The Buddha & the Borderline: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism, & Online Dating by Kiera Van Gelder

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Mar 23, 2011

Van Gelder begins her fast-paced memoir at an art camp when she’s fifteen. She has deluded herself into believing a boy she’s known for two weeks is her boyfriend. After they engage in what President Clinton evidently doesn’t consider sex, pseudo-boyfriend confesses that he has a real girlfriend back home. Van Gelder responds by dismantling a disposable razor blade, cutting her arms, and using her blood to finger paint a note to him reading, “Please. Don’t leave me. I need you.” The next 178 pages detail her rollercoaster life of pain as she struggles through many mental health misdiagnoses and treatments, AA, and finally something called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). If that’s not your thing, skip to page 179 when Van Gelder finally finds the ride’s exit, which begins her path to Buddhism. More of the hammock swing kinda life she desperately needs.

Mental health and agony IS my thing, so if you also appreciate the darker aspects of life you’ll want to read the book in its entirety. As an on-again-off-again cognitive therapy patient myself, I only recently became aware of DBT when I re-entered therapy looking for new ways to help cope with my life-long battle with anxiety and depression. I was referred to a center that specializes in this type of skills-based therapy, but I wanted to see how DBT works for other people, so I checked out this memoir. Although Van Gelder is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, the skills she learns in DBT are applicable to others without BPD who feel overwhelmed with life. I would especially recommend it to sexual abuse survivors, people with posttraumatic stress disorder, people who have experienced abuse and neglect, and survivors of other traumatic life experiences.

The first four parts of this sad but wickedly funny memoir focus on Van Gelder’s diagnosis of BPD at age 30, and her DBT treatment. I wish instead Van Gelder had spent about half the book on her psychological breakthrough and the latter half on her spiritual breakthrough. As it reads now, with the first four parts focusing on her psychological treatment and just the last part focusing on her Buddhist journey, it feels lopsided since it’s ultimately the spiritual connection to Buddhism where she finds salvation.

***spoiler alert***

My criticism of the way Van Gelder presents her tale could also stem from my irritation with her for dumping what I thought sounded like a wonderful boyfriend and the grudge I continue to hold against her for doing so. But I’m just a reader, not Van Gelder’s friend, so the fact that I wanted to slap her, shake her and say, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” perhaps sways my opinion of this book. But it also shows how she sucks you into her life as if she really is a friend sharing her story with you over a cup of coffee and perhaps some psychotropic drugs. If you like true life tales of self-harm and longing, this is a cleverly written book, so have at it. I personally would have liked Van Gelder to go into more detail about life after she discovered Buddhism, but I understand dysfunction sells more books than transformation.

Written by Becky C.

I like to read and write about things you're not supposed to talk about.