life is an airplane ride

Life is an airplane ride — You never have to think about it. I’m terrified of flying, but it’s therapeutic for me to do it anyway when I have the opportunity (plus, then I get to go neat places.) I always dread the moment when I have to think about the airplane leveling out, when I have to process the feeling. But then I remember the lesson I learned one day when I (terrified) stepped out in blind, delusional faith and got a drink from the drink cart. The act of speaking to the flight attendant, taking the cup, sipping the drink — these tiny interruptions in my vigilance were enough to make me realize that I didn’t have to think about the flight at all. I could read SkyMall and arrange my carry-on items and fluff my paper pillow and never, ever think about being on an airplane. But if my brain clicked over and I did feel happy and safe, I could look out the window — I could think about it and enjoy it if I wanted to. If it were safe for me.

So these days when I’m alternating between distractions and utter emotional breakdowns, I just need to remember that while the distractions aren’t solving the problem, they are letting time and the confidence I gain by willfully diverting my energy solve the problem. My problem. Which, right now, is that I can’t solve anyone else’s.

Life is eating a bagel — Speaking of distractions, I had an extremely low day last week, followed by an extremely programmed day where I had to (ineffectively; I’m not as good at faking it as I used to be) go through the motions. I was very tired. Very tired of life in general. But I kind of wanted a bagel. An everything bagel with lox, lettuce, tomato, and a heap of smoked whitefish salad.

I’ve tried to switch over into a survivor mindset lately whenever possible: “I could be dead, so I might as well!” which sounds morbid because of the ‘dead’ part, but if you think about it, it’s really freeing. I might as well take risks, do what I want, stop doing what I don’t want. I have borrowed time. I might as well make a little monument with it, a little altar to remember what God has given me. And I guess it sounds silly for that to be a bagel. But in the old testament it was a pile of rocks, so maybe not.

Anyway, I got up the next day and with my brain switched firmly into the ‘off’ position, I went and got my bagel. And I sat with nothing to do — no book or computer — and just focused on my bagel. I focused on the smoky taste and how the poppyseeds hurt the pizza-burned roof of my mouth. I focused on the bite and then chew of the bagel’s texture. I focused on eating each bit of whitefish salad before it fell out of the back of the sandwich. And I looked around: at the hipster guy across from me jamming to the music to show that he knew what it was, the girl beside me eating with her earbuds in her ears, the chubby girl in the exercise outfit with her boyfriend laughing beside her. And things might not have been okay before then, and things definitely weren’t going to be okay after then, but while I sat and ate my bagel, things were nice.

And I could eat bagels all the time, in a manner of speaking. I’ve been trying. Going to the little French bakery in town and eating a macaron or two. Walking around the city. Eating dinner at my favorite deli and staying until they close. Taking a bath. Looking at funny pictures. Watching stand-up comedian after stand-up comedian, hoping that there’s still another on Netflix after each one. But then every now and then I stop, because it feels like a band-aid. I tongue the tooth that’s been hurting, so to speak, and the pain is as bad as I’ve ever felt. And suddenly I’m under waves again. I can’t even imagine a bagel.

So. I say it sometimes with sarcasm and sadness: I guess I’ll just eat a bagel! But really, I need to keep eating bagels, one at a time, and never ever stop to check the ache. Until maybe one day my solid, happy heart will surprise me.

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doctor deville: my first therapy fail

I’ve been to a few therapists before and have always had a good experience. This was before I knew to label myself as having borderline personality disorder, however. Since then, I’ve been to one therapist, Dr. Deville, whose treatment confused me. I’m just joking when I call it a “fail,” but it was a decidedly poor experience.

I’ve tried to see two more who developed mysterious monthlong vacations upon learning I had borderline personality disorder. I’m unfortunately not kidding. Who knows — maybe these ladies really were going on vacation. But I’m beginning to feel like I forgot to put on my deodorant or something.

As I continue my search for a therapist (without the borderline label, given my experiences thus far), I thought I’d share with you what caused my discomfort about Dr. Deville. I don’t know about you, but having BPD has led me to doubt every thought and feeling that comes through my head. And so if you’re wondering if your therapist just isn’t a good fit or if it’s just you, I’d like to be able to encourage you to follow your instincts. Here’s what happened to me:

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on labels: has borderline personality disorder become code for ‘crazy’?

I’ve discussed how I originally resisted the label of borderline personality disorder due to the horrendous things I’d read about it on the internet. On the other hand, being diagnosed with it allowed me to be introduced to dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which has been immensely useful. It also led me to characterize one issue — identity disturbance, which I’ll write more about soon — that I’ve been dealing with years but have felt unable to accurately describe. In short, the diagnosis has proven really helpful.

At least, I think it has. I’m writing a post right now on a negative experience I had with my (now ex) therapist, who I’ll call Dr. Deville, that made me wonder. Before being labeled as having BPD, I’d had very nice relationships with the two therapists I’d been to. I was treated like a competent peer who needed to make some changes and was perfectly capable of understanding and doing so.  Dr. Deville, however, who is the one who diagnosed me with BPD, treated me like a child towards the end of our time together. I’ll go into more details in my post about her, but in short, she treated me like I was crazy and did not understand my actions and their consequences.

This was unsettling to me. I’m not crazy; in fact, I’m insightful and lucid. I know some folks with BPD might be in denial about how poorly they handle their emotions (and they’re not “crazy,” either!), but even when I’m in the throes of pain, I know what’s happening (and I’m starting to know what to do about it.) I’m competent. I’m an adult. I have a problem with how I react to things and process certain kinds of information, but I’m capable of learning skills the same way any other adult could learn to make a casserole or knit a scarf. I’m a whole, sane person. I’m also quite amiable, a hard worker, and genuine to a fault.

Dealing with Dr. Deville made quite an impression on me. I was thankful that John visited with me and agreed with my assessment of her. I started to worry about whether or not everyone I mentioned my BPD to would treat me like she had. Would everyone start handling me with kid gloves, like I might lash out at any moment? Would they start taking my thoughts and feelings less seriously?

In searching for a new therapist, several mentioned they didn’t have appointments available. I hadn’t mentioned BPD, only that I was looking for someone who did DBT, but I still worried: had they read between the lines? Were they deciding not to work with me because of my BPD? Finally, I mentioned to one therapist on the phone that I had some symptoms of BPD, but that I was afraid to even mention it because of the stigma attached to it. She sympathized, saying, “You’re right about the stigma, and I honestly would be careful who you mention that to. I personally hate that label; it’s only used to give psychologists an idea of what symptoms you’re facing, but honestly, everyone is on that spectrum somewhere. I like to think about those symptoms more in light of attachment theory and treat them that way, and get rid of the label.”

I cried when she said it, and even thanked her. I worried that was a weird thing to do, but actually, I’m sure she wasn’t surprised. It sounds like she knew exactly how hard it was in this society to carry a label that essentially told people to run away from you. I decided then and there that I wouldn’t use the label, either. I have the symptoms, but I’m not so many of the things that seem to spring to mind when people think about BPD.

I actually have continued to use the BPD label to search for resources, and I do think given a trustworthy therapist, it might be a good shorthand way to characterize my symptoms, but I won’t use it as a general descriptor for myself anymore. I’m not crazy. I’m not a psycho. I’m not borderline. I’m a human being.

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down the rabbit hole: reflecting on a conversation

My boyfriend and I had an experience today that caused a mild level of strain. Because it can be hard to talk about the bigger things I thought it might be nice to reflect on this more manageable “mini-crisis” and glean lessons from it.

I called my boyfriend John earlier in the day to talk about some happy stuff: his new clothes, my mission to get my hair trimmed. Just silly little things. He seemed gruff, which is my description for when he sounds annoyed and gives short responses to things. I asked him about it and he said nothing was wrong. I know in times past he’s said this but, when pressed, revealed that he was upset with me. So I began to worry that he was upset with me.

Since I know that unclear communication can sometimes be a problem for us, I mentioned a few instances in the past where his communication had been lacking and noted how it made those situations more difficult. I didn’t belabor the point, but I gently suggested that perhaps he could try being more upfront and he agreed that that was a good idea. We hung up on good terms. Success! I was clear about my needs without crossing his boundaries or trying to exert undue control.

Later, though, John called. I happily asked him what he was up to (I’m trying to do everything lately with sufficient happiness and pep and casualness, good grief, so as not to add any more emotional pressure to anything). He seemed to ignore the question, immediately launching into a discussion about plans for the upcoming trip we’re taking. I was thrown off by this abrupt beginning to our conversation and the fact that he sounded gruff and annoyed again. We struggled to work out trip plans because of some date conflicts, which underscored my feelings that he was upset. Then an exchange like this occurred:

Me: So what’s wrong? What are you upset about?

John: (Sounding annoyed) I’m not upset.

Me: Okay. ‘Cause you sounded gruff on the phone earlier today and you sound gruff right now, too. And so I just worry you’re upset with me. There has to be a reason you sound that way. If  you could just explain, even if it’s something silly, it would help me.

John: (Annoyed) The reason is… well, I didn’t know I sounded annoyed at all, and I don’t know why I sounded that way, and I’m sorry, whatever.

Me: (Realizing he’s feeling pushed and feeling anxious about pushing any further, but still worrying about why he’s annoyed. Realizing I need to somehow exit this conversation, wondering when and how to do so, and battling with my anxiety.) Okay, okay. Even that… if you could just say that when I asked: “Oh, I didn’t realize I sounded annoyed. I’m not actually feeling annoyed,” or “Oh, I’m just annoyed about planning this trip, I guess, but I’m fine.” Even that would help me understand what was going on and not worry.

John: Well, I said that.

Me: Well, you said you weren’t annoyed but that didn’t explain why you sounded annoyed. (Realizing the conversation needed to stop) Okay, well. I’m going to go.

John: (Hearing the anxiety in my voice) Well, are you okay?

Me: Yes, I’m fine. Well. It’s just hard when you sound unhappy and I don’t know why, and I worry about it. But I’m fine. I’m going to go ahead and go. Goodbye.

John: Goodbye.

Throughout this conversation I recognized both that there was a real issue that needed to be addressed (John often does not communicate in an upfront and clear way, probably both because in the past I’ve overreacted to some things and because that’s just not his personal way of handling things) and that we were going down an unproductive rabbit hole trying to address it.

If I hadn’t made myself end the phone conversation politely when I did, I know that my feelings of worry and frustration would’ve gotten out of hand. Particularly since we are in a hard time in our relationship in general, I would have started experiencing secondary guilt about my worry/frustration, and secondary worry that my original feelings were straining the relationship more. I then would’ve started feeling emotions about these emotions about the original emotions, and so on!

And really, even though I did end the conversation before that happened, I could have handled the entire thing better.

Here are a couple of thoughts I have about the conversation:

1. Acceptance versus approval.  I don’t have to approve of the way John handled things. If he was gruff with me then perhaps the most reasonable thing to do would’ve been to be forthright in communicating about it. It would’ve quieted my anxiety and set healthy precedents for our relationship (because I could’ve reacted to it appropriately, reenforcing his trust in the safety of being honest with me.)

Even if all of that is true, and I don’t have to approve of the way he handled things, I must learn to accept his choices. Acceptance is not the same as approval. Giving acceptance just allows me to let the unpleasant circumstance pass through me like a wave. It lets me move on. It benefits John as well, by giving him the space he needs from the situation. I get annoyed with myself reading over that conversation, so I’m sure he was frustrated, too. We both needed for me to accept.

Here are more resources about acceptance versus approval that are helpful for me: 1, 2

2. Being mindful of my emotions to give myself space. I need a buffer between my emotions and my reactions. The other day John told me something that felt way too big for me to handle, and I just lost it in ways I won’t even bother talking about. If you’ve been there, you know. Later that same day (after handling the situation incredibly poorly — remember, I’m new at this. I’m trying.) I was able to get the slightest sliver of hope. The next day I felt like maybe I could manage after all. I just needed time to sit with what was happening and gain an appropriate sense of perspective about it, but my tsunami of emotions did not afford me that time. I was too terrified of being left alone with the weight of my emotions and immediately started to flail and panic to try to fix them.

This inability to sit with my emotions before reacting to them is something that also affected me in the conversation above. In the first phone call, I handled things well. When John’s attitude still bothered me in the second phone call, I should have been able to notice my emotions and let them pass through me like waves instead of trying to find some comfort and reassurance from John. (This sounds judgmental of myself, I realize, so I’d like to note here that I’m not feeling guilt right now or feeling trapped in a cycle — just thinking for next time.) Recognizing my emotions and observing them mindfully could’ve led to me reaching conclusions in “wise mind” instead of my conclusions in “emotional mind” to keep asking for clarification. I could’ve focused on the positive (John had said nothing was wrong, we were planning a trip together, I was watching a nice movie on Netflix) and arrived at the acceptance I mentioned above.

Here are more resources about emotion regulation: 1, 2

I feel like overall, things didn’t go so poorly. It’s neat to see how far I’ve already come in dealing with little things. Now here’s hoping I can continue to apply skills and deal with even bigger waves (though God willing, we’re moving towards calmer seas.)

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making a life worth living (part 2 of an ongoing conversation)

Here are a couple of things that have proven very helpful to me during times when my emotions feel more difficult to control.

1. Willfully being social. Even when I feel like a mess, sometimes I can get it together and “act opposite” to my emotion by heading out to see a friend. I think of it like being in a play and “faking it ’til I make it,” acting like fun company until I really am having fun and forgetting my troubles. Sometimes I will also be deliberately vulnerable with a friend, acknowledging that things aren’t going well in a controlled way, but only insofar as I feel like it helps in creating a genuine friendship. I am so not the one to be giving friendship advice, so feel free to chime in about what you think about this point.

2. Working alone in a public space. Even if I feel like being with friends would be embarrassing or difficult because of my anxiety or sadness, I find it tremendously helpful to be in a public place. I pack up a book or a laptop and head to a comfortable coffee shop or deli (I’ve even scoped out some 24-hour ones for late night “company”) and work. Inasmuch as it helps me focus on my work or reading, it helps distract me from my negative thoughts. I also find it really healing to look around at other people enjoying their food and conversation — it almost provides a realistic plumb line that helps me calibrate my feelings. I usually feel more balanced and capable after spending some time out in the world.

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a million miles in a thousand years (book review)

In my introduction, I mentioned that I’d picked up A Million Miles in a Thousand Years on a whim. It’s not a book about BPD; indeed, I didn’t find out about it through anything relating to BPD. I was actually just reading the (beautiful, amazing) birth story of a woman whose daughter was born with Downs Syndrome. The author mentioned purchasing Miller’s book as a background detail. I think she included it because the book, due to its message, probably seemed like a divine appointment before the twist she was about to experience in her own story.

The author of that blog post didn’t say much about the book, just that it made her evaluate her life and that she read it with a highlighter. I honestly don’t know why I bought it except that I was thinking of moving to my boyfriend’s city and I thought it might inform that scary decision. When I got it, I started reading and was surprised at how apt it was for this difficult time in my life. I think God wanted me to read it for insight far beyond whether or not I should move.

In the book, Miller discusses his experience editing his life to be made into a screenplay. Throughout the process, he learns more about what makes a meaningful story and realizes his life is comfortable and easy, but not the story he wants it to be. One of his primary realizations was that life involves character transformation — it’s not about achieving a certain goal or reaching certain socially agreed upon milestones like graduating, marrying, and reproducing. Instead, it’s about how the experiences you go through and the stories you set up for yourself (because we do, to an extent, set up our own stories or avoid doing so) change who you are.

Miller discusses how stories have an inciting incident, something that begins the rising action and conflicts of the plot. He refers to this incident as a door that, once you pass through, the story is set in motion and there’s no going back. The story is inevitably less comfortable than not living the story, but it also confers rewards and growth beyond a life of comfort. Miller talks of adding characters and goals to your story, and about how the most unusual — and even the most difficult — experiences are the ones that make life meaningful, not the vanilla days where things have been comfortable.

For me personally, as I mentioned in my video journal introduction, this book felt like God saying, “Remember that I told you about your story? It’s time to begin. There’s no going back.” My boyfriend’s recent revelation about his uncertainty about marrying me was my inciting incident, and to be honest, there’s not a lot I wouldn’t do to claw my way back to the happy times before it. However, I’ve seen him grow in ways that, if not for my confounded anxiety, would seem pretty awesome and wonderful to me. And I know I’ve grown as well — this incident led to my diagnosis and led me to begin therapy. I began to install coping mechanisms and ways to maintain healthy emotional boundaries out of absolute necessity, and I wouldn’t have been pushed to do so without the pain.

All in all, the book felt like such a timely read. It’s empowering to read about the ways in which we can decide to create our stories. I also just appreciated Miller’s voice — this isn’t a bubblegum Christian read churned out by the religious industry (I’m a committed Christian and though I love some Bible studies and such that that industry puts out, I’m disillusioned by the machine as a whole.) His faith is clear and devoted even as he talks about sharing a glass of bourbon with friends. There’s no pretense, no legalism disguised as spirituality. I so appreciated that.

This was a very valuable book for me, and I hope you’ll get a copy too.

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making a life worth living (part 1 of an ongoing conversation)

This post is part of an ongoing conversation about things that would enrich my life.

1. Seeing more plays — the drama and spectacle on stage is a fun and happy reprieve, even if it’s a sad story. I always enjoy plays, but for some reason I forget to seek them out. I went to see Rock of Ages not too long ago and it was seriously the most fun social event I think I’ve ever been to.

2. Making trips to see animals (zoo, ranch, etc.) and interact with animals (volunteering at the Humane Society)

3. Doing more activities outdoors — I just read this post which was wonderful, and I especially liked what Reiland says about connecting with nature. Before my diagnosis, that was one of the coping skills I’d developed organically. I realized that going for a hike or canoeing or going to see animals made me feel grounded and gave me perspective in the nicest way. I need to make time in my schedule for these things.

 

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a friendly hello and a story

Welcome to my new space, Confessions from the Borderline. I’m a twenty-something girl recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I’m also a writer, teacher, storyteller, and Christian. In this space I’ll be video journalling and writing stories to share my experience with you.

My goals for this space are, firstly, to create a community where we can share our experiences in a healthy, productive way and work towards healing together. Secondly, I’d like to chronicle my own experiences in a semi-methodical way. Finally, I hope that by adding our voices to the conversation about this relatively young diagnosis, we can help change the negative and hurtful stigma attached to it.

To introduce myself, I’ve prepared a little video journal.

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