Her Borderline Rage Was Terrifying, Especially When It Was Aimed At Me

I never entirely let down my guard with her as I never knew what might set her off.

Woman holding two different personalities studioroman, VTT Studio | Canva

Cynthia was more than a mentor, she was like a surrogate mother to me — the Jewish mother I always wanted. She was a huge supporter of my writing and comedy. She was a friend, but one I never felt completely comfortable around.

I never entirely let down my guard with her as I never knew what might set her off.

Cynthia could be brutally honest, and she didn’t pull her punches. When she criticized a student or a friend, she often screamed it, which made it feel even worse.


I was lucky because Cynthia was kind to me for the most part, even when she was blunt, she tempered it somewhat.

She was known to fly off into a rage from time to time which is why I think she had undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder. She considered herself outspoken, straightforward, and ballsy, but she was most likely dealing with fear, depression, and anger.

You’d think she would have lost a lot of friends from her occasional meltdowns and blow-ups, but she was beloved.

Cynthia was a pistol.


She didn’t get one terminal illness — she got three. The first was something to do with her eye, and the next was interstitial pulmonary fibrosis or as she liked to say the same disease that killed Robert Goulet and Evil Knievel.

The cherry on top of her terminal sundae was cancer.

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Cynthia bragged about how she kept getting kicked out of hospice for staying alive or how her doctors would look at her as if they were seeing a ghost because they expected her to be dead by now.

About a year before she died, Cynthia was still going out but had an oxygen tank with her at all times.


Andy and I often drove her to and from shows or took her out to dinner. When Cynthia was in the audience, people would cluster around her and pay her their respects as if she were royalty.

Then there was a showdown on LaBrea.

One night, a mutual friend of ours was having different performers (including me) read essays from his book. It was a book event/spoken word show and it was at a coffee house where we often held events.

We’d gotten to the venue early and Cynthia wanted to sit outside at one of the tables. There was a bar next door, and since people weren’t allowed to smoke indoors, people would stand in front smoking their cigarettes.

One hipster was doing just that.


"Hey, put out your cigarette," Cynthia screamed at the guy who was smoking in front of the bar.

He said something smart back and gave her the bird. His behavior lit the fuse of Cynthia’s wrath.

"I can’t breathe if you continue to smoke," Cynthia shouted.

He shrugged like it wasn’t his problem but put out his cigarette and went back inside the bar.

"You need to go over to the bar, and tell him to stop smoking," Cynthia told me.

"He’s not smoking anymore." He had done, albeit a little belligerently, what she had asked. What was the point of making a bigger issue of it than it needed to be?

"Go over there and get him to put out his cigarette," she shouted in my face.


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Once again, I explained that he wasn’t in front of the bar but this wasn’t good enough for her.

Since I wasn’t responding in the way she wanted, she turned her anger toward me.

"Why aren’t you taking my side? He’s trying to kill me, and he wants me dead."

Cynthia’s face was bright red, her eyes bulging, and she was screaming at me. Her hands were frantically trying to maneuver her wheelchair back into the cafe and when I tried to help, she turned the wheels toward me and I had to jump out of the way.

I hate confrontation and I didn’t understand why I should go yell at the guy when he wasn’t smoking outside any longer.


Besides, the bar was filled with hipsters — was I supposed to go up to all the guys in man buns and yell at them just in case?

I didn’t know what to do, her rage was so intense and inappropriate for the situation. Nothing I said or did had any effect on her except to make her even angrier.

She was having what’s known as Borderline Rage, or an explosive episode of anger that is extremely difficult to manage and can hurt a person’s relationship.

At the moment, it was terrifying to witness.

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"Where’s Andy? I want to go home!!"

Andy brought the car around, helped Cynthia into the front seat, put her wheelchair in the back, and took her home.


There was a part of me that had long been expecting a meltdown and when the rage hurricane came, it left me shaken and confused.

She was sorry for her actions.

Once Cynthia had the chance to cool down, she realized her behavior had been out of line, and she sent me this email:

I am so sorry I yelled at you yesterday. It was an inappropriate response to my mounting agitation. It was wrong of me to expect you to do something you weren’t comfortable with. Sometimes I forget that and expect everyone to behave like me. I hope you will accept this heartfelt apology. The pressure I am under often explodes like a volcano, and it’s hard to turn off the lava flow or control its direction. I do love you.


I immediately forgave her. She was a terminally ill woman with an untreated mental illness, and she was also someone I loved.

There was never a better time or a better person with whom to practice empathy and compassion.

If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.