More than our memories

Having been inspired by this great post by Life In a Bind, I thought I’d take a bit of a reflection on a great book, and on the concept of memories.

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The two are inextricable for me right now because I’m reading Joshua Foer’s bestseller, “Moonwalking with Einstein.” This book is incredible. Just really clean, spot-on journalism on a compelling topic – memory. The book charts the journey of the author from someone with average (i.e. pretty awful) memory who is interested in the topic, through his learning mnemonism (memory training), up to his competing in the USA Memory Championship.

Among all the fascinating information about memory in the book is the following passage which really struck home for me. 

  • ‘In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates describes how the Egyptian god Theuth, inventor of writing, came to the king of Egypt and offered to bestow his wonderful invention upon the Egyptian people. “Here is a branch of learning that will… improve their memories,” Theuth said to the king. But the king was reluctant to accept the gift. “If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls,” he told the god. “They will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. … It is no true wisdom that you offer, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them anything, you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they will know nothing.’

Yikes. A bit too close to home? In an age when GPS tells me where to go, my phone tells me contacts’ information, my calendar tells me birthdays or appointments, and Google tells me – well – anything and everything, why on earth would I waste headspace remembering? Yet this passage points out that to truly know something, one must remember it. If information can be said to be externalized (written down or recorded) or internalized (stored in the neurons that make up and control our very consciousness), then it’s clear which kind is more powerful, more meaningful when it comes to the information that makes me who I am.

Consider two widely accepted facts:

1) We think therefore we are. When we say “I” we basically mean our memories. Our memories shape both physical and mental reactions, choices, events and, at our core, self. They make us who we are because we learn (or do not learn) from them. We keep the ones our minds consider essential to ourselves, and, for the most part, discard the more frivolous or irrelevant ones.

2) Our memories are faulty and/or at the very least, prone to some extreme negative thinking. They are riddled with all kinds of patterns and tendencies that mean you will always remember the worst you ever felt, the worst thing you ever saw, the worst moment of your life, etc. The best? Not nearly as likely. As numerous studies have confirmed, when it comes to “memorable,” the more lewd, awful or violent, the better. Mary Carruthers notes that memorization techniques have, for thousands of years, relied on grotesque and disturbing images to make things stick because that’s how easily the memory gravitates to things that stand out as objectionable or horrific to the mind.

Now back to us and our BPD. 

If you struggle with BPD, depression, anxiety or all of the above, you know that your memory is even more prone than the average human memory to focus on the bad and inadvertently filter out the good. For me, often when a good memory arises or is being made, I just breeze over it as, “that’s nice, ANYway, moving on…” – or worse, I’ll do the classic, “well this is nice but of course it’s going to go sour soon, just like last time…” – thereby reinforcing my mind’s iron grip on bad memories over positive experiences.

This is why if you believe your memories make you everything you are today, you couldn’t be more wrong. Your memories need your active help to remain balanced and factual. So I’m going to start doing some work to make and retain positive memories. I know lots of people keep a gratitude journal, and maybe that’s where I’ll start. But more than that, I want to internalize the things that make me hopeful, happy, encouraged and inspired – because I know I certainly don’t need help remembering the opposite events. It makes it a lot more palatable to me (and a lot less hokey) to think of this as memory work rather than “positive thinking” or some other fluffy concept that I don’t really feel comfortable clinging to. I really want to know the things I’m happy about and carry them within me, rather than just be reminded of them from time to time as I drag around my bulging suitcases of traumatic memories. Wish me luck!

Cat xxxx

BPD and stigma – are we hurting ourselves with labels?

This week my individual therapist was really down on the BPD label. More than usual, I mean. She has always been against mentioning it at all, and I must say I found (find) it quite annoying that I can’t even say it in therapy without her jumping all over it as a dangerous and self-damaging label.

Image   I was somewhat proud of myself for speaking up this week and explaining that actually, I have found the label very helpful in that it gave me at least somewhat of a path to follow amidst a forest of mental health issues that I just never understood. Without knowing about BPD, I had so little knowledge of why I did the destructive things I was doing, or why certain triggers existed for me. And most importantly, by learning about BPD, I found this online community that actually understood everything I was going through – something I had NEVER experienced elsewhere.

Anyway, Ms. Therapist argued that even bringing up BPD at all = falling back on a lame excuse for the actual behaviour, which is the part that has to change. It also (she claimed) creates stigma, even in your own mind, that you are somehow different, deficient, flawed etc. 

I see her point but at the end of the day, I think the label has been more positive than negative for me. What about for anyone else? Have you found BPD gave you an unhealthy sense of identity or bondage to the label? Or have you found it helpful in getting treatment and understanding yourself better?

Cat xxxxx

Drama drama drama

So often I think the key to living life with BPD is to just untangle (or avoid) as many messes as possible. If I avoid so-and-so, if I don’t talk to what’s-his-face, if I move and change jobs and ignore my family, etc. etc. THEN I’ll never turn into crazy BPD person. How many times have you had the “I’ll change my name and move to another country and re-create myself” fantasy? How about the one where you go live in a cabin in the woods and commit to being a full-on hermit? They’re some of my favourite fantasies when I just feel like my life is too fucked up to fix and I can’t face it anymore.

The truth is that life just is a bit of a mess and it always will be. If it’s not, chances are you’re not really living. When I think back to times that everything has gone as smoothly as I could possibly make it go, they were really boring times. Really boring. No deep relationships. Lots of boring work of some kind or another. No important responsibilities or goals or happiness or despair. Just smooth going. Those times pretty much fell under “subsisting” rather than living. 

I know it’s obvious that the “cure” for BPD is to learn how to face these tangles in life, not avoid them. But I at least want the control of choosing when I’m going to come across a tangle, and of course I don’t even have that option.

Right now I really do my best to avoid “drama” – I mean unnecessary crap that involves gossip or fights or whatever. But regardless, some stuff comes up that just makes me feel about 14 years old and want to shut out everyone all over again rather than be dragged into the messiness that is normal life.

One of my closest female friends has had a torch for this guy for several years. As of this week, he has declared a bit of a torch for yours truly (?!).  Now this is just classic. Welcome to my life. I try to get on my own two feet, have therapy, be okay, hold down a job and whatnot, and interpersonal stuff just flies up in my face being like, “ha HA, you thought you outgrew it, didn’t you??” 

a) I am terrified because I actually sort of kind of think I like this guy back and I swore I’d never date anyone again after my disaster relationship five years ago (gahhhhh but he is so sweet and cute, you don’t even know *becomes giggly child about this*). b) I am terrified of losing this friend or hurting her; I really care about her and her friendship and I don’t think I can handle being rejected by her over this guy. c) This whole stupid roommate situation is STILL ongoing, which means I’m living at my parents’ place (!?) and feel like an out-of-control, unstable teenager already.

So. Messy. So. Frustrating.

What do you guys think? Do you try to avoid drama as a rule, or do you embrace it and find that you grow through these experiences?

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Cat xxxxx

 

An ironic post

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OK I realize this is going to be a really ironic message for the medium (or vice versa or whatever), but I’m interested to know: who here actually feels the Internet makes them happier?

I guess those are pretty broad terms – what I mean by “Internet” encompasses social media, any and all information that can be found online, and the various forms of technology used to stay (supposedly) more in touch in our modern world. “Happier” = more mentally healthy and happy than one would be without it.

I ask because I’m very much of two minds about this. On the one hand, there’s no denying that my phone and computer give me a lot of validation and genuine enjoyment via lots of different things – this blog, for example. I get so much out of “meeting” people online to discuss BPD and/or general mental health and/or a million other topics. But particularly in relation to BPD, I’ve never actually met any people in my “real life” who can even begin to relate the way thousands can on here. That alone gives me a very concrete, real-life feeling of being understood, accepted and cared for.

On the other hand, I’m becoming increasingly aware of how much computer/phone usage can negatively impact my mental health, and you don’t need to rely on personal experience to tell you that it’s not a one-way ticket to fun and happiness. Approximately a billion studies now document how many of the venues and technologies that can laughingly be described as “social” are, in fact, isolating, depressing, anxiety-inducing and destructive to our overall wellbeing.

I mean you don’t need to be a scientist to see that sitting on your ass, hunched up and squinting into a virtual reality isn’t healthy for the average human brain or body.

And you certainly don’t need a degree in psychology to realize that escapism is at the heart of the issue here.

Computers offer an escape from many things and into many other things. The realities they offer are still realities – and choosing those realities over dangerous (or even fatal) behaviours is obviously a fantastic choice to be able to have.

BUT it turns out we’re not very good at knowing when to put down the escapist realities and face the ones that make up our daily lives. For example, no one knows better than me how easy it is to write/”talk” about things on the Internet that I never, ever talk about in real life. Am I improving my ability to (eventually) talk about them by writing all this? I’m not sure. But I feel like the answer is no. All I’m really doing is finding ways to avoid doing what I know that I should (wow, was that even a sentence?).

Other classic Cat moments that make up my “Internet vs. Reality” problem:

1) I’m too scared to apply for jobs and move forward with any kind of a career, so I douche around wasting time by researching a million options – thereby overwhelming my brain and achieving fuck all at the end of a long, stressful day.

2) I’m too scared to talk to the people in my life who could be there for me if I let them (granted some of the trust issues I have are the result of their behaviours), so I talk to online people instead.

3) I’m too scared to commit to something big like writing a novel, so I read/write cheap Internet crap instead.

4) I’m too scared to actually make a decision or address a problem, so I text or message about it, endlessly and pointlessly, with people I know.

5) I’m too lazy to get off my ass and actually work out, go for a walk, enjoy a positive activity – so I fool myself into thinking that researching fitness or looking at beautiful trip spots, etc. is somehow remotely as helpful as the real thing.

Quality face-to-face interaction is still the most effective way for our bodies to process those senses of understanding, community, social relations, validation and empathy. And although I’m grateful (SO grateful) for what the Internet offers when a face-to-face interaction isn’t an option, I think I sometimes sacrifice my valuable “real life” time out of fear or just plain laziness. That’s doesn’t really jive with the uphill direction I want my life to be taking as I struggle through this whole BPD mess.

Cat xxxx