Over the weekend I was presented with a situation I was not happy about in the slightest!…:
I am currently on a year out of university having spent most of the academic year in hospital. The thing is, I hold painfully strong associations with places, people and situations from my (unwell) past, and so even going back to the area I studied at can feel traumatising to me. I was in such a bad state for the majority of my time there, and despite the support and guidance I received from the academic and pastoral staff, I know I cannot go back. I decided a few months ago that what I need is a fresh start, to help me continue as best I can in my overall recovery process.
About a week ago, after a process of emails, work-submissions and an interview with the course leader, I was blessed with an unconditional offer onto another Psychology degree program at an alternative London university. I was so relieved and excited that it had worked out for me, and was looking forward to this fresh start I had envisioned for myself.
Stupidly (*ping* – judgement!), I posted my news on a social media site to let my extended friends and family know my plans moving forward. Within just a few hours, I had received a message from a girl at my old university requesting more information about my decision and the course I am due to start in October this year. She asked me to call her saying that she desperately needed to speak to me. And so I picked up the phone and dialed, despite knowing on some level exactly what was coming…
In a similar position to me having taken the year off due to mental health related issues, we caught up for all of 5 seconds before she told me she wanted to follow me in my transition and transfer from our old university to this new one, together. So far, she has gotten in touch with university no.2 and the move is looking hopeful for her. I’d say there is an 80% chance that she will get onto the course and go ahead with the transfer.
The thing is, she is inter-personally quite a challenging character. I actually relate to her massively because a lot of her behaviours are very BPD-esque. One minute she is extremely clingy and loving, the next hostile and hateful. She is just ten billion times more external in her inter-personal difficulties than I have ever been. The thing is, we barely talked at all when we were on the same course (I wasn’t particularly sociable and certainly wasn’t one for forming friendships during that time), and now I feel as though she’s acting like we’re BFFES-4-LYF – or whatever the adult equivalent of this is! I know that she is struggling and I know that she has a lot going on for her… AND at the same time, I just can’t seem to get that little rock of dread in my stomach to shift.
I know it’s not the end of the world, but it certainly felt that way after the conversation we had. I was so determined to make a fresh start for myself, and in my mind that had to include the people as well as location and everything else. The truth is I am scared that I won’t cope well with her inter-personally and that a lot of my codependency struggles may get triggered. I am concerned that it will be harder for me to try and branch out and connect with people at the new university if I feel trapped by my old and unwell class-mate, and the complexities involved in a friendship with her especially given our mutual histories. I am also scared because I am incredibly lacking when it comes to stating my needs, and yet she is the total opposite: I am worried because I can’t afford to lose myself to another human being and their needs, to the detriment of myself, like I have done so many times before. Finally, I am scared because I am doing well, and she is not, and I don’t know what impact this could have on me.
(And on a side note, of course I also fed myself my fair share of self-criticism and let those punitive voices attack for a short while, because I felt like the whole thing was my fault considering I had been the one to post about it on social media in the first place.)
Despite the fact all of these feelings and cognitions have come up for me, and my initial (and lingering) angst surrounding it, it has actually been a great opportunity for me to practice some DBT skills as well:
Firstly, I talked the situation over with a friend in order to try and diffuse my black-and-white, and “it’s the end of the world” catastrophic thinking. I validated my reaction around the situation, and a mere few hours later was ready to use the ‘C’ in SCREW, in order to try and ‘Change my Relationship to the Problem’. I did this by attempting to see the “problem” as an opportunity for me to challenge some of my codependency issues and by setting it as a positive challenge I can overcome, instead of letting it be something to negatively dictate my future.
Secondly, I’ve been planning the Interpersonal Effectiveness skills I can use if I start feeling suffocated or threatened by her in any way. DEARMAN (objective effectiveness), GIVE (relationship effectiveness) and FAST (self-respect effectiveness) skills will no doubt come in handy in the future – in fact this is true in any relational dilemma.
For me Radical Acceptance involves coming to terms with any less-than-satisfactory circumstance, exactly as it stands, and trying to remain unattached in order to reduce the extent of distress the event may otherwise evoke. As soon as I mentally tether myself to an outcome, I know I will most likely be disappointed and ultimately perpetuate my suffering. The truth is, no matter what I think or how I feel, at the end of the day I cannot control how any external situation will pan out. What I can control, however, is how I both approach and react to it.
Overall, I’m just relieved that I am able to see this event as a hurdle which I can overcome effectively, instead of as an obstacle to be avoided or consumed by. And there is something pretty new and empowering about that to me. Especially because it is a kind of shitty situation (and you would agree if only you could meet her!).