Guest Post: Living a Godly Life with Borderline Personality Disorder
I have known Winnie Waruguru since 2016. We met at CITAM and later attended a Bible Study together. A practicing Lawyer, Waruguru is keen on regulatory and environmental compliance. She is married to her loving husband, Kelvin Ambunya. Walk with her as she details her battle with BPD.
I will forever write the period between 2012 and 2018 in the annals of my life. In October 2014, after two years of agonizing living, a Psychiatrist diagnosed me with a major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression. In May 2015, a psychiatrist diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD).
God, in His abundant mercy and wisdom, has since lifted the darkest clouds of depression from above me. However, in his providence, he chose to let me continue living with BPD. This has been developing since my childhood after a traumatic experience and started manifesting a few years before 2014.
BPD has been my constant companion to this day. Despite beginning to grasp functional living from 2018, which is accompanied by occasional mild depression.
What is BPD?
Life with BPD has been (and still is) full of contradictions. Medical practitioners briefly define BPD as “a mental health disorder/illness characterized by unstable mood, behavior, and relationships.” The very nature of BPD is unpredictability and instability: in self-image, values, emotional regulation, and relationships.
People with BPD describe it as standing on shifting ground or quicksand and having super sensitive “emotional nerve endings.”No thought is out of reach, no matter how ludicrous. Emotions can also be felt one after another in quick succession as they also last for hours or days. There’s also constant feelings of emptiness and intrinsic worthlessness. These feelings make it hard for one to accomplish the responsibilities expected of them reasonably. Hence one can go as far as actively sabotaging every good opportunity that God avails for them.
Along with those, worst of all for me has been these two phenomena:
Firstly, what is known as splitting: which is seeing things as black or white/all or nothing with almost no in-between, and seeing people and myself as either all-good or all-bad (and subsequently putting them/myself on a pedestal, only to devalue us depending on what we have done, good or bad).
The second has been intense fear accompanied by rejection and abandonment feelings, which have permeated every human relationship that I had/still have, to varying degrees. Whether real or perceived, I act on those fears and feelings proactively and push people away as a defense mechanism. This knee-jerk reaction always becomes ugly as I find out that I grossly overreacted because my thoughts were wrong after all. As the title of a book on BPD ironically suggests: I hate you—don’t leave me.
You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb
One of the Psalms that has always touched my very core is Psalm 139. Whenever I read and meditate upon it, I continually imagine that I’m in a vastness of void with no end in sight, without anything or anyone, just me baring myself to God’s overwhelming presence, overcome with awe, gazing upon his glory. Perhaps I do this because deep down, I want to set my thoughts aside and attune myself to what God says about himself and me in this chapter.
It is too fantastical to think that God made me without mistake and thought as careful as I cannot imagine. That bit by bit, he knit my being together—including my mind—and saw that it was good (Genesis 1:31). I know this because God knew me before forming me in my mother’s womb and knew all my days beforehand (Psalm 139:16).
God surely knew that I would face these trials. His omniscience is on full display when the Psalmist declares that God knows his thoughts, words, ways, and secrets, even before the Psalmist expresses them. God knows us intimately, just as he did when he created us. It would therefore be foolhardy to not open up to him so that: he shows me the anxious thoughts that plague my mind; and just how much these thoughts overburden me when I carry them by myself yet, he can lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:24) as he takes them on himself (Matthew 11:28).
Constant mind battles
Nonetheless, I often feel inherently flawed as though I came with a manufacturer’s unfixable defect: the kind that gets you a replacement of the motherboard or the entire gadget under warranty. With no intrinsic value, therefore, I derive my value and worth from my performance in everything. And it has to be perfect or close; otherwise, I have missed the mark, and my worth becomes dented (splitting).
I set very high standards for myself that I know I cannot attain and make their attainment my primary mission, yet I always fall short, and it leaves me too devastated. It’s a cycle that repeats itself almost daily. And on a deeper level, I know it is a denial of my value in my lavish Creator, who further gave his life for me without my meriting. God’s mercy and love are unfathomable to me; someone who has worked hard most of her life to earn love, acceptance, and approval.
Looking at life with new lenses
BPD has given me new lenses through which to look at life, a different experience. I have to deal with it day after day, some days more than others, depending on what emotions or thoughts have been triggered, especially by the threat of loss of approval or rejection. Life is much harder with it.
By the end of the day, I’m tired to my bones. I’m mad at myself, and I feel like I don’t deserve anything working well. I will want to quit work and school the next moment or day before they discover that I am a fraud. However, I do not. Instead, I sabotage what I do and endlessly procrastinate because I am afraid of missing the mark.
I’m an absentee friend because I feel like no one wants to hear about how hard things are 50% of the time we talk. I become a poor communicator and sometimes disappear for a few weeks to just gather myself. My sweet husband (God richly bless him) continually reassures me of my value with scripture and reminds me of the battles I have overcome; hence I can overcome the current ones. Some days, I drive him to sad silence where he knows not what to do to help.
A thorn in the flesh
I cry out to God so often, asking him why he chose me to drink of this cup of suffering. Why he appointed me to coexist with an incurable condition that can last a lifetime. Didn’t he see how frail I am? Why won’t he lift the burden even just a little bit? Why can’t I just be like the rest with their different struggles that don’t eat away at their core beings?
Like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, I plead with him to take out this thorn in my flesh. And like Paul, he always reminds me of his grace and strength, sufficient enough to cover my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10); therefore, I train myself to boast in him and delight in my experience. I know that God is not powerless—he gave me what I couldn’t handle to become dependent on him for strength to endure it. And it is so sweet to trust in him.
Living with a constant thorn
It may seem as though the above is a mournful treatise of a despondent life, one which I bear so heavily with no hope or pleasure, yet the opposite is true. I only choose to expose how debilitating mental illness can affect someone expected to show up in life and make things work. Stakes are higher if the sufferer is a believer going through sanctification hand-in-hand with circumstances that makes them take matters into their own hands.
Since 2011, I have experienced God’s hand upon my life more times than I can count. He has delivered me from death by my hand several times. He has kept with me in times of aching loneliness, both from within and without, when I lived by myself for a few years after university. I have found favor with my school instructors and colleagues in every course I have undertaken and passed them when I thought I would flunk face down. I have never lacked, even the two years combined without a livelihood, because I was too scared to apply for a job.
God has surrounded me with friends I could never have made by my might. When I thought I would get married in my forties after healing, for the most part, not to be a burden to my spouse and children, he gave me the most wonderful man when I least deserved it. When I look back, as I remind myself to do when blinded by the odds stacked against me, I am overwhelmed by his fatherhood and shepherding over me. He has never left me nor forsaken me (Isaiah 49:15).
Accepting my God-given portion
I know full well that life will still be the same even after writing this article, and that is not a bad thing. Learning to accept my portion, I purpose to steward it for God’s glory. I know that I am capable of being the salt and light of the earth, even when the salt seems a little less and the light a little dimmer. I know that I grieve him intensely in my moments of rage and faithlessness and that my condition does not exempt me from sin. That when there is a shorter way out, of irresponsibility, he offers a better way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).
God never wastes our suffering
I know that my BPD counts for something because God never wastes suffering. BPD is the hand God has dealt me with to be holy as He is holy. BPD is the vehicle through which God will produce perseverance, character, and hope that will not shame me because God loves me (Romans 5:2-5). I know that I am one in many in this fallen world going through its motions, against which he has provided insurance and assurance (John 16:33). And in the end, with all this testing, my faith in him will be found genuine, and I will stand to praise and glorify Jesus Christ at his revelation, (1 Peter 1:6-7); him who will wipe away all the tears I have cried over everything I’ve been through (Revelation 21:4).
A life to be well lived
I know I will do well and be just fine in the end because Christ will bring to completion the good work he has started in me (Philippians 1:6). Striving to be a joy to my husband, I endeavor not to pass down or project baggage onto my children, affecting them as did me. I will excel at everything God entrusts me with, and nurture everyone he brings my way because he is working in and through me, for his glory. With all this, my end goal is that he will give me the highest form of validation that I could ever hope to receive: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Read “A Biblical Response to Mental Illness” here.