Written by Kathi Stringer
Tabitha. I remember her fondly and have decided to share a bit of Tabitha with the world. We met as inpatients at the Adventist Medical Center in Portland Oregon. We were both diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I guess I bring this up since some professionals have a hard time working with this group of individuals. So anyway, lets get on with meeting the lil girl in a hard world.
Tabitha, she was a tough girl at nineteen. She had rosy cheeks. Not because they were naturally rosy but because she continuously scratched them until they looked liked the scuffed knee of a toddler. With dark hair that framed her somewhat childish face, she put on the front of being every bit the hard-hitting girl.
We out hung out in the main room and watched television, all the while exchanging our criticisms of staff, cracking jokes and engaging in friendly discussions to get beyond the dull void of boredom.
As I got to know Tabitha a bit better, I felt a nature of protectiveness toward her. She was the abandon child. There were no visitors for her. Old clothes, leftovers from previous patients hung on her small figure. Overt in her topics, she concealed the love-starved child within under a masque that she herself was unable to penetrate.
Even though I was hospitalized to work on my own issues, I couldn’t help but gravitate toward this despairing child. I guess, it was a reflection of myself, and helping Tabitha would in someway bring a new experience for myself vicariously through her.
As an attitude of off-the-cuff humor developed between us, there was also something else going on. A sort of bonding since I truly was hoping to find clues on how I may be able to help Tabitha. I recall the first time I actually asked her a serious question. It was something to do with family relationships or past abuse. She was silent and speechless. I think it was more from a lack of words to communicate feelings. She looked puzzled as she smiled and blew off the question in trade more comfortable topics.
Out of the blue one day she came looking for me. I was reading a book as she tapped me on the shoulder.
“Kathi, I’m going to call my mom. Do you want to come along and listen?” she asked with hope in her hazel eyes. It came to me just then that this was Tabitha’s way of communicating her feelings that were lost in words and could not be said directly. I picked up on her cue.
“Sure Tabitha, I’ll hang with you while you talk to your mom.” I said. I felt like maybe I was able to make that nurturing connection that she seemed so desperately to be searching for. Perhaps, it was unexpected anyone could take an unselfish personal regard for her. I can’t help it. My heart goes out of these individuals with bpd that are fixated in earlier developmental stages and are pledged with a parental emptiness. Maybe I could help fill her estranged abyss with a tiny fragment of human kindness unprovoked in the guise of a professional or predator. It’s the best kind.
As she talked to her mother, it didn’t take long to get the picture. Invalidation. Tabitha was being blamed for her hospitalization. As she protested, her tone turned to a sad and hopeless frustration. It was her fault. She deserved to be alone without visitors or clothes. She tearfully brought up her sexual abuse by extended family. It was nothing her mother hadn’t heard before, and perhaps it was Tabitha’s way to tell me her story. As she talked with her mother, I was attentive and focused. I wanted to be a witness for her sadness. It came to me just then why Tabitha scuffed up her delicate skin on her facial features. She was hurting, and this was the only way she knew of to show her pain. Poor thing. I wanted to scoop her up and take all her hurts away. But, I couldn’t do that. Yet, I recalled through reading that offering a new experience could help change the world for a survivor. She was certainly that.
Later that day my friend Pat called and asked me if I needed him to bring anything during visiting hours. Gosh, how lucky I felt just then. My friends Pat and Trish came to visit me every day, and here was this lonely child putting on a tough appearance without anyone to ask if she needed or wanted anything. Just then an idea occurred to me. “Pat, hold on a second.” Then I turned my attention to Tabitha. “Her Girl” I shouted, “Do you want my friends to bring you anything from the store?” Her eyes got big and round as she scanted a bit closer. “Can I have some of those rollo butterscotch and cherry candies?”
“Sure you can…anything else? How about a magazine? How about anything you want? Do you like M&M’s?”
She smiled and nodded as if not exactly sure how to handle this. As she turned her attention away, I whispered to Pat, “Don’t just get one bag of rollo butterscotch, get 10 bags of them and 10 bags of cherry ones too! And, pickup the National Enquire and the Reader’s Digest and some teen magazines. Plus, find the biggest bag you can get of M&M’s and get several of them. Also, get her a soother for comfort and some lifesavers.” Back came a question from Pat, “How many lifesavers?” With laughter I said, “I don’t know Pat, but make it a bunch. Impress me!”
As the day lingered on, Tabitha kept inquiring when Pat and Trish were going to show up. For a girl who seemed uninterested in getting anything, she sure showed plenty of interest. Of course, she had no idea whatsoever what was coming down the pike later that evening.
Tic-tock. Time drifted by we hung out in the main room. It was quite comfortable with several sofas encircling a table filled with torn magazines and cups half full of apple juice. Tabitha was sitting on the sofa with her knees up to her chest. Another patient was sprawled over an oversized chair with his feet dangling over the side. Some patients were talking just for the sake of talking, anything to breakup the boredom.
Then the visitors began to arrive. After awhile there was a lull in incoming visitors which prompt Tabitha to look at me exquisitely. Just then to familiar figures were coming down from the far end of the hall. It was Pat and Trish. They both looked quite funny loaded down with bags in each hand as they walked from side-to-side to maintain all the weight. Tabitha perked right up. “Hey girl” I said, “Your candy is here, and all the bags are for you. Go and see what ya got!” Pat and Trish flung the bags up onto the nurse’s counter. Tabitha bopped over and then froze, as in terror. She did not expect this.
Oh my gosh, I thought. Tabitha appeared to be overwhelmed. She ran back to the main room away from the nurse’s station. I sensed something. It was awkward. Tabitha was at a loss. I feared that maybe this may of hurt her, more then it helped. But no, it looked more like she did not experience this sort of friendship from anyone the way she cowered down. This vibrant tough kid was completely broken down. Her vocabulary that had been developed with a spark of “I’m big” became small as she peered back from the main room. I decided to redirect the attention off her and visit Pat and Trish so that perhaps she may find relief.
We had a good visit. My friends showing up like that reminded me how fortunate I was. I had friends to listen and believe me. I had friends to ally with me in support of my feelings. I was indeed very lucky. Friends of this sort enabled me to share with others. They give so much that it overflows from me to forgotten kids like Tabitha.
Pat and Trish already gone and I settled down to reading a book. Tabitha finally couldn’t help herself and bopped back up to the nurse’s station to claim her candy. Staff was a bit miffed and was wondering if I violated regulations. They clearly couldn’t take this away from her. Not this child who was already deprived of visitors and wearing misfit clothing. Not her.
No matter about staff reluctance of my indulgence for Tabitha. I was determined that this little ‘bad-kid’ have an experience she could walk away with. An experience to reach down into her closed system of the starved invalidated child and offer up a small fragment of goodness from humanity. Possibly it may be what it takes to keep her alive at times. That the world can be a good place if we are lucky enough of find that special sort of love. The unconditional love from others without strings attached.
Tabitha soon moved up a level as I rooted for her, encouraged her. She wanted to hang back with me, but I would have none of that. She needed to move on, and she did. It is somehow satisfying that when I think of the ‘tough-girl’, that she had a vestige of comfort to soothe her frighten and invalidated inner child. She got to see a bit of you and me reaching out in spirit, reaching out in life, reaching out in love. Tabitha saw a part of her mirrored back affectionately and was able to experience the greatest love of all, to love oneself. You go girl!