And where has it gotten you?

Today was a pretty rough therapy day for me. I went into it feeling crappy and not knowing why. As soon as I started talking – as soon as there was actually a space where I was allowed (forced) to sit down and think about it and say what I was feeling – it was so obvious what was wrong.

It wasn’t the situation at the farm (which has been weird, what with my friend/roommate and I still navigating the world of post-blowout interactions), it wasn’t the situation with my boyfriend (which has been feeling a little scary all around) and it wasn’t any of the other things my head let me believe throughout the week.

It’s the fact that I’ve now lived 30 minutes from my parents/family for almost a solid month and they haven’t visited once. Have barely called or emailed. And never to actually see how I am – just to mention stupid superficial shit.

Do they care that I was suicidal only a few months ago? Do they care that things got so bad that I had to live with them? Do they realize that I couldn’t bring myself to tell them “I want to die” and it took someone else breaking my trust and revealing that information for them to hear it? Do they even remember me blowing up at them for the past 20-odd years of neglect and ignorance? Do they care if I’m dead or alive? Do they hope I give up?

For the first time ever, I came really close to crying in therapy just thinking about it. The actual words would barely come out, my throat was so closed up with years of habitual self-denial. When it comes to expressing my feelings, especially hurt and anger, I feel like I’m back at square one sometimes, totally unable to breathe let alone speak the words: How can you do this to me?

As I sat there trying to choke out some kind of explanation of what was happening, of how perpetually hurt and disappointed and ignored I am by my family members, Karen didn’t bother to try to reconcile me to their behaviour. All she finally said was, “And where has this gotten you?”

The hardest of the DBT skills, hands down, is radical acceptance. Radical acceptance means accepting reality as it truly is, even if you hate every single thing about it. It means acknowledging that even the most abhorrent and disgusting and unjust things simple are. They are horrible and maybe they shouldn’t exist but they do.

Radical acceptance does NOT mean saying, “This is okay” or “I like this.” You can hate something with every fibre of your being and still radically accept it.

If you’re feeling totally confused or in denial about this, you’re not alone. This is all what makes radical acceptance so bloody difficult.

Part of coming to a point of radical acceptance involves realizing what you have been refusing to accept is already there, and you can’t change it.

She left me.

It’s over.

He raped me.

They died.

I need help.

It means realizing what you’ve been fighting so hard against and asking yourself: But where has it gotten me? Because chances are, the answer is a big, fat nowhere.

For me, the core thing I have been fighting against for years – if not my entire life – is the reality that my parents will never give me what I need. They will never be able to love, nurture or care for me the way I need(ed) someone to love, nurture and care for me. I fought it in ways that are probably all too familiar to you, too: But they SHOULD love me, they should have been there, they should never have been parents, someone else should give me that care and love.  Yet as Karen pointed out, fighting that reality has gotten me nowhere. Worse than nowhere. It’s gotten me to a place of extreme mental illness, self-harm, anorexia, OCD, mistrust of people and an inability to have normal relationships. It’s gotten me BPD.

This part of radical acceptance sucks. The crushing despair and depression as you begin to give up the fight and realize what you must accept. Because it’s just the way it is.

I could continue to rage and rail and emotionally blackmail and snarl and hurt myself and others. Or I could start to accept that this is the way it is. And then go from there to… where? I’m not sure yet. But it has to be better than here.

Cat xxxx

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Pulling yourself apart (literally): Trichotillomania and Dermatillomania

There is a strong and well-supported connection between borderline personality disorder and self-harm. Two insidious forms of self-harm that often go unnoticed or downplayed – either in conjunction with BPD or on their own – are trichotillomania (pulling out the hair) and dermatillomania (picking at the skin). Both of these conditions are not very well understood at the present time. What is known is that there is a definite – but mysterious – connection between distress/anxiety and an unhealthy focus on self-grooming (to the point of self-harming).

When you think about it, healthier forms of this actually pattern exist: even well-adjusted people will often absently run their hands through their hair, bite their nails or rub their forehead/chin/etc. when stressed or thinking hard. Similarly, even animals have this instinct and will scratch or lick themselves in excess under stressful situations – sometimes to the point of injury.

*****WARNING: This is a disturbing topic, as is self-harm in general, so if you find this gross, upsetting or triggering in any way, please stop reading.*****

The fact is that even those who HAVE trich and derm usually find it gross, upsetting and triggering. No one is comfortable, open or happy about their OCD habit of self-harm, however “mild” that self-harm may be according to other people’s standards. I remember being so horrified at what I was doing when I started these behaviours, and I am no less horrified today, over twenty years later. Something about the behaviour is so obviously fucked up. I grew more and more terrified that my nutso behaviour would be exposed in some way or, worst of all, that someone would even openly point it out or ask me about it. Feelings of anxiety, shame and distress surrounded the very things that I had adopted to deal with anxiety, shame and distress.

I won’t go into too many details here, because frankly, like I said, it’s quite disturbing and gross, even to me who understands it and suffers from it. But basically, trich can involve pulling hair from any part of oneself: eyelashes, eyebrows, body/pubic hair, and, for the majority of trichotillomaniacs, the hair on the head. It can even involve pulling hairs from someone else – often a child or pet rather than someone who is aware of what’s going on. Dermatillomania involves a similar cognitive process but instead of fixating on hairs and the destructive act of pulling them out, the sufferer focuses on ‘imperfections’ on the skin and picks/scrapes/irritates them, inevitably making these ‘imperfections’ far, far worse.

Oddly, for me, it was trichotillomania – a behaviour I had never observed or heard of – that I adopted first. By about 8 years old I was pulling out my eyelashes. Soon I had done the inevitable: pulled them all out. So I moved on to my eyebrows. It was horrible and alienating and made me feel like even more of a freak at school. Other kids noticed and I would just sit in silence, shrivelling with self-loathing and shame as they stared and discussed it. I had nothing to say: no understanding or explanation that I could possibly offer. I only knew that I couldn’t help it, and the more I wanted to stop, the less I seemed able to. The result was that I felt swamped by mental, emotional and now physical manifestations of my “otherness” – an awareness that I was wrong, strange, screwed up, and didn’t belong.

There are countless articles on trich and derm, and a bazillion approaches to therapy: medication, hypnosis, CBT, etc. etc. You can google either of the conditions and get an ocean of information on the topics, as well as supportive online communities for sufferers. However, it’s hard to bridge the gap between conscious thought/realization and subconscious urges/behaviours. As anyone who has had trich or derm can attest, the conditions are both adamantly driven by the subconscious. Often, your hand will be acting out the habits long before you realize what’s happening. For this reason, most therapies start from a basis of becoming consciously aware of the behaviours. Once you’re conscious, you can consciously stop (is the argument).

Soooo much easier said than done.

I believe there are two primary reasons for trichotillomania and dermatillomania. The first is self-punishment.  It’s obvious when you think about it: anxieties and shame stem from the fear of not being good enough because of our (perceived) imperfections. Those imperfections can’t be removed from our minds/personalities with any kind of ease, but they can be attacked on our physical skin/bodies. In this way, we seek an outlet to literally pick away at our flaws, to subtly attack and de-construct ourselves.

The second reason for trich/derm is one that I can’t take credit for thinking up, because I found it in this excellent article by Dr. Fred Penzel (it only pertains to trich, specifically, but actually applies to both conditions in theory). His basic idea is that pulling out the hair is a built-in, instinctive method of stimulus regulation. When we are over-stimulated (i.e. exhausted, stressed, upset, or over-excited), the focus on the ritual act of anticipating and causing sensations (by pulling hairs or whatever) serves as a way to calm and soothe the system. On the opposite end of the same spectrum, when we are under-stimulated (bored, depressed, physically caged in by a sedentary life, etc.), the sensations caused by pulling serve to stimulate our system.

I find this fascinating and totally plausible. When I think of the main two times I really, really struggle with derm and trich, they are: when I’m stressed about the possibility of failure of some kind (sitting working on a paper, trying to fill out a resume or job application, having a difficult/confrontational conversation, worrying in general); and/or when I’m tired/spaced out/not paying attention to life (watching tv, reading, etc.). In essence, when I am way over-stimulated and when I’m way under-stimulated.

Based on Penzel’s article, I decided to adopt an active approach to de-stressing and stimulating my own nervous system – namely, I either go straight to bed or get up and do something else the second I start feeling any urge to pull or scratch. If getting up every five seconds simply isn’t an option (i.e. when I’m working on a paper that has to be done or something), then I grab a squeezie stress ball, chew gum, drink water/tea, or pet the cat (if I can force it to sit on my lap while I work that is!). Just getting up to grab a glass of water or head to bed sends a signal to the nervous system that distracts from self-harm urges – something else is going on and your body can focus on that.

While I’m not 100% successful or ‘cured’ yet, I have had a drastic reduction in ‘episodes’ of trich and derm. And when I do slip up, I try to practice self-compassion rather than sink under the same old emotions that only prompt more self-harm.

I hope this post helps someone as much as finding out about trich/derm helped me – please feel free to message me if you have any questions about either condition, tips for stopping, etc.

 

Cat xxxxx

 

 

Fighting love (and losing badly)

Very little grows on jagged rock.

Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are.

You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different.

Surrender.

-Rumi

I know chances are that I don’t even have to say/explain this if you’re reading it, but BPD has pretty much made me very anti-love for the majority of my life. As in I hated relationships, hated affection, hated intimacy, hate hate hate it. All of it smacked way too much of all kinds of things that frightened the hell out of me, from trusting and relying on someone, to experiencing actual happiness or warmth.

Again, this would probably seem so bizarre to most non-borderlines, and yet I’m assuming its totally “normal” and intuitive behaviour for you if you’re bothering to read this. Anything wonderful, especially love, can be snatched away so easily, lost so quickly for the borderline, that to have those things is to be in constant state of terror about when the good feelings will disappear and the darkness will flood back in, stronger and darker than ever.

But in line with my recent post on actively working to capture and internalize good memories (since we’ve certainly got no problem internalizing the opposite), I wanted to go out on a limb here and describe something that I hope brings even a little bit of good to someone else’s day, the way it brought a smile to mine.

The new relationship I’ve started has moved fast – too fast (a part of me would argue) – and its really scary. I try to slow it down, reign it in, keep the brakes on, but in reality I am just more and more blown away each day by how wonderful this guy is. It’s crazy how much I want this to work – not just “work” in a BPD way (read: you play the hero, I play the victim, and you save/care for me every minute of your life), but really work in a full-on adult relationship kind of way, which would be totally new territory for me.

Recently, a subject came up between us that really triggered me. My instinct was just to get out of the conversation. I started to get upset, which for me, means I started to dissociate and “leave” the scene even before I managed to mumble that I was actually leaving the scene. But he told me to stay and held my hand and just kept saying the kinds of things that I couldn’t believe someone without advanced therapy training would EVER think to say. Things like: you’re so strong; you can change this; you’re not alone; you’re here now and I won’t let anything bad happen to you. Without pushing at all for more information he made me feel understood. Without playing the parental or hero role he made me feel cared for. Without any professional training he made me feel better in my worst moments than any mental healthcare professional has.

Then he said there was something he wanted to show me and he went and got a small, flawless black beach pebble to give me. In disbelief I heard him start to explain how he kept it on his dresser where he could look at it as a reminder to stay focused entirely on the detail of the moment, and not drown in worry or regret. It was mindfulness from someone who (to the best of my knowledge) had never heard of “mindfulness,” didn’t know anything about the years of therapy I’d had in the concept, couldn’t imagine how much what they were saying resonated with me. Even more astonishingly, this is someone I would have seen as thoroughly “normal” while I was firmly in the “crazy” camp. Funny the lines our minds draw, and how false and misleading they can be. When I told him I would have seen him as the last person who needed to work at staying mindful or positive, he said, “I think I work a lot harder at it than you think I do.” Huh.

There are people out there who are going to understand. They’re not perfect, and my BPD really really wants them to discount them for that. But they do exist. Kind of terrifying. And kind of amazing.

Although I remain extremely cautious about jumping into this whole love thing headfirst, I am willing to step into the water. I’m hoping with everything I have that it turns out to be as good as I think it will be.

wildflowers

 

Cat xxxx

EDIT: To anyone reading this now (over three years since I wrote it), I just thought I’d include a note to say that this man and I have now been married nearly 8 months. For real. I’m not going to lie and say everything is ‘happily ever after’ all the time, because it’s not. We’ve had (and continue to have) a few difficulties, and a lot of them have to do with my BPD-esque background/ingrained behaviours, but… a lot of them don’t. I might be the only newlywed who feels excited when we have a stupid fight, because guess what? THEY DON’T END WITH ME WANTING TO DIE. We may fight, we may say hurtful things, but then we say that we’re hurt, and we apologize and make up. AND IT’S WORKING. When I look back on some of these posts, I realize why I feel so excited about those “dumb fight” moments. They are proof that I have changed. A lot. In a way that makes me feel happy and strong and hopeful (not fake, empty or “different” like I once feared). And if I can change THAT much, trust me—anyone can. ❤