Reward for completing therapy! More therapy!

ImageThat title is half snarky/sarcastic, half genuinely (albeit tentatively) enthused. Why? Because Canada’s healthcare system has a standard mental health program that means you have to slog through quite a bit of aggravating standardized b.s. to get to the “real” treatment: namely, 8 weeks of basic emotion regulation skills (group format), followed by months of DBT (group) until you finally get to see an individual therapist – yes, one of your very own – for 45 minutes per week to help with the DBT skills. 

***Side note: for anyone who doesn’t know what Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is, it’s a form of psychotherapy developed specifically for BPD, and therefore a standard ‘prescription’ for the disorder. The program was developed by Marsha Linehan, a woman with severe BPD who engaged in self-harm and numerous suicide attempts for years before pursuing psychology and spiritual exploration (and the combination of the two) as a way to combat the disorder in herself and in others. I am a pretty big believer in DBT (and I haven’t even gone that far in it yet), mostly because it bloody works. If you are suffering from BPD (or know someone who is) please give DBT serious consideration: find a therapist in your area who has years of experience with it, and a track record of using it to successfully treat borderlines. There will be a LOT of posting on/about DBT in this blog, especially as I’d like to share many of the techniques it has taught me.***

So yes, I’d sat through the 8-week intro on regulating emotions (not that helpful but it laid the groundwork I guess), and then through another few months of DBT group sessions which mainly involved extremely patronizing discussions of how to “shoo away bad feelings” and “focus on the positive” (thank you, Captain Obvious!), and today was my first meeting with my individual DBT therapist.

She was an extremely nice lady – but much more excitingly/importantly, she was an extremely qualified lady. She asked me for my basic history in terms of mental health treatment. I told her. It included many standard reactions that borderlines can get from medical professionals – i.e., “Oh WOW, you’re fucked up! I have no idea what to do with you, and now that we’ve gotten into all your issues just enough to really upset you, I recommend that you go see *insert name of some other doctor with no specialty in BPD*”  

So get this: my new therapist lady actually validated these experiences. That right there floored me. It was such a short statement, and such a simple thing, but just her saying that I was right to feel wounded by those reactions was a big thumbs-up in my head. “Opening up for help is hard enough for borderlines,” she said. “Opening up for help and not getting that help from supposed professionals? That’s medical trauma.” 

I’m trying really really hard not to feel too invested/hopeful about all this since, well, you know how that often turns out when you’ve got BPD (when most people get their hopes dashed they can get irritated or upset; when borderlines get their hopes dashed they can get, um, insane or suicidal). But at the same time, acknowledging a positive feeling like hope is important when your brain’s pathways are very well worn in negative directions, but hardly broken in at all on the positive side. 

Part of the armour BPD pads us with is supremely negative thinking: if I expect the absolute worst, I can’t be hurt or disappointed (Yay, look at me in my incredibly cozy bubble-wrap of misery and low expectations!). This is an incredibly dumb line of reasoning for a few reasons: 1) It doesn’t work. How many times have you told yourself this, yet STILL felt hurt/disappointed (and then angry at yourself for feeling what you swore you wouldn’t feel)? 2) Countless studies have shown that thoughts form reality in a very concrete way; predict the worst possible outcome, and you stand a much better chance of getting the worst possible outcome. 3) It reenforces an existing pattern in your mind to lean towards seeing the negative rather than the positive in any situation = extra badness for yourself. 4) It reenforces the idea that anyone who IS working to be positive or improve is a stupid, delusional chump – when in reality, anyone who’s tried it knows that clinging to the fleeting positive moments in this life is a task of truly heroic effort and badass determination (at least it is when you’re coming at it from the total opposite direction).

So yep. The situation seems a little bit brighter at the moment: feels weird to say that. And I’m actively acknowledging the resistance to positivity, the fact that it feels weird to say that. One of my (many) past therapists said something really helpful when I was berating my terrible coping skills: “Maybe they are terrible, but you learned them for a reason. Honour them for that reason. They got you through what you need to get through at that time, but they’re not working anymore and they’re actually just hurting you.” For that reason alone, BPD therapists will differ from most therapists: they should never EVER be telling you to “tear down the walls” or “just let it all out” – that kind of thing works for some people, but not for us. The walls and boundaries and negative coping skills we have were developed for a reason, and they need to be taken down slowly or the only result will be a total meltdown.

Take one positive moment today to embrace whatever makes it positive. Acknowledge thoughts like “God I’m pathetic” or “Why am I fucking doing this?”  Then picture yourself giving those thoughts a giant middle finger (or mooning… I prefer mooning, personally, it’s somehow more satisfyingly defiant) because you’re not giving into them yet again. This moment, and whatever makes it positive, is for you to enjoy because, come on now, you deserve to enjoy at least one moment of your time on this earth – doesn’t everyone?

 

Cat xx

 

*Sits on ass… waits to feel better*

Today my grand achievements include:

a) feeding myself (not particularly well, included pizza and not nearly enough water)

b) caffeinating myself (not particularly helpful since the energy I hoped it would produce was totally misdirected)

c) watching a movie I haven’t seen since I was about 7 (“Watcher in the Woods” – Disney’s foray into horror; I recommend it if you feel like sacrificing “good” for awesome/nostalgic/cheese, which is to say… it’s actually great)

d) Finally posting this even though there’s nothing more annoying that useless whining about being useless.

I’m not crazy depressed, I’m not feeling all ragey or particularly BPDish in any way – just frenetically aimless. So. Annoying.  It’s the feeling that (for me) always accompanies the knowledge that there is a LOT to do… eventually. Once you simply cannot procrastinate any longer, some part of your mind kicks in and makes you miserably stressed but incredibly productive. Prior to that stage, however, you just kind of laze and mope and vaguely worry about what’s coming up. Almost every thought is “I should be doing this, I should be doing that, I have to get this over with, etc etc.” Yet stupid tumblrs have never been so inviting – nor have pointless advice columns and articles, old SNL clips on youtube, and every other way the internet absolutely sucks up my time while simultaneously doing NOTHING for me… argh!!

The point is: I’ve wasted virtually an entire day doing fuck-all, but I refuse to beat myself up about it – thereby committing the smallest sliver of productive activity since that’s a relatively new achievement for me.

Everyone has days like this and a good way to snap out of them is to be accountable to someone; hence, the logging on here and writing this frightfully dull (for anyone who is not me) post. Apologies. Needing to see the words to commit myself to: doing a quick workout, taking a shower, and getting some much needed house-keeping in. Then it’ll be a short mindfulness/meditation track on grooveshark and *cries a bit* group therapy tomorrow morning.  😦   Thinking that is part of why today was full of nervous but pointless/lazy stressing….

Cat Earnshaw xxImage

 

Identity and BPD: so many angles, so little mind…

Image       Lately I’m overwhelmed with ideas to consider/write about/explore in relation to that all-consuming topic of my life: BPD. I know that it’s actually much more important to LIVE a life rather than just spend it looking at life from every possible angle in your mind. Looking at it, analyzing it, considering it from every possible angle is just too exhausting for anyone’s mind, let alone a borderline’s. However, that’s what this post is going to be, in the hopes that venting some of these constant buzzing thoughts regarding the inner life and identity of BPD gets them out for the day (or hour at least).

It hardly needs to be said that, as borderlines, we spend so much damn time thinking this out (well, trying to), questioning everything we do/have done, trying to come up with solutions when ultimately, we don’t even know if we want to be ‘solved’ – after all, most people with BPD grow to see the disorder as their ‘actual’ identity. This is tragic but completely understandable – and, in fact, inevitable – for a variety of reasons:

#1) BPD lasts.

Untreated, it’ll last decades – for some people, a whole lifetime. If you make it to your 40s/50s (given the 1/10 BPD suicide statistic), you may be one of those people lucky enough to have the symptoms simply dissipate on their own: yep, some studies have shown that, inexplicably, many of BPD’s symptoms will lessen or soften with four or five decades of horrific self-abuse practice (hip hip hooray??). However, for the borderline right in the throes of this disorder (20s and 30s), it’s now defined the vast majority of your inner existence. That’s a powerful sense of identity when not much else had lasted in your life; because, of course, your BPD has likely damaged most of your core relationships, robbed you of your hobbies/opinions/passions, and caused you cut ties with anything that gets too ‘close’ to prevent the painful situations you anticipate. Ironic result? The problem destroying your life is all you really have to define yourself by.

#2) BPD (and all the shit it brings with it) just feels “realer” than the rest of your life.

I’m not entirely clear on the mechanisms at work in this one but one thing is very clear to me: pain, loss, sorrow, darkness, agony, anger are all very “real” words in my vocabulary. Happiness, peace, love, calm, joy, laughter – not so much. I mean they’re real, of course, but they are inextricable from a sense of falseness or transience in my mind: that is, I know (or BPD makes me “know”) that they will never last – so why pursue the pain by acting like they will last? “But that’s just stupid,” non-borderlines will point out. “Why dwell on sorrow and pain and anger and all that dark shit when they don’t last either.” True. And yet, in the BPDer’s mind, they are the ones that last – primarily because (largely unconsciously) we make them last.

Research has shown that you make pathways in your brain just as you do in a landscape. Those that are well-trafficked become those that are ‘real’ – your mind understands them, it’s used to travelling them, and – as a creature of habit just like the rest of our human parts – it wants to keep going down them because they’re familiar. The pathways that don’t get much use become exactly how you’d expect an unused path to become over time: overgrown, treacherous, scary, daunting. The mind resists the work of forging those new paths. 

I first came across that information in my initial counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder, and it really excited me in a way. For one thing, it made so much sense. Our brains and bodies are built out of repeated connections and patterns. Make certain connections a million times (i.e. love isn’t real, love never lasts, I don’t trust it and it’s hurt me), and your brain is a friggin effective learner: it will help to reinforce the “knowledge” that love is not a path to go down, so just stick to this lovely little venue of miserable loneliness instead.

Even as I’m bloody writing these words I can actually feel my well-worn brain patterns resisting what I’m writing (seriously)! “No, no, no, NO, Cat, don’t even think things like this, deep down you know you should stick to what you’ve always followed, you know it’s true.” But the fact is – and it’s taken literally a few years just to get to this point in my own head – I do not have a good sense of what is “true.” I really don’t. I’ve got a very strong sense of what my BPD believes to be true. And that’s never worked for me. In fact it’s sucked so bad at guiding my life that I’m now willing to do god-awful things like sit through the required group therapy (the horror… the horror) just to combat its influence. I know BPD is just a part of the picture and not the “real” picture, but I’m still struggling to apply that knowledge to my life in concrete ways.

#3) BPD’s symptoms can be very similar to the actual parts of your identity that it grew from.

Picture this: Take a creative, sensitive child with a propensity for drama, passion, story-telling and spontaneity. Now subject him to all the conditions that create BPD, including a genetic predisposition, a family that’s not comfortable with emotions or punishes them, a traumatic event that produces overwhelming feelings which can’t be expressed, and a peer group that rejects and belittles his ideas, emotions and identity. Gradually, the creativity and storytelling traits become duplicity and a talent for lying – even when it’s not necessary. Suppressed, the propensity for drama and passion become violence and uncontrollable emotions whenever they do burst out. The spontaneity become impulsiveness – promiscuity, gambling, self-harm, drug abuse.

In this way, BPD takes certain aspects of your being and slants them in a self-destructive direction. But because those aspects really do represent parts of your personality, you’ll feel as fiercely attached to them as if they were parts of you. How many borderlines meet their BPD diagnosis with anger, defensiveness and disbelief (*raises hand*)? “It is NOT a mental illness, it’s just who I am.” It’s an absurdly common reaction to any mental health diagnosis, and it was certainly mine. I was sure that I didn’t have a problem – everyone else just had a problem with the way I was. I was sure that I’d always had an association between love and pain, or love and violence: that’s just me. I was sure that I’d always had a habit of lying, or an inability to handle strong emotions, or a lean towards self-destruction. The resistance in me was insanely strong: THOSE THINGS ARE WHO I AM AND IF I GIVE THEM UP, I CEASE TO BE ME!!!!!!!

I still feel like that when I get in really severe BPD mode (i.e. depressive or raging low points). But by exploring and validating who I really am, I’m finding it easier to let go of the ways that BPD has defined me. It’s not easy, to say the least. I mean it’s been defining me, and telling me that’s how I have to define myself, for over 20 years now. But the cliche is true: behind every horrible person was (and sometimes still is) a ridiculously sensitive and damaged person in need of love and validation – the kind that only comes from within (please don’t fucking fool yourself like so many borderlines into thinking someone else holds that key).

Note: the very phrase “self-love” or “self-care” still my skin crawl instinctively. I’m not even remotely comfortable with it yet. But as I progress through therapy, I’ll be sharing a lot of techniques to facilitate the ability to “self-care” while I attempt to work on them myself too.

In conclusion, no matter how long it’s been going on, how bad things have gotten, or how many past examples you’ve built up to make your point: don’t be so sure that being horrible, evil, bitchy, manipulative, violent or destructive is your “true” nature – even if you’ve gone to great lengths to prove it to other people until they wholeheartedly agree.

That’s BPD’s identity, not yours: you owe it to your true self to put in the hard work it takes to separate the two.

Cat Earnshaw xx

 

The world premiere of “Border_” FULL MOVIE

The world premiere of “Border_” FULL MOVIE.

Living in the middle of nowhere, as I do, my rural internet options are absolutely atrocious (we’re talking $80 a month for basic internet, with virtually no downloads, videos, streaming, etc.). As a result, I haven’t watched this yet, but I’m dying to! Next time I’m in a coffee shop and taking advantage of their free wifi I’ll definitely make it a priority. 😉

In the meantime, take a moment to watch this and let me know your thoughts – particularly if you have BPD: do you think this video is accurate? Unbiased? Can’t wait to check it out…

Out of the darkness, but not into the light

DSCF5442

Last week I posted about being in a BPD black hole, namely because I was right in the middle of one. I can feel that sensation receding now, day by day. It’s interesting to me to track the times that those pitfalls occur and how long they last, etc.  Well, I say “interesting” but that’s far too clinical and detached: what I really mean is, I’m swamped beyond all interest, curiosity, or any other active or positive emotion while I’m in them, and then when they do recede I kind of sit up and go, “… OK what the f**k just happened?”

I want to know more about them because they basically define BPD for me. Without them, I feel like I’d be a functional, ‘normal’ person. Many times in my life I’ve thought, oh yay, they’re gone and now I’m okay! The truth is that for a variety of reasons, things would be going well enough that I didn’t fall into them, but the minute any emotion/situation arose that required my good ol’ coping mechanisms – *WHAM* they’d descend on my life like a murder of particularly ominous crows.

In fact, one of the trickiest things about BPD is that borderlines can be so damn normal a lot of the time. They’re often (seemingly) outgoing, friendly, positive people with lots of great stuff in their lives (Marilyn Monroe is famously rumoured to have been BPD). Unlike straight depression or anxiety or many other disorders (although those can definitely crop up in the life of a borderline as well), BPD can often co-exist just fine with a superficially great life for years and years – even decades in my case. I spent most of my life succeeding in ways that indicated to everyone who knew me that I was on top of everything: I had lots of friends; I had worked my way up to studying at some of the world’s most prestigious universities; I worked, earned money, spent it in normal ways; I enjoyed normal hobbies like music and travelling. But the few people closest to me (and for me that meant romantic partners and a couple best friends, as I am quite emotionally distanced from my family) were forced to see the parts I kept from everyone else: the cutting, the starving, the periods of depression, the OCD, the uncontrollable emotions that would culminate in me verbally or even physically attacking them (by the way, I don’t know why I’m using the past tense because, yeah, this is still how it goes… optimism I guess?).

My blackest depths last, on average, 5-7 days, and, like a pressure-releasing valve, they go off about once every couple months. I’ve had them last as long as a couple weeks but rarely. I’ll usually be down, depressed, tired and/or mopey after they hit (current feelings of blargh), but the real crushing point is usually a matter of days and not weeks. During those days, I feel inconsolably – and I mean utterly inconsolably – frustrated, furious and suicidally depressed. Everything and everyone that attempts to help gets attacked. There’s a vague sense that I don’t deserve or want to feel better – but I don’t know why. Sometimes there’s a sense that if only someone would do the perfect thing at the perfect time exactly the way I want, THEN I’d know that someone really cares. It’s a sort of trial by telepathy that – big surprise! – never, ever works out.

I understand that my worst periods are brought on by any strong negative emotion – even if it’s something as seemingly innocuous as disappointment over someone not saying “I love you” when they normally do – but what I don’t understand is how to give myself or the other person permission to move past them. It feels like moving on or letting go (i.e. the normal healthy thing to do) would be giving up, accepting what I know to be wrong and unjust, letting someone get away with murder – in other words, total anathema to a borderline. Once emotions ARE released, they simply cannot be moved past or it feels like we’re accepting the invalidation of our emotions that so scarred us in the past.

It is not a pleasant feeling, to put it mildly.

I’m glad to be gradually moving out of it. The problem is that each time one of these things happen, they leave a wake of pretty serious destruction. I feel permanently less trustful of the person who (I feel) hurt me, or maybe I’ve hurt them, or smashed something I really wish I hadn’t smashed (goodbye, favourite coffee mug), or said something I wish I could take back, or hurt myself so badly I can’t wear a tank top and it’s really hot this week, or blah blah blah. You likely know the drill.

And of course, for most borderlines, there’s always the threat that one of those episodes will cause the one action you really can’t take back – the one that you practice over and over and over in your mind, both as a kind of comfort and a masochistic fantasy.

This is quite the rambling post so I’ll leave off for now in order to get some more of the good stuff (sleep, water, healthy food, exercise) that helps me recover from these black spots.

Does anyone else have any insight on these awful times? How long do yours typically last? And how often?

Black Holes and Revelations*

Simulated view of a black hole in front of the...

 

As a borderline (or someone who knows one), how often do the ‘black holes’ come along for you? How long do they last?

 

When I say black holes, I mean the kinds of situations that everyone can immediately call to mind if they are/know a BPDer. I don’t have to define them because you know what I’m talking about, but I’ll try in case anyone does not have a huge catalogue of them on file in his/her mind.

 

The black holes of BPD are the lows of chronic depression, the frenzy of withdrawal, the ache of isolation, and the boiling hatred and rage that precipitate all serious violence committed by human beings. To fall into one is to lose all sight and memory of what it is like to be happy – or even to live tolerably inside your own skin and skull. Existence feels crushing, infuriating, pointless. Every effort to help only inflames every negative thought and emotion at war inside you. Nothing is good enough and anyone who tries to come close must be savagely and instantly pushed away, at any cost, for reasons that you don’t even understand. When the screaming and vitriol do exactly what you’d expect they’d do – i.e. drive everyone away – the borderline can sit back and stew over everything they were already upset about, but with the added pain of abandonment and the knowledge that they were right: no one can help and no one cares enough to try.

 

Sound crazy? Then you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

 

For me, reading a description of typical BPD rage for the first time was terrifying because it made so much damn sense. It resonated in ways that made me feel cold all over. I feel like that all the time, I thought.

 

In fact, the real truth of it is (I’m trying to be as honest as possible in this blog since I have a long and destructive association between my BPD and mandatory shame/dishonesty about it): I’m feeling like that right now. I am right smack in the middle of a black hole – but the difference is, this time, I’m searching for a revelation.

 

How did it start? When did it escalate and why? How is it similar to ones I’ve had in the past?

 

These are questions I ask myself every time I feel like this but I never feel closer to treating the cause, even if I do come closer to identifying it (perhaps?).

 

It started as many of mine do: I felt disappointed. Disappointment, for me, is a massive trigger, and I’m certainly not alone in that among BPDers. Why? Because when you feel disappointed, you acknowledge that you did not get something you were expecting. In other words, you acknowledge (or maybe you don’t, but a part of you knows anyway) that your expectation was a vulnerability, a spoken or unspoken request that made you open to rejection. That rejection in a state of vulnerability – and I cannot stress how small or misunderstood the “rejection” can be and how large a BPDer can make it – exemplifies everything that lies at the terrified heart of borderline personality disorder: abandonment, exposure, betrayal of trust.

 

Almost everyone with BPD has one particular instance in their mind of their ultimate betrayal, the ultimate rejection that “made us” the way we are more than any other. Among all the instances that we gather and hoard and chew on, there is usually one primary figure looming in the middle. For me, the memory is of the only person I ever really loved rejecting me when I was most scared and vulnerable. He completely misread my fear and desperation, mostly because I was no good at expressing them, but also because he was a Grade-A ass-hat, as I got to realize at that inopportune moment.

 

Result: my BPD/inability to express certain feelings meant that my need for comfort (the vulnerability part) turned into a traumatic emotional eruption (the rejection part) that I still struggle to come to terms with.

 

Classic, right?

 

In this way, the black holes of BPD are seemingly inescapable. They get bigger and deeper each time you return – easier and easier to fall into. You tell yourself you’ll simply avoid the edges – in other words, reject all vulnerability so nothing can reject you. But part of you knows that as long as you’re a living and breathing human being, you’ll never be able to do that. Not completely. Even the worst numbness or emotional lock-down breaks eventually, as I can confirm. I worked so hard for years and years to steel the soft parts of me – the vulnerable parts that I taught myself to loathe – that I no longer had to work at it: it simply became natural. Now I have to deal with that hardness, that resistance, on top of the pain that it (usually) covers. It’s exhausting and, I’ll admit it here, totally ineffectual.

 

No matter how hard I wish it, those parts of me are not dead and they never will be. All they are is incredibly dangerous because I’ve starved and beaten them until they are constantly fighting to escape and run wild.

 

One of my icons is Johnny Cash, and every time I hit a black hole, I think of his heart-rending cover of the Nick Lowe song, ‘The Beast in Me’:

 

The beast in me
Is caged by frail and fragile bars
Restless by day
And by night rants and rages at the stars
God help the beast in me.

 

I don’t feel unique in being able to relate to it, but I don’t feel comforted by any sense of community about it either. The very nature of that beast is that it is a solitary creature and not even the shared experience of it brings any positivity, any knowledge, understanding, insight or connection with others.

 

Or does it?

 

I don’t know right now.

 

I dragged myself out of bed, unshowered, pyjama’d and gross, to write this – to do something. That’s more than has resulted from most of my black holes. But it hardly counts as any kind of revelation?

 

-Cat Earnshaw

 

*No copyright infringement intended, Muse.

 

Why ‘half’ of a soul?

The title of this blog comes from one of the strongest features defining borderline personality disorder: gut-wrenching, heart-gouging loneliness/emptiness.

BPD, as I’ve mentioned, has many, many different features and forms, which is part of what makes it so complicated to deal with; but one uniting and dominant factor of the disorder is a constant or intense feeling of “No one understands” or “No one cares.” You can see why many people dismiss BPD as ‘childish’ or as normal teenage angst. Everyone feels those horrible moments of despair and isolation, and most people will only allow themselves to feel them during adolescence – i.e., before the adult reflex has set in that silences those feelings as pointless or weak. Unfortunately, in our (western/developed) world, there is a definite tendency now towards associating intelligence, or maturity, or general ‘adulthood’ with the dismissive, the critical, the overwhelmingly black perspective. That means those who voice feelings of loneliness, depression or emptiness will definitely meet with plenty of responses along the lines of “no one fucking cares, get over it.” Particularly in the online forum, where no one is accountable for the idiotic and hurtful things they can anonymously get out of their system.

Argh.

Anyway, having BPD can feel just like the title says: having only half of a soul. You don’t feel normal or complete. You see everyone else as these functional, whole entities and yourself as some hack-job desperately trying to cover the parts that are missing. The endless quest is for someone to flesh out those missing parts of our psyches – someone who is willing to join us in an extremely destructive and unsustainable relationship that tries to make one person out of two very damaged ones. Pretty bad math, but it makes sense to the BPDer – at least, emotional/short-term sense.

I will post a lot more on this concept and why I think it has developed (and over-developed) in those with borderline personality disorder. But for now, I just wanted to take a moment out of my rather crappy, lonely day to reflect on this fact, which I totally lose sight of at my worst times:

I am a complete person and a complete soul, even if I don’t feel that way all the time. No one can finish or complete me: I am my own remedy and my own reward. I can choose to hold or let go of other people and other things, but I cannot be them and they cannot be me. Even when I am alone, there is a whole world of life, imagination, possibility, strength and wisdom contained in my being. Like a tiny pebble in the ebb and flow of the world’s oceans, I may be carried to places I don’t recognize, and my surface may be changed or damaged – but my essence and identity remain the same through the ages.

If those words help someone having a moment of crushing isolation, please take a moment to let me know – even if it’s just so I know I’m not the only one who needs to hear them sometimes.

xx