It has been very difficult for me to be aware at all times that my sister has borderline personality disorder. At first, before her diagnosis, I thought she was a bad person and I felt no remorse and guilt when her actions affected me negatively, nor when they especially affected my parents. Many times, I told my sister that they were my parents too and that it was not fair she was consuming them. Then, when she was nice to us I could see she was not mean, but inevitably, the doubt returned every time there was conflict between us.
I filmed a documentary based on the closing of the hospital where my sister was hospitalized during her crises. I never imagined I would direct a project like this, but I felt a strange need to do it. I think my intention was and still is, to understand how my sister’s life is with BPD; and how much emotions can hurt her. It is believed that from a viral encephalitis she had at the age 3, in addition to a physical sequelae in her hand and foot, there were also neurological consequences.
We have talked a lot over these almost 4 years while we worked on the project. I think we have talked more during this period than our childhood and adolescence put together. She told me that since she was very young she had suffered from insomnia and had recurring dreams of the devil; her insomnia was assumed to be “normal,” although it caused her to fall behind in school and to have bad moods. She also told me other children bullied her. Because of her treatment with cortisone, Liliana was a chubby girl, and had a crooked foot and hand. All this was feeding her hatred of school, the children and the teachers, with some exceptions. Then I remembered how it feels when someone at school rejects you and does it publicly, and I was able to understand why my sister did not like school and got bad grades.
Neither at school nor at home did we know anything about mental illness. Children with bad behaviour or school performance were children with problems at home, and it was specifically the parents’ fault for spoiling them. I cannot say there were no problems at home, but I am sure there could have been less if we had known that Liliana’s was a health situation that had to be taken care of, and above all, that could have been controlled without the 16 pills my sister had to take daily, which damaged her skin, her hair and her digestive system, as far as we know.
Liliana has told me that her emotions are always overflowing, that just like she can feel an uncontainable happiness that is so huge it can even hurt, she can also feel a disgusting rage or sink into the deepest and most desolate sadness where the only strength she has left could be used to take her own life. She told me she hears voices that do not shut up for days and keep saying horrible things to her; like if she was dreaming about that devil from her childhood but with her eyes open. She has told me that any comment of our disapproval or complaint, makes her feel immerse in a swamp of defeatist thoughts and void of hope.
I believe that because she knows we love her profoundly and unconditionally she gives herself the luxury of losing control with us, because if it happened with another person, unless it is a good friend, one of those who are very hard to find, they would call her “crazy “ like we, the ” healthy” ones often do when a person does not have emotional control or when a person does what everyone has wished they could do at some point: lose control and shout at someone who is a jerk and an asshole. Or chase one of those intrepid drivers on a monster truck and destroy the entire vehicle after letting out only the good people. Or assassinate a fascist president who is a thief or make the entire political and corrupt class disappear.
Loving someone who has BPD is an exercise of patience and affection that is not always recognized. It seems that for my sister assuming some of her mistakes can become emotionally unbearable and for me her life is more valuable than her apologies.
Loving someone with BPD also makes you feel gratitude. A friend of mine says I should be grateful it was not me who became ill; unfortunately it is Liliana who suffers more and life has been harder on her than on me. So, it was my sister who saved me from living what she had to go through, she saved me by being on the frontline of the battle.
The realities that my sister and I live are different and make our thoughts incompatible at times, but I can say that little by little I have started to understand under the assumption that Liliana is not a bad person and she does love me.