – it wasn’t my fault!

Of course I took the book home and devoured it. I learned so much about BPD, and could really relate it to my childhood experiences:

  • Mum was very emotionally needy, which made all her relationships difficult. She was married four times, and ended up estranged from all of her four children once we reached adulthood.
  • Living with my Mum was like being on an emotional roller coaster. We never knew what lay ahead – ups or downs, twists or turns – hence the feeling of walking on eggshells. I spent my childhood tiptoeing around my mother and trying to be “perfect”, thinking that would prevent the bad times (it didn’t).
  • Mum leaned very heavily on me (as the eldest child) when I was growing up; at times I felt like I was the parent, and she the child.
  • My mother had a lot of difficulties with personal boundaries – both with putting them in place, and respecting the boundaries of others.
  • Sadly, the older my Mum got the more she was ruled by her emotions and she became physically and emotionally abusive. (I’ve since read that the majority of people with BPD improve with age).
  • It is not uncommon for BPD to co-exist with other conditions such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. I’ve already mentioned that my mother had bipolar; she also developed bulimia in her forties.
  • There is a high rate of suicide amongst people with BPD. My Mum attempted suicide many times over the years; one attempt caused her to have a stroke and she was placed in a nursing home, where she later died of aspiration pneumonia.

Back in those days, the doctors tended to put my Mum in the “too hard basket”, as nobody really knew what to do to help her.

The good news is, it’s not like that anymore. There have been great strides in the field of psychology over the past thirty or more years, the first of which is that BPD became a recognised condition. In 1980 it became an official diagnosis in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and

Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition), the book considered the “bible” for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

Ironically, one of my clients today is a large psychology firm and I often chat with the therapists and edit articles and other documents for them; as a result I have learned even more about BPD. (I often joke I should be given an honourary degree in psychology!). As understanding and recognition of BPD has grown, so too has the knowledge of how to help people with this condition. Treatment may include medication, therapies such as Mindfulness and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and lifestyle changes.

My Mum’s story didn’t have a happy ending. However, there is every chance that if my Mum had been born forty years later, she could have lead a happy and fulfilled life, with healthy relationships and hope for the future.

Janet Camilleri blogs at Middle Aged MamaJanet Camilleri is a Middle Aged Mama with a passion for fashion, looking good and living well – no matter what your budget. You can follow her on:

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20 thoughts on “Treading on Eggshells

  1. Lydia C. Lee

    It’s very sad how all this was treated (or not treated) in the past. I’m glad there is more understanding and help in place. Thanks for sharing, Janet.

    Reply
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  3. Emma Fahy Davis

    Wow Janet, I never realised that BPD was only formally recognised in 1980! It must have been so difficult for you growing up in the shadow of your mother’s illness. I’m sorry that her story doesn’t have a happy ending, but following your blog, it seems like you’ve found your own happy ending xx

    Reply
    1. Janet @ Middle Aged Mama

      Thanks Emma. It’s been a rough road at times and I’ve been for counselling etc and have my own battles with depression, perhaps as a consequence of my childhood. I’ve certainly shed many tears, and grieved the loss of my mum years before she actually died; but am thankful for all that I have now.

      Reply
  4. Josefa

    What an incredible story to share and a very important story to share. These are the stories we must share. To break down barriers, to increase knowledge, to broaden awareness. Janet – you write about your mother so beautifully, thank you for sharing this with us and thank you Tegan for giving these stories life xx

    Reply
    1. Janet @ Middle Aged Mama

      I must confess it was a real challenge to write this post in a positive way, because there are a lot of bad memories. I liken it to Alzheimer’s disease – the mother I knew and loved when I was a child, became a shell, as BPD took over her life.

      Reply
  5. Bec @ The Plumbette

    Janet your story always moves me when I read about your mum. Thank goodness for research and for treatment so that current and future sufferers are given the right treatment to live a good life.

    Reply
  6. Kathy

    Sorry Janet that you had a hard childhood with your Mum and that there wasn’t the right treatment available for her then. It must have been very difficult for you growing up and very sad how her life ended. X

    Reply
  7. Lisa@RandomActsOfZen

    Janet, it’s so sad to think that your mum would have had much more help, had she been born later. You’re very brave for sharing your story, and I have no doubt that this helps others. x
    Thanks also for raising awareness of, and helping us better undersatnd BPD Tegan. x

    Reply
  8. Aroha @ Colours of Sunset

    thanks for sharing your story Janet. I hope learning about BPD has helped you come to terms with your childhood and help with some closure on that part of your life. Are you close with your siblings, and have you all talked about it? I am so glad there is so much more help these days.

    Reply
    1. Janet @ Middle Aged Mama

      Absolutely Aroha, knowledge is power, it has definitely helped. My siblings and I are quite close, when we found out our Mum had died (4 1/2 years earlier!) we held our own memorial service. Because even though we were estranged, she was still our mum.

      Reply
  9. SarahD@SnippetsandSpirits

    Wow Janet what a story. I think you really should write that book. Thank you for sharing. It really is quite scary and sad that BPD was only recognised in the 80’s. You sound so positive and strong despite what you have been through. x

    Reply

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