Emotions Are Part of the Package

Acceptance. I’m continuously talking about it. I’m continuously working towards it. Acceptance of past mistakes. Acceptance of things I can never have in my life. Acceptance of just so many things pertaining to therapy.

This post isn’t about those. It’s about a different, and maybe even more difficult, kind of acceptance.

I describe myself as being on a path to healing and I have all sorts of ideas what being ‘healed’ might look like. As such, I judge my progress in therapy based on the frequency and intensity of my low moods, assuming that I’ll be healed when they taper off consistently. When I’m ‘happy’, whatever that means, I’ll be better.

The truth is, I think that my greatest fantasies on what being healed will look like may be slightly off base.

My intense emotions aren’t going to just go away.

Maybe later there will be a reduction in intensity. Over the course of a few years or hopefully at least by the time I’m into middle adulthood. Right now though, my disorder is still very active and intense emotional experiences are one of the biggest pieces of BPD. Add to that all the transition and changes I’ve been taking on (new job, trying to date, thinking about trying to move out, etc.) and it only makes sense that I’ve been so prone to sudden and extreme mood shifts.

That isn’t something that just lifts right out of my life.

As a consequence, therapy isn’t aimed at completely vanquishing my negative moods. It’s aimed at helping me tolerate them. The intention is to enhance the process of identifying the emotions, sitting with them, refraining from judgment, and self-soothing so that they pass faster.

Let me tell you something, each time I remember this it’s like being sucker punched.

You know why? Because realizing this means realizing that for me to reach a place where I can tolerate pain, I’m going to have to endure that pain. I think this realization also involves reframing my idea of what helpful therapy is for me.  Therapy needs to mean discussion of the topics that will ultimately trigger these emotions so that I can practice coping with them. It needs to be a little be difficult and there needs to be vulnerability, otherwise the emotions stay concealed and then definitely no progress is made.

Worse, living my life means engaging with the emotions all the time all by myself! That’s what we’re working for, which I’ve known all along but feels so much more isolating when I remember that supporting myself means supporting myself not just through minor bumps in the road, but through deep pain.

Even when the intensity ultimately fades, I’m still going to have periods of sadness, anger, fear, shame, etc. Humans have emotions, I can’t just get rid of them.

Which sucks, because those feelings are really uncomfortable for me. I’ve been associating having them with doing something wrong, with not doing enough hard work, and avoiding them at all costs. Especially in therapy, I’m been projecting this image of myself as fine and getting stuck behind a barrier for fear of what talking about what is really bothering me will stir up.

So when a really challenging topic came front and center last night and I was in a sea of my own scary and intense emotions, I wanted the ground to swallow me up.

Sometimes after nights like that, the minions come out with their routine doubts of J. She doesn’t care. Obviously, she doesn’t care because if she did she wouldn’t leave me to deal with all these emotions by myself.  These are the same doubts I’ve had about friends time and time again when I’m in a bad place. How could they leave me to handle this by myself? Why aren’t they trying to help?

But really, we can only experience emotions on our own. Others may be present, but the experience is ours alone. J can’t erase the emotions. My friends can’t erase them. They can support me within the boundaries of their respective roles, but beyond that it’s a waiting game for me that can only be supplemented by my own self-care.

That’s the biggest radical acceptance part. That therapy is going to draw out the demons and I will have to slay them on my own after I walk out the door. That this is going to keep happening as we discuss the trigger topics. That this is perfectly normal and isn’t indicative that J doesn’t care or that I’m doing therapy incorrectly.

It’s just part of the battle. Hopefully, accepting this and participating with the emotions will help them subside more quickly and maybe not even hurt so badly one day.

I know this means I have to talk to her about all the other stuff that’s eating at me, even though it’s almost definitely going to feel like utter hell.

In my fantasy world, being healed meant that nothing ever bothered me. Unfortunately, that is not reality. I think I need to work on accepting that negative emotions will be part of my life sometimes instead of striving for longer and longer stretches of positivity. Feeling well isn’t a reflection of progress, being able to cope with feeling unwell is.

Emotions are part of the package. Not just for someone with mental illnesses, but for everyone! It is not shameful to feel negative emotions. It is not a failure. It is not wrong to let them exist and sit in them for a little while.

Fighting them only gives them power. I can’t go around them, I have to go through them.

 

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Problem Solving for Envy

In therapy tonight, J and I spend a good deal of time analyzing the behavior analysis worksheet that I had filled out yesterday. It’s a single page task with the intention of analyzing what thoughts, feelings, and emotions lead to problematic emotions.

My problematic emotion was envy and its accompanying emptiness. It was triggered by me asking my friend if she’d like to go with me to a nearby hot air balloon festival that I am usually able to get free tickets for from a family member. She was unable to go, cue disappointment. Of course she can’t come. She always has plans.

At this point, I reached out to another four friends, none of whom were able to go either. One friend was going to Florida, another two to the beach, and another to their lake house. My disappointment morphed into rejection and embarrassment over having no one to go with. I never have any plans. Why would they even want to go with me? I’m just the backup friend. 

I texted my uncle and told him not to bother with the tickets. Anger and frustration flared within me. I should not have even bothered. Why do they all get to be happy and I don’t? Then, although they were still texting, I promptly stopped answering. They all seemed so excited, and were liking my friends’ text about her Florida plan. I want nothing to do with their joy, since my life is so empty. I’d like to be happy for her too, and a little part of me is, but the envy is much stronger within me. So I check out of that conversation. I feel guilt and shame for that, like I’m not being a good friend.

This whole event has my emotions in overdrive. My envy and emptiness are dizzying. I want to cut badly. Speaking of which, we never do talk about the self-harm urges during this session, because I chicken out and don’t bring them up. Oops. Maybe next time.

It’s probably better off that way, because our session is emotion-laden enough as it is and by the end of it I am breathing hard trying to push away both the impulse to panic and my imminent tears. We don’t talk about anything too deep, but breaking down my emotions so finely is enough that participating in this process has me uncomfortable for much of the time.

J and I work on the problem solving part of the analysis together, brainstorming alternative responses to the situation. Something that might have helped me tolerate my emotions more effectively and bounce back with greater ease. We come up with coping statements that can be used should a similar situation happen again.

“Of course she can’t come. She always has plans” becomes “It’s disappointing that she can’t do this activity with me, but we can plan something in the future.” I can handle disappointment, although it is not fun. We define this reframe as recognizing which emotions are more tolerable and validating them. 

“I never have any plans. Why would they even want to go with me? I’m just the backup friend” is not reframed into different statement. Instead, I’m instructed to try to catch the thoughts as they turn inward and remind myself that “I’m hurting myself by the things I’m saying right now.” This isn’t helpful, it’s destructive. We decide that when social situations don’t go the way I plan, I need to recognize when I begin self-blaming. 

Finally,  “I should not have even bothered. Why do they all get to be happy and I don’t?” becomes “This situation didn’t work out, but others have in the past and it doesn’t mean others won’t in the future.” It’s an understanding that this experience doesn’t generalize to every experience with my friends. This reframe is used to help me recognize when I’m using absolutes or black-and-white thinking to justify my emotions. 

J shifts focus to behaviors. Deciding to text other friends at first was a healthy coping response. Texting my uncle to tell him I didn’t need tickets was done in haste, and we both agree I could have waited a little longer. J wants to focus on the behavior of ignoring my friends’ texts. Withdrawing, which I am so very prone to doing when I’m upset.

She wants to know what I could have done differently. Well, of course, I could have not withdrawn, I tell her. Opposite action. Move towards instead of away. She agrees. What could I have said? Something to validate my friend’s excitement about going to Florida. Even as simple as just liking the same text everyone else was.

The solution is to choose to validate others’ joy when I am feeling envious.

J believes that if I can do something like that in the future, it might quell even just a little of my envy. Disappointment and excitement for a friend can co-exist. I know this unconsciously, even when it is hard to remember in the moment. I’m allowed to feel disappointed and wish I was getting to experience travel and a vacation. I’m allowed to feel the sting of not having those plans. But if I give in to the desire to withdraw every time, it breeds more intense and prolonged negative feelings.

Instead, if I find small ways to engage with my friend, then I’ll feel confident in myself as being a good friend. I’ll also reap feelings of accomplishment for doing something that was difficult for me, reinforcement to do it again the next time.

We decide that I can check in with her when she returns to ask her how her trip was. Find out her favorite part. See if she wants to share pictures. Experience in her joy with her.

The next step of problem solving is to select from all of our brainstormed alternatives and choose a couple to implement in the future. I choose recognizing when I have gotten trapped in a cycle of self-blaming and finding ways to validate others’ joy even amidst envy. These seem like things I can do. J thinks they are worthy choices.

Finally, we discuss how I will commit to implementing them. Each time a social situation begins to feel like it is turning out in a way that feels uncomfortable or upsetting, I need to be on alert to the urge to criticize myself and the urge to withdraw. When this happens, I can use the new statements that I developed tonight and I can find ways to engage with my friends about the things I’m jealous of. Focus on the little bit of happiness I have for them, even though the envy is so much larger. This is what is effective and this is what is kind. Hopefully, this also diminishes the intense pain cause by envy.

Envy is still a prominent problematic emotion. I know that it will continue as long as I am not able to go forward and get the experiences I want, whether it be going to the beach or to Florida. The summer makes it especially difficult, as this is the time everyone is out vacationing and living their life.

I can find ways to validate their positive experiences and tolerate my own challenging emotions until the day where I can have those experience too. I can. If I just keep trying.

Confusion and Frustration with DBT

For almost four months now, J and I have been reading from a Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills workbook. I bought the book after seeing that there was a research base supporting the effectiveness of DBT in alleviating symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. Since I can’t quite afford (money-wise or time-wise) to invest in attending an actual group just yet, it seemed like a great place to start.

I’ve completed the worksheets, developing a safety plan and looking at the big picture with my emotions. We’ve done some of the meditations in session together. I’ve written notecard after notecard with radical acceptance statements and coping thoughts and self-affirmations.

We’ve slowly been combing through each chapter and discussing ways to infuse those skills into my life. At this point, we’re just about done with the emotion regulation unit.

Can I tell you guys something? IT’S SO MUCH STUFF!

I mentioned the notecards. I have made probably about 20 of them. A notecard with a Relaxation Plan. A notecard on Effective Communication. A notecard on Opposite Action.  I’m trying so hard to take all this material and jam it into my brain. To make it fit in a way that I’ll be able to recall it. The notecards have become almost like a study strategy, and I’ve always been good at schoolwork.

When I’m well, it’s easy for me to go through and organize the material. I find that the information between units connects more naturally in my mind; I can see the skills holistically. Plus the rationale of DBT makes more sense to me; I feel invested in the skills because I believe in the outcome.

But when I’m not well, when BPD creeps in, it’s like I’m standing over a toolbox without a single clue of which tool to grab for. I have so many questions. Do I need a distress tolerance or a mindfulness tool? I might know I need to use an emotion regulation skill, but am I identifying emotions or am I problem solving? Or maybe both? If I choose wrong, will it be like trying to screw in a nail with a hammer?

The units overlap. We aim to identify our emotions and the urges they evoke as one part of the process in regulating them, which requires using distress tolerance skills to cool the emotion’s intensity by distraction or relaxation. To do any of this, can’t be judging ourselves. We need to accept our current emotions and ground ourselves through mindfulness. By tolerating distress and focusing on the present moment, we aim to see that we can behave more effectively in coping with the emotions, instead of making destructive choices.

I’m sure interpersonal effectiveness will tie in there too, when I get there.

Because all the skills play off of one another, I think that doing something would better than tapping out when the emotions intensify. But that also complicates things for me. If I’m spinning out in a frenzy of emptiness and guilt, do I need to use a distraction plan strategy to shift my focus or do I need to use emotion exposure to sit in the feelings?

Like I said, there’s so much information. So often when I actually need to use the skills, I’m overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. I use none of them and then I’m angry with myself and think that I’m not making any progress at all. I’ve said to J so many times in the last couple months: I just never know where to start.

I wish they had a little flow chart or something.

J reminds me that it’s okay, that if all of this stuff came easily then I’d be doing it already. Even she thinks that it’s a lot to learn.

Now I understand why people in DBT will run through the units multiple times before graduating from the program. It takes long for this overflow of information to sink in!

Speaking of which, I’m sure it doesn’t help that J is not trained in DBT. It’s not like she’s teaching me these skills. We’re both reading a book and discussing them, determining how to generalize them into my life. So obviously there’s a bit of a knowledge gap there. I look forward to the time that I can really immerse myself in it a verified DBT group.

The confusion is just one part. I mentioned that when I’m in a good place, I truly believe in the skills. When I’m not, when my disorder is running me ragged, that perspective changes.

It’s not that I stop believing that DBT could work, but I resent the skills. Radical acceptance feels like invalidation; like I’m just supposed to move on and ignore my pain. Effective Communication feels much the same way Tit feels like I’m expected to sweep my emotions and problems under the rug just for the good of the order. It even tells says in the book that effective communication isn’t “selling out” or “caving in” to other people; but sometimes, in the moment, all I can focus on is that I have to suppress my feelings to keep a relationship strong.

It’s super frustrating.

I see the reasoning behind it. Radical acceptance limits suffering and effective communication is used to remove the blame and accusations from peer interaction so you can reach your goals. Totally makes sense.

Same with meditation. Mindfulness makes sense too, and I think it can be helpful in observing and letting go of thoughts. However, sometimes when I’m most escalated I just want to scream that it’s not that simple, that sitting quietly and focusing on my breathing for five or ten minutes doesn’t eliminate all the feelings that have overhauled my body!

The skills are good, and their intentions are great, but they don’t adequately take into consideration how intense the highest points of the tidal wave can be.  How complex. It makes me feel like I’m just another borderline that they’re trying to fit into a box of “normal” without really paying attention to my unique neuroses.

So I resent DBT for existing, because it feels isolating that I’m supposed to figure it all out myself, to contain it. Like my problems don’t deserve to exist for the eyes others and need to be squared away quickly and quietly. It feels invalidating. Like I’m not allowed to lose it sometimes.

The voices of the minions in my head tell me these things. Of BPD. I want the pain to go away, but I struggle with the idea of being told to take it away. I want to be able to manage it, but I want to be cared for and supported by others.

Then I resent myself for needing skills. More voices, perfectionist ones with impossible expectations. Of course the minions fight back, they always will. They want to remain, even as I’m trying to kick them out the door.

This is the struggle. Knowing which skills to use and wanting to use them. And it is a struggle for me.

Yet, I’m very thankful that I have undertaken this self-help project. Even when I want to fight back against DBT, I’m happy that I’ve found it. Because it’s something. It’s hopeful. While I don’t always know which tool to use, or even remember all the tools at my disposal, I am learning. Storing away resources for when I’m ready to use them.

I’ll continue to work with the skills, to push through feeling indignant, defeated and confused. Hopefully, there will be payout. Hopefully, the path to follow becomes easier to see even in the middle of a storm.

I can handle each challenge that comes my way. I will focus on what I can change. 

“How Are You?”

Something that I’ve learned about myself in the last few months is that when I start to go into crisis mode, dropping from a high to a low, something that is strangely comforting to me is to go online and read about the experiences of others with Borderline Personality Disorder.

I like my diagnosis. I don’t like that I have it, and I don’t like the pain that it saddles me with or the stigma surrounding the label, but I like that there is a name for what I experience. Something that acts as a reminder that my brain isn’t the only one that’s invented these issues I deal with. Other people have stories too, and they often write them with words that echo pieces of my own life.

Since I’ve struggled on and off lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I like themighty.com, and I follow the BPD topic. It’s a connecting experience.

Today I read a piece that I really liked, because it highlighted a very small but common part of the day that my disorder compounds: Responding when people ask me how I’m doing.

We live in a culture that defines certain phrases, questions or traits as the baseline for politeness and human interaction. Perhaps the most common of these is the question we all ask some version of several times a day: How are you? How’re things? How’s life? It often seems this question is asked more out of a sense of tradition or obligation than genuine care.

When someone asks this question, a mathematical equation to deduce the “right” answer immediately takes place in my head. Can I trust this person with my honesty? Do they really care or are they just making conversation? Will my answer burden them? And the most challenging aspect of this question: How can I possibly respond to this with any measure of accuracy?

I think about this all the time. It is truly commonplace to ask that question more as an extension of a greeting than an act of probing for an honest response. At work, teachers say it to me in passing. At the grocery store, the cashier asks as her attention is divided scanning my items. Rarely does anyone really get out of their own head to really ask and listen for the answer. 

I always say the same thing to these people. “Good.” “Fine.” “I’m doing all right.” It doesn’t really matter, because often they’ve tuned out the second the question left their lips. And that’s okay, I suppose. I wouldn’t really feel comfortable spilling to an acquaintance or stranger that I’m having a bad day or feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

Although, wouldn’t it be nice if we could? Society expects us to have it together all the time. When you don’t, when you fall apart and show negative emotions in front of others, it makes them uncomfortable or even panicky. They’re upset, what do I do?! It’s regarded as going against the norm and we’re quietly taught to avoid it,

So we lie. A kindness to others. Conforming to the ideal. Still, that’s hard for me, to feel like I have to stuff my feelings into a box and hide it away.

I don’t need to tell anyone my life story, but I’d love to not have to don a happy mask and play it off like life is grand when my BPD has sent my emotions to through the roof. I’d love to be able to say, “Today’s a tough one” or “I’m actually a little sad right now” and have the other person respond in a brief but validating way before I moved on with my day.

Then there’s the other side of the coin. Friends and family.

Like the original poster stated, I’m often caught in a rock and a hard place when someone asks me that type of question. How are you? or How was your day? All of those considerations she listed apply so well. Do they really want to know? Or was it just out of obligation?

There’s no way to know that answer for sure, either.

On one hand, part of me is always itching to be truthful because part of me desperately wants to be cared for. So there’s always this little force urging me towards honesty when I’m in a bad place, with the expectation that maybe the other person will respond in the exact way that I need from them. Which will prove that they care and that I deserve support. It’s like what happened after I found out I didn’t get that job a few weeks ago. I wanted her to see I was upset and ask if I was okay because I wanted to be held and soothed.

If I do choose to be honest, there’s always a boundary for how honest I can be, a line I won’t cross. Seldom will I admit to feeling so low that I am suicidal and I almost never mention self-harm. More often I use words like struggling and difficult days. I’ll say that I’m stressed or maybe that my emotions have been back and forth. Not giving away too much.

I used to try to describe exactly how I was feeling, in the past. If you’re a long-time reader, you know that high school version of me let it all my feelings spill out to whomever asked me how I was doing, with a yearning that someone would just magically understand.

Expectations are killer in that way.

Now I know better. I know this isn’t effective, and I know that BPD and mental health in itself is very difficult to understand if you haven’t weathered the storm. People have their own opinions, and I’m reticent to be so vulnerable only to be hit with anything that feels rejecting or invalidating. If I’m not completely sure that you’ll be able to support me, forget it.

Plus, the truth is that those words, that knowledge, it scares my friends. Knowing that I’m feeling that way or have hurt myself just quiets them, because they want to help but are unsure how and fear making it worse. Usually they offer some meager messages of support and I end up having to reassure them that no I’m not actually going to kill myself and I’m getting help.

For these reasons, I rarely admit anymore when I’m in a bad place, even if it might be obvious to other people. If asked, I may give indications that I’m not well by saying a curt “okay” or “just a little stressed” but I’m less likely be direct. More often than not, I’ll just say that I’m tired. That’s almost always a code that I’m in deep pain.

Sometimes I will cop to it later, when I’ve come back into a stable place and my expectations of the other person are rational or at least more tolerable. For example, I’ll tell someone I was in a bad place for a few days, and I may give more detail on what that meant, but I quickly wave it away by saying I’ve moved past it and I’m better now.

No matter what, when I say something, I feel like a burden. I always feel like I should have said nothing at all.

How are you is a scary question in a way, because I feel like I’m weighing between an honesty that could sour a relationship and a falsity that ignores my feelings but ensures things are good between me and the other person.

Yup, all of this from one simple question.

J and I have talked at length about this. I think she really wants me to reach out during those difficult times and be as honest as I can be. To not even wait for the “how are you” question, but to just find support. We’re always going back and forth about my expectations of others and the knowledge that sometimes no persons response will meet the high bar my BPD sets. Sometimes I just have to accept whatever type of support they have and find comfort in the fact that the intentions were good.

Which sucks. Radical acceptance again.

Anyway, we’re way off track here, The point is, it is interesting, isn’t it? So much goes in to even just responding to one small question, a question which I hear many many times a day. You can break it down into a bunch of different concerns to consider.

That’s BPD, my friends. Nothing is ever simple, not even basic conversation.

Learning Effective Communication with BPD

Prior warning, this post is super long. There’s really no reason you would want to read it. Unless you find it difficult to navigate relationships when your emotions escalate. Then maybe you do want to read it. And maybe you want to tell me I’m not alone.

Because figuring this stuff out sucks.

Friendships are hard for someone like me with BPD. I have always known this to be the case. However, it’s interesting to find out that the more I learn about my disorder and the skills I can use to combat it, the more complex the I struggle with communicating.

I mentioned briefly that I got some difficult news on my birthday. My friend and I were both up for a school psychologist position. We were 2 of 3 finalists and we’d both interviewed on that Tuesday (my birthday was a Friday). We were told we would hear within a week, no matter what the outcome. I thought about asking her that we let each other know first if the other got the job, this way no one had to find out from someone else, but I decided not to.

I spent much of the week in a very anxious place. My thoughts lay only on that job. It cluttered my mind as I tried to sleep, work, and relax. I had an impending sense of dread, like I knew I was about to get bad news. Even as I repeated to myself “my feelings are not facts,” I could not erase that foreboding.

Cut to Friday. I’m in a pretty good mood. My parents have tried to celebrate my birthday, I’ve spent the morning taking it easy, and then I went over to babysit H & S for a little bit. They celebrated me and it made me smile. Their mom needed me to take them to a birthday party. I’d been texting with people sending me well wishes all day, including my former supervisor from the internship I just completed. I’d dropped the girls off and was walking back to my car when I saw he’d messaged me again:

“Sorry to hear about [school district].”

My heart sunk into my stomach. I felt the rest of the world grey out around me. I responded to him. “What?” Even though I knew, immediately, that for him to know I didn’t get the job meant that my friend did. We worked in the same district.

His reply: “Uh. Maybe you’d better talk to [friend].”

My mind was swirling with 1,000 different thoughts. I didn’t get the job, I didn’t get the job, I didn’t get the job. I knew this would happen. On my birthday, no less. I’m a failure. I’m worthless and they probably knew that and no one will ever offer me a job. I’ve been passed over twice now for someone else from my district. Failure. Loser. I should kill myself. Why did I have to find out today? That figures, it’s because these are the kinds of things that happen to me and always will and I can’t control that. These thoughts were all automatic, flooding out like a pipe had burst.

Then there were more. She got the job and didn’t tell me. Everyone else knew first. How could she do that? I felt angry and betrayed and hurt. I rapidly fired off text messages to her before I could even take a moment to think. “Did you get the job?” I asked. A minute passes. Then she was typing, but not quick enough for me. “Seems like you did” I congratulated her, but also caveated it with something else about how I was hurt that I had to find out from someone else on my birthday. I’ve since I deleted the text messages, so I can’t go back and look, and I don’t really want to anyway.

She replied that she had found out the day before and wanted to tell me, but didn’t want to hurt me or seem like she was bragging.  She’d thought maybe she’d wait until she knew it was a sure thing. She felt stuck.

My eyes zoned in on only one part of her message. She knew yesterday? She could have told me yesterday and I could have processed this with J instead of spending the session a neurotic mess? Why couldn’t she just tell me? Betrayal. Bad friend. She’s just making excuses.

I was in no place to hear what she had to say. We exchanged maybe two or three more texts back and forth. Me saying things like “I’m happy for you, but…” and her saying things like “I didn’t want to hurt you.” I grew so frustrated that I had typed out this whole long message to her, but I deleted it and just sent her something, again, about how I was happy for her and knew she did a good job. She knew it wasn’t genuine and so did I (although I wanted it to be, and had a lot of shame that I wasn’t). She responded with a very simple “Thanks for the kind wishes.”

I was internally panicking, my emotions hot like fire. I felt sure that if I had the option to, I would have hurt myself.  She doesn’t understand. She won’t understand. She won’t validate your feelings. Your feelings don’t matter, they never matter to anyone. You better just shut up now and deal with it alone. Like always. No one will ever understand you. 

We said nothing to each other for a little while. I went back to the house, cried to the girls’ mother, and then tried to be productive by getting the girls packed for their vacation. A few hours later, she texted me to apologize for the fact that I’d been hurt, again explaining her position.

I took a deep breath. This was all I had wanted, for her to recognize that what happened, the way it had happened, had hurt me. That even though she’d not meant to hurt me, it had. Part of me knew that focusing on all of this was taking away from the joy she’d received when she found out she got the job. But the other part of me just wanted to badly to communicate how I was feeling. I struggle greatly with the balance of that, with knowing when is the right time to speak up for myself.

At that moment, I decided for speaking up. I sent her back a long message, saying that I understood her position and what she’d been thinking, but that I’d been humiliated to find out from my supervisor and that the whole office knew before I did. I told her that I was sorry, because I didn’t want to take away her joy. She deserved it and deserved to be happy, but I just needed a few days to be hurt and angry. I told her I’d do that privately, because I didn’t want her to feel guilty about getting the job. I didn’t want her to worry about my reactions, I just needed to have the space for my feelings and I needed her to hear that.

She responded saying she understood and that she’d leave me alone. She also said that she wanted me to know that she didn’t tell the whole office, her supervisor did, and it had surprised her to learn everyone knew. I read that text, but I ignored it, because I didn’t have anything left in me. I’d used up all my energy and wanted to just move on from it.

I was proud at the time for how I articulated what I was feeling, while still trying to take her perspective into account. I actually considered it progress. Briefly, I considered that I probably shouldn’t have said anything when I first found out, I should have waited. When I read that text to J, I told her as much. But I quickly forgot that in favor of other things.

For a few days, I totally thought I was in the right here. I thought I had a genuine reason to be angry and upset. Then I texted a group of friends inviting them to come over to use the hottub where I was housesitting. My friend responded the way you might when declining a business lunch, saying something like “Thanks for the offer, maybe another time.”

I knew immediately that she was mad at me. Immediately. And I knew, at least partially, why. It took me days before I got up the courage to message her and ask if we were okay. Secretly, I hoped I was reading into it. My feelings are not facts. But nope, I was right, she was angry.

She told me that the fact that I had blinding assumed she told everyone without giving her the benefit of the doubt was hurtful, especially when I’ve gotten upset at her for assuming that I’d done things purposely to hurt her in the past. She brought up some other comments I’d made recently that bugged her. It was a long message pretty much detailing every interaction between us in the last month that had either hurt or angered her. For the most part, she wasn’t mean, just honest. I’d reacted poorly, she felt attacked and saddled with the burden of ruining my birthday, and it had stolen her excitement over a job she earned.

Well, shit.

Let me tell you something. Whenever I consider how I manifest the typical symptoms of BPD, I’m usually pretty proud of the fact that I don’t verbally assault my friends. I’m not someone who blows up and calls names or goes off on long tirades of negativity. But in this case, my anger had left destruction in its wake, even though I didn’t realize at the time.

She was right. I’d never given her a chance to say her side of the story. Once the emotions took hold, I’d told myself a story and just assumed it to be true. I had to admit that to her and take responsibility for it. I had to sincerely apologize for the joy I’d taken from her in favor of my own feelings.

I also had to admit to the place a lot of the “snapping” and hurtful comments she’d mentioned came from – jealousy. I make comparisons the way most people breathe; automatically. When I am jealous, it is physically hard to control, and that almost always came out towards her in a curt remark that stung her. Of course, I don’t mean to do this and I always feel remorseful later, which I told her too.

I apologized a lot and I really tried to find ways to make up for my behavior. I tried to be honest without using my disorder as an excuse. I just wanted her to understand my intention, while simultaneously accepting the role I played and promising that I was working towards doing and being better. Because she is important to me, and I wanted her to know that. She earned and deserves the job, and I needed her to know that too. I told her I’d understand if she needed a break from me

Which, by the way, is a BPD thing too. A statement I make all the time: it can’t be abandonment if I give you permission to do so.

(It can, it totally can).

She accepted my apology. We went back and forth texting for a little longer and came to mutual understanding. Now things are fine, I think. We’ve been texting like normal today and are trying to make plans for next week.

This whole situation has lit a fire of different feelings for me to deal with.

First and the most obvious was my bewilderment over what I should have done differently and whether or not any of my feelings were right or valid. I struggle endlessly with what the “truth” is, so I’m never quite sure if I’ve erred or if I’m justified in what I’ve done.

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to. I was valid in feeling upset in both the fact that a friend received the job that I wanted and that I found out about it in a less than ideal manner. It was okay to take the time and space to be upset and angry about those two things.

However.

The communication piece still requires a great deal of work. I impulsively reacted using fabricated information (e.g. that she’d purposely told our co-worker and not me) and made statements about my beliefs and feelings that perhaps would have been valid had she actually done what I assumed she had done.

But she didn’t, and I would have known that if I could have approached the conversation in a different way.

One of the basic tenants of effective communication is waiting until you are in a grounded emotional state before addressing a controversial topic. I have to be able to recognize when my emotions are so fiery hot that I am unable to be rational or articulate. I didn’t do that on my birthday, I just reacted from a place of hurt. And in return, I hurt both of us.

I should have waited, at minimum, a few hours before I reached out to her at all. And even then, there were so many different ways I could have approached how I was feeling. Using I statements. Using just the knowledge I had at the time and letting her fill in the rest.

I was so damn hung up on what the minions were telling me was true about myself (failure, loser) that I never gave my friend a chance to tell me what was actually true about what had happened.

I can work on this. It will be a challenge, but I can work on it in the future. Not responding until I’m sure I can articulate myself effectively and without blame.

Then there’s the other piece of this. Living with the fact that I made a mistake that ruined both of our days. One I cannot fix. I can’t give her back the joy I stole and I can’t give myself back my birthday.

When I sent her that group of apology messages last night and was waiting for a response, I was able to firmly use some radical acceptance statements.

I made a mistake and I feel sorry about that, but I’ve taken the steps to make it right and I can’t do anything more right now. If she does not want to continue being my friend, it will hurt, but it is a natural consequence. All I can do is learn from this moving forward. I can not go back and change it. 

I was proud of that. But it didn’t hold, because the minions are creeping back in with blame and judgment. You suck. You should know better by now. You’re going to make these mistakes again and it will mess up the relationship.

Part of it is true. I will, probably, make those mistakes again. Hopefully the rest of it is not true. She is a good friend, but everyone can only take so much. Sometimes you have to move away from others to protect yourself. I would hate to make one mistake too many, and put her in the position where she has to do that. Or anyone else.

Abandonment fears, they never completely go away.

It continues to be a challenge, sitting with the discomfort of knowing I messed up. I replay it in my head again and again, hoping for a different outcome, which just cannot happen. I want so badly to be better than that, and I feel that I have made progress, so it disappoints me when I fall back into patterns I thought I’d outgrown.

We’ve moved past this now. She wants to, and so do I. I’m still worried and will be anxious before I see her again, because I will fear that things won’t feel right and it will be my fault.

But I’m also trying to remind myself that continuing to hold onto this just increases my suffering. I can accept that I made ineffective choices and unintentionally hurt a friend, and resolve to move forward by making different choices. Being and doing better.

Radical acceptance is a hard skill to master, and I’m still just doing my best to use it sparingly.

I really hope to avoid things like this in the future. Effective communication is one of the biggest pieces of DBT; I’m not quite to the interpersonal effectiveness unit yet, but I’ve already been introduced to the topic. I want to be good at it, especially in situations that are emotional and ambiguous. My emotions always interfere with my ability to respond appropriately to friends and I’m tired of that.

Hopefully I can start to make strides to communicating better in my friendships. Hopefully I can put this situation on a shelf and look forward to better choices.

 

 

 

 

Self-Love Challenge Day 26: My Shadow

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It has been so, so long since I’ve really spent any time working on this challenge. If you don’t count the one post that I sneakily counted as a self-love challenge response, it’s probably been about two months since the last one.

This makes sense to me. Right around April was when I transitioned into the physically and emotionally chaotic period of job search/graduation/end of internship stress. Since then, it’s been less of maintaining highs and more of pure day-to-day survival mode. As a consequence, my blog has really been an outlet for me to get out the dark and twisty thoughts that plague me during the day.

It feels important that I make an effort to conclude this project, because it involves putting kindness at the forefront. I am having a lot of trouble with kindness towards myself right now and could use the opportunity to practice.

So here we go.

The shame that is reflected in my shadow comes from something I talk about a lot; my neediness. I need a lot of validation. I need a lot of reassurance. I need a lot of support.

This has always been the case, as long as I can remember. I have never been a person who is able to hold and contain my emotions independently; I have always required the assist from others. It took me a very long time to understand that this neediness was a manifestation of my BPD. When I am upset, I look to others to provide comfort and help mend me. When I make a mistake, I rely on others to make me feel better about what I have done. When I am at a crossroads, I consult others to settle my indecisiveness and anxiety over making the wrong choice.

My first instinct in these scenarios is always to apologize, because I am ashamed of my needs. I’m ashamed of the way I’m drawn to being cared for by others like a moth to a flame. The other day, when I got the bad news that I’d been passed over for a job, I had just dropped H&S off at a birthday party. I had to return back to the house, because their mother was there and expecting I’d help pack for their trip. As I drove, I was slowly self-destructing. I felt intuitively that it was the smart decision to have my feelings privately, disappear into another part of the house to fall apart where she’d never know. Did I do that? No. I cried in the bathroom for a little while and then hung around nearby, knowing she’d notice my bloodshot eyes and ask what was wrong. Which she did, and then I fell apart again while she hugged me.

And did I apologize to her when I was leaving for doing that? I sure did. Because I felt so strongly that I should have stuck with Plan A, instead of letting childish needs prevail.

It feels to me like so many others excel at keeping their personal problems close to the vest; and it’s unspoken but expected in this world that you should. And I rarely see anyone else react the way I do to a mistake. So in that moment, when I’m having my emotions in the presence of someone else, I’m panicking internally because I’ve yet again acted in a way that I know others may not approve of or necessarily understand.

So I default to profuse apologies. Apologies that indirectly say I’m sorry for needing you. I’m sorry for needing your support or reassurance or advice. I’m sorry for burdening you with all of this. 

I need to say it. My insides churn the second I do anything that might upset the relationship. It triggers a spiral of I’m sorry because even if they say it’s fine, I never believe them. I’m so ashamed of my emotions and I’m so sure that they’ll abandon me for expressing them that I literally can’t stop.

If I had any self-worth, maybe I could bypass that shame with self-affirmations that I truly believed. But I don’t. The apologies and pleas for more reassurance fly out of my mouth even as I attempt to suppress them. Please don’t be mad at me. Please stay my friend. Please somehow reassure me that I didn’t ruin everything. Cue more shame.

One of the goals of my treatment is to be able to stand on my own two feet. I still struggle greatly with this. I struggle with acceptance of the knowledge that these tendencies caused burnout in so many past relationships and I struggle with fears that I’m going to repeat the same patterns with people in my life now.

That’s my shadow. A shadow of need and clinginess.

The shadow is here a lot. Even right now. I mentioned in my last post that I responded to the news that I had been passed over that job by texting J and asking her to cancel my appointment. At that time, my emotions and suicidal ideation were so strong and intense that it permeated my entire mind and body. I paced back and forth, feeling so helpless. There was literally nothing I could do about the situation I was in.

I thought of J, of seeing her Monday. I thought of her trying to find some silver lining or using one of the tired platitudes I’ve heard from everyone (“It will all work out how it’s supposed to”) and I felt angry with her. I thought of having to tell her about what happened and how I found out, having her know that I didn’t get the job, and I felt embarrassed.

My mind was on a never-ending loop of: She’s going to try to make me see the positive in this, but there is no positive. There is no coming back from this. Nothing is going to make it better. I told myself my feelings were not facts, but my feelings were facts. This is how it always happens. I am a failure, this is evidence of that. I am so far beyond anyone’s help that I should not even bother trying to feel hopeful, for I will always met with disappointment.

Impulsively, I texted her and cancelled. I actually can’t believe I did this, but I did before I could think enough to stop myself. Like I said in my last post, she knew immediately something was wrong. I don’t cancel. I never cancel. So she had some kind words for me and also told me she’d check in with me on Sunday just in case I might decide to change my mind.

Is this why I actually tried to cancel; because I knew she wouldn’t let me? Was this just an attention-seeking move? That just occurred to me and now I’m even more ashamed.

Anyhow, it turns out I have changed my mind. As much as I still believe all of the above things, I’ve also been stewing over the fact that if I don’t go, I lose out on an opportunity to feel supported and cared for. I need it. I need her.

She hadn’t texted me and it was almost outside of the window where I would expect she would text me. And I couldn’t help it. The needs one out. I texted her and uncancelled. I’m sure you all saw that coming.

The shadow of shame is the absolute worst with J. I’ve never ever had anyone who validates me with the level of empathy and insight that she does. Of course, this is the job and she should be able to do these things. But my emotions don’t know or care about that, they just feel the intense yearning for that attachment figure. So much so that when I go back to seeing her once a week instead of two again, I know it’s going to be really hard. I’m getting so used to that intensity of support from her.

I think that pretty much covers the cycle of shame I deal with daily. Interestingly, while I wanted to make an effort at continuing this challenge, I don’t feel like this topic imbued too much in the way of love.

What I wanted to do was find some way to be kind to myself in the face of this shame, by talking to my shadow the way I would a friend.

I know you have been struggling a lot with some intense, exhausting, defeating emotions. I know you’ve made some choices in the past when you were struggling with those emotions that were not the most effective and functional. Remember, that you didn’t make those choices with malice in your heart, you were working with the limited skills you had. You were very young, very confused, and just wanted to do the right thing to feel better. You made your decisions with good intentions and the information you had at the time. That’s all you could have done. Don’t be ashamed of this. 

You do have the capacity to handle this stuff. You are working on this all the time, even though its hard. It may take some practice to figure it out. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. You’re literally re-training your brain and that’s tricky stuff.  You will continue to work on this until you get, because that’s the kind of person you are. You’ve never given up before. I know this because you’re still here, despite some really cruel minions trying to get you to give up. 

I know that this continues to be a challenge for you. Keep working on it. Emotions are really tough, especially yours. But I also want you to know that you do not need to be ashamed of your emotions. You are allowed to have needs and ask for help from other people. This does not make you weak or whiny or a burden. You don’t have to apologize; these people love you and want to help the same way you would with them. 

Every human has emotions and needs. Trying to outrun them and handle it all alone all the time will just cause you to suffer. You don’t deserve that. It’s okay to express them, I promise. 

Your shadow doesn’t have to mean darkness. Remember, shadows come from light. 

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Leaning into the Emotion (Also known as I Hate Change)

Today was my last day of my internship. This sounds like a celebratory thing, doesn’t it? I feel like that would make sense, because people keep asking me how I feel. Am I excited? Is it awesome to be done?

I’m just going to be honest. It’s really cool that I made it through a year as a school psychologist intern. I’m proud of that. But no, I’m not excited to be done.

I’m sad.

This has been building ever since I graduated last month and my team surprised me with a basket full of gifts, a “school psychologist survival kit” if you will. That day, I broke down crying in J’s office because I knew that change was coming.

Part of it is that I still don’t know what the future is going to look like for me. I am waiting to hear whether or not I will be offered a job that I made it to the second round of interviews for. The stakes feel high here, and I don’t really have a plan if this one doesn’t pan out yet because I don’t have any other interviews scheduled right now and everything else I’ve interviewed for has been filled. Did I mention that I’m competing against my best friend for this job?

So yes, that’s weighing on me. I am oscillating between feeling like bad news is right around the corner and feeling hopeful that they will pick me, between just about to tip over the edge and stable. I hate this waiting game. Schools shouldn’t be allowed to put us through this.

That’s not all of it though. I think the bigger part was knowing that after today, it would never be like this again. I was blessed with a team that I loved working with. My supervisor, the learning disabilities consultant, and the social worker were each wonderful in their own way. I took something different away from working with them, learned different skills.

I’ve been working with my supervisor on and off for three years. He mentored me through all of my practicums and I’ve learned so much from him. I respect him as a school psychologist and I really like him as a person. Our personalities meshed well and we spent so much time joking around.

So many times recently, I tried to insist that I would stay in touch with all of them. We’ve made assurances that we will have lunch, that I will text them with updates on the job search.

The truth is though, no matter if that happens, it will not be the same. There is quite an age difference between myself and them, so I can’t imagine spending too much time with them outside of the walls of work. They have families and responsibilities. And now we do not have work to connect us anymore.

I knew all day that I was living my life as an intern on borrowed time and once I walked out that door it all changed. Which made me so sad, because for all the stress and questioning of my own abilities, I really loved my internship overall.

Not only that, but these are the schools I went to as a kid. This is the district that taught me for thirteen years before welcoming me back as a graduate student.  There’s a personal connection there.

I went in this morning and just soaked it up. I joked around with my teammates, we went across the street to where the intermediate school was having a fair day and played games with the kids. Then we came back and got ice cream. My colleagues teased me about being a “quitter.” Eventually, it was time to part ways. I gave everyone hugs and made it out the door and to the car before I burst into tears.

I let myself cry the whole way to my babysitting job. Being with the girls reenergized me, gave me a distraction, but the sadness is back again now. As I type this, I’m feeling my eyes well with tears.

I’m heartbroken to leave. I really am. And it’s killing me.

I’m not used to letting myself feel my pain. It feels counterproductive to healing for me to express anger or sadness or fear, even though I know instinctively that they need to come out. When emotions threaten to rise, I stuff them back down.

Except J tells me that I need to give myself permission to feel. She tells me this all the time, and I’m trying to listen to her. But it hurts so much. It hurts to let the emotion work its way through your body. To feel without fighting it.

And I wonder, why is this such a necessary evil? Why do I have to feel pain to feel better. It makes no sense. I don’t want to let the feelings of loss and fear overwhelm me. Yet I am. It’s a brand new experience.

So the tears come. The sadness radiates. I’m sitting here waiting for it to get free of me so I might feel some relief.I’m sensitive enough as it is on a good day.When your emotions are as intense as mine, the wait to survive sadness like this is interminable.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll wake up feeling better. I really hate change.