In a recent post I mentioned that we took in a foster daughter a few years ago, and we have been through many struggles together. One of the central struggles has been our young Shadia’s battle with Borderline Personality Disorder.1 It was the impetus for a lot of tears in our family.
But also a lot of laughs. 😛
One morning an ongoing fight with a friend had left Shadia emotionally disregulated. When I visited her room to call her over for breakfast she was distraught, insisting that she was going to leave for work without eating.
This scared me a little because Shadia rides her bicycle a long ways on a busy road to work, and when she is emotionally disregulated she can develop tunnel vision and distracted thinking that makes her a danger to herself and others. One of our few family rules is that we eat as a family in the morning and evening. Beyond the relational aspect, Shadia needs this sort of check-in on a regular basis to help regulate herself. Even the very act of eating can snap her out of a self-destructive cycle.
I called Peregrine over to try to reason with Shadia, and left to get food in the off chance that she’d more willing to eat in her own room. But something triggered me to make a split-second decision to grab a lock instead. Sure enough, when I got back I found Shadia getting her bike and trying to leave.
I snapped the lock right onto the wheel so she couldn’t ride away. She got angry, made threats, claimed that if I didn’t unlock her bike and let her leave then she’d go away and not come back. I didn’t back down – if she tried to ride her bicycle on busy streets in this emotional state and lack of food she would have been in serious danger of getting in an accident. If she wanted to leave for work by public transit I wouldn’t stop her, but I wasn’t letting her leave on the bike.
Shadia’s landlord and the landlord’s family gathered at the door as the ruckus ensued, and soon the rest of the neighborhood was stationed at their doors and balconies. The argument went on – I kept telling Shadia that I loved her and cared for her and that’s why I won’t unlock her bicycle, Shadia kept yelling that she was going to leave one way or another. But something about our unwavering stoic (in a loving way!) presence broke through her walls, and when Peregrine put some food up to Shadia’s mouth, Shadia finally took a bite.
The entire alleyway broke into cheers, a standing ovation! Despite the embarrassment and all her emotion, Shadia cracked up laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. As often happens, the act of eating broke the spell and Shadia calmed down, came upstairs, and had breakfast with us. She was able to talk about what was upsetting her and process it from a calmer mood. And with food in her belly and a more level-headed emotional state, we were able to let her leave then without being as worried.
Later that day, Shadia thanked me profusely for caring so much that I would work that hard to keep her from hurting herself. And the morning of the alleyway cheering has become a classic family memory. One day further in learning to trust, one day further along the journey of healing.
 As always the names are changed, but we still got Shadia’s permission to share this story. A good summary of Borderline Personality Disorder can be found here.