I became a volunteer for NAMI after two of our four children were diagnosed with a mental illness. When our daughter Jenny was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, BPD, I also joined the NEA-BPD, the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder. I have been on the board for both organizations, leader of family education programs, mentor, trainer. All of this knowledge and energy did not prevent the death of our daughter.
Unfortunately, mental illness affects the whole body and the life span of individuals with a mental illness is an average of 25 years less than the average life span. This was true for Jenny who was only 39 when she lost her battle with borderline personality disorder in March of 2019. Born ‘exquisitively sensitive’, Jenny struggled as a child. Misdiagnosis complicated her situation and it was only late in her life that she received the accurate diagnosis of BPD co-occurring with addiction. In the face of extreme challenges, Jenny graduated from college with honors, married, and had two exceptional daughters. I think of the considerable fortitude she had to survive the struggles inflicted on her by her illness and how this internal strength and love of her children kept her alive. She was sharply witty with a resounding and infectious laugh. Her absence has left a silent void in our lives.
In spite of the societal tag of ‘step’, I fully embraced Jenny as my daughter, and Jen called me mom. Because of family education and support groups, I was able to stand by her with each new twist of her illness and she knew unconditional love without judgment. As she often said, ‘I know I can’t scare you off,’ and she claimed I saved her life. The loss of this closeness has been profound.
As if flowing through doors and windows, support and comfort arrived from many sources after Jenny’s death. Each offered peace and footing in its way. I have been the recipient of exceptional compassion through my NAMI and mental health friends, and I feel gratitude toward my circle for carrying me through the early days of my painful loss, and for continuing to buoy me in the subsequent months.
Another portal of support is my counselor who has walked with me over the years as Jenny painstakingly traversed an emotional tightrope. Her understanding and wisdom are guiding me through the darkest places of my grief. Likewise, mindfulness meditation, prayer, and relationships with friends and family have opened gates of strength and encouragement, while self-care in the forms of loving-kindness, patience, and rest have played a role. All have been resources of peace and fortitude.
The things that continue to motivate me are friends, especially those who know Jen’s story and the unique difficulties of BPD, and family, especially her children. Jenny’s death has increased my passion for leading family education classes on borderline and continue a BPD support group. It is important to me that Jenny’s death is made meaningful by helping others.
By Jackie Mashore