A Letter to My Suicidal Self

This prompt was suggested to me rather emphatically by J after I told her honestly just how intense and difficult my suicidal ideation has been in the last couple weeks. I had, for the first time, moved past simple thoughts and into actual plans. I think this admission scared her, and it has scared me too. The depth of my challenges has always been formidable, but lately it has felt insurmountable. 

I hoped to wait until I was in a truly stable and perhaps even positive place to write this, because I wanted some true light to contrast the darkness I feel when I am suicidal. However, the difficult days continued to linger. In fact, I spent most of the weekend in bed, chained by a depression that refused to let up. Finally, finally some relief has come in the last day, and I am hopeful that it will be enduring. Since I know the course of my disorder, I know that the pain will return at some point. When it does, I hope that this will help me in avoiding giving into the voice of temptation, as a fervent reminder about what remains here for me. 

To the part of me that is suffering in a grievous pain, whether of the past, present, or the future, I have some things I want to say to you:

I know your pain is huge. It’s a great big mammoth. Always present and easily aggravated, it threatens to spear you with its giant tusks, to step on you and squish you, at any given moment. Even when it is quiet, it is always there walking beside you. Following. Stalking. And you never know when something else will set it off into a frenzy again. It really takes so little.

Day to day living is not easy for you, I know this too. You think you’ve damaged your life with mistakes that cannot be corrected for. You look around and see the friends that you could have had, feeling a loneliness that cannot be extinguished. You feel anxious at the thought of trying to begin new friendships, and even the premise of a real romantic relationship makes you want to run in the other direction. Conflicts happen, people leave; I know you struggle to trust them because you see abandonment as a rule of relationships.

Worst of all, I know the awful names that you call yourself. You know them too, so I won’t even give them the power of speaking them aloud. I know they’re on repeat in your head, those minions telling you that you’re destined only for failure and continued pain. They retreat from even the slightest glimmers of positivity, refusing to let you feel good for even a second, instead clinging like super-glue to those terrible names.

Right now, you want to die. You want to take yourself out of this world. You have plans for this, because it feels both like a comfort and penance. It makes sense to you, I get it. But living makes sense too. There are the reasons you need to stick around and stay in the battle, even if persistence means keeping your sword drawn and hiding behind your shield for awhile just to get through.

It’s understandable that you want to escape your pain. Anyone would. But here’s the thing: There are safer ways to do that the ones your mind invents.

Think of the things that make you happy. Like how completing a difficult run is exhilarating. There are still self-imposed running records for you to break. Once, you thought you’d never be able to complete six consecutive minutes; now, you can run thirteen. You know what else brings you joy? Animals. There is a homeless cat or the dog (or both) that is waiting for you to adopt him and smother him with love. Don’t let him miss out on the chance to know you. Don’t forget how much you cherish the holidays. There’s almost nothing as special to you as the process of decorating a Christmas tree or the magic of a fireworks show. These moments are perennial; they come back to you every year, a guaranteed piece of happiness to look forward to.

So many other things go on this list. Old home videos. An apple-scented candle. Pretty much every country song on the radio right now. Sunflowers. Snoopy. Your absolute favorite meal at your favorite restaurant. Lighthouses. The Green Bay Packers. Any of those cute videos of a puppy. The moment when it just clicks in your brain and something makes sense. All of these things spark happiness.

The pain may be intense, but so is the joy. You need the one to know the beauty of the other. And you do know that beauty. Think of how proud and excited you were when you got the call with the job offer, how truly spectacular it felt to reap the benefits of your hard work. That was a joy that the pain can’t touch, no matter how hard it tries. It happened, and it’s a memory to hold on to, ammunition to fire back at the pain.

You are not alone in this world. You have people, to whom you are connected to intricately. Your parents, who really try so hard to support you despite not always understanding the way you wish they would. Your grandfather, with all his charm and humor. Your aunt and cousins, who care and check in. Your friends from graduate school, who have known you at your worst and are still there. A few friends even from undergrad, with whom the relationship is fun and silly and strong. You have H & S, who you absolutely adore. You have J too.

I know that it doesn’t always feel like enough for you. I know you long for a certain type of connection and reciprocity among your friendships. I know how much you yearn for a real intimate relationship. But what you have here is something. It’s a chance to work on feeling comfortable with people. It’s proof that you are capable of cultivating lasting relationships in a positive way. It’s evidence that you are worth the love you don’t believe you deserve.

Being with people is hard, I don’t dispute this. But you cannot discount the skills you are learning to make existing in a social world more manageable. Every interaction is an opportunity for you to learn. There are so many more people out in the world for you to meet. People who will like you for your good qualities: your kindness, generosity, and empathetic heart. It will get easier, but you must not give up. Not everyone is a winner, and not everyone can appreciate or understand perfectly, but there are many fulfilling relationships awaiting you.

I’m not encouraging you to live for them, I’m encouraging you to live for the hope and happiness that your current relationships and these potential relationships can bring you, if you keep working for them.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with your current situation and even easier to believe the cruelty of those minions.  Their voices are the loudest, because they’ve been with you for years. They tell you that you are fundamentally flawed, but we are all flawed. Your humanity doesn’t make you deserving of death.

And just because they are the easiest voices to hear, doesn’t mean there aren’t other kinder voices back there hiding. Waiting to be encouraged forward.

What you deserve is kindness. I know you don’t believe me right now. You believe you deserve punishment, for any number of reasons I’m sure. But remember that you’d never say that to anyone else on this planet. You’d try to offer them kindness on even their darkest day, to find the glimmer of hope for them, so you must do this for yourself too. And if you can’t get on board with that, remember a general rule of psychology is that positive reinforcement is so much more effective than punishment.

Be kind. Please, please, please find room for kindness and care. Look at your safety plan, because it has everything outlined to keep you safe with your feelings. Fight back against the minions with whatever you can throw at them. Meditation. Music. Running. Wrapping yourself up like a burrito in your blankets and sitting through the emotions. The intensity will pass because it always has. You’ll thank yourself  for not acting impulsively in the darkness when the clouds begin to let light in again.

When it does begin to pass, recognize that you are allowed to feel better. You are allowed to feel happiness, relief, and even hope. Especially hope. The minions will fight it, they will try to remind you of all the reasons to slip back into pain, but screw them. Take each moment of the good, however brief, and live for that.

Then curse out the minions, if you’d like. They are wrong. Don’t let them persuade you back into suicidal thinking. They’d make you live there if they could, but you can stay housed faithfully in a place of healing.

Remember that healing is not linear, and that feelings of stagnancy and struggle may precede patches of growth. You may feel very differently in a few days or weeks, if only you give yourself the opportunity to get there.

Remember that your feelings are not facts; you may feel worthless and like a lost cause, but there is so much concrete evidence to the contrary.  It’s here and here and here. It’s in the way you keep trying to be better and do better. It’s in every kind gesture you show to everyone else. It’s in your sticking with therapy, even when you want to quit.

Remember everything you want out of this life: a home, a husband, kids, travel experiences, pets, participation in your community, the ability to make a difference, and know that these aren’t doors that have closed indefinitely. These aren’t far-fetched fantasies, you can achieve them. They just may be further down on your journey.

You have spent over two years getting to know yourself and building a better life for you. I know it can really fucking suck, but its worth the fight and you know it is. Now is not the time to prematurely cut it all short.

You are worth life and all it has to offer you. Plan out the next goals you have and the steps you’ll take to get there. . Plan out a recipe for the meal you probably need to eat. Plan which shows are on the docket for tonight’s viewing. Plan a playlist for tomorrow. Plan an outing with a friend. Plan a trip to Ireland or Italy or Nashville, even.

But please, stop planning to die.

You have survived everything before this and you can keep going. You have the power to keep going. You, not the minions, are in control.

Keep fighting, okay? You’re stronger than the pain. You’ve got this.

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“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.

Celebrating Success, Not Squashing It

So a funny thing happened recently. I may have actually found…a job?

It was a crazy situation. I had an interview on Tuesday morning that went really well.It was for a high school position and only a year-long substitute appointment (although with the potential to become a long-term position). By lunch, I had received an email informing me that he was going to recommend me for the position.

I felt excited, but not crazy excited, because I also had a second interview in a different district that day for an elementary position that I really wanted and am still waiting to hear back from. Still, I had this news when I went into see J that afternoon. I showed her the email and we were discussing my mixed feelings when the phone rang.

It was the superintendent of the district. He told me that things had unexpectedly changed. Instead of the original position, someone had just vacated an elementary school position within the last hour. He wanted to know if I was interested. I told him I was. He’s going to call me with more information tomorrow.

As an aside, can I tell you that I was so extremely happy and felt it so fitting that I was in J’s office when I got that phone call? She was really excited for me.

It’s crazy how fast it happened, and I’m still waiting to hear from the other district too. If I were offered that position, I might still take it. But either way, it looks like I may have finally found a full-time position and can feel some relief.

Which is really exciting!!!

But.

You knew there was a but, I pretty much told you in the title there would be one.

The minions are at it in my head. When I first got the news, my first reaction was literally tears of joy. I got off the phone and just cried. Feelings of extreme go both ways for me. While the pain feels unmanageable, the joy is also sometimes so intense that I could burst. J and I both sat there while I reveled in my happiness, because I couldn’t concentrate enough to produce full sentences. It was a really nice, good moment and I haven’t had a lot of those lately.

Unsurprisingly, that pure happiness was short-lived, as other thoughts and feelings have been creeping in. Or maybe they never really left, but were overpowered by the joy for a little while. They don’t want me to be excited. They want to push their agenda, by making sure I know loud and clear I’m still all the terrible things I fear.

It goes a little something like this.

Me: I got a job! This is such exciting news. 

Minions: Is it though?

Yes? Why wouldn’t it be?

Well, it sure took awhile. Weren’t you like the last one of your friends to get a job?

I mean, yes, but —

And didn’t you get passed over not once, but twice, in favor of them choosing one of the other interns from the district where you trained?

I did. But that doesn’t change that I got a job now. 

Yeah, but only after all the better, more skilled and capable people were already taken. Like all your friends. Funny how they always thought you were the smart one. when actually you’re just like the best of all the leftovers.

I’m skilled and capable too. I’m smart. I’m a hard worker. I’ve got great initiative. 

You can keep telling yourself that, but you’re really just the reject. Look at all those districts that didn’t want you. If all those things you said were true, one of the first places you interviewed would have hired you.

That’s not necessarily true. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough for those districts. It’s just that someone else was a better fit or had more suitable experience. I found the district I was meant to be at. 

That sounds like something losers say to make themselves feel better about being losers. A better psychologist and a smarter person would be able to make any district like them and want them.

No one has the capability to make everyone like them and want them. It’s more complicated than you’re making it.

It’s not. You just didn’t have the charisma or the skill to have made those districts want you. Simple. It took you so long. 8 interviews?! You should be ashamed.

You’re wrong! I’m allowed to be happy about this! I worked so hard for it and I want to celebrate it!

Reject. Loser. Not good enough. I bet that the only reason this district wants you is because there’s something wrong with it. Your friends are all working in respectable districts, but there’s got to be something messed up here.

There isn’t. It’s just a school like any other school.

There’s something wrong. There is. You’ll find out eventually. Only a reject school wants a reject psychologist. Because they’re desperate.

My friend is working here too! It will all be fine. It’s a good job.

Well, you realize that even though you got a job, it could still fall through, right? And if it doesn’t, then you still have to actually do the job and be good at it. Which you’ll probably fail at. Are you sure you still want to be excited?

I can do it. I can figure it out. I’ve learned so much and I’m motivated to put in the time and energy to be the best I can for my students. 

But will it be enough? How can you be sure?

Can you please just SHUT UP?

Never. You know I’m right. That’s why you feel that uneasiness.

It goes on and on and on, but that’s a little bit of the internal war waging in my head. There’s a message being so clearly communicated to me that because I didn’t secure one of the first jobs, and because I didn’t earn a job before my friends, that I’m not allowed to be excited about this job opportunity.

It’s my perfectionism kicking in and a little bit of the black or white thinking. Success means I have to get the first job I interview for, before anyone else, otherwise I can’t celebrate it. If I don’t succeed within those parameter, I fail.

So to the minions, I have failed. They’re trying to make sure I know it, trying to introduce as much anxiety and shame as they can, and I’m fighting back.

The truth is, I have worked so damn hard for this position. To get better. To learn more. To be more efficient. To be good at the job. Even though I’ve had my doubts, I still showed up every day and put forward the effort to be the best intern I could possibly be. Before that, I put my heart and soul into my classes, of which the workload was stressful and taxing. And the interviewing, which has been some of the most terrifying and awful times of my life as I sat among panels and tried to sell myself.

It’s been hell and it seems now (although not officially officially) like I achieved the ultimate goal of my program. 20 years of schooling coming down to this.

Whether I got my job first or last, whether it took 1 interview or 19, I deserve to be able to celebrate. Because the end outcome was the same, a goal achieved.

Even as I type that, I feel like I need to make some sort of statement in opposition of what I’m saying, because what I’m saying doesn’t feel true. I don’t feel like I’m allowed to celebrate, I feel like I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But regardless of what I feel, I know that I am allowed to be happy and proud of myself. Earning this job is evidence that all the good things in the lists J forces me to write. Minions don’t like positive evidence, but screw them. I am a hard worker. I am persistent. I am capable.

I got a job and I’m happy. I GOT A JOB AND I’M HAPPY. Scream it from the rooftops!

I sense that the minions are going to keep sticking around, but I will keep fighting them in celebration. Whether that be telling my friends, which I haven’t yet because I’m still waiting on complete confirmation of the job (I was honestly even afraid to blog about this, because I’m afraid that’s jinxing it) and also because it still doesn’t feel completely real, or going out and doing something really fun. I deserve the opportunity to rejoice and put myself and my hard work front and center for others to celebrate as well.

It feels weird, but I can learn to accept the positive attention.

Success is success, period. Embrace it, don’t squash it.

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.

 

 

 

 

You’re Wrong

J,

Right now, at this moment in time, I really want to quit therapy.  I want to text you and tell you that not only will I not be there on Tuesday, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back again.

This isn’t the result of a rupture. You didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, I think its the opposite of that. You’re doing everything right and I’m still not feeling any better.

I don’t think I’m ever going to get better, no matter what I do. I can’t escape my emotions, I’m just going to cycle through them as long as I continue to exist.

I don’t blame you for this. I blame myself, because I’m simply beyond fixing. You’ve told me you don’t like that word, but what word fits better? I’m broken; my illnesses broke me long ago and I can’t find enough pieces to put myself back together.

We’re trying, but it’s not working. Maybe we are doomed to fail.

I’ve been in this place before, felt stuck before. Many times in fact. But there’s something different about the way I’m feeling lately, the specific brand of hopelessness that I’ve become twisted up in.

You’re trying so hard to get me to see my progress. You’re trying to sell me on this life that I can have, on these goals that you tell me are good goals. You’re so insistent that I can have a happy future.

I know that you feel like this is the truth. You are not intentionally lying to me. Bless you for thinking that I actually have any amount of worth sufficient to muster up some success in this unpredictable, confusing, and scary world.

All the same, I think you’re wrong.

Sometimes, I’m angry at you, even though I don’t want to be. I’m angry with you for having all the things that I want: a job that you’re great at, friendships, a husband, a life. I’m angry with you for being happy. Not just angry, jealous.

Every time you try to reframe something, ask me to see it from a more positive light, I want to scream because I feel like you just don’t get that it just can’t be that way for me. You assume there can a positive spin because you’ve experienced the good things in life. You assume because you’ve achieved it that I can too.

But I wish you’d stop offering me hope, because I don’t think I’m capable of achieving things in the way you think I am.

I am an angry jealous monster and I hate myself for that. I hate myself for getting stuck in the loop of thoughts about how unfair it is that you and so many other people have these things, and I don’t.

Why can’t I just be grateful for the things I do have? Why can’t I just see all those good things you want me to see? Why do I have to feel so strongly to the opposite?

To me, this is all evidence that supports me being the spiteful, fundamentally inept, awful person I believe myself to be. Why won’t you believe me? The more you tell me I’m good, the more you offer me kindness, the more I want to resist it.

You’re wrong. I know you’re wrong about me. It’s like I’m trying to prove it to you.

The problem is that in my head, it just doesn’t add up. I am learning skills that are supposed to improve my quality of life. I am supposed to implement those skills and my symptoms will decrease. This should mean that I can function in an effective manner.

Except, right now, I’m not.

Somehow, it has to be my fault and I feel like you just don’t want to admit it to me. Either I’m not working hard enough when things get tough to remit the emotions and other symptoms, and I need to do more, or I am doing all I can but I’m falling short because the emotions are just going to keep being stronger than me.

If it is the case of the former, why should I be kind to myself in the face of that? Isn’t being kind in absence of using skills just reinforcing me being destructive and feeling miserable?

I’m not trying to be argumentative. It just literally does not make sense to me. Maybe I’m using a case of absolutes again. I sense that might be true, but I can’t be sure.

Like I’ve said in other posts, and during many sessions, I feel like I’ve maxed out on my quota of complaining about the same problems. Let’s be honest, you’ve heard it all so many times. How many times do I have to tell you that I’m thinking about suicide? How many weeks will I recount the same painful emotions? How many times will I find myself in the same situations, battling the same behaviors?

What else can you say in response to me? You’ve taught me what to do and I should be doing it. I feel at this point that you might be at as much of a loss as I am.

And if all this is true, then what are we even doing anymore?

I think of going to therapy and I’m hit with a wave of dread. She’s going to try to get me to see the positives about myself but the good is not enough to compensate for the bad. She doesn’t understand how it could not be enough, but it isn’t and I don’t know how to explain it. 

I don’t know how to make it be enough for me. I want to, I swear I do, but my emotions keep betraying me. They keep swelling with intensity all the damn time.

And then I feel dramatic and whiny for saying that at all.

I’m sorry, because sometimes I can sense that its frustrating for you that I can’t see my progress like you can. You tell me again and again and again, and all I do is argue with you.

Sometimes, I wish you would just give up on me now instead of later.

Of course, I also don’t wish that, because the emotional attachment is so strong at this point that I can’t bear to break it. Because as much as I want to quit right now, I’m terrified of losing you.

Even a slight modification in the typical therapy schedule fucks with my emotional state. I’ve never once successfully cancelled a session. How the hell do I think that I could actually say ‘screw it’ and stop coming to therapy?

You’re the only person who has ever really seen me for who I am and still believed so resolutely that I’m a good person. You listen, empathize, validate, and somehow still make me laugh. You’ve treated me like a person, not just a client, and have been invested in me getting better. Never judging, always encouraging. I didn’t know how much I needed that until I had it. How much I needed you.

But the emotional attachment I feel is equally breaking me.

You expect me to come in every week and be so vulnerable. To talk about the tidal wave of feelings I experience daily. You think that it will help. You want it to help, and so do I. But it hurts. It’s bleeding me dry, to be so brutally honest and feel supported for a brief moment, only to have that come to a crashing halt as the clock strikes a new hour. My emotions don’t operate on a timetable like that. It continues for me, even after I walk out the door.

When I left your office on Thursday, I sat on the floor of the building’s bathroom for almost twenty minutes staring at the wall, trying to will myself to move. All my emotions were at the surface and it was so painful. I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole, so that I didn’t have to go back in the world and contain all of it again.

In short, it sucks to keep reliving that.

In that moment, I was angry at you again. For being able to detach and go home while I was in hell. She doesn’t care, I thought, even though I know you do. Replaced by the thought she doesn’t care enough. 

But what would be enough? Caring enough not to leave me alone when I’m as low as I was? Caring enough that you somehow manage to take away all my emotions. Caring enough to fix me?

Nothing is enough for me. That’s on me, not you. It’s not your job to extend your boundaries, which you already do enough of, to help me contain my feelings. You cannot singlehandedly cure me. You can’t be more than you are without it hurting us both. But I can’t figure out how to both recognize these truths and accept them without feeling rejected and alone.

Yet over and over in my mind, the words are on repeat without my consent. She doesn’t care because you pay her. Or she only cares because you pay her. This is not real. This is an artificial relationship produced only by your weekly co-pay. That’s why she wants you to keep coming, so you’ll keep paying her

I feel extreme guilt and shame for these thoughts and feelings. I try to banish them, but they keep coming back. The minions like to feed wherever they find fodder. I’m so embarrassed to admit any of this, because it feels so needy and childish and I don’t want to have these stupid thoughts. 

Anger, primary emotion. Shame, secondary emotion.

What do I do? How do I escape the pit of catch-22’s that I find myself perpetually trapped in? There is no winning for me. The minions will not let me and I don’t know how to escape from it. They’re pushing me away from everything good in my life, and now they’re making me feel like I’m failing at therapy too.

The minions are telling me to quit. Loudly. Repeatedly. Intensely.

I feel like at this point I should just hold it all in and deal instead of talking to you incessantly about my dark and difficult feelings. Maybe that would be more effective for both of us?

Maybe therapy can’t help me, because my BPD makes me therapy resistant. I’m scared that I’m starting to believe it again.

Maybe you’re ready to be rid of me too.

I don’t know. Things have been so tough lately, seemed so bleak, that I feel like I’m going crazy. My thoughts are a fucking mess.

I know this. I believe that you’re wrong about me. I don’t feel like I have enough good, enough worth, and I’ve let it ruin my life beyond any measurable repair. I want to believe you, but I don’t, and it’s just making me hate myself more. Not only do I feel like I’m failing me, but I feel like I’m failing you.

How do I keep coming to therapy if that’s the case?

Self-Love Challenge Day 31: One Kind Thing

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Well, here we are. The end of the self-love challenge. I began this in January and now half a year later it is finally complete.

This is going to be a very short and simple one. Unfortunately, I am again in a really bad and difficult place. I am having extreme suicidal thoughts that are consuming me. I wish that these episodes weren’t so close together lately, but every few days I tend to get swept up in the storm again.

In this moment, I don’t love myself very much. My disorders are doing all the talking right now. In fact, every time I start to feel even marginally better, the minions take over by reminding me of all the reasons I deserve to only feel like shit.  No, you must not smile or be happy. You are not allowed when you still don’t have a job or a relationship and are basically failing at all the important aspects of life. 

I have followed through on my safety plan every day this week. Sleep, exercise, meditation, writing, and sudoku. Kind thoughts wherever possible. Today, about all I can do is breathe and just be. That’s all I have the energy for. So I may not be able to accomplish all of the things on my list.

In that post, I mentioned what J’s response was when I told her all the things I was doing. If you even do one of those things each day, that’s great. 

That’s the inspiration. How will I love myself every day, even when I don’t always like myself?

One kind thing. 

I am not particularly great at self-kindness. It seems counterproductive to nap when I know I need to run, to play games when I could be writing a post. Sometimes, I’m not sure which of those is the kind thing. Is kindness pushing myself to do what’s good for me or is kindness allowing myself to do none of the things I really don’t want to do?

I think what is kind is what feels manageable. I’m writing this post, that was manageable. I’ll meditate a little later. I’m seeing a friend even though I don’t feel up for it. But what I really need right now is to cuddle the dogs and unplug for a bit. Take a nap. Listen to music.

That’s the kindness I can show myself. A reprieve without guilt. Maybe tomorrow I can show myself kindness through a run.

Value yourself by doing at least one kind thing for you a day. It’s worth the extra effort.

Self-Love Challenge Day 30: Labels (part 2)

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We use tons of words to describe ourselves. Some good, some bad. Some less clear-cut, dependent on the perception of the people you ask.

I use the words daughter, female, young adult, caucasian, heterosexual (mostly), able-bodied, spiritual-ish. These are all objective, not something anyone can disagree with. They shape me, depending on the other persons perspective of each individual label, and they all intersect.

Then there are the words I call myself. Labels that are so automatic, all it takes is a minor screwup and I’m battered with them. I read this somewhere:  “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” It’s a negativity bias. Idiot. Failure. Loser. Pathetic.

These are the ones I need to remove altogether from my vocabulary, but they are the most resistant. Like a tumor that continues to regrow every time its removed.

I can label myself with emotions. Lately, I’m learning to recognize these labels, and say them aloud, as I feel them. On one end, there’s the beautiful feelings: Hopeful, fulfilled, proud, happy, comfortable. On good days, in good moments, I see these. On the other, the painful emotions that often lead me to suffering. Angry, ashamed, envious, anxious, sad. These labels are often co-occuring and they can be consuming.

I found this visual and it seemed to be a pretty good depiction of the two sides of the coin as explained by borderline personality. upward spiral.jpg

Then the personality traits. When encouraged to, I’ve used these words to in the past. Kind. Honest. Responsible. Empathetic. Organized. Persistent. Motivated. Genuine. Generous. Open-minded. Accountable.

You know what I’ve noticed? Many of those has its own negative spin. When honest becomes blunt or is perceived as disrespectful. When empathetic is regarded as too sensitive. When organization gets rebranded as perfectionistic or retentive. When open-minded becomes indecisive.

That’s what I mean when I say it’s all about the way you look at it.

I let the negative spin dominate so often, because I know there are two sides to each coin. I know one person can observe a friend and have a different understanding of who they are than another person does. I’ve lived my life trying to cater to all sides, to be an endless flow of positive labels while suppressing all the negative, both personality and emotional.

It doesn’t work like that, of course.

I’m learning, slowly, to accept the fact that a person can be both. A little bit of the negative does not does erase all of the positive. There is room to be both kind and responsible, but a little indecisive, for example.  A person can be made up of hope and sadness, even in the same minute.

If I acknowledge that, maybe I can remember to put the positive spin on the negative too. To take the negative personality traits I assign myself and find their other side. To turn selfish or needy into self-aware and willing to self-advocate. To remember that impatience often comes from enthusiasm and excitement.

People say that labels don’t define you. That labels are only for jars and boxes. Whether or not its true or fair, labels are a part of our society. We are made up of them. I don’t see that changing, because human beings naturally look to categorize to simplify our lives.

But here is the important thing. The labels themselves are not so simple. So many of those labels are moldable, which means so is the way we view ourselves.  You get to decide how your labels define you.

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Additionally, as a bit of a post-script,I used a the term borderline a few paragraphs ago. I do associate myself with the Borderline Personality Disorder label, as well as Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. There is a huge controversy over the pros and cons of diagnosis, because of the way being labeled can both open doors and produce stigma.  You can read about my personal opinion of the label’s impact on me here.