Like Amber Heard, my mother had Borderline Personality Disorder. Even as a victim of her abuse, my feelings are complicated.
My mother, Barbara, with five of her children, in 1951. I am pictured far right, in the suit jacket.
by Wendell Affield
The Heard/Depp lawsuit strikes close to home. I grew up with a mother who struggled with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In the 1950s, as children, her erratic behavior was our normal. Eventually she was committed to a state institution and we children were placed in foster homes. Not until 70 years later, when I inherited a treasure-trove of family documents my mother had kept hidden, did I learn the details about her life-long struggle.
I empathize with the pirate, Johnny Depp. My mother wore many masks: Like Amber Heard, my mother was highly intelligent and could deceive the most discerning person with her charm. But I recall another, not public side of her. Sadly, fear of abandonment, rage, deception, and self-injurious behavior are memories I carry more than seven decades later.
In 1949 she placed an advertisement in Cupid’s Columns, a singles newspaper. She advertised herself as a great cook, knew how to farm, and her four children would be great helpers to a perspective farmer-husband. Our move to rural Minnesota proved to be a nightmare. During the next decade, my mother ran away from an abusive relationship, only to return rather than be alone.
Her rage knew no bounds. An imagined wrong earned the transgressor a sit-on-the-head beating until nearly unconscious. When I was about eight, she chased me upstairs and I jumped out the second story window to escape. I recall countless times, she would harangue my stepfather, a mild-mannered man, until he would mutter, “enough is enough,” take off his belt and thrash her. Seldom was she without bruises. My mother insisted on safeguarding any money we children might get—a dollar from our grandmother, a few dollars from pelts I sold from the weasels and muskrats I trapped—but when I would ask for money for something, it was never there and resulted in a beating if I insisted, because I had to buy my own clothing and shoes.
Seventy years later I carry winter mittens for homeless people I see with bare hands—I remember a little boy’s freezing fingers.
But I empathize with Amber Heard, too. Borderline Personality Disorder is a disease, not a choice. As my friend Dr. Petersen says, “Even today, treatment for mental disorders is still in the Dark Ages compared to many other diseases.” Sadly, my mother lived her whole life struggling with BPD. How can one measure the affects her behavior had on her nine children?
I would suggest that if, in fact, Amber Heard does struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, she should receive the mental help I wish my own mother could have had. This very public trial is exactly what she doesn’t need.
Wendell Affield is the author of several nonfiction books, including BARBARA, Uncharted Course Through Borderline Personality Disorder. Read Barbara’s story and learn more about BPD here. To learn more about the author’s childhood, read his memoir, Pawns: The Farm, 1950, Nebish, MN.