Mailbox: Seven Decades

Thanks to my putting my mailing address “out there” prominently for anyone to find, I’ve begun to receive such truly remarkable letters on a regular basis that I think I’m going to have to make blogging about them a semiregular activity.  For a while I was contented with occasionally tweeting that I had received something that touched me, but then I received a letter from a 60+ year old woman in Idaho, and I realized that 140 characters wasn’t going to cover it.  I don’t have her permission to use her name, and don’t know how to contact her online, but I’ve asked permission in my reply to her letter, and so I’ll possibly edit this post later with a bit more about her.

I was intrigued before I even opened the card; it had a haunting photograph of misty trees pasted to the outside, created, I can only presume, by the author of the letter, as it was titled beneath: ” ‘ECHO’ – for Mishell Baker “.

This woman wrote a letter to thank me for having written Borderline, and somehow, it seemed, to thank me for simply existing.  It sounds strange, doesn’t it?  Excessive?  Except that this woman, better than anyone, must have known how valuable it is for me to receive reassurance that it’s okay for me to take up space.  She knew this because, like me, she has borderline personality disorder.  And somehow, miraculously, without the new tools we have to identify and manage the condition, she has survived into a seventh decade.

I’m not certain if she realizes how miraculous that is.  I fact I’m sure she doesn’t, given that she had written to me to congratulate me on something she considered a tremendous achievement.  All I did was write a book.  This woman has somehow not only survived past sixty without ever finding an understanding therapist, but also managed to find some kind of peace, after many harrowing decades that she only delicately alludes to:

“…after a long lifetime of moving around in hope of outrunning all that ailed me, I have finally grown roots and stayed put these last seventeen years; able to…make some real progress in the construction of self.”

My eyes fill with tears just reading this.  Can you even imagine?  To be a woman in her forties, carrying around (what I can only imagine must be) a string of broken relationships and abandoned careers, and to still have the courage to try again, to settle somewhere and begin the process of finding out who you are?  This woman attributed courage to me, but only I think because, as someone with BPD, she found it hard to recognize such a good quality in herself.  People with BPD are prone to idealizing others and belittling their own accomplishments (as well as the accomplishments of anyone foolish enough to love them).

It’s hard for me to express what it meant to receive this letter.  I never imagined that anything I might write or say, could move a person more than twenty years my senior to thank me.  If I ever nurtured fantasies of illuminating readers or changing their lives for the better, I always imagined lost souls in their teens or twenties who hadn’t yet reaped the benefit of surviving long enough to pick up a few tricks that pass for wisdom.

I don’t even remember now exactly what I replied to her, but I hope I said something to make it worth the effort she took in reaching out to me.

2 Responses to “Mailbox: Seven Decades”

  1. Pamela Hutson

    I am halfway through Borderline and I can’t thank you enough for writing it. My firstborn (who is 37 now) has BPD, but I only just recently understood this. Before that, I just knew something was terribly wrong. Reading this book helps me to understand what it feels like to be her, and that is unbelievably helpful. She never sticks with treatment for long, and my worst fear is that she will do something drastic in a bad moment, just like your main character does by jumping off a building.

    Much of the info available online about BPD names erratic, inconsistent parenting as the cause of the illness, but after spending a lot of time in therapy myself talking it over with professionals, I can see that it’s more complex than that. There seems to be some genetic component, and when that is paired with a shaky environment, bingo. I have PTSD and MDD so I won’t pretend to be Donna Reed but I love her very much and have been at a loss to understand much about her. Your book helps.

    Anyway, I think I am going to buy her the book after I finish it. Thank you again. So brave of you, and you are really funny too.

    • Mishell Baker

      Yes, there is definitely a “genetic sensitivity” component. It makes me very worried with my own children, and very proactive about teaching them to respect and manage their own emotions. I am constantly on the lookout for things that might trigger that sensitivity in them. Fingers crossed, but we won’t know how I did until they’re teenagers.

      Thank you so much for buying the book – twice, even! And I wish your daughter the best. It’s very possible her symptoms will start to mellow soon; I know mine did as I got close to 40. I hope the book helps her as well. I did write it, in part, to show that even people whose brains play horrible constant tricks on them are still worthy of love and can still be the heroes of their own stories.

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