“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.

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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.

Back at Zero

Prior warning, this post is all over the place.

I’ve come up upon another snag, another rough patch, another roadblock in my writing. All week, I have thought about sitting down to write and just come to a pause. So much to say, but also nothing to say. Nothing new, anyway.

A stomach virus came for me earlier in the week, so that knocked me off my feet for a couple days. Throughout this, I was plagued with overwhelming guilt and anger about missing work. Even though I knew I didn’t have a choice, and needed the rest, it killed me to lay listlessly in bed when I knew there were reports to write, meetings to attend, and opportunities I was missing. Worse, I was missing my time with the girls, which never fails to at least distract me.

I felt miserable, but I didn’t cut. I tried to maintain some sense of a positive voice and remind myself I had to take care of myself. And when all else failed, I listened to music and slept.

Then, as I was feeling better, I had a blowout fight with my mother that just shattered me. It was basically just a ton of yelling back and forth, recycling old arguments and giving them another go. We didn’t resolve anything, and ultimately I walked away in tears feeling more defeated about our relationship than ever before. I ended up staying the night at someone else’s house, because I just couldn’t bear to feel like I was trapped in my room all night.

Still, I didn’t cut during that time. I got myself away from all of it and made sure I ate something and packed things that comforted me. Then, the next day I tolerated the overwhelming anxiety I felt and walked back into that house with J’s encouragement.

I don’t know how I would characterize my relationship with my mother now. When I came home, we hugged and made up, but it felt like a band-aid fix. Unfortunately, I don’t think we can ever completely get past the ocean of differences between us, so I’m kind of in a place now where I’m just trying to hold onto the good moments between us and push the rest of it away.

I should probably write more about that, but I don’t have the energy right now.

Good news. In the last week, I did get the courage to start searching for jobs. I even started an application for one. This is progress. I still want to disappear every time that conversation comes up, but I am taking baby steps. You’d think I’d be proud of that, and I am. But I’m also constantly remembering that this means change. Change might mean I can’t continue babysitting the girls I love dearly. Worse, it might mean the end of things with J.

I can’t fathom the end of things with J, it makes the walls start to close in. And as wonderful as she is, she doesn’t seem to have any words of comfort for me when I relay this fear to her. No follow-up questions, just a sympathetic look.

Yeah, yeah, I know we aren’t there yet. Cross the bridge when we get there. If we get there. But it’s scary. I really don’t respond well to transition and the next few months feel like they are going to be a never ending series of transitions.

So there’s a lot in my head right now. There’s always a lot. I’m surviving, I’m pushing through like I always do. It’s just hard and it’s continuously pushing me to the breaking point.

J asked me the other day to explain to her my suicidal feelings. What I said was this: Imagine that you wake up in an unfamiliar place. A dark room with no walls and a doorway. You learn that you’re trapped in an unfamiliar building, one with a maze of hallways and rooms. You can get out, you can, but you have to find your way to the exit on your own. And each time you go through a door, it closes and locks behind you, so you really only get one shot. So you try. Of course you try. You navigate your way from room to room, doors closing behind you. Then you turn around and realize you’ve trapped yourself in a room with no other exit. The door just slammed shut behind you.

You’re stuck. You may not have meant to, but you took the wrong path and there’s no going back. The light was out there, and you missed your chance to get back to it. So you can sit here, alone in this room with no way out, or you can choose to end it.

Have all the doors closed behind me? I’m finishing my externship, about to graduate, applying for jobs. It should feel like I’m almost free in the world, yet it really feels like I’m trapped in that room with only the one choice.

This is where my head is presently. I am trying, harder than in the past, to use my skills.My new favorite way of trying to stay mindful is to remind myself to stop time traveling to the past or the future. I’m noticing that some of the kinder thoughts do come to me more easily, more automatically than before. I’m even using my self-care box. Which is good. Gold star for me.

It does help, but it does not help enough. I pulled a puzzle book from the self-care box did sudoku for almost three hours. I lit a candle. Yet a very minor comment from my mother undid me, and the tension was too much to handle.

I broke my streak, grabbed my razor without hesitating.

So here I am, back at zero. Life really is too much sometimes.

 

The Safe-Place Visualization

In the current chapter of my DBT workbook, the newest skill that I’m learning is safe place visualization. At this moment in time, I’m supposed to be sitting with my eyes closed, visualizing my safe place.

I won’t lie. The whole safe place thing gives me the urge to roll my eyes. Maybe that’s just because it seems to be the stereotypical line of for any inaccurately portrayed therapist in movies and TV: “I want you to imagine a safe place…” Maybe I scoff at it because it’s something that’s very hard for me to just sit and be. I become restless in the face of stagnancy when it is offered, even though I yearn for it amidst chaos. Go figure.

So I’m having trouble with the “close your eyes and visualize” thing. Yes, I see pieces of my safe space, but it’s fragmented. I think that I should be allowed tools to be skillful enough to create the whole of my space. Writing is my tool.

My safe space is a picture I have of what my ideal future home would look like. It makes me feel protected, the picture of a comforting setting to escape to from a hard day. It makes me feel hopeful, the thought of a place like this existing for me.

Let’s dive in a little further, five senses style.

In my safe space, I immediately notice that I am in my living room. It is a space for me and I don’t have to share it with anyone, unless I want to. No one is fighting me for the TV. No one controlling the temperature or the lighting. I am in control.

I am alone, except for a dog. He is a big furry guy, sweet as can be, here keeping me company, looking for for some pets and kisses.

In this room, I imagine a large bay window, one where I can go to sit and read, if I please, or to admire the outdoor view. If I walk up to that window, I can see a great expanse of land. There are flowers dotting my property, with a body of water at the edge that sparkles under the sun. A pond, maybe, or a brook. There’s a swing outside, where I can go and sit if I’d like to admire any of that more closely.

But if I’d like to stay inside, I can go and recline on my large couch. It’s a large chaise sofa, dark grey and made of polyester. I imagine that there are bookcases, a coffee table, perhaps a hutch or some shelves, all littered with books and trinkets that add a touch of my personality: an elephant figuring, an inspirational quote, a vase with a sunflower. The wood is dark, it matches the couch.

Best of all, there’s a fireplace. The fire is roaring. If I have to choose, it’s late afternoon, where the sun is still there, but it’s setting in the sky. So the fire sheds some extra light.

It provides warmth. That’s what I can feel most, the warmth of the flames. I can feel the soft fabric of a blanket that I’ve pulled tightly around my shoulders. Feeling the soft couch cushions all around me is a grounding feeling. My sweet animal leaps onto the couch and nuzzles next to me. I feel his weight, a wet nose pressed into my palm, looking for some love.  My senses are overwhelmed by all the gentle feelings.

It’s quiet, there’s no one slamming doors or chewing in my ear or yelling loudly into the phone in the next room. I can play some instrumental music, a film score or piano composition, and just settle into my room. Right now, as I visualize, I’m playing the song Homeward Bound by Steven Sharp Nelson; this would be a perfect addition to my space. I can hear the crackle of the wood in the fireplace. I can hear the soft panting of the dog. Nothing intrusive, all sounds of comfort.

I light a candle. Perhaps my favorite eucalyptus spearmint, or lavender, or apple. Or vanilla. Whatever I choose, the smell overtakes the room. It is so soothing. The blanket I have wrapped around me has just been cleaned and it smells like fresh linen.

If I’d like, I can have something to eat. Something warm, preferably, like some hot chocolate. Maybe something with cheese, because that always brings comfort to mind. Or some chicken noodle soup, in which I can break up some crackers for the perfect combination of salty and hearty. I feel that slide down my throat and warm me from the inside out.

In this room, I can drift off, dozing to my music with an animal cuddled up close. I can read, finally able to concentrate and filter the rest away. If I’d like, I can turn on the TV and let myself be absorbed into another world of Grey’s Anatomy or New Girl or This Is Us. I watch the flames of the fire do their dances, hypnotized by their spell.

This is my safe space. I’ve visualized it. Now, if I can go there when the real world gets to be too much, that’s the trick.

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What Acceptance Looks Like

I’ve spent a lot of my time feeling resentful about the opportunities I didn’t have as a child and grieving those losses. I’ve spent even more time beating myself up for the gross missteps I made as a teenager and young adult with few functional coping skills. A huge goal of mine is to finally move past these things and settle firmly into a place of acceptance.

Acceptance and I have a complicated the relationship. We do the dance typical of someone with unresolved issues. I can talk the talk, verbalize exactly what pieces of my past I need to let go of and why holding onto them is so detrimental. Some days, I even move into a place where I feel like I espouse the picture of acceptance. I feel free and empowered. Nothing bothers me! I’ve let it all go! Woo!

Heh. You know it’s not that simple.

These instances are still relatively short in duration and are easily offset by parental disappointment or a mistake at work. The “acceptance” is really just a false front, holding my disappointments and regrets and grievances behind a door that’s splintering under the pressure of it all. Eventually, I try to pack one too many of these issues back there and it all breaks free, washing over me with a vengeance.

Then I revert to the complete opposite of acceptance: obsession.  I remember all of it too well, with too much detail, and I remember the pain of it too.

Amidst my most recent period of depression, I was actively going into each day, facing each difficulty thought or emotion, with this mindset of Well, what can you do? It is what it is. Perhaps that was just the voice of apathy talking, I don’t know. But I can tell you that while I was using this phrase to cope with my current circumstances and it may sound like acceptance, it’s felt far from it.

Which begs the question: When I finally am able to reach acceptance, what will it look like?

I mentioned in my last post that I bought a workbook to learn some Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills, one which J and I are now combing through together. One of the very first lessons in that book was about radical acceptance. She and I discussed some of the mantras I could repeat to myself to avoid prolonging my pain into suffering:

I can’t change what has already happened.

It’s no use fighting the past.

This is where I am at now.

The common theme here? I have no control over the things that have been done to me or that I have done to myself, accidentally or on purpose, good or bad. It’s done, it’s over. My only course of action now is to see what can choose to do moving forward to make the knowledge that those things occurred more manageable.

Also known as: Stop beating myself up every five seconds. It’s mean and unnecessary. It’s certainly not helping me feel any better. Cue the mental illness minions laughing maniacally, because that’s pretty much their mission in life.

Stupid little minions.

Anyway, where I’m having the most trouble letting go and committing to radical acceptance is in the area of mistakes. The way I explained it to J is that I can’t let go of my own mistakes (or, in truth, the mistakes of my parents) because it feels to me like letting go means saying it’s okay that all of that happened. It’s like I’m overlooking the “badness” of those behaviors and just forgetting they ever happened.

So I have been collecting the regrets of my past mistakes like trading cards. Analyzing them again and again, continuously punishing myself for things that happened when I was 12, 14, 16 years old. And for things from college. And for things from last week. That adds up! I’m holding onto them like a hoarder because it feels like I’m doing something wrong and selfish by letting them go.

When really…it’s okay to start letting them go. It’s okay to admit that I did some dumb things, to not be proud of them, without beating myself into the ground each time the memory comes around.

It’s funny, I actually never made that connection this until my session yesterday. I just knew I was holding onto the past and couldn’t forgive myself, but I couldn’t articulate why.

Forgiveness. I think that’s a package deal with acceptance. You don’t get the latter without the former.

The all mighty DBT book tells me that my belief of “acceptance as overlooking the bad” is flawed. Radical acceptance would not mean I condone my past offenses. It just means I’m doing my best to move forward in a more skillful manner, as to not repeat those mistakes. J concurs with that, of course. So why the hell can’t I follow suit?

I’d like to, of course. I’m working on it. How many times, in how many posts, have I used those words. I’m working on it. But I am! I say that if only to convince myself of it.

So I will start with the mantras. I can say those, even in a very emotionally charged state. I don’t have to believe them yet, I just have to say them. If I see on social media that a group of my undergraduate friends hung out and didn’t invite me? I can’t change what happened in those friendships and the behaviors that ended them. If I’m in turmoil again over the fact that I still can’t move out of this house because of a little thing called “I work for free”? This is where I’m at now. I’ll get to a place of financial independence.

I will also remember the painfully accurate words of my blogger friend Lily, who I would link if her blog wasn’t private. But I know you’re reading this Lily! You were so right! In a comment, Lily reminded me that judgment can be fleeting. People are going to make judgments in the face of foolish behaviors or off-color remarks, but contrary to my belief, those judgements fade. I should really listen to her, because if someone else can let their anger towards me go within a matter of a few minutes or a day, I can do that too.

Maybe that can ground me long enough to start channeling my pain in a way that lets me fully grieve the knowledge of what cannot be. I don’t think I get to acceptance without feeling the feelings now.

It happened, it’s over. Focus on the present moment. Avoid the suffering. There are the tenets of radical acceptance.

And there can be pain without suffering, by the way. I’m learning that too.

What will it look like when I can finally let go what feel like the social injustices of my childhood and adulthood? How will it feel when I can think of past mistakes without continuing to damn myself for them?

The truth of it is, I’m not sure yet. I imagine I may not know the look or feel of acceptance until I’m in that place. Perhaps it’s too subjective to try to quantify using any specific parameters.

For me, someone who thrives on the concrete, measurable data, this is not easy to wrap my mind around. I want an objective, a box I can check off! I want it all neatly wrapped up in a way that makes sense! Otherwise, how can I know it to be the truth?

Sigh. More acceptance required here. Acceptance that acceptance is not so cut and dry. How very meta.

If I had to guess, I picture acceptance to be something like this:

At a moments notice, I may remember an unpleasant interaction from high school or a friendship lost to my mental illness. I may be drawn into these memories by a present day experience or just triggered spontaneously. In my environment, I may observe two siblings interacting, a boyfriend supporting his girlfriend, or a parent modeling regulation of anger in a functional way. I may see a variety of experiences I wish I had for myself in every avenue of my day.

In all of this, I will have a sense of how these experiences are connected. I can remember my own prior mistakes, I can recognize experiences that were wished for but never granted, and I can characterize the losses for what they are. But it will no longer hurt. Thinking about it will no longer leave behind the residue of that loss: a desperate longing, a sting of resentment, an inundation of shame. The thought will be there without the intense emotion immediately flaring up too.

And the mantras are automatic, firing off each time self-doubt and self-criticism creep back in. I can’t change the past. I can only control where I go from here. This is where I am in the present. They are so much a part of me that I don’t remember life before them.

When this happens, I think that will mean I have forgiven myself and my parents. I think that will mean I have approached genuine acceptance.