At Christmastime, we had a party for everyone in my department. There were maybe 15 of us shoved into a small conference room eating catered food and homemade desserts and chatting. I sat among my still fairly new-to-me coworkers and managed to join into the conversation. It felt satisfying to feel like I even remotely belonged somewhere.
Part of our little party included a gift exchange, which I had been nervous about prior to the whole affair. It felt like there was a lot riding on picking a gift that could be considered desirable to people a range of ages and personalities. What if they didn’t like it? What if they thought I was weird for my selection?
But I bought a gift and decided to participate anyway, mostly because I thought it would be more stressful not to. We each picked a number and got to choose from the gifts in succession. On your turn, you could steal someone else’s gift or choose opened a wrapped gift. There was a cap of a gift being stolen twice.
I was nervous about this too. I wanted to show the right amount of gratitude for whatever I got, because gifts can be tricky with me and I have a tendency to feel disappointed when I don’t get something I’d like. It felt scary to have all eyes on me as I stood, picked my gift, and unwrapped it. I’m not kidding, I really hate being the center of attention even when it’s the whole point. More eyes equates with more potential for judgment I guess.
Anyway, I picked a fairly low number, which meant there were lots of people after me with lots of chances for it to be stolen. On my turn, I picked a bag and hoped for the best. Inside was an essential oil diffuser. I was excited. In fact, I had just said to my mother the night before that I wanted a new and bigger one than I currently had.
My colleague was itching for the diffuser and told me jokingly not to get too attached. Her turn came just a minute later and although she eyed it up, she didn’t take it. I was thrilled. She actually chose the gift I had brought, a set of wine glasses with funny sayings, which she liked when it was open (sigh of relief for me!). But a couple turns later, another colleague swiped the glasses from her, and she responded by stealing the diffuser from me.
I was bummed, but tried to plaster a smile on my face and picked another present. The gift was a unique choice, perfect for the gift exchange, but it was something I already had so I wasn’t particularly elated. Another coworker eyed it up on her turn, but didn’t take it, even though I told her it was fine if she wanted it – which I then felt guilty for, because I didn’t want the person who brought the gift to think I didn’t like it or was ungrateful.
Then a minute later, someone else swiped my gift. I could either chose to open a third gift or take something else. Another of my colleagues nudged me and told me to steal back my diffuser. That would be two steals, so no one would be allowed to take it from me.
So I did!
Everyone laughed as the gifts were traded around; it was the point of the game of course! Yet as I hugged the bag with my gift close to my chest, I suddenly felt extremely bad. Why did I think that I deserved the gift more than she did? Just because I really wanted it? I felt selfish that I’d robbed her of something she’d wanted just to make myself happy.
Later in the day, I apologized to my coworker for taking it from her. I even offered her my old diffuser for her office. She laughed it off, told me it really wasn’t a big deal. Clearly, she didn’t have a second thought about it.
But I did. In fact, every time I looked at the diffuser I felt a rush of guilt again, like I’d stolen something. When I got home that night, I didn’t even take it out right away. I felt that bad about it. For the rest of the night, my mood was off.
That party was weeks ago now. I see this colleague multiple times a week. I’m literally using my diffuser right now as I type this (with the beautiful scent of lavender wafting in my direction). Yet sometimes when I think about it I still feel a little bit sad for reasons I can’t even articulate.
I wanted to post about this because I think it is a perfect example of what it means to be afflicted with BPD or any disorder that involves some level of anxiety or social interaction difficulties. I knew as I was in the moment of the intense emotions that my feelings didn’t fit the facts. I could look around and rationalize that things were fine and she absolutely wasn’t mad at me.
Yet the feelings and the negative thoughts persisted. Hard. For awhile. Anyone else would have already forgotten that interaction. Probably, my colleague has forgotten it! Still, when I see her, that’s the forefront of my mind and it requires strength not to stick that topic into our conversations. Anyone else wouldn’t think of themselves as selfish or awful just for following the rules of a game. In fact, my colleague had stolen it from me first! Of course, that doesn’t factor into my emotions for some reason.
I look around at people in my life and wonder what it might be like to be able to let things go with little to no thought about it. How do those things fall right out of their memory while they are branded into mine?
No wonder I’m so scatter-brained, the minions are too busy holding onto all this useless crap!
It’s a constant reminder in moments like this. To stay present with the thoughts and find evidence to refute them. To see if the intensity of my emotion is justified by what is actually happening. To breathe and remember that the feelings will pass. To stay engaged with the people around me when I want to withdraw.
Moments like this are the daily fight..