*Mind blown*

So I went to individual therapy extremely frustrated last week. Not only had my therapist cancelled last week (cue angry abandoned borderline feelings), but recently I feel like I’m getting nowhere concrete. Even though I do find myself able to think of things in a better light most of the time, all it takes is one really horrible day – even one really horrible moment or mood – and I lapse so easily into bad old habits and thoughts: nothing is ever going to work; nothing is ever going to change; something is wrong with me, etc. etc. I decided I was going to try and be up-front. By which I mean I wasn’t going to lose it, but I wasn’t going to mask my every emotion and self-invalidate by saying everything was fine. Here’s how my initial dialogue with Karen went:

Karen: How are you?

Me: … not great.

Karen: Why, what’s up??

Me: (SIGHHHH) You said you’ve successfully treated borderlines.

Karen: Yes.

Me: How? What did you say? What did they do? How did it start? I want this to stop and I feel like all I’m learning to do is adopt some relaxing breathing techniques that pussyfoot around the actual problem.

Karen: What is the actual problem? The “I hate you, don’t leave me” intensely irrational feelings?

Me: YES. Exactly. That. I don’t want to feel like that. I don’t want to think of that as the real me – this crazy bitch who flies off the handle when she perceives the slightest invalidation or abandonment.

Karen: Why do you think you’re so sensitive to those things? Why do you think you’re so prone to feeling abandoned?

Me: I don’t know… I’m pathetic and needy?

Karen: It’s time to come to the core of this. It’s because you’re abandoning yourself.

Me: No, that’s not… wait… Whaaaaaaa???? 

Karen: You have emotions. You just called yourself pathetic and needy for having them. You just called yourself a crazy bitch for having them. You’re not even there for yourself; your logical conclusion is, why would anybody else be?

Me: *stunned silence*

 

Whoa. That conversation, and particularly that phrase, really hit home. REALLY hit home. I’ve been turning it in my mind for days.

You are abandoning yourself.

Do you ever get that goose-bumpy feeling when words really resonate because you know, deep in your gut, without having to analyze or intellectualize it, that they are true? That’s how I feel when I think about that phrase.

You are abandoning yourself.

It was like a veil – or at least a corner of a veil – had been pulled back. I’m working on self-validation and all the DBT stuff that I should be – but I’m so far from genuinely knowing how to “be there” for myself. When I’ve been angry at people for not meeting my crazy expectations, I’ve said hollow things like, “Forget about it – you can’t fix me.” But I didn’t mean it. I never meant it. What I desperately wanted was exactly the opposite – someone to mend all my internal chips and cracks. It never worked. It never would have worked. I know this, but I didn’t know it – not really, not deep down. Now, I feel like I’m starting to get it at last.

You are abandoning yourself.

As far as I can tell, it’s not like half of me abandoned the other half. It’s more like, most of me abandoned certain parts I didn’t like as I got older and gained the ability to control (i.e. suppress) my emotions.

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When you have emotions as intense as those of a borderline, its not hard to see why you’d abandon them. They’re the reason people (horrible people anyway) attack you. They’re the reason you can’t live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself – or that other people have set for you. They’re the reason you feel weak, stupid, abnormal, ashamed and vulnerable. You start to think that the people who invalidate you are right – after all, who would want to put up with someone so contrary, so needy, so difficult to control? As a result, the older I got, the more I separated from the parts of me I couldn’t handle.

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When I was 8-10, I was only (“only”) suffering stuff like random anxiety and trichotillomania. By 11-13, I was pushing into kleptomania, anorexia and self-harm. But then something happened over the next couple years, to my total surprise, that I could never explain until now: all of those outward manifestations of pain started to disappear. It seemed effortless. I never needed help with them. They just left. It just happened. Numbness set in instead.

Now I realize that Grown-up Cat got bigger and stronger than Child-Cat. As most of me matured, I got the upper hand on the “immature” parts of myself. Success! (or so I thought) No more of that nonsense. Sure it’d crop up from time to time, but only at the very worst times. And feeling numb wasn’t so bad compared to the constant agony of adolescence.

This is pertinent because Karen asked another question that struck hard because I’d never, even thought about it: “How old do you actually feel when you’re depressed or upset?”

The answer came so fast it was startling. For me, it’s about 14. Right about the time I started to be able leave that uncontrollable and suffering part of me behind. That freaked me right out. Mostly because it clicked; it made so much sense in a tragic and horrifying way. She’s still there. She’s right there where I left her, at 14. Abandoned and miserable and all the rest of it – just more and more gagged and imprisoned with each passing year.

And of course, she’s not really under lock and key the way I think she is. When anything happens that elicits a strong emotional reaction – there she is, as I found out when trauma struck in my late twenties. Emotionally, I’m about 14 years old.

That’s a lot to take in. I feel like I’m wading through years and years of unravelled, unconnected thoughts and feelings, trying to put them back together in the right order.

But the main thing I feel is… horrified. I feel shocked and guilty and horrified. For so long I’ve thought of my suppressed emotional self as crazy – in fact, I’ve literally casually named her Crazy Bitch, as I posted just a couple weeks ago. That was what I called the part of myself that could still feel and hurt: a crazy fucking bitch.

Not only did I abandon myself, I’ve been absolutely eviscerating myself, calling myself things that I would never, ever let someone else call me. Treating my emotions like they’re insane. Treating my pain like it’s nothing. Treating my thoughts and desires like they’re wrong and screwed up. Treating a whole crucial part of myself like it’s broken, diseased, and in need of amputation. Holy shit. No wonder this hasn’t gone very well.

When I was a teenager, something happened that immediately came to mind as I thought about this. I was once a big-time diarist. I’d kept all my diaries since I was about 7 years old under my mattress. My little sister and I, much to our constant chagrin, shared a room for most of our lives. One day, I realized my diaries weren’t quite in the spots I left them. I eventually got it out of my sister that she had been reading them. Were the diaries particularly incriminating? No, I had done nothing remotely scandalous or interesting by that point in my life. Were they likely to get me in any trouble? No. But I was so filled with shame and self-loathing, so angry and disgusted at the idea of anyone knowing my true thoughts and inner self that later that day, I dumped them like a murdered corpse and never kept another one. I slowly stopped playing music even though I had loved it for years. I stopped painting or drawing. I stopped expressing anything – pleasant or painful, minor or intense, unless my BPD took over and I exploded. Even now, as I start to slowly edge back into acknowledging and expressing my feelings by writing in this blog, I know that it would fill me with terror and rage if anyone who knows me in “real life” read this.

Could I be sending a stronger message to the vulnerable and emotional parts of myself? You’re embarrassing. You’re something I’m ashamed of. You make me feel pathetic. I don’t want anyone to know about you.

I know that based on a lot of blogs I’ve read, borderlines seem to have a really hard time with a fixed identity (as I addressed in an earlier post). This is why. You are abandoning yourself. Some borderlines are so distant from themselves, so ashamed of who they are, that they can’t even voice a preference for a particular type of music or food. You have abandoned yourself. Until you can stand by yourself through good and bad, intense and awful and wonderful and embarrassing and everything that comes with a human being – you have abandoned yourself, and every perceived invalidation from someone else will hurt like hell because it’s only reinforcing what you’re putting yourself through.

It’s hitting me that this is going to be horrendously uncomfortable. I feel ill at the thought of facing my unleashed 14-year-old self, and even more ill at the thought of all the self-love and touchy-feely compassion that’s going to have to happen to make her okay. But honestly, I’ve run out of options. I’ve suppressed and self-loathed til I can’t suppress and self-loathe no more, and it’s never ever worked. I’ve made enemies out of so many people I considered soul mates and best friends that I can’t go through that anymore either. It’s destroying my faith in people and my hope for any kind of future for myself.

I’m not entirely sure about the “how” but the “what” is clear: it’s time to stick with myself and stop vilifying other people for what I’m actually doing to myself.

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If you’re going to read one post I write, please let it be this one

Because I think it’s pretty important. Not self-important. Don’t get me wrong. What I’m saying isn’t an opinion I want you to agree with or think of as important. Rather, it’s something that I see at the very core of BPD, and I honestly never realized it until now. So if this can provide any insight to anyone else and save them the hours of research and therapy that I went through to arrive at it, I’d be thrilled.

Great (and not-so-great) expectations.

Expectations. It’s kind of a huge and all-encompassing topic and therefore carries the potential to have me blab on about it for pages and pages and pages so apologies in advance in case this gets out of hand. It represents, to me, the Problem with BPD, the issue that I can’t let go of, can’t get over, can’t navigate and just can’t shake even if I can pretend everything else in my life is zippi-dee-doo-dah fine.

Specifically, the expectations that I have of other people – and, more specifically, just those closest to me.

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My expectations are frequently, without a doubt, crazy. They are wrong. They are unrealistic. They are totally insane. But if you have BPD, you know how bloody hard it is to even temporarily ignore them, let alone get rid of them. They are always there, just waiting for someone to get close, and the second they do – WHAM, you are transformed into a raving lunatic because so-and-so clearly doesn’t care because they didn’t do this, and they didn’t say that, and they obviously should have done this and because they didn’t you should kill yourself to show them how heartless they are, etc. etc. etc.

You want to shake yourself, slap yourself, shame yourself for being so embarrassingly whiny, juvenile, needy, clingy, entitled, self-centred, and just plain psychotic. 

Anyone thinking, “OH MY GOD, I know, right??”

I hope so, because this is really painful and self-abasing for me to type out so I’d feel better about it if anyone at all could relate. It raises points that have to be raised if I’m ever going to get better, but it also reveals a side of myself that I absolutely loathe. An identity that I have always referred to as ‘Crazy Bitch.’

Crazy Bitch doesn’t come out as long as no one is close to her (which is why, coincidentally, at the times that my life was going the smoothest, I essentially had zero close friends). As long as no one is there to unleash her on, she grumbles away, imprisoned and powerless, but growing increasingly resentful until she gets a chance to really shine. As soon as someone seems like they really do care – she is lightening quick, assuming, demanding, jumping miles ahead, ripping down all boundaries (healthy and otherwise), and all the while building fragile fantasies and sky-high expectations of a long and fulfilling future with this person – who, by the way, will obviously telepathically intuit her every need forever. So as long as it all works like that, she’ll finally get what she wants – hooray!

Except it doesn’t. Ever. Obviously. And then Crazy Bitch is really in her element. Shattered hopes are her forte. She takes over everything else about my personality and makes it about her needs, her wants, her oh-so-delicate feelings. Screaming and raving at the person who has done absolutely nothing wrong, she will usually jump straight to hurting them – verbally, emotionally, physically, whatever – and hurting herself to show them just how horrible they are and how much they are the problem and she is just an innocent, downtrodden victim.

Just writing about Crazy Bitch makes me realize why some people have such a deep-seated hatred towards borderlines after being hurt by them.

It all goes downhill pretty fast from there. And then Crazy Bitch has a new entry in her massive catalogue of “Reasons to Hate Life and Everyone” because yet another expectation wasn’t met. It’s why so many borderlines hide behind extreme cynicism and pessimism: we claim to have no expectations whatsoever of life or people, because both are shitty and you can’t rely on them. But don’t be fooled: our expectations are, in fact, higher than just about anyone else’s, higher than the most naïve of optimists.

Before I’d heard of BPD – i.e. for about 25 years – I really believed Crazy Bitch was the real me, which was pretty devastating, as you can imagine. To be honest, I guess I kind of still do believe it a lot of the time. But at least the seed of truth is there now, even if it hasn’t grown into full belief and realization yet: DBT and therapy have helped me to realize that Crazy Bitch is actually a mask, even though she felt so real all this time. How do I know this? 

Because everyone I know or read about who has BPD can relate to what I’m saying. Every single one of us is Crazy Bitch when they’re in full-blown borderline mode.

So what’s more likely: That we are all the exact same person deep down, with the exact same reactions and feeling across the board? Or (more logically) that we’re all exhibiting the exact same symptoms of an illness, and it’s dominating and masking our real personalities underneath? 

The root of my despair and depression were the incredibly negative things I’d been telling myself to try and counterbalance my expectations, which I knew were way too high and unrealistic to be normal. No one cares, no one loves me, no one understands. None of those thoughts were not necessarily true. What was true was that no one ever cared, loved, or understood enough. And, as Karen pointed out, that “enough” would keep even the best relationships in my life from ever being anything positive because they were only, for example, 99% supportive or understanding (at best!), and not 100% perfect all the time, so Crazy Bitch demanded that I end them or keep them at a distance. 

So the “enough” needs to change. The expectations of what other people should or can do to care for me need to lower significantly. But how?

That’s what my therapist and I are supposedly going to be working on over the next couple months.

Step number one is concrete and relatively easy, so I’d recommend giving it a try. Step one involves making a kit – both real and metaphorical, ideally – to satisfy your own expectations.

Picture the times when everything goes to shit. The times when you’re on the edge of (or even in) a BPD frenzy. What do you need? What do you want? Leave other people out of it for the time being. Don’t fall back on the typical BPD “but I’m helpless when I’m upset” answer: i.e. that you want someone to validate you and take care of you. When you refuse to continue the pattern of putting the blame and expectations on someone else, you realize that what you actually want is simply to feel validated and cared for. So: what can you do to make yourself feel validated and cared for?

This is huge. Like, really huge. If this works, this is going to be a massive hit to the hold BPD has on me. If I can learn to actually turn inwards and take care of myself instead of automatically turning outwards when I start feeling awful, that alone will eliminate the majority of the times when I feel Crazy Bitch is in full control. I feel really hopeful about it – so hopeful that I also feel kind of sick and terrified because of, you know, the whole issue with hope/expectations.

But anyway…  What about you guys? Do you have any kind of (real or metaphorical) kit for meeting your own expectations? Any tips?

-Cat Earnshaw xxxx

Borderlines: an example of why a licence to breed would probably be a fantastic thing?

It's sad that mental illness can be a source of division rather than unity even among families.

It’s sad that mental illness can be a source of division rather than unity even among families.

Today started as one of those “wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking and never get back to sleep” mornings. Never the best of beginnings. Dream life, and the consciousness that lies right on the fence between waking and sleeping, is such a mystery. Sometimes you dream about things that you thought were long “sorted” and then realize a part of you which you don’t even really know about is working through stuff on a full-time, under-the-table basis. When I first started therapy, I was terrified that it would immediately involve being forced to meet my subconscious self. That’s someone I really didn’t want to get to know any better. Not because she’s necessarily evil or nuts, though she may well be (and often seems to be), but because I can always sense that she is there, dangerously hurt, out of my control, feeling everything a thousand times stronger and deeper than I can stand to think about. For so long, I kept funnelling every emotion I couldn’t handle straight through to her, closing my eyes and plugging my ears as it went past my conscious self. All gone. All better. Oh wait, except not at all. Unsurprisingly, deep and essential parts of yourself become a festering dumping ground when you use this method, a sewer of unpleasant feelings. And when the sewer starts backing up, you’re forced to pay attention.

Which brings us back to now.

 At about 5 a.m., I found myself instantly transported from zzzzzz to grrrrrr without knowing why for a full 10 seconds or so. Processing, processing, processing…. oh yeah, that family argument when I wish I’d said that and then I didn’t and now I can’t let it go. WHY am I thinking about it now? Why was I feeling it before I even knew what I was thinking about?

I still have an okay relationship with my family. Which is to say, to all appearances, I have a great relationship with every member of my immediate family. In reality, it usually seems we have terrible, if not non-existent ‘relationships’ in our family. Anyone know what I mean? Based on the fact that BPD seems to have a very typical “breeding ground,” I’m guess I’m not the only one with this kind of background: everything’s normal on the surface, but growing up you often felt things that were terrifying, confusing, painful and horrible, and no one said a fucking word about it. Even when all of it started to manifest as “bad” behaviour that made you feel ashamed and had your parents wondering what on earth was suddenly (“suddenly”) going on with your wacky adolescent self, no one did anything – least of all the caring or validating thing. Emotions were understood through a lens of judgment, criticism and an emphasis on rigid self-control. Real understanding, caring, compassion, or emotional honesty were in seriously short supply. Sound familiar? It was my first two decades in a nutshell.

I used to (and periodically still do) get so frustrated with myself and ashamed of my pain because technically, nothing “that bad” had happened to me. Nothing – at least nothing that I can remember – fit the stereotypical bad childhood that would have allowed me, and others, to easily explain my emotions and resulting behaviour. I was never beaten, mistreated or abused in any of the widely recognized ways. My parents weren’t alcoholics or drug addicts, we weren’t poor, and we were never harshly punished.

It’s only recently that I am able to start the slow processing of teaching myself what I now know to be true: Providing basic – or even perfect – physical care for a child is not enough. If our western society is proof of anything, it’s that. How many well-off suburban kids, raised in a (relative) lap of luxury, routinely grow up to struggle with severe mental illness of one kind or another? All the physical care in the world does not make up for the crucial things that our culture now lacks: authentic emotional health and expression; real community; compassion and validation on a regular basis; genuine caring relationships that we know will always be there for us. The number of people I know who were raised in such an environment could be counted on one hand; you’ll spot them right away because they’re happy, well-adjusted, in great relationships and very successful in some way.

Anyway, rather than go off on a tangent/rant about all that, I’ll stick to the point: my family is terrified of emotions. So much so that even when my life was completely off the rails and I was covered in cuts and severely underweight, nobody said a word. I pulled out all my eyebrows and eyelashes; I got caught shoplifting. Nobody said a word other than, “Don’t do that.” Nobody suggested therapy. Nobody asked what was wrong. Nobody. No screaming fights in my family. No “I love you” either. No crying, no comforting, no admitting that you’re actually having a really, really awful day.

I am the product of this environment, clearly. I have internalized every one of these lessons until emotions are scary, uncomfortable, foreign. I don’t like to be around people who are crying or upset – so you can imagine how group therapy is for me. I hate raising emotions in myself because I have a grand total of zero skills for dealing with them. I don’t know how to exorcise or express them healthily, and I’ve long preferred numbness as opposed to the only other coping tool I adopted for handling them, which was self-destruction of just about any kind. I see my problems and my hurts as constantly in need of someone else’s care and attention, but I believe I’ll never really have it since people don’t care and can’t be trusted to do so.

I honestly would not wish BPD on my worst enemy.

So anyway, I wake up last night thinking of a number of choice remarks exchanged between my dad and my (now adult) brother the other day. No need to infuriate everyone else with them, but suffice it to say they were to the effect of “trauma and mental illness are stupid figments of the imagination and people just feign them to get attention” along with some bullshit about how the government is too liberal in funding their treatment. Offensive, as well as WAY too close to home for me to take it any way other than personally.

Now I know my family and I will never see eye-to-eye on politics and/or religion. That’s just the way it is and always will be, and I honestly don’t think it would matter – if there was a foundation of basic respect and validation going on. I’m willing to accept that you can’t just dismiss someone based on generalizations about the beliefs they subscribe to. Do I get the same basic courtesy? No. Do I say a fucking word about it even though I’m seething? No. I sit there and pretend I can’t hear it. I sit there and pretend I’m numb to the raging anger, injustice, hurt and indignation that are coursing through me.

Old habits die hard, eh?

As a result, I’m the one who gets to wake up in the middle of the night, twisted and tight with rage without understanding why.

All of my unresolved hurts from this environment mean that every time I feel hurt again – at all – by any member of my family now, I tap into a deep well of pain and anger that I’ve been filling for years and years now. I don’t know what to do with it. Any of it. As I see it, the options are:

  1. Ignore it

  2. Run from it

  3. Drag it up

Ignoring it doesn’t work. Duh. It’s a strategy I’ve employed, unsuccessfully, for the vast majority of my life and I think it would ultimately prove just as fruitless as it did for my parents, and their parents before them, and probably their parents before them, etc. etc. I have no interest in alternately suppressing my emotions and (rarely) releasing them in passive-aggressive, indirect ways that achieve nothing.

Running from it always seemed like the best option to me. Until I did it. For three years I lived overseas and enjoyed an overwhelming sensation of freedom and possibility. Family by phone/email, just how I like them. The odd visit, sure, I can handle that. But the big things were still ingrained in me. They weren’t resolved and they fucked up everything in the end. My closest relationships destroyed, my life choices terrible, my pain still handled in self-destructive ways that didn’t work.

Dragging it up is the only option I’ve never tried. Mostly because it’s the scariest. By far. But also (and maybe I’m just saying this to give myself an excuse not to tackle it), I think it would be more harmful than helpful. Sure it might be initially cathartic for me – but I really don’t see my emotionally-stunted family dealing very well with a full-blown attack based on things they probably don’t even remember doing. I foresee plenty of defensiveness (“How can you be so ungrateful!”), dismissiveness (“You’re exaggerating, it was never that bad; you’re being too sensitive”), and ultimately, just more pain as a result of opening up/having emotions, which is a lesson I really don’t need to learn anymore.

My parents had a favourite phrase to be sarcastically deployed while we were growing up: “Tell it to your therapist.” The way they used it was meant to imply, “You’re being silly and I’m not going to take your whining seriously.” What it actually implied was everything their actions/behaviour primarily supported: “Stop talking about your problems because I don’t care, even though I actually do realize I’m being the kind of parent right now that ends up with kids in need of therapy.”

“But you don’t let us watch the Simpsons and Kevin’s mom does!”

Oh go tell it to your therapist.

“You didn’t pick me up and I had to walk a whole block!”

Tell it to your therapist.

“I can’t stop hurting myself and I’m living on a few pieces of fruit a week.”

Tell it to your therapist. Except I never actually said that one because I was too afraid that that would be the answer.

Every time I think of all the times my parents would say that stupid fucking phrase, I want to puke/cry with rage and with how pathetic it all is. It hurts worse because I don’t actually want to break all ties with my family forever – I still care about them. And I can’t just write my parents off as bad parents either, contrary to how this all sounds. The saddest part of all of this is how hard (potentially impossible?) it is to break generations of this kind of parenting. Raise your kids to be uncomfortable with emotions, to hate the side of themselves that feels, and they will not be able to help themselves raising their kids the same way. Talk about leaving a legacy.

I think for many of us, when we seek help with the problems that have plagued our families and environments, we are actually taking on a much harder task than anticipated because it’s not just about fixing one person. We’re trying to break a whole chain of empty, miserable people rather than be just another link. Often, we are still right in the midst of those chains, and cutting ties with them entirely simply isn’t an option. I don’t think about having my own family very often yet, but I hope that if I ever decide to, I will NOT allow myself to be a mother until I am certain that I have broken that chain. If I can’t handle emotions – first and foremost, my own – then I really don’t stand a chance of doing much better than my parents. I can understand that, in theory, but it doesn’t make the anger any less powerful when the same hurtful shit keeps coming up…