Make Peace with Your Unlived Life

A somewhat airy-fairy title for an article from the Harvard Business Review, which is why it caught my eye as I was plodding through my usual work (i.e., providing source information for boring-ass business article after boring-ass business article).

Of course, it was mostly in relation to career stuff (it is HBR, after all), but I soon found myself engrossed in this piece, identifying more and more with the author’s thoughts on the many identities we try out (mentally or physically/actually) throughout our lives.

As I’ve written about many times, BPD and identity issues are inseparable. And the further I move away from the throes of living in the midst of this disorder, the more interested I am in finding out how it happened, and how it relates to “the real me.” When did my BPD start? Why? How can I prevent it taking over my identity (my “inner theatre” as this article calls it) ever again? How can I avoid contributing to BPD in myself or in anyone else?

That’s why my skin began to prickle and my stomach tensed as I realized that I was essentially reading a how-to manual for creating BPD—one that I had experienced first hand:

Donald Winnicott elaborated on the idea of the “true self” and “false self.” He explained that beginning in infancy, all of us, in response to perceived threats to our well-being, develop a defensive structure that may evolve into a “false self.” He suggests that if our basic needs are not acknowledged—not mirrored back to us by our parents—we may presume they are unimportant. Complying with our parents’ desires, we may repress our own desires, not actualizing what we really like to do. We may believe that non-compliance endangers our role in the family. In addition, we may internalize our parents’ dreams of self-glorification through our achievements. But this acquiescence to the wishes of others is an emotional lie. It comes at the price of suppressing our own needs. In our efforts to please others, we hide and deny our “true self,” which in turn leads to self-estrangement. If that’s the case, the “false self” will get the upper hand. It becomes a defensive armor to keep the “true self” at bay and hidden.

Of course I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a more succinct and accurate account of how my own BPD developed. To this day,  I struggle tremendously with the notion of my parents’ expectations, and the idea of how horrified and ashamed they would be to see “the real me” (that is, to know everything about me and how fallible I really am).

Part of me (a logical part) knows that’s probably not true: my parents will always love me, and they’d be the first to say that all they want is for me to be happy. But it’s hard to shake those defensive structures that we developed as kids, no matter how unnecessary or unjustified they might’ve been (and I’m not saying mine WERE unjustified… I do think that my parents’ actions and behaviours spoke louder than their words ever could in terms of creating a need for defenses; saying “I love you no matter what” once or twice doesn’t negative hundreds of instances that implied strong disapproval).

But I don’t want to blame my parents, because lord knows we all do enough of that already in the mental health realm! And anyway, my parents raised three other kids without BPD, so it’s obviously not fair to say they’re the “cause” of my BPD. Rather, I want to know why some people can take disapproval, punishment, even trauma, and turn it into something totally unlike BPD, while others can’t take much of anything without developing this (or a similar disorder). Is it chemical? Circumstantial? Will we ever know?

Part two of my attraction to this article has to do with the “making peace” part—not only with one’s “shadow self” or the parts we don’t show the world, but also with all the chances that we never realize, the choices to the left when we always took the right. This sense of loss, and the desire to accept that loss, is huge in my life right now. I’m not sure it necessarily has to do with BPD (I feel like it does), but every time I’ve made a big decision in my life, I go through a period of intense grieving (usually totally internal/mental) for whatever I didn’t choose. Given that I’ve probably just made the biggest decision of my life this past year (getting married), I probably should have expected this deluge of feels and (in a way) regrets, but, whaddyaknow, I didn’t. :/

I realize that this post is kind of scattered and nonsensical, so please excuse my sharing it; I kind of see it as a true reflection of the sense of identity that I have right now: muddled, messy, and not very convincing—really more questions than answers—but also, the best that I can offer at the moment. ❤

Cat xxxx

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When is BPD “Cured”?

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I’ve written before about being “cured”, and when I looked back to find the post where I mentioned that, I was shocked to realize it was (almost) a whopping two years ago. !!!

It seems a bit naive to use that word at all. In the two-year period since that post, I’ve achieved a lot of things that make me feel cured (I no longer self-harm, I’m not in therapy or on any medication, and I’ve even managed to form a healthy romantic bond and get married <note: this bizarre fact needs to be the subject of its own post (or several) one day), but I would no longer use the word “cured” for any mental illness tbh – and maybe not for any illness at all.

It’s an odd thing to say – cured – because it implies that you are exactly the same as you were before an illness/event affected you. But we’re never really the same. Not after cancer, or schizophrenia, or surgery, or any other massively dynamic shift in our bodies and/or souls. Things have changed on a cellular level, and sometimes the very building blocks that make up our entire worldview seem to have undergone alchemical transformations.

I love the comic above by Hannah Hillam, because it illustrates what I’m saying perfectly (and so much more succinctly). BPD will never be out of the picture entirely for me. And in that sense, I don’t think I’ll ever be cured. Instead, it will probably just always be there, in the background, affecting my choices with low-level input and threatening to engulf me if I don’t keep it in check. I’m (oddly?) okay with that. When you compare the two panels, I guess it makes sense why I’d feel okay with that.

Just to be out of the situation on the left is incredible; I hope I never take that freedom for granted (even though sometimes, I can already see myself doing exactly that). I remember – vaguely and in the way we can never truly remember acute pain – what it felt like to want to die. Every moment was agony and every breath taken grudgingly, wishing it could just stop. Trapped in my head with something cruel and hateful, something that criticized everything about me in screaming tones that I couldn’t block out even as I pressed my hands over my ears and literally begged it to be silent. Unable to stop the images that flashed through my mind, images of my own suicide and too many horrible things to mention – things that convinced me further that I was fucked up and would be better off dead.

As I sit here writing this, I shudder to remember that place, that feeling. But I’m not foolish enough to think it’s a place I have left behind forever. The door to that world is still there in the hallway of my mind, closed but not barred. I can walk past it – I often do – and make the choice not to go in there. But I remember what it was like to feel unable to choose, to be trapped in there and unaware that there was even a way out.

The other reason I’m not in a hurry to use the word “cured” is because I also think that it can lead to a false sense of security. Once we feel (or are labelled) “better,” it’s very easy to veer back towards the same habits that may have caused us problems in the first place. The stage I’m at now is one of hyper vigilance in this respect. I don’t read the news if at all possible (especially now…). If someone says something hateful, mean, triggering, even callous or careless, I leave the room or pointedly change the subject. I let myself get upset or cry, no matter how small the hurt, processing what happened and validating it. I rarely watch movies or TV without reading detailed synopses and reviews online, so I can avoid upsetting content. I eat with my health in mind, take certain supplements for brain health every day, and try not to have more than one alcoholic drink at a time (and even one is rare).

But most most most importantly, I check in with myself constantly; I invest a LOT of time and energy into making sure I never get to the point of depressed, and hopeless, waiting for somebody to say or do something to make it better – because this, to me, was the trademark sentiment of BPD, the mind frame, in a nutshell, that kept me feeling victimized and codependent, caught in borderline cycles of abandonment and anger. If I’m feeling like no one is meeting my needs, I go above and beyond to meet my own needs that day – and I try to do that with as little bitterness/animosity as I can towards the people that I believe have “let me down” (by not meeting said needs… I’m not great at that part yet, but I’m slowly getting better).

Does this sound selfish and self-absorbed? Like I refuse to listen to the plights of refugees and just buy myself cupcakes and manicures instead? I don’t mean it to, but even if it does sound that way… frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. I know what I’m capable of and what I’m not capable of at this particular moment. And I no longer feel much of a need to justify myself or wallow in guilt when I know it only makes me useless and sick. I donate to causes I believe in, I help in ways that I can, and I look forward to the day when I can devote myself even more to the nitty-gritty of remedying the world’s endless pile of horrific injustices. For now, it’s enough to be getting better. It’s enough to be as close to “cured” as I may ever be.

Cat xxxx

p.s. a very loving shoutout and hug to anyone still reading, in spite of my patchy record of posting over these last couple years! xo