Letting go of perfect

Hello from the distant realm of IRL!

I could give all kinds of explanations as to why it’s taken me so bloody long to post on this blog (my significant other has a horrendous and all-consuming immune disease that was mistreated for months, we’ve had about five close family members get extremely ill or die in the last six months, work has been insane as I attempt to establish my own business, and oh yeah, I’M GETTING MARRIED?!), but the fact is…

I can’t stand not being perfect.

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That’s the bald truth behind my lack of posts lately.

But wait… what sense does that make? When I’ve been at my lowest, my “least perfect,” I’ve posted lots in the past. And I certainly do not identify as a “perfect” person… most of the time, I couldn’t feel farther from that.

I’m not entirely sure that I understand it either. All I know is, the “better” I get mentally, the stronger and stronger the voice is that reminds me of my never-ending quest for perfection.

I think it’s kind of like: when I’m a mess, I’m a big mess. I can let go of the fantasy about being perfect, because it’s so obvious that I’m not. I let myself give up and cry and freak out and accomplish next-to-nothing, because I don’t have any choice.

However, when I’m doing “okay,” it’s a totally different story.

Once I’m “okay,” then I’m also “normal” (these are all terms I use in my own mind, mostly subconsciously) and I have zero excuses to be less than perfect. Keep in mind that my job (editor) really doesn’t lend itself to combatting this type of obsessive thinking!

(Bear with me… this is really annoying and almost stream-of-consciousness, I know… that’s because I’m forcing myself to write this WITHOUT GOING BACK AND EDITING. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. No joke.)

I’ve struggled with severe procrastination all my life. Only recently (like four or five years ago) did I learn about the general pysch theory behind procrastinating. It basically goes, “If I don’t give something my full efforts, my full attention, or even a proper chance, then I don’t have to feel bad when it’s not perfect — because I didn’t really try.”

Something about that hit home, especially in relation to my BPD. (GAH I ADMIT IT: I SPELLED THAT BDP BUT I HAD TO FIX IT, YOU GUYS… this is what I’m talking about!)

How many times have I told myself some version of that same sentiment? If I don’t fully admit that I’m in love and 100% committed to this relationship, then I don’t have to feel bad when it falls apart. If I throw this essay out there at 3 a.m., then I don’t have to be upset with an 80% instead of 100. If I don’t really act like myself, then I won’t get hurt — because I’m never truly exposed to be hurt in the first place.

BPD and procrastination share a core aspect: they both depend on a whole lot of deception and bullshit to protect something very very painful and very very vulnerable.

Admitting this — admitting that I have this core of pain and vulnerability — is not something I did once and never have to do again. I’m realizing that it’s something I have to remind myself of over and over and over again. Every day, in fact. Because otherwise I fall right back into the thought pattern that made me so miserable in the first place: “I’m not enough, but if I can just try hard enough, be enough to make everyone I ever meet happy and totally enamoured with what a wonderful, brilliant, kind, talented, hilarious, perfect person I am… then I WILL feel like enough at last.”

On the one hand, I’m deeply grateful that the past five-six months have been the single longest period I’ve ever gone without suffering a deep depression since I was about 10 years old. On the other hand, I’m no longer proud of myself for that fact. It’s not enough to get through the day and make a little money and make someone else smile. It’s starting to creep into my mind that I’m fat (I’m not), unsuccessful (I’m not), self-centred (I hope I’m not), and light years behind where I “should be” in life. I should get up every day and work out for a couple hours. I should then go to my job I love and make thousands of dollars a day at. I should eat organic produce and healthy fats all day and crave nothing else. I should volunteer at a couple local charities in the evening, then visit with every one of my friends and family so that I don’t feel guilty for not caring about their lives. Finally, I should work on my groundbreaking novel for a few hours, finish the day with some art, reading, and other suitably edifying hobbies, and then get eight hours of sleep. How hard is it to just have a day like that?

I’m delusional. I get it. You don’t know how many posts I’ve drafted for this blog over the past four months or so. But none seemed funny/insightful/relatable enough to be worth posting. I’d end up deleting every single one.

So here goes. Unedited and utterly imperfect, this is my new style of blogging — and hopefully, eventually, my new style of living. I’m not going to agonize over each post for hours, then tell myself I don’t have time to blog at all.

(FUCK, okay I could not resist doing a Command+F for ‘really’ — one of my most overused words — and there are 500 of them… sorry, guys… really sorry :P)

-Cat xxxxx

 

 

 

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Crash and burn, get up and try again

Find-Your-Fight

It could kind of be my motto over the past five years or so, and probably applies to a lot of people with BPD.

The founder of the mental health site, Lost All Hope, writes about the pressure that people can feel, once they’ve told their “I survived” stories, to not relapse, to not disappoint anyone reading it who may be looking to you as any kind of proof that it is possible to beat these pernicious illnesses.

I wish I could say that I’m truly BPD-free, that I always take my recommended fish oil and vitamin D, eat nothing but organic produce, take daily walks in the fresh air and sunshine, and all the other feel-good clichés that are supposed to keep your mind perfectly controlled, perfectly clean, perfectly happy. The truth is that life sucks sometimes (I know, you’re shocked right now!), and periodically, I still feel like utter shit. As I’ve discovered a few times over the past year, I can still launch into full-on BPD mode with the best of them, hurting those close to me, screaming, throwing things, hating life, hating everyone, and desperate to self-harm.

So make no mistake, I’m not telling anyone that you can beat BPD or depression. On the contrary, I now realize that very, very few people (if any) have ever really “beaten” mental illness. Because unlike a cancer that you can sever, or a bacteria you can nuke, I think BPD is, at best, a lifelong on-again/off-again relationship. I’d love to believe (and I have believed, in the past) that it’s a bit like food poisoning: something you can purge from your system with enough tears, strife, drama, experience, therapy and emotional diarrhea. But with each of my little “stumbles” (can’t really think of a good word for them, but I HATE that one. Oh well, moving on), there is no firmly placing this disorder in my past. There is only painfully consistent and vigilant management.

With that in mind, I’m going to share the things that have harmed and the things that have helped. You may have your own personal list of triggers or succors, but many of these are pretty standard when it comes to causing or circumventing BPD crises.

Helpful

  • Exercise
  • Fish oil
  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium
  • Determining and asking for what I need
  • Small gestures that show love
  • Real, honest communication with loved ones
  • Laughter
  • Sunshine, fresh air
  • Accomplishing things, managing a to-do list
  • Keeping a clean environment
  • The right medication
  • Showers, baths, manicures, massage, etc. – anything that makes you feel cleaner, happier, more human

 

 

Harmful

  • Sugars/unhealthy and processed carbs
  • Alcohol. I don’t even drink socially anymore because of the emotional hangover that usually comes with even a drink or two.
  • The wrong medication: certain sedatives and anti-depressants come with a risk (ironically?) of exacerbating the problem.
  • Periods of extreme expectations/pressure for things to be perfect: Christmas, birthdays, special events or moments, etc.
  • Dismissing or hiding my own emotions
  • Periods of extreme sadness (obvious)
  • Periods (period). Anyone else find their hormones to be a huge trigger?
  • Feeling isolated, ignored or resentful
  • Rehashing the past – trips down memory lane aren’t great for me right now, no matter how positively they start out.
  • Mess/clutter
  • Threatening self-harm – once it’s out there, there’s literally no way things can go well, and it hangs in the air like a promise that I’ll get worse.

 

No, this doesn’t mean that if I have a donut or let the house get messy, I lose all control and want to die. Nor does it mean that as long as I eat okay and exercise, I’m totally in the clear. But if I do enough of the little positive things, I’ll notice real change. And if I do enough of the little negative things, I know it’s only a matter of time until a blow-out.

 

I may add St. John’s Wort and/or accupunture to that top “helpful” list, but I’ll have to try them first – something I’m likely to do over the next several weeks. With Christmas coming up, the time I devote to self-care is going to be ironclad and fiercely protected. I’m trying really hard not to get my hopes up for a great Christmas, but rather, for a Christmas that doesn’t involve wanting to die at any point. Is that too much to ask for?

xxxx

Crush

Candy-HeartsRather than do a boring explanatory “sorry for the eon between posts” post, I thought I’d save the life updates for another time and get right to a topic that I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time in relation to BPD.

Anyone who has (or knows someone with) BPD knows that this disorder is first and foremost a bane of interpersonal relationships. In a way, I know that’s a misleading thing to say, because as I learned through my treatment, BPD actually stems from a singularly terrible intrapersonal relationship (your relationship with yourself). But regardless of its root cause and ultimate healing, BPD usually manifests itself worst and most frequently in our relationships with the ones we love. And for many borderlines, it’s not with ALL the ones we love, it’s only with THE one we love – the boyfriend, wife, best friend, confidant, etc. – our rock, our other half, our anchor in the storm, our everything, our knight/damsel in shining armour, slaying our demons and healing our wounded hearts with perfect and boundless understanding.

If it seems like I’m slathering on the irony a bit thick, that’s mostly because I am.

Like every personality disorder, BPD is healed from the inside out. Never the outside in. Period. I firmly believe it can be caused and prevented (at least partially) from the outside in. I desperately (emphasis on the DESPERATE part) wanted to believe that it could be treated from the outside in, for years upon wasted years. But I can now finally accept what I couldn’t for the vast majority of my life: it’s up to me to love myself, care for myself, know myself, and save myself.

But does this newfound insight protect me entirely from that hallmark of BPD, the toxic lure of…

The Crush?

No, it does not.

Before I go any further with this post, let me clarify that I am deeply in love with my incredible, thoughtful, patient, affectionate, caring, ridiculously hot boyfriend. I still get that fluttery feeling when he smiles at me, I picture our life together with great happiness, and I’m struck at least once a day by the re-realization of how handsome he is. What I’m talking about in terms of crushes is not a genuine desire to be with anyone other than my partner, although for many (most?) borderlines, I think it often turns into that.

In our endless quest for a person that will complete us, borderlines pounce, with terrifying and painful eagerness, on anything remotely resembling their phantom god. And heaven help the person who ends up on that pedestal. You’ve unwittingly entered a vortex of emotions, where your every sentence, action and yes, even inaction will become the purported cause of another person’s happiness or misery, elation or despair. We’ll think about you constantly, obsess over what your thoughts and opinions might be, find every detail of your life fascinating, and want to be in your presence every minute of every day.

But rest assured, you won’t be in your lofty hot seat forever. That’s because BPD runs in cycles, and you’re just one of them. You’ll only be the Crush until you “fail” in some way. Or maybe it’ll take a few failures. Either way, once you seem anything less than the perfect completion of our being, you’ll be supplanted by the next Crush. The one that truly knows us. The one that really understands and cares – not like you, you horrible monster.

Sometimes the Crush is sexual in nature, but a lot of the time, it’s purely platonic (and, we like to tell ourselves, more legitimate because of that – this person TRULY cares because they help us even without the prospect of sex in return). Sometimes it’s a purely mental obsession, with someone dead or famous or otherwise impossibly distant from us. But the biggest danger, of course, is when a real living breathing person shows up in our life to act out the role. Because then we realise, deep down, that this relationship can only end in flames (like all our other crushes) and it’s going to actually tear our life apart if said person is, for example, a long-term partner/spouse, a co-worker, a boss, etc. etc. Hello, drama, nice to see you again – weird how we keep encountering each other…

Even for recovering borderlines (read: me), the Crush can be one of the hardest things to manage. All it takes is a bad day with your significant other and a kind word from someone else, and you’re back at the mercy of wistful fantasies about how the perfect person would understand, and the perfect person would do this, that and the other thing, etc. etc.

In this way, the Crush is an emotional insurance policy. We don’t have to admit the terrifying reality that we are alone, essentially and permanently, and that we must learn to love and save ourselves. Neither do we have to experience the full pain of failure when yet another person lets us down – there’s always our back-up, our big gun, our true soulmate.

I think many people would argue that there’s no harm in crushing, but I hope I’m making it clear that that couldn’t be further from the truth. When you keep running to crushes, you’re running away from yourself – from the truth of what it takes to get better. When you constantly have the refuge (even the mental refuge) of another person’s embrace, you won’t waste time and energy fixing core problems in your real relationships: that’s too painful, too messy, too imperfect. Better to just hold on to the idea that somewhere, somehow, someone is capable of that perfection. Worst of all, when you have the comparison in your mind of what your Crush would have said, how they would have helped when your other loved ones didn’t, you pit the people who really care about you against a magical, non-existent fantasy that they will never, ever live up to.

I could go on and on about this topic, having an absurd amount of experience in it (unfortunately), but for now, I’ll confine myself to asking: has anyone out there ever had a Crush turn out well? I’m asking because mine is going REALLY well (like, marriage direction) and I’m fucking terrified of screwing it up or sliding back into old habits just when it matters most…

Cat xxxx

Fighting the good fight

Find-Your-Fight
I may have mentioned that I’ve been cutting back on my medication over the past few months. My reduction schedule has been fairly arbitrary – from 300mg Wellbutrin per day (the dose I’ve been at for over a year now), to 150mg per day (for a few weeks), to 150mg every other day (for about two weeks), to 150 mg every few days or less (where I’m at now) – but it is based on the general recommendation that you should gradually cut back on antidepressants rather than go “cold turkey.” Nevertheless, I do NOT recommend that anyone else necessarily follow this agenda; instead, talk to your doctor about what is right for you.
Anyway, I didn’t really expect reducing my medication to have a noticeable effect. I think deep down, part of me still believed that these tiny pills can’t have any actual physical effect on something as intangible as mood/depression. Allow me to utterly and completely obliterate any vestige of that belief.
It’s nothing super horrendous, and definitely not enough to dissuade me from pursuing this course of action, but there’s been an undeniable relapse. It’s actually quite interesting to observe, knowing what I now know about depression, about mindfulness, about observing negative thoughts, etc. In the past, I would have thought of this relapse as “me just returning to my normal or ‘real’ self” and I would have been too depressed to try and fight what seemed inevitable.
Now I know better.
Depression is not a natural state of being; it’s an insidious invader. No matter how long it sets up shop, it’s a parasite, not a part of you.
Being able to make that distinction has made a world of difference for me this time around.
Nevertheless, feeling the old familiar pull towards darkness is disconcerting, to say the least. At first it was just a nagging sense of “my life kind of sucks.” Then it was the realization that I’m WAY more emotional than usual – more sensitive, more easily hurt, more easily angered, more anxious. I sleep a bit more, eat a bit less and seem to need more alone time than usual.  And – here’s a fucking weird one – I’m noticeably way clumsier.  ?!?  I’ve spent the last week or so dropping, breaking, spilling and knocking over stuff. It would normally make me laugh, at least a bit, but right now, it just pisses me off immensely (especially when said stuff is expensive, like my new french press or living room lamp – grrrr). I usually end up yelling and swearing in frustration, see the looks on my cats faces, and realize this is part of why I should never have children…
But, this is my new reality. I don’t have spare energy to sit around thinking about how much I wish things were different. As author and long-term depressive Therese Borchard puts it, “From the moment my eyes open in the morning until the second that I pull my sleep mask over my face as I go to sleep, I am engaged in battle.” 
My own fight against depression and BPD is characterized by three preventative strategies:
1) Guarding my thoughts (meditate/be mindful, practice positive thinking and gratitude).
2) Guarding my emotions (avoid emotional triggers, foster positive relationships and nix toxic ones).
3) Guarding my body (get adequate rest, nutrition and exercise).
Seems simple enough, right? However, it’s proving to be a full-time endeavour. Things are a bit of a mess in my head – so much so that I don’t really even know how to get these feelings out in words on this blog, though I desperately want to. Expect an onslaught of weird, self-indulgent Cubist posts on the horizon… you’ve been warned?
-Cat xxxx

Neuroplasticity: the good and the bad

neuroplasticity I’ve written on here before about neuroplasticity, and since it is kind of a massive deal in the world of neurology, mental health, etc., doubtlessly most of you have heard about it by now. Basically, everything we thought for a long time about the brain’s development – i.e., that you reach a certain level of cognitive development and then it’s set for life (or worse, inevitably eroding little by little) – is total bull. Neuroplasticity posits that as long as you’re alive, your brain is growing and changing. It’s like a forest, with neural pathways become clearer and more familiar every time they are used, or fainter and less reliable as they are left untaken.

As my therapist pointed out in my final session with her a couple months ago, I’ve actually physically altered my brain by actively fighting BPD through therapy, medication and DBT. She showed me some MRI scans she had of BPD brains versus “normal” brains. The differences were astounding. For the non-BPD brains, light/activity covered most of the brain, with information travelling smoothly from left to right and back again: constant communication. In the brains with BPD, whole sections were dark, void of any activity. This tied into what we had discussed regarding “part work” – wherein parts of the brain (such as painful memories or beliefs) are closed off from other parts (such as the adult brain which regulates emotions), thus leading to massive mental health issues as you literally fight with yourself for control. Accessing suppressed parts of ourselves isn’t just some airy-fairy imaginative exercise: it correlates to the physical and observable disassociation between the parts in your head. So yeah, pretty important stuff.

Anyway, suffice it to say, I was feeling pretty proud of myself as I wrapped up therapy – like that feeling you get when you’ve been working out consistently and you can actually start to see little muscles peeking through the chub (“mmmhm, check out THIS well-developed amygdala, everyone”). I’d physically changed my thinking! But as the months have gone by, I’ve noticed another way that neuroplasticity has affected me.

Despite my clear awareness of how much computer time/technology affects my mental health, I’m still just not able to put my money where my mouth is and DITCH THIS SHIT. I spend hours – I shudder to think just how many hours – staring into a computer screen and accomplishing NOTHING. I’ll open a word document to work/edit or write, and suddenly find myself on instagram or Facebook 45 minutes later, bewildered as to how much time has just passed. Or a poorly written piece of click bait catches my eye and I waste 4 minutes skimming it… and then another 4 minutes skimming the comments on it… and then another 4 minutes skimming the next article that it links to… and so on and so on. Far too many times a week, I’ll find myself heading to bed wondering where the hell the evening between work and sleep went: I literally just sat there on a couch for THAT long?!?!

It’s a disturbing trend that is affecting virtually everyone who uses the Internet, and the implications of it really only started to scare me after reading this awesome article (which won a Pulitzer btw, and is infinitely more compelling than this post itself so please read it instead if you’re strapped for time!). Is my computer usage actually making me “stupider”?

There’s no doubt that everything this author said hit home. Over the last few years – and the last few months, in particular – I notice alarming changes. I am less creative. I am less focused. I have far more difficulty immersing myself in a narrative and I barely read real books anymore (which is INSANE when I think of my past and how much I love to read). I also struggle on a daily basis with productivity and the ability to listen to my gut and make decisions. I often feel pulled in so many directions by so many bits of unsorted information that it’s no wonder my ability to really sink into deeper levels of contemplation has evaporated. I don’t know what the answer is though. I mean the benefits of computer/Internet use are obvious (this blog being one of them, for me!) and I’m not sure how I’d even function at my job(s) without them. But surely there must be some way to grow my creativity again, which is currently withered to nothingness by all my senseless surfing… any ideas?  :/

-Cat xxxxx

The 5 Best Things To Say to Someone with BPD

(Part 2/follow-up to this post)

It was kind of telling that this post was so much harder to write than the first part. The truth is, even as someone who had/has BPD, I find the disorder totally bewildering, illogical, overwhelming and bizarre. When I picture myself in full borderline mode, I realise there are about a million ways to make things worse – and very, VERY few ways to help. That’s because most borderlines actually want the people who care about them to fail in these situations – they want (or maybe a better word is “expect”) to be triggered, upset, exacerbated and worsened. It feeds into the belief that no one cares, no one can help, no one can save us, and we might as well give up now.

With that in mind, it’s hard to say the following suggestions are surefire ways to help someone with BPD (as I really do believe a borderline is capable of twisting almost anything into “proof” of all their worst fears about being unloved), but they are all based on things that were said to me – things that really did help when I felt like nothing could.

1) I want to learn more about this.

This demonstrates a fews things: a) You really do believe that BPD is a thing, and not just this person acting selfish/manipulative/crazy. b) You care enough to invest time in understanding why they feel and act this way. c) You respect this person enough to tell them you’re doing your homework (instead of having them think you’re reading up on them “behind their back” and forming all sorts of secret conclusions). When I found a stack of books on BPD that a friend of mine had checked out of the library, it broke my heart because I had to admit that all my BPD-fueled rants against him and his supposed “betrayals” were bullshit. He obviously cared about me way more than I’d ever given him credit for.

2) You’re allowed to feel _________ (insert emotion).

The man I will probably marry was the first person to say this to me and if anything could have further cemented my gigantic crush on him, it was this. I think a lot of borderlines really need to hear this simple statement out loud, even if (like me) they’ve never realised it. That’s because many of us became divorced very early on from the whole concept of being allowed to experience normal emotions, allowed to react, allowed to cry or yell, allowed to feel.  How much distress would be averted if we all felt 100% entitled to our emotions? If we all believed that our thoughts and feelings were okay and not reflections of how weak/stupid/sensitive/fucked up/awful we are? This statement gives the person a permission that they may not be ready to give themselves. It can also be expanded to, for example, “You’re allowed feel hurt, but it’s not okay to hurt me because of it.” This confirms that you care about the person but you also care about yourself; trust me, having a human punching bag never cured anyone’s BPD.

3) I cannot be the only person who knows about this.

Notice a theme here? The most helpful things you can say to a borderline have nothing to do with giving advice, and a lot to do with self-care — both for borderlines and the people who love them. Disclaimer: this phrase is far from soothing in the moment. In fact it could be explosive. But in the long run, I really do believe this is one of the best things to say to a borderline. Of course there is a big difference between gently but firmly saying this phrase to a person with BPD, and going behind their back and telling someone all about their situation (please do not EVER do the latter, unless it is literally a life or death situation and you are willing to sacrifice the relationship as a result). It’s not fair to either party to have BPD be your dirty little secret. Everything about it is a recipe for absolute disaster. Unfortunately, I would know: it’s a formula I applied to my closest relationships for many years. We get close, I tell you everything that no one else knows, now you’re literally the one person on earth who can help me, and everything you do is therefore held to an impossible standard. It’s way too much pressure on one person, eventually there’s disappointment, catastrophic fallout, and the relationship goes up in flames. Rinse and repeat with a new person. The only way to break this classic borderline cycle is to create a support system rather than a single lifeline. My own BPD wasn’t even close to treated until it involved numerous medical professionals, family members, friends, and online support networks. Did I loathe the person who pushed me in the direction of opening up for help? Yes. For a while. It was hard and awful and awkward and painful and against every fibre of my being to be honest about what was happening. But I don’t think I would be here now if this hadn’t been said to me.

4) I made this for you.

Whether it’s a cup of tea, a one-sentence note, a playlist or a special dinner, little gestures (especially if they’re “just because” and not in an attempt to fix something) go a long way with borderlines. They interrupt our perpetual inner narrative about how alone we are, how no one sees or understands, how we don’t deserve love or kindness, etc. They’re also more effective than simply saying “I care” or “I understand” because a lot of people find that words become pretty meaningless when they’re in the grips of depression; it’s like they’re part of this fake world where people just say all kinds of things they don’t really mean. Another weird aspect of BPD: it drives us absolutely crazy (perhaps literally?) to decide/choose anything for ourselves when we’re in a dark place. I don’t know why, but it does. Saying “Here, I made this, take it” doesn’t give us any choice in the matter – and that’s a good thing. It’s not a “Well gee, would you like me to…?” or “How about I get you…?” (which make me want to tear my hair out when I’m low). I know it’s a small/strange distinction, but just being forced to accept kindness, without any opportunity to deliberate or agonize over it or turn it down or feel obliged to decline it, is really really nice when you’re too depressed or upset or exhausted to choose anything. Plus, whose day, no matter how crappy, isn’t brightened at least a bit by something thoughtful?

5) I can’t fix this, but I want to help.

Never believe (and never let your loved one believe) that you can save another person from BPD. Untreated borderline personality disorder is a like a black hole: it will greedily suck in all the energy, sympathy, love, devotion and patience that you can muster, and just turn it into more meaningless darkness. Bleak but true. The only way forward is to support the borderline as they seek to heal themselves – a truly daunting quest for anyone. Letting them know you’re committed to helping with it is never unappreciated, even if it seems that way when you offer. Finding concrete ways to actually help – e.g. offering rides to doctors’ appointments, helping with the cost of therapy or medication (not that this is appropriate in all circumstances), little gestures of kindness on hard days (see above), etc. – is even more appreciated.

EDIT (May 9, 2018): I wanted to add a 6th item to this list that I’ve realized can be extremely helpful.

6) “Look at me.” Not said in a creepy or forceful way, of course (lol). If you want to reenact Avatar while conveying the same sense/emotion (but IMO why would you…), you could say “I see you.” I think whether you have BPD or not, any emotional situation that’s quickly escalating into patterns, habits and defences instead of real communication can be grounded or even dissolved with this simple phrase and action. Sometimes when I’m getting upset, my BPD behaviours will still start to take over: I’ll detach from the actual situation, start reliving old wounds and similar situations instead, and sink lower while hiding behind unhelpful coping mechanisms. When my husband takes my hand and says “look at me” and our eyes meet, it’s often like turning a key: the walls go down, and I can see that we’re still connected and still on the same team. It’s hard to tell yourself that this person doesn’t care about you when you can plainly read the proof in their eyes. Notably, this strategy may be invasive or weird if you don’t have a close relationship, but I’m assuming if you’re addressing BPD together, you have a close relationship…

What about you guys? What phrases/gestures have helped you (if any)? Cat xxxx

The 5 Worst Things to Say to Someone with BPD

A recent comment on one of my posts made me think a bit more about all of those unfortunate souls looking in on BPD from the outside – the families and partners and friends who have no idea how to help someone struggling under this pernicious disorder. I often think about what I would do if someone I cared about started acting the way I have over the past 15-20 years, and the best approach I can come up with is: 1) Stop saying the things that harm; and 2) Start saying the things that help (which will form a second, follow-up post to this one).

So, without further ado, here’s a list of the five most harmful things I think you can say to a borderline:

1) Tell me everything.

Ah, the classic after-school-special approach to comfort. For many years, I thought this was exactly what I wanted to hear. I thought all I needed to do was spill my guts to a perfectly sympathetic, listening ear, and I’d feel understood, validated, reassured… Except oddly, talking about it never actually made me feel much better. In fact, sometimes it made it dramatically worse; for example, when I’d tell someone way too much, freak out and hate myself for it, then self-harm as punishment. The problem is that BPD is a lot like a dam in that many of us only have two settings when it comes to emotions: sealed up tight as a drum or gushing billions of gallons of turbulent feels. It means that the very fears that make us so walled up in the first place (e.g. emotions are scary and they make me miserable and vulnerable and nothing helps) get reinforced 99% of the time that we actually work up the courage to talk about what’s happening. Until I saw the right therapist, I thought I was broken, damaged, unfixable. After all, I’d done what was supposed to help – talk and talk and talk about my “issues” until I was blue in the face – and I’d gotten nowhere. Conclusion: I must be beyond help. It wasn’t until I found someone who actually knew the first thing about BPD that I realised how harmful all this previous “help” had been. You don’t delve into a dormant volcano without packing some basic equipment, but that was exactly what I was doing every time I cycled through all the crap that had plagued me since childhood. I was totally unprepared to handle what lay in the darker corners of my psyche, and I had no tools to get myself out of the many pitfalls that came up along the journey. Conclusion: don’t encourage over-sharing when it comes to mental health (certainly/especially, don’t push for information). You could be setting your loved one up for serious self-loathing and regret, not to mention the fact that they may eventually turn on you for not knowing what the hell to do with all the explosive information they’ve been vulnerable enough to share.

2) What do you want me to do?

If there’s one thing sure to drive me towards dangerous levels of frustration during a crisis, it’s this phrase. I DON’T FUCKING KNOW, DOES IT LOOK LIKE I KNOW WHAT I WANT?! DO SOMETHING, DO ANYTHING. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (even though it’s a bit demeaning to acknowledge): being a borderline means being a bit of a tantrum-y toddler now and then. Would you desperately ask a flailing, screaming, red-faced child what they wanted you to do? No, because they need an anchor, not someone adrift beside them in an emotional storm. In addition, many borderlines have this deep-seated and unfortunate belief that people who “really” care will be able to intuit exactly what they need/want (especially when it “really” matters). When you tell them that you have no idea what they need, it just feels like a reminder that they are alone with their pain. Try to remain calm and offer suggestions (as in “let’s do this.” not “well, would you maybe like to…?”): suggest a drive or a walk, make a cup of tea, put on a podcast or even read aloud (this is actually one of the most amazing things someone can do for me when I feel really trapped in my own head). Try not to take it personally if they reject your attempts to help and please don’t give up.

I’m not going to pretend that it’s fair or okay that the borderline acts like this and requires this kind of delicate handling, because it’s not. It’s not fair when someone’s cancer or schizophrenia or autism causes them to lash out either. But when you love someone and want to help them, I guess these are the kinds of things you do because you know they are more than their demons.

3) Try to take your mind off it.

Borderlines are hyper-(HYPER) vigilant for signs of rejection or dismissal. Suggesting that their all-consuming mental anguish is a pesky thought they can just push aside is likely to be interpreted as intentionally dismissive and hurtful.

4) People get over far worse things than this.

Ouch. This phrase was actually said to me once, by someone very close to me, and I still remember the instantaneous and irreparable damage it did to our friendship. Again, not only is there a fairly large dose of derision and dismissiveness about this statement (as in “well your problems are obviously nothing compared to ___”) but borderlines already feel this way. Trust me: during really dark times, we have this thought about 1,000 times a day, and it fills us with guilt and self-hatred. In fact, I think this is a fairly common refrain for people with mental illnesses in the developed world. Without something physically, visibly and tangibly “wrong,” it’s hard to convince yourself that your feelings are justified. You think of the Holocaust and Hiroshima and AIDS and wonder how you dare to feel sad, how you dare to hate your existence. But it doesn’t matter. No amount of comparison works. In defense of the person who said this to me, I think she was simply trying to give me a dose of perspective or something. However, at the time, it felt like she was agreeing with every voice in my head, telling me to just give up immediately if I was going to be so useless, over-sensitive and pathetic.

5) I will never let you down.

This might seem like a nice, reassuring thing to say to someone with a rampant phobia of disappointment. But make no mistake, it is, hands down, the single worst and most dangerous thing you can say to a borderline. The minute these words leave your mouth, you’ve got a target on your back. Because having BPD means everyone lets you down eventually. Everyone. Remember what I said about hyper-vigilance? As badly as borderlines crave intimacy, we also fear the risks involved in it so much that we set a thousand invisible traps to make sure it never, ever happens. Someone’s getting kinda close? Well let’s just see if they remember that today is the five-year anniversary of my hamster dying and do something special to demonstrate that they know how hard this day is for me. Wait – WHAT?! They did NOTHING?! They came home as if this is just a NORMAL DAY?!?! WHY DO YOU FUCKING HATE ME?????

I wish to God I were joking, but anyone who has BPD (or knows someone with it) knows that this is a completely accurate depiction of the lengths borderlines will go to in order to “prove” that no one truly cares about them. Meanwhile, the completely unsuspecting individual is now blacklisted forever, caught up in the classic cycle of idealisation/devaluation that borderlines view their relationships through. Never try to be someone’s saviour. It will blow up in your face and destroy the relationship, 100% of the time. Instead, make it perfectly clear that although you love them and will do your best to help them, this is something you simply can’t fix. Remind them that treating BPD with love and attention is as ludicrous as treating infected wounds with promises and hugs. Curing this disorder requires specific therapy, medication and – perhaps most importantly – intensive self-care.

I know this list is far from exhaustive – anyone else have other suggestions for truly disastrous things to say to a borderline?

Cat xxxx