Originally I had planned writing about my therapy session this weekend, but my sister had a borderline-related meltdown again last night. She called at 1.30 AM from some place about two hours away she’d gone to with some friends, crying. I gave her the phone number of “my” hospital’s psychiatric ambulance, because quite frankly I was at a total loss: I still don’t know what exactly happened that made her cry, and I have only limited insight into the ways a borderline personality brain works and she doesn’t tell me everything either.
If she had not been that far away, I would have gone to pick her up, but was entirely too tired for spending four hours on the autobahn, and if fatigue isn’t dangerous enough already, the emotional distraction does the rest. So I didn’t offer to bring her home and only hoped she would actually call the psychiatric ambulance. I’ve consulted them twice myself – once in December, when I was weaning myself off citalopram and had a question on medication, once in May when I was freaking out over the first experience of euthymia – and they were really helpful both times. What’s more, you speak with professionally trained experts there who know how to handle this and who know what’s going on, while I can offer sympathies at best and otherwise clutch at straws.
Ever since her last episode in July, I have been repeating at least once per week that my sister should get professional help while she is doing relatively ok, not wait for the next emergency to happen. Obviously, she did not, so that now we have exactly the situation I warned her about. Additionally, I go back to university in a week and that means I do not have the time anymore to help or accompany her the way I could have done it during the summer months.
The consensus on Borderline Personality Disorder / Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder is that for the majority of concerned people it is caused by sexual abuse, with a small minority of cases reporting no abuse, but disturbed communication in the family. For chronic depression, there too is a high prevalence of emotional / physical or sexual abuse. Before starting therapy, I had to fill out a couple of surveys and did interviews asking me about my childhood: my sister and me did not grow up in the classic neglectant family. We were clothed and fed properly, taken to the doctor and generally cared for materially and emotionally. I can with certainty claim that neither my sister nor me were abused.
However, since July I’ve been thinking a lot about how we grew up, and been quietly observing the behaviour of all people involved and comparing it to memory, with the result that I believe that in our family, there are some serious flaws in the way we communicate and share – or don’t share, rather – emotions.
My father is basically unable to talk about his emotions at all when sober. It’s not that he’s cold or distanced, but very impersonal, and since he doesn’t seem able to handle his own emotions, we children couldn’t learn anything about this from him.
My mother is rather different, but only when it comes to venting negative emotions. She’ll leave no doubt about how it makes her feel when you disappoint or annoy her, but she too has problems voicing positive emotions.
I don’t blame my parents, because they both are only the products of their own upbringing through my grandparents, and those again were damaged by their parents and WWII… My sister and I merely are the ends of a long chain.
We also don’t touch each other in my family. We got hugged and cuddled with when we were children, but around the age of 10, this kind of affectionate behaviour started to fade out and by early adolescence, it was completely gone. I have been wondering if this wasn’t one of the triggers that caused my first depressive episode at the age of 12. I haven’t hugged either of my parents in 20 years and the rare moments of physical contact are exclusively left to casual brushes of dirt off a shirt, or similarly meaningless gestures. The one exception are birthdays, when we shake hands, but on all other occasions we remain physically distant.
Over the years, this kind of distance crept into all my relationships safe for that with my niece – but she’s only 10 years old now, so she’s still in the “zone” anyway (she’s more outgoing than I was and comes to get her hugs if she doesn’t get them, though). It’s not easy to admit, but there were times when she was the only person in my life I would get in physical contact with, and when my boyfriend came to Germany, I had to literally learn touching him. During the first few days, I would even direct myself when talking, “Touch his arm. He needs to feel that you like him physically, too.”
Of course, we don’t say the German equivalent of “I love you” to each other either. Loving one another is something you do in my family, but you don’t express it – neither physically nor verbally.
When I was doing the examinations which evaluated my family background, I had not been aware of any of these patterns. In fact, I was too pre-occupied with the pain my daily existence caused to pay any attention to them, but now that I’m recovering, I can take a look at them and observe…
I do believe that both my parents and my sister need psychotherapy too, but doubt that my father or my mother will ever undergo it. For my sister, however, I hope that she gets a chance at it soon.