Receiving Pain

One of the many confessions I made to J when everything came flooding out last week was that I see self-harm as a way of communicating pain. As in, when I’m feeling really really awful, one of the reasons I feel desire quelling within me to hurt myself is that I feel it clearly shows to her just how much hell it has been to live in my own mind that week.

I’ve nearly removed self-harm from my list of habits in about the last 2.5 months. There have been some slips, and what might be categorized as an “almost” harming event, but on the whole I’m not grabbing for my razor every other day (mostly because I threw it out). I’m working really hard at making better choices.

As such, I’ve noticed that when I am really fighting the urge, one of my recurrent thoughts is that I have to cut myself because if I don’t, how else will J understand just how deep and intense my pain was over the week? It’s like I believe words will not be enough to truly tell the story.

I’m not sure exactly where this need comes from. It’s not like J does anything over the top when I admit to her I’ve hurt myself. Typically, she’ll ask when and what triggered the incident. She may ask where I’ve cut. Often, we talk about replacement behaviors. Sometimes, we discuss safety. These are all run of the mill and none of them feel particularly validating. Not that they’re bad strategies, just that they don’t support me in a way that would encourage me to keep cutting to receive the attention.

When I wrote about this before, a fellow blogger who I really respect left me a comment that stated she was in a similar situation. What she and her therapist decided was to replace self-harm as a means of expressing severe pain with the urge to self-harm as an indicator of the same level of pain.

This idea seemed remarkably simple, but effective. I shared it with J. That strategy had been her first recommendation too. However, she wondered if I would truly be able to feel like my pain was understood or if the distinction between cutting and wanting to cut would still feel obvious to me. Would cutting still rank highest no matter what?

She’s probably right, I’m sure it would be a process to make the shift. But obviously continuing to hurt myself isn’t an option, so I think that I’m willing to try using “tempted to hurt myself” as the high point on a continuum of describing emotional pain.

J obviously doesn’t want me to relapse back into self harm. She doesn’t want this to be another factor contributing to that behavior. So she asked me how she can receive the information from me that I wanted to cut in a way that feels as validating as if I told her I did cut?

I’m having so much trouble developing a response. Since I don’t know the source of the need, I don’t know what she can do to help me suppress it.

So what can she do? How can she make me feel supported and understood? I’m still not entirely sure. I don’t have an end-all, be-all solution.

Validation is the golden rule of working with people like me. When in doubt, find some way to legitimize my feelings. Make sure I know that you’re supporting me amidst them. Say it 10 different ways. Say it again and again and again until it sticks.

“I believe you when you tell me how intense your emotions are.”

“I hear that you are in a very difficult place right now.”

“I understand how much you feel you need to hurt yourself. I’m glad you’ve chosen to be safe, despite all that pain.”

“What do you need? How can I help you right now?”

“Tell me more about what’s going on. Let’s work through these challenging feelings together.”

“I’m still here.”

I need to hear the validation. I need to hear it 100 times, using the same calm patience and empathy with each repetition. I need to hear it from J, and I probably need to say things like this to myself. To believe myself when I’m tempted to dismiss my own pain, as if not cutting means that I’m somehow healed and not allowed to feel negative feelings.

I need to hear that she’s still there, because maybe there’s a part of me that thinks not hurting myself means I’m on a path to being better – but does being better mean an end to therapy?

Will this work? Once, I’m sure it will not be sufficient. Over time? I’m hopeful.

Because what’s the alternative? Hospitalize me? Refer me to an IOP? We’re in agreement that I don’t need a higher level of care. What I really want when the pain has been that bad is to be held, but that is unfortunately beyond the therapy relationship.  So in lieu of that, I just want to know that she believes me, that she has as much of an understanding as she can without living the experience.

That’s so, so hard when I can’t know for sure what she’s thinking.

Has anyone else been in a similar situation? How does your therapist convey to you that they recognize the  depths of your struggles in a way that makes you feel like they really get it? I’ll take any suggestions.

 

 

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Emotions Are Part of the Package

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Problem Solving for Envy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confusion and Frustration with DBT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish they had a little flow chart or something.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s super frustrating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How Are You?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expectations are killer in that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup, all of this from one simple question.

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

Which sucks. Radical acceptance again.

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

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

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.

Emotional Catharsis

I’m not really sure how we got to a place where it has been a whole week between this and my last post. I feel like time is just slipping away before I can catch hold of it. I’ve been kind of MIA from WP in the last week. While I’ve been trying to get online and read everyone’s posts, I’m so frenzied that I can barely concentrate. When I can, I’m finding that everything I read triggers me.

So please don’t take my lack of presence, via likes and comments, as a sign that I am ignoring of all of you and your stuff. Please don’t think I no longer care about each of you. I’m still here supporting you! I’m just not in the right headspace at the moment. So that support may be more from a distance until I can get myself together again.

What’s going on, you ask? Well, it’s really hitting me that my life is about to change in a big way. A big way that may include some big losses.

I am graduating on Tuesday. TUESDAY! Holy crap I don’t know how it got here so fast. But on Tuesday I am going to have my Master’s Degree.

On Monday, I was talking to H and S, the young ladies I babysit, about my upcoming graduation. H told me she wished I wasn’t graduating, because she doesn’t want me to stop being her babysitter. She and S both seemed convinced they’d never see me again. I tried to reassure them that nothing was changing yet, and that I’m not disappearing out of their lives. But after I dropped them off, I cried at the thought of losing them. I cried at the thought of being replaced. It sucks that they might end up with another babysitter, and that our relationship would change.

Today, my colleagues did a really nice thing for me. When I walked in this morning, they had decorated my desk and put together me a whole basket full of things as a graduation and thank you gift. All sorts of silly things that echo our time together and serious things that will prepare me for next year. I teared up when I saw it, because it’s starting to become real that my time with them is about to be over. I’ve spent the year connecting with them, and I finally feel comfortable with my responsibilities there, only for that to end.

It’s also occurring to me that I will no longer have built-in bonding time with the friends I have spent hours in class and studying with for the last three years. Will that change things for us? Will we still be close, or will they drift away like my friends from undergrad? I know it’s not the same type of relationship, and we’ve survived a year in internship and rarely seeing each other, but I still worry.

Plus, there’s that little fear about losing my therapist if the scheduling can’t be worked out or if I get a job far away.

So, yeah. So much transition is coming my way. I truly don’t know where I’ll be a few months from now and I’m terrified at the thought of the way things will change. I’m emotional thinking about the upcoming goodbyes.

I was prepared for these emotions to arise eventually, but not until the end of June, when I actually finish internship and my hours for babysitting begin to change. I was not prepared to be hit with an onslaught of them this week. It is so overwhelming. I have not had the mental or physical energy to do anything else aside from my responsibilities and fulfilling my basic needs. So I pretty much just stuffed the rest down and shoved on.

Until I walked into J’s office today.

I really didn’t want to go to therapy this week. Last night, I was thinking about what we’d even talk about, because I felt like I didn’t want to address the feelings I’ve been having. I just didn’t. I knew I’d get emotional and I wanted to avoid that at all costs. We all know I hate the idea of letting the floodgates burst and then having to leave session dealing with the aftermath. I resolved to talk about skills, or whatever J brought up.

But then my wonderful colleagues gave me that gift, and after the initial joy and gratitude, my mind spent most of the day clogged with this intense sadness that I could not get away from. My mood was just not right.

I covered that well enough in front of the rest of the world, but something about J’s office disarms me. I went in there still resolved to say that I was fine, and I did try to. When she asked, I said I was good. But I could feel that my face was betraying me, so J saw through it and asked me for the real answer.

She wanted to know what I was feeling, something more specific than ‘good’ or ‘fine’. “Emotional,” I told her. She wanted to know why I was emotional, but I told her I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want to cry. J told me it was important to allow myself to have emotions and to let them exist within a safe, controlled setting.

Here’s the thing about keeping all your emotions inside you. The longer you keep on as if everything is fine, the greater the pressure of everything you’re holding in. Eventually, it takes very little to trigger an implosion.

For me, it took a simple encouragement that it was okay to cry and one very empathetic look from J. I blame that stupid room. It’s like it literally pulls the emotion out through my pores.

What I’m saying is, I completely fell apart. I cried on and off for the entire session. We talked about all the stuff I really didn’t want to talk about too, and every time she brought up the topic of ‘goodbyes’ or ‘transition’ I would get upset and just start to lose it again. I remember saying to her that my emotions are too intense and too overwhelming to handle! as I was wiping my eyes relentlessly with tissues.

It was super intense. It was complete catharsis. I let all of my ugly and painful emotions out for J to bear witness to. Everything I’d spent the week trying to contain just exploded out of me.

By the end of session, I was finally at a point where I had at least somewhat calmed down. Now, a few hours removed, I don’t feel 100% better but I’m at least more settled. I let my feelings out and I’m still alive to tell the tale. My emotions were given the space to exist for a little while. I think that counts for something.

I don’t know what the point of this post was. I feel like I need to wrap it up with some cliche message like “Be in touch with your feelings” or “It’s okay to give yourself permission to let go sometimes.” Yet it just sounds silly to say, almost disingenuous. Because crying didn’t solve all my problems. It helped, and the emotions abated, but I know they will be back.

All I know is this. Sometimes the emotions are coming out whether you like it or not. The only thing you can do is buckle down and wait out the tears.