Just over a year ago, sitting on a beach log with my mother, I told her, “Honestly, at this point, I don’t know if I even want a relationship.”
This shocked her. I had always been a hopeless romantic—someone in love with the idea of love—so it was strange for me to be spouting this new idea.
But, by the last quarter of 2021, this was where I was at: my heart had been broken enough times for my brain to question whether or not love was worth it. Everyone probably feels this way at some point in their life. Couple this normal human experience with the crippling fear of abandonment that my borderline personality disorder plagues me with, and I had a lot of incentive to never make myself vulnerable again.
Actually, at this time, I was on an official dating sabbatical: six months without romance. It was about investing in myself: I, finally, finished the manuscript for the high-fantasy novel I had been working on for over six years. With all those hours spent hunched over my laptop, my skills as a writer were most definitely improved. And I read a ton of books!—another habit important for the study of my craft. I really worked on myself creatively and professionally. Writing books is sort of my ‘North Star’, if you will; it is my Life Purpose; and this time spent single, living on my own, allowed me to focus deeply on my work.
But my intention in taking this dating sabbatical was not just to be more ‘productive’. My intention was to do the thing I was so afraid to do: be alone with myself. I was healing some old shit. My codependency. The cure? A long stretch of time spent focused on no one but myself.
You see, us borderlines tend to pick a ‘favourite person’ and latch onto them. Sure, in a sense, this is sweet. But this ‘favourite person’ of ours—we are terrified by the idea of them abandoning us—and, if we are not actively investing in our mental health and personal development, all-too-easily it can start to feel as though our ‘favourite person’ is the only thing that brings us happiness.
Because of this, I have a history of prioritizing the needs of the person I was so fixated on, over my own. I have, in the past, been very codependent; tolerating all kinds of things I was not truly comfortable or satisfied with, simply because I was afraid of said person leaving me.
This version of Melody hated the idea of being single and used her relationships to avoid being alone with herself. I would rush to commit myself to someone, even though there were red flags or potential reasons why things might not work. I have been so afraid of being abandoned that, heartbreakingly, at many points I abandoned myself—to please the other person, so they would stay with me. Neurotic, I know. It is not something I am proud of. But this is the Truth of my past.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this extreme. With the proper treatment and self-care, an individual with BPD can have a healthy, happy, loving relationship—I know this is possible from personal experience.
Still, I had this karmic cycle—one I knew I needed to break. And being alone for that half-year, allowed me to get comfortable with myself on a whole new level. While at first, it was scary, by and by, I started really enjoying being single. My own apartment, all to myself, decorated hygge. And a creative passion project. What more could I ask for, really?
Someone to share it with.
I remember taking a long walk, back in February of this year. Long walks are not out of the ordinary for me; I make it routine to get out for a hike at least once a week. But this walk was out of the ordinary; because on this walk, gazing off towards the gloomy sea, I came to terms with how I did, in Truth, want a relationship. No, not right that moment. Not for another couple months, in fact. I was still milking the dating sabbatical for all I could. But yes, I knew, ultimately, I wanted a partner. The notion of making myself vulnerable again was finally starting to seem like maybe it could be a good idea…
By April 1st, 2022, not only had I been on a dating sabbatical for six months, but that high-fantasy manuscript was all done and ready for submission. (Side note: submitting your manuscript and receiving rejection letters is a humbling experience!) The completion of this creative project carved out a new void in my life. And I got a gut feeling that it was time for me to start putting myself out there in the dating world again. So I downloaded Tinder.
Another thing I did during my sabbatical: I put a lot of thought into what I need in a partner and in a partnership. This was an essential bit of healing; because, before getting into the relationship I had been in prior, I thought I knew my needs; but, really, I was still very unaware of my true self. Consistently, this led me to being hurt by my previous partner, without really understanding why; because I had not, first, taken the time to understand myself.
Fortunately, spending six months in isolation does give you a good sense of who you are. I now have a list of traits I would like in a partner and they are non-negotiable—a very new practice for little borderline me. These are not superficial traits like ‘plays guitar’ or ‘has nice eyes’—but traits that speak to someone’s character and their values. Traits like: caring, kind-hearted, curious, content, introspective.
It only took a month of swiping and sifting through lacklustre conversation—and I found him—the person I was looking for. I could hardly believe it. He had every single damn trait on my list. Among other things I had not known I needed: a sense of spontaneity, a playful attitude, a calm mind.
The relationship has moved very quickly. At the time of writing this essay, we have barely been together seven months, but we have been living together for most of that time. Things just felt right, in a way they never had before. Still, as the relationship progressed, I often panicked and asked myself, “Am I just reliving my old karmic cycle?”
But, thanks to my six months of celibacy, for the first time in my life, I am crystal clear about what I need in a relationship. And now I am committed to never settling again.
It was trippy: writing down what I want in a partner and having him appear on my Tinder feed a month later, as though I had waved a magic wand; going on a first date that was over twelve-hours in duration, that went until ten ‘o’ clock in the morning the next day; novelly, being the first one to say ‘I love you’, not waiting for the other person to say it out of fear, because I felt so sure of myself, my feelings and the connection; asking him to move in with me when we had only been dating for about a month…
Of course, I wondered if I was just repeating my past of rushing into relationships—it was only logical. And of course, my borderline personality disorder was triggered—badly triggered. Because, sometimes, we are afraid of getting the things we want. Sometimes, we are afraid of being happy. And with BPD, we often question whether or not we even deserve to be happy.
But through all that fear, in my gut, I felt—and still feel—certain that this man is the right partner for me.
What I really want to discuss is my borderline personality disorder getting triggered—something I, foolishly, was not expecting. While on my dating sabbatical, I had hoped and believed that, if I took time away from romance, my BPD would somehow go away.
There was some wisdom to this idea. Facing my fear of being alone was therapeutic in many ways: I worked on myself as a writer, I got clear about what I need in a relationship, and, while at first it was terrifying, before long, it felt strangely nice not having a ‘favourite person’. No one to worry about other than myself.
My BPD is triggered primarily by relationships, particularly my relationship with my ‘favourite person’; and my dating sabbatical was the first chapter in my life in which I did not have a ‘favourite person’; thus, for the entire time I was in hermit mode, without a ‘favourite person’, my BPD was not triggered.
Many years of my life have been wasted worrying about other people, instead of walking my own path. I was so afraid to go there, but proving to myself that I can, not just survive, but thrive on my own did wonders for my sense of self-trust.
Still, I am a human being—a social creature—and I prefer to have a partner.
After spending so much time in isolation, however, I have a new fear: a fear of making myself vulnerable, a fear of falling in love.
And I did not realize just how real this fear is until my next love was standing right in front of me, laying on my twin mattress, moving his belongings into what was now our apartment.
I want to make this very clear: there was no sense of pressure from him, no imposed urgency to move things along. It was something inside of me, inside both of us. I cannot fully explain it. As I said, things just felt right. Comfortable. As though there had already been years between us, even though we had met that very Moon.
But of course, while my intuition—my higher self—knows things are safe; my borderline personality disorder—my lower self—I often find her quaking in her boots. Before this, I had attributed my BPD to my fear of being alone, to how uncomfortable I was at the notion of not having a ‘favourite person’. But since then I have proven to myself that I am okay on my own, without a ‘favourite person’. So why does my BPD still get triggered?
This past summer, I read The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., a great book for learning exactly how trauma impacts the brain. I instinctively picked up this book in the midst of a terrible BPD episode, just knowing I needed to read what was inside. The Body Keeps The Score helped me come to accept how my past has shaped me, for better and for worse.
I have trauma. I have been through some shit. And now my brain is different—neurodivergent. This does not mean I should not work on myself, nor does it mean that I cannot live a fulfilling and meaningful life. But it does mean my brain is a little different. And that is okay. It does not make me a bad person.
See, I had thought, once some of the excitement that comes with a new relationship wore off, I might stop getting triggered. I thought it would go away on its own. Again, foolish! BPD is a health issue.
Before accepting—radically accepting—my BPD, I kept it secret, because I carried so much shame around it. But this experience of taking six months away from dating, then falling head over heels in love, and then my BPD getting triggered precisely because I fell in love—it has shown me that there is no running from this.
With all this unhealed trauma—with all this ignored, closeted, stuffed trauma—my BPD got worse and worse. My ‘splits’ got worse. And I started doing something I had never done before…
There is a behaviour associated with BPD: when a person with BPD ‘splits’, they tend to go from seeing their partner as ‘all good’ to ‘all bad’, and it is not uncommon for them to end the relationship. Of course, once they come out of their episode and they start to see the world more accurately again, usually this impulsive decision is regretted.
As for myself, I was not one to break up with my partner during a ‘split’. In my essay I Have Borderline Personality Disorder—But I Am Not A Bad Person, I write…
While I often feel a great deal of shame for my BPD, the fact that I had never impulsively broken up with a partner during a ‘split’—this, at the very least, was something I could pride myself on.
At the time of writing that essay, back in the Spring, that was true. But since then, during my ‘splits’, I have attempted to break up with my partner. Many, many times. Of course, I never wanted to—not truly. I was just afraid. More afraid than I ever had been before.
But, at the time of writing this essay, I am proud to say, it has been over three weeks since my last ‘split’. For a while, I was ‘splitting’ at least once, maybe even multiple times, a week. So to be nearing a month without a ‘split’, for me, is no small feat!
There have been many things I have employed to help myself manage and cope with my BPD, from SSRIs to yoga. The real work however, is being done on a philosophical level…
In the past, I would always dive into love head-first, totally unafraid about any potential consequences. But too many times now have I seen those consequences. And I have experienced how good a solitary life can be. Surely, letting someone in, and letting them in so quickly, is mad!
This, however, is the cost of love: you have to make yourself vulnerable. You have to trust your partner, and accept the possibility that they could betray that trust, while still believing that they will not. After a few heartbreaks, for any human, this is scary. And for someone with BPD, this is terrifying.
But this vulnerability—this trust—this is also what is so beautiful about love. This is what makes such a relationship so sacred. What I really missed about being in a partnership was having this level of trust with another human, even though, in the past, it had led me to so much pain.
While it was therapeutic to, for a season in my life, be without a ‘favourite person’, ultimately, avoiding what scares me will not heal me. At this point in time, for me, it is most healing to muster the courage to love and to make myself vulnerable with a partner—this time with this new well of self-knowledge.
I have radically accepted that borderline personality disorder is a health issue I have to grapple with. There are things I can do to work on, manage and cope with it—and I do; but there is no healing session that will restore me to my infant form, untouched by life.
This is something I have, something I carry with me. It is not all there is to me. But it is a part of me and a part of my story. And that is okay. I am still worthy of love. I can still find my joy. I can still be a good partner. I can still lead a fulfilling and meaningful life.
Falling in love triggered my borderline personality disorder—but only so it could be healed on an even deeper level.