The first time I wondered if my daughter had a personality disorder, she was in the 6th grade. I received a harrowing phone call at work. The principal (who was a former colleague) said that something had happened when our daughter got off the bus and that there were witnesses to confirm. “Your daughter isn’t innocent in this.”
I’m not the type of parent who assumes my children are perfect angels. In fact, I’m the first one to admit their faults and pinpoint what areas they are likely to go astray. The tale of trouble continued to unfold. Our daughter, “Brittney,” threatened to kill another student. There were witnesses. Other students confirmed the alleged threat, and the mother of the other child had rightfully stormed the office. There had been underlying rivalry between the two girls since 1st grade. Rivalry is one thing, but threatening a life is another.
I assured the principal we would support the disciplinary action set forth in the handbook, whatever that meant, and that we would speak with Brittney as soon as she got home. Much to my surprise, the principal explained that because both children were exemplary students and that we would address the issue at home, she would not recommend disciplinary action. Instead, she would send both children to the counselor for peer mediation. She insisted this was the best option, as she did not want anything to appear in our daughter’s file. However, it was not for the best, not for our daughter at that time, the girl she threatened, or the tragedy that would unfold in our home years later.
After dinner, I sat her down to discuss the phone call. Immediately the hysterics began. She insisted that she hadn’t spoken to “Karen” at all. Karen and her friends hated her and were trying to get her in trouble. The story continued to change as she went on for several minutes. In the end, she claimed she told Karen goodbye when she exited the bus and no other students were present, so no one could have heard her say anything at all.
This was not our first, nor would it be the last, encounter with our child telling outrageously detailed lies, painting herself as virtuous, or as the victim of unprovoked harassment and bullying. In fact, she lied so frequently that we could never be sure where the ounce of truth ended and the lie began. I spoke with the principal the next day to retell our child’s side of the story. Again, she assured me that there were multiple other students who had confirmed the verbal threat and that Karen was walking a wide circle around Brittney. Regardless, our daughter continued to deny any wrongdoing. Concerned, we sought professional help at a family counseling center.
Counseling made her angry. After all, she hadn’t done anything wrong; she shouldn’t have to be there. She resented us for seeking help. She became detached, agitated, and we all suffered from her intense and increasing mood swings. As a family, we walked on egg shells daily to avoid the impending tsunami of her rage. At times, for the sake of “peace”, my husband I avoided confronting her with the web of lies she would continually weave and her attitude toward her younger sister.
After six months, Brittney’s counselor was leaving the practice to further her education. She stated that we could continue with someone else or that since she seemed to be doing much better, we could discontinue at this point. After dealing with our daughter’s intense mood swings that seemed exacerbated with each appointment, we decided this was a good time to take a break. Our daughter was delighted as we walked out the door. However, as I sat with her in the darkness, waiting for the windshield to thaw, she spoke the words I will never forget. “If you ever make me go to another counselor, I’ll make sure the other Brittney comes back.” Trying to call her bluff, I asked what she meant by the “other Brittney”, to which she calmly explained that I knew exactly what she meant.
These were our first encounters with what seemed compelling evidence that our daughter had a significant problem. However, she didn’t fit the mold of a mentally disturbed adolescent. Coming from a middle class, well-adjusted home, our concerns were dismissed by professionals because she was well behaved at school, had exemplary grades, and did not display any other behaviors that were concerning, such as self-harm, drug use, or promiscuity. Our concerns of her attitude and occasional aggressive behaviors toward her younger sister were dismissed as normal sibling strife. The struggles continued at home and eventually violent behavior re-emerged toward a cousin. Her mood swings continued to spike and drop every few weeks. We decided to seek a psychiatric evaluation and resume counseling. When I broke the news to her about the upcoming evaluation and counseling session, she swore that we would pay for this. The psychiatric evaluation yielded inconclusive results, although it indicated a personality disorder. This was the first time the term personality disorder would be spoken concerning our daughter, specifically the possibility of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). However, because she was not yet 18, no diagnosis would be provided and again, counseling proved to be unsuccessful.
Unfortunately, we did not know the extent of our daughter’s destructive behaviors. True to her oath, Brittney made us pay dearly. The price was her sister’s well-being and nearly the cost of her life. Our youngest child now suffers from severe PTSD. Brittney spent four months in residential care, where again, BPD was discussed but not diagnosed because of her age and the absence of other disturbing behaviors.
Looking back, I can see warning signs that something was amiss as early as toddlerhood. My advice to other parents is to keep a written record of concerning behaviors and report to your pediatrician often. Trust your instincts. The early warning signs should not be ignored or swept aside as normal childhood or adolescent behavior. Continue to seek help for your mentally disturbed child while you can. If it falls on deaf ears, seek another opinion. As parents, we must be the advocate for our children. Speak out about what is happening. Speak out when you are concerned. Speak out for hope.