Childhood Feelings Triggered Hard

Today was a painful day. Recently in therapy we have been talking about my attachment pain and how it relates to my childhood. We have talked to an extent about my Mum and how she related to me when I was little – how little, vulnerable, alone, misunderstood and invalidated she made me feel. In therapy, I hadn’t been able to fully access those feelings from childhood; it’s felt very much like I was telling a story – with little to no emotion. Today, however, those emotions were triggered and finally able to come out in the real world.

I apologise in advance for the incoherence of this post. I just needed to rant, and to get it all out.


There were two issues. The first one was as follows:

My T gave me her teddy bear to look after and use for comfort, as a transitional object, whilst we work on my early relational trauma. I have been feeling young inside, needy and pained, and carrying around the teddy like a child with a comfort toy has felt incredibly supportive. The problem, however, is that I live with my Mum. I didn’t want to tell her about the teddy because I knew she would react judgmentally. However, I spoke to Sister no. 1 yesterday in the car about it, so she was aware. I had asked her to please not tell Mum and she had said that she would not. Nevertheless, this is what happened.

Today we were in the kitchen and I was studying whilst cuddling the teddy. Sis no. 1 came downstairs and saw me with the teddy and starting questioning why I was still holding him, despite the fact that she was aware of why. I tried to avoid her question but she kept probing me, and Mum was getting involved.
“Why ARE you still holding that teddy?” Mum started to question. “How old are you, seriously?”.
Sis continued, provoking me, joining Mum, asking me where I had actually gotten the teddy from.
“Is he even yours? Where DID you get him from?” and not letting up when I tried to avoid all the questions she was throwing at me. I glanced at Sis with telling eyes; it was obvious that I was uncomfortable and wanting her to stop, especially because she had promised me that she wouldn’t tell Mum just yesterday. Instead she just kept pressing me and wouldn’t let go.

Eventually, she turned to Mum and said in a really judgmental voice,
“It’s her THERAPIST’S teddy!” and then to me “Isn’t ittttt?!”, in a sarcastic and mocking tone.

Mum asked me why my T had given me her teddy and I told her that it was as a transitional object, for when I am struggling with my emotions. I was as vague as possible; I didn’t tell her about the work we are doing in therapy, for obvious reasons of course. However, she proceeded to go on a full rant about expressing her opinion of me. She was very happy to let me know how weird she thought the situation was, how it doesn’t sound like ‘good therapeutic practice’, and how it makes her feel genuinely concerned because I am an adult now and still act like such a child. She did her usual “It’s just not normal, it’s really not, not normal at all” and continued with the old “Come on, how old are you, I mean seriously” spiel. My sister happily joined in, clearly getting off on the tease. It felt hurtful and incredibly cruel, especially after I had asked her not to mention the teddy situation to our Mum.

I was getting increasingly upset and tried to defend myself and my T as I felt really defensive and attacked by everything my Mum was saying. But she just continued on and on, slamming into me about how abnormal it is to behave in the way that I behave, and how she can’t help but judge and worry about it, because it “doesn’t sit comfortably” with her at all to see me walking about the house with a teddy like a lost little child. (The irony is that she never stopped to question why I feel like this ‘lost little child’ in the first place. HINT: Something to do with the way she treated me when I was ‘that child’.)

As the shame grew I started to feel myself shrinking inwards; all the beliefs about what a freak I am reiterated x10000 by the person who’s meant to love me the most but instead makes me feel more bad about myself than anyone else ever could. After trying so fucking hard in therapy for so long to try and reverse these judgements I have about myself and validate them instead, the way that my Mum was speaking to me unraveled any progress I had made in that area. She continued to back up how the shame I feel is very much valid, that I should be embarrassed for feeling so young and needy inside and for expressing it in the way that I do. She was supporting all the core beliefs I have about myself being a shamefully abnormal freak who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the world and who is faulty and broken instead.

Essentially, she was telling me that there is something wrong with me. There is something wrong with me and I am not acceptable to her because of that. I am bad, I need to be different, and it is wrong to feel the way that I feel. I am fundamentally flawed.

By the time I managed to calm down a few hours later, situation 2 was evolving. This is what happened:

Sister no. 2 (who is my half-sister, we share the same Dad) was having her own crisis at school. The story wasn’t important; what was important was how distressed she was off the back of it. She was panicking and crying down the phone to me, her anxiety was sky-rocketing, and she was beating herself up with guilt and sounding really self-punitive and judgmental. She felt so guilty about the situation and a mistake she had made, and although she knew on one hand what she needed to do to fix it, the anxiety over every single option felt excruciating – and she found herself totally trapped. On top of this, the frustration at her ADHD, and the consequences of her ADHD, were too overwhelming to be able to regulate on her own.

I was proud of her for calling me, and as her sister, I was there to help. I stayed on the phone to her whilst she cried and explained the situation, and validated how she was feeling as much as I could. I reminded her gently to breathe because she was struggling with the tears, and made my voice sound soothing to try and calm her down. I did everything I would want someone to do for me if I was in a crisis. I spoke to her like how my T speaks to me when I am in that state. I stayed calm and collected, I validated her and was compassionate and caring, and I also tried to help her get through the situation by proposing solutions that I could help her achieve. I reiterated that no one was angry with her, that her guilt made sense to me because I know how much it means to her to not upset or displease people, but that I absolutely was not angry in the slightest, and that the only thing that was important to me is that we work out how to help her navigate the situation and feel calm again.

I told her that no matter what the outcome of the situation, no one was going to be mad with her, and how I could hear how distressed she was and that despite that I knew she was trying her best to get through. With regards to the mistake she had made, I highlighted that the most important thing was the thought (“it’s the thought that counts”), and that she is one of the most thoughtful people I know. She might have made a mistake, but she is only human. Plus, she was having a bad ADHD day, and that was not her fault. I validated how frustrating it must be to struggle with ADHD in the way that she does, and for people not to understand that she doesn’t behave in the ways that she does on purpose.

I was very mindful of the fact that yes, the situation and the mistake was slightly frustrating in terms of practicalities, but when I imagined how much more upsetting it must be for her – being the one who can’t control her ADHD and anxiety and having to live with it every day and the guilt and shame she has on top of it – the mistake itself felt unimportant. I felt really upset for her because of how her distressed she was and how much she was struggling with her emotions, and so even though the situation was not ideal, that was absolutely not the priority. The priority was being there for my 13 year old sister who struggles immensely with emotions and who beats herself up chronically for feeling and being the way that she is. I wanted to be someone who could show her unconditional love, assure her that she was safe to feel the way she was feeling with me, and that I was not going to react.

I wanted to show her that no matter what was going on for her, I was going to be able to hold that space with her, and to support her through the distress and be alongside her in the process of calming down. She tried to regulate herself for a bit and deal with the situation in the ways we had discussed, then called me back to update me on the situation and how she was doing. Eventually, she managed to get to a place where she was calmer and had stopped crying, stopped panicking, and felt more in control of herself. As it turned out, once she had calmed down, she managed to state her needs and actually resolve the situation without my presence. I was really proud of her, especially as I know how much anxiety she was feeling. So, the last time she called, I told her how proud of her I was, validated her again and told her I loved her and would always love her, no matter what mistakes she made. The most important thing was showing her that unconditional care, which is something we have both needed and gone without at pivotal points in our lives. She really appreciated it, and the situation was pretty much resolved.

However, whilst I was having this conversation over the phone with Sis no. 2, Mum and Sis no. 1 were chattering behind me in the background with disdain. I was struggling to multitask but could make out what they were saying, because my Mum continued to hiss at me to get off the phone and to stop pandering to Sis no. 2 and ‘enabling her dependence’. It is not exactly the easiest thing trying to help my little sister through a crisis, let alone doing so when behind me I can hear my Mum and Sis no. 1 going on about how ridiculous and dramatic the whole situation is – and how ‘badly’ I am dealing with it.

I wanted to scream at them to shut the fuck up as I was trying to be there for Sis no. 2 and all I could focus on was their stupid judgments and over involvement about a situation they knew very little about in my ear. (I mean seriously why the fuck was my Mum involving herself with this anyway, Sis no. 2 is not even her daughter!). As soon as Sis no 2 got off the phone to me, I turned around to Mum and Sis no. 1 and asked them what on earth they were thinking. I told them that they had no idea what was going on on the other side of the phone (i.e. for Sis no. 2) and tried to explain how difficult it is for her having to live with ADHD and anxiety and feeling so misunderstood by everyone around her who responds with such little compassion. I told them that comments like theirs (e.g. “She needs to be more self reliant and stop making everything into such drama”) are exactly what fuel the shame, guilt and self judgments she then puts onto herself.

Sis no. 1 said that Sis no. 2 was being ridiculous and needs to grow up. My Mum agreed, saying that I make the situation worse by pandering to her and being ‘too nice’ when really what she needs is some harsh love. I tried to back myself up, describing the level of distress Sis no. 2 was experiencing, and letting them know that I was trying to balance being there for her with finding a solution – and that actually, ultimately, she was the one who had fought through her anxiety on this occasion to try and problem solve, despite the distress she was in.

They were not hearing anything I had to say, and continued to go on about how I was putting my own problems onto my little sister, how it’s not actually helpful for me to speak to her on the phone and ‘make her’ more dependent on me, and how I was being more dramatic than was needed and that we just need to chill the fuck out and stop being so dramatic over the smallest situation. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t about the situation; it was about the emotions and distress Sis no. 2 was feeling. I was trying so hard to explain that when someone is in that level of distress, especially a CHILD, and a CHILD with anxiety AND ADHD at that, expecting them to be able to get themselves out of a crisis is really flawed logic. It is the kind of expectation that makes children believe that there is something wrong with them for struggling with their emotions, and makes them internalise how they are feeling, stop asking for help and instead try and shove down or deal with their emotions in ways that are not healthy. Ever since Sis no 2. has been encouraged to communicate with us when she’s struggling, the self-destructive tendencies and crises have gone down, and she’s been much better at getting through these sorts of situations with support. Withdrawing that would be a disaster and set her back months or years.

In these sorts of situations, the professionals have always encouraged the type of communication that I use with Sis no. 2 – compassionate, solution-focused but validating and soothing communication. Listening, attending, and trying to work together to navigate distressing situations. Being there for her, supporting her so that she is better equipped to support herself. When she is in that state, there is no way she is able to calm herself down, and showing ‘tough love’, hanging up the phone, or trying to force her to be more self reliant when her distress is that high, only ever makes things worse. This includes making her feel like she is bad and should be told off or shamed for feeling the way that she does, which is essentially what they were convinced of.

When my Mum and Sis no. 1 were still not getting anything I was saying, they started saying to one another, in front of me,
“Oh my god, she’s not listening, she just doesn’t get it, there is no point in even trying to convince her, she’s putting her own stuff onto the situation” acting like I was pretty much delusional and making me question my sanity simply because they were the majority and shared the same opinion! When I tried to explain how their way of relating to a child is how I was related to as child (i.e. “stop being ridiculous, buck up, get your act together, stop being such a baby, stop being so over sensitive” etc) and how badly that served me, and how what I’ve learnt in therapy and treatment is that the more effective way of relating to a child is by using the type of approach I always try and use in communication nowadays (i.e. DBT, validation, acceptance, change, etc), they just started accusing me again on putting my own shit onto Sis no. 2 yet again.

Instead of wondering if maybe, actually, my experiences of emotional distress have helped facilitate an increased understanding of what is and is not helpful in emotionally weighted situations, they stayed put in their conviction that their way (i.e. the invalidating, cold-hearted, non-compassionate way) is the right way. And that my sensitivity was making me respond in the wrong way, instead of in a way that is actually more effective for Sis no. 2 who is very much like me and does need to be listened to and validated in order to then be able to problem solve. #acceptanceTHENchange

By this point I was in complete tears, in my room, in such a state, screaming at my Mum who refused to drop her line of argument, really digging into me and actually making me question my sanity AS USUAL. She kept saying that because both Sis no. 1 and her agreed, it was 2 against 1 and that shows that I don’t know what I am talking about and should really take on board what they were saying. I find it so fucking triggering when people manipulate me into questioning my own sanity and will not see anything I say simply because I have a history of emotional sensitivity (or mental illness). As though that makes me less aware as opposed to more?! It is so fucked up.

Also, the fact that my Mum’s line of argument was centred around her belief that I was pandering to and enabling my sister, as though it is MY job to think about that stuff, was really upsetting. My whole life I have been put in a caring position towards my half sisters, often being given far too much responsibility that hasn’t been mine to take. Words like ‘enabling’ might be applicable to parenting tactics or therapeutic approaches, but being a sister is not the same as being a figure in authority or formal care. It is not my job to parent or condition her, nor to think out the best way of approaching her crises in the same a parent might. It is my role to be there for her in whatever way I can be – not as her mentor or therapist or Mum – but as her sister, pure and simple.

Eventually I totally lost it with my Mum, screaming at her that, “THE ONLY REASON I AM THE WAY I AM IS BECAUSE YOU TREATED ME EXACTLY HOW YOU WANT ME TO TREAT SIS NO. 2 NOW. DO YOU NOT SEE THAT IF I TREAT HER IN THE WAY YOU WANT ME TO – INVALIDATE, SHAME, MINIMISE, JUDGE ETC – I AM JUST SETTING HER UP TO FEEL AS TERRIBLY ABOUT HERSELF AND HER EMOTIONS AS YOU HAVE MADE ME FEEL ABOUT MINE ALL MY LIFE?”

I was on a rampage now. I continued,
“I AM NOT LIKE THIS FOR NOTHING. I AM LIKE THIS – AND IT IS IMPORTANT FOR ME TO VALIDATE AND BE ATTENTIVE TO SIS NO. 2 IN THE WAY THAT I AM – BECAUSE OF HOW THAT WAS ABSOLUTELY NOT SOMETHING I HAD FROM YOU WHEN I NEEDED IT WHEN I WAS LITTLE, AND BECAUSE I KNOW HOW DAMAGING THAT IS. AS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN THROUGH THAT APPRAOCH, AND WHO HAS BEEN FUCKED UP BECAUSE OF IT, I WILL NEVER PUT ANY OF THAT ONTO ANYONE EVER, ESPECIALLY NOT MY LITTLE SISTER.

I screamed at my Mum to get out, and wailed and wailed, before calling my Dad and my Step-mum and trying to speak down the phone to them for reassurance. I was crying so hard down the phone that they could barely make out what I was saying. But they told me that everything I did was right and that out of everyone in the whole family, I relate to Sis no. 2 the most, I communicate with her the most effectively, and she responds the best with me. So fuck you, Mum and sis no. 1, fuck you.

My BPD Presentation

Last weekend I had the honour of speaking for 25 minutes in front of 250 people about BPD at a mental health conference. Although the months leading up to it were filled with panic and dread and I genuinely was not sure if I’d be able to go through with it, it actually went 100x better than I could ever have hoped for.

I have decided to share my presentation here (in a written as opposed to audio format to maintain anonymity). I trust that my readers won’t plagiarise or copyright the content, but I do want to put this out there as it is a rare achievement I felt proud of! (Some of the slides have come out in a squished format, but I think they’re clear enough).


BPD, ME AND ANXIETY

Hello everyone and thank you for introducing me. I am here to talk to you about what it’s like for me living with Borderline Personality Disorder and anxiety. I just want to say before I start that this is the first time I have done anything like this so if I appear really frikkin anxious, it’s because I am really frikkin anxious! Thank you for bearing with me and I hope you get something out of my talk today!

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So what exactly is Borderline Personality Disorder? BPD is basically a disorder of emotional dysregulation; people with BPD struggle to regulate their moods, feelings, behaviours, thoughts and relationships with others. However, it is pretty much impossible to sum up BPD in a single sentence, so I will be going into much more detail later in the talk. Just to give you some background information first, BPD affects about 1% of people and is more prevalent amongst women than men. In order to be diagnosed you have to meet criteria for at least 5 out of these 9 symptoms on this slides, and be at least 18 years old. However, because symptoms often start much younger and can appear to overlap with other disorders, many people might not be correctly diagnosed or treated for years. I was personally treated from the age of 12 to 19 for depression, anxiety, self harm, eating disorders, and later substance abuse. No one really understood what was “wrong” with me, and when I continued not to get better I was told that I was simply “treatment resistant”. Finally, at the age of 19, I was diagnosed with BPD. For me this was a huge relief because I finally had a diagnosis that I felt captured so much of what I had been through. It was also really important in helping me finally get access to the specialised support I needed, as well as understanding more about why I am the way I am.

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So what actually causes BPD? As with other mental illnesses, there is no simple answer, but it is understood that both nature and nurture have a role to play. Naturally, some children are born more sensitive than others and find it harder to deal with their emotions. If parents are able to meet their kids’ emotional needs, a child is more likely to develop a healthy emotional skill set. However, if a child is exposed to an environment that is unable to meet their needs, they might never learn these coping skills. People who develop BPD tend to be born as naturally sensitive kids into an environment that isn’t catered to nurture this sensitivity. People with BPD often grew up in environments that they experienced as invalidating. Invalidation happens when someone’s feelings or thoughts are ignored, ridiculed, dismissed, or judged by those around them. For example, teasing a child for crying, punishing a child for expressing anger, or telling a child that their feelings are silly or wrong or untrue. This invalidation can be especially damaging to children who are already sensitive, and when it happens a lot and over a long time, it can start having lasting impacts. The child might start to internalise the message that their thoughts and feelings are wrong, unimportant or unworthy of attention. They must try to shut their feelings down, judge themselves, and invalidate their experiences just like everyone around them has. As a result, they might never learn how to trust and manage their emotions appropriately – which leads to frequent emotional dysregulation. And it is this emotional dysregulation that underlies many of the difficulties seen in BPD.

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I’m now going to talk a bit about how BPD manifests. I personally find it helpful to split the symptoms into the surface ones vs the more hidden ones. This is because BPD is often associated with certain behaviours, such as self-harm, suicide and impulsivity, in the media, health care settings and in society. Society focuses on the external because it is easier to make sense of the things you can see, especially with something complex like mental illness. However because of this, these surface symptoms often become the face of BPD – and are what create a lot of the negative stigma that can be hard to shift. This is especially sad as people with BPD often feel massively misunderstood, and I admit it feels near impossible to explain what living with BPD is really like on the inside. My hope is that through talking to you about some of the more hidden aspects, I can make the invisible more visible – and help others understand.
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First I’m going to briefly address self harm though as it is one of the behavioural symptoms most frequently associated with BPD. Self harm can take a number of forms which I have outlined on this slide. Although self harm might be hard to understand from the outside, for people who struggle with it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Most people who self harm do so because they have no other coping mechanisms available to them. Maybe they were never taught how to deal with their emotions healthily or maybe their pain is so overwhelming that they see no other option. There are a lot of reasons why people self harm, but ultimately it is a dysfunctional coping mechanism for dealing with overwhelming emotional pain or distress.

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Personally, I have self harmed in an attempt to make things I’ve been experiencing inside into something more visible and tangible – in an attempt to make sense of a pain that often cannot be put into words. I have self harmed as a form of punishment. I have self harmed to try and purge myself of feelings that have been too unbearable to contain. I have self harmed to release feelings of anger that were not safe to express externally, and I have self harmed to suppress or appease intrusive thoughts I might be experiencing. There have been times when I have self harmed in an attempt to make myself feel alive, when I have been feeling particularly dissociated – which is something I will cover a little more later. Unfortunately for a long time self harm was a big crutch for me. When I didn’t know how else to manage, self harm seemed like the only way I could temporarily alleviate the pain. Now, I am more in control of these urges than I used to be.

However, not actively self harming does not mean I am cured of BPD. In fact, not using self harm as a crutch is challenging in itself – not just because there is no release for the pain in the way there used to be, but because without the physical ‘proof’ of this pain, people often start to take you less seriously. For example, a few years ago I had an assessment with a personality disorder team in which I expressed my desperate need for help. However, I was told by the psychiatrist that because I had not self-harmed for a whole month, I must be doing really well and he did not think their team could help me. I am pretty sure that if I had gone in with fresh wounds and stitches all over my body, I would have been taken more seriously, and given the support I needed. Instead, his response reiterated to me that using my words to express how I felt inside was not good enough. It backed up all the beliefs I have about my feelings not being important to anyone or worthy of support. A few days later, inevitably, I ended up relapsing; a communication of my pain, both to myself and the outside world.

I just want to highlight that for me, at the time, none of this was a conscious process. I have never planned the process of self harming in a reasonable state of mind with the awareness of what I am doing. In the actual moment, the urge to self harm is so high that it doesn’t feel like a choice, it feels like an instinct and a compulsion and the only way to survive. Fortunately, through my treatment, these behaviours have become more of a choice for me. Now, the parts of BPD that I struggle with the most remain invisible to the outside world. I am going to try and address these difficulties now.

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Like I said earlier, BPD is essentially a disorder of emotional regulation. This means that we can find it hard to control how we react emotionally to situations and can swing from one extreme state to another in very short periods of time. We can be managing fine one moment, but then in a total crisis the next, swinging multiple times in a single day. For some people with BPD these swings might be obvious from the outside, but for others we might try and hide them from the world, so you wouldn’t necessarily be aware of how controlled by our emotions we feel. It is not uncommon for me to experience feelings of both joy and suicidality at different times on the same day, just hours apart – and for no one around me to have any idea. As you can imagine, this is pretty discombobulating. BPD is pretty much a never-ending emotional roller coaster that you can never really get off and never know what’s coming next.

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However, it is not just our moods but also our relationships and perception of others that can be pretty unstable. People with BPD are very all or nothing in the way that we think. We think in black and white terms, and struggle to live in the grey. This means that we often see the world, including people, as one extreme or another. It is hard to integrate both the good and the bad into one at the same time and to hold all sides of a person or situation in mind. This means that small shifts in a relationship can feel very distressing and throw the entire relationship off balance. We might fluctuate from loving someone and wanting to be around them 24/7 one minute, to hating them and never wanting to see them again the next. For me, these changes are usually triggered by feelings related to rejection. For example, if someone close to me shows me a gesture of love, I might see them as the most important person in the world, who I love with all my heart and could never live without. However, if the next moment the same person did something that left me feeling rejected, hurt or misunderstood, I might switch to feeling like they are the most terrible person on the entire planet who has wronged me so badly that I never want to see them again.

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Of course, it is natural to an extent to be scared of rejection and abandonment, but with BPD this really takes on another quality. When these feelings are triggered, it can spiral us into a state of paranoia and anger, mistrust and distress, and even suicidality. Sometimes the feeling of rejection might in no way fit the reality of the situation, but even the possibility that someone might be leaving in some way can send us into a spin. These feelings can even triggered by everyday experiences that from the outside may seem menial. For example, someone cancelling an arrangement last minute or not replying to a text message can set off a complete meltdown. For someone without these difficulties, they might be able to rationalise that their friend is stressed out, forgetful, or sick, or accidentally messed up their dates – and look at the situation as a whole before moving on from it. For someone like me however, I might start to believe that my friend has ulterior motives, that she is trying to provoke a reaction in me, that she clearly doesn’t care about me, that I mean nothing to her, that I am boring, annoying, a handful, that she is choosing her boyfriend over me, that I am unworthy of having friends and that no one loves me anyway, that I am worthless and that I might as well kill myself. You can see how this irrational thinking quickly spirals out of control, and how overwhelming even small interactions or situations can become.
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The constant rejection sensitivity that we experience invariably leads to huge paranoia and hypervigilance within relationships. I often question what is real in relationships and what is in my head, as I know I have a tendency to read into situations too much. I might read over the same email fifty times convinced that my lecturer is having a dig at me. I might continually check someone’s ‘last online’ status to try and work out if they are avoiding me. I might seek constant reassurance from those close to me that I have not done something wrong convinced that they are angry with me. We look for clues everywhere and often create evidence that doesn’t even exist. Very often, the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not can become overwhelming. It takes a lot of mental energy trying to filter out what is what in every single interaction, and sometimes it gets a bit too much. This is also something that absolutely feeds my anxiety.

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Sometimes when things get too much, I might start to shut down. This is not a conscious decision or process, but an automatic coping mechanism called dissociation. Dissociation is basically a state of disconnection from reality that many people with BPD struggle with. It is the brain’s way of saying ‘Okay, we are outside of what we can tolerate right now, reality is too much to manage, so we are going to check out for a while, cya’. It is hard to describe what dissociation feels like, but it’s sort of like being drugged with sedatives. It can either make you feel disconnected from yourself, or from the world around you, or both. It can make me feel like I am a robot or a ghost going through the motions, not really living, or like I am in a dream. It can feel like there is a fog shrouding everything around me, or an invisible shield blocking me off from the world. Sometimes things around me become trippy and hard to make sense of. It can make my senses go out of focus, especially my vision which often becomes blurry and distorted. It can make my body feel like it’s not my own or like my brain and body aren’t in sync. Sometimes time or distance feel shrunken or stretched, and it might even become hard to recognise myself or the people or places around me. The intensity of this feelings varies a lot, but are usually worse during times of greater stress or if triggered by distressing situations from the past.

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Somewhat related to this state of disconnection, is a feeling of emptiness that many people with BPD struggle with. This feeling is not just a typical emptiness, but the type of emptiness that goes on for ever and that nothing seems to ever fill. This emptiness can make me feel like I don’t exist or am nothing but an empty shell. It can also feel like I lack substance and even an identity. People with BPD often struggle with holding onto a clear idea of who we really are. I find it hard to know what I like or what my interests are, and I struggle to make decisions because I rarely know what it is I want. A lot of the time I look to others to confirm things about myself, because I find it hard to trust my own mind. As a result of this fragmented sense of self, I often feel like a fake person. I end up moulding myself, changing and adapting like a chameleon to the people and situations around me. Sometimes it feels like I am a different person in every situation, with no string of ‘me’ connecting all of those experiences together.

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With BPD, it can be hard to hold onto anything other than what feels real right now. When you are in one state of mind, it is almost impossible to consider that any other states of mind exist. When your mood drops, you can’t remember ever being happy. It’s seriously impossible, you can’t even imagine what happiness feels like. Even if you know in the back of your mind that it will pass, at that moment it feels like it will never end, like you’re stuck in that hopeless pit of darkness forever. And then the irony is that during the easier moments, when I feel okay again, I question my disorder entirely and convince myself I am ‘cured’. I stand here right now appearing perfectly functional (well, I hope). But if you had seen me yesterday, struggling to get out bed at 2 in the afternoon, agonising over a relationship difficulty with a friend, sinking into a cycle of self-destructive thoughts, you would have seen a very different version of me to who you see right now.

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I also think it’s important to point out that despite the internal chaos of BPD, many people with BPD are actually very good at hiding their distress from those around them. These individuals are often able to hold down careers, studies and other commitments, despite how much they are struggling inside. This might seem like a positive thing because it means that we are able to build lives for ourselves, and make it appear as though we are functioning. However it can also be hugely challenging, as how we feel on the inside and how we present on the outside can become hugely mismatched. Or, people might see one side of us, and assume that is how we always are, which can make it hard to seek support during the times things are not going so smoothly. For me BPD often feels like a real paradox. On the one hand I try desperately to keep up a façade of functionality to the world which I am terrified will shatter. On the other hand, I really do need people in my life to know when I am struggling and to support me within that. It’s often hard to strike a balance between the two though and I usually end up presenting as totally competent, or at the other extreme, as a massive emotional wreck.

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I think that one of the scariest parts of having BPD is the speed and unpredictability of the shifts we experience, never knowing what to expect from one moment to the next, or being aware of my reactions but still unable to change them. The most frustrating thing for me is when I know on one level that I am reacting to a situation or twisting reality in a way that makes no sense. I can often feel myself slipping into paranoia, but I can’t seem to stop it. I can rationalise and intellectualise and know that my brain is lying to me, but that still does little to stop the emotional take over. Usually having this insight makes it even harder as I just end up overthinking everything to another level, which definitely exacerbates the paranoia! It’s exhausting trying to change the way you think and feel when the organ responsible for thinking and feeling is not functioning very well in the first place! Sometimes BPD basically just feels like your brain has totally turned against you.

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So like I said at the start, I also struggle with anxiety, and often there are big overlaps between my anxiety and BPD. Although not everyone with BPD has an anxiety disorder, about 75% do. This makes sense, because having BPD is like having a faulty smoke detector inside of you. The fire alarm goes off not just when the building is burning, but every time even a harmful gust of wind brushes past. The slightest touch can trigger a huge emotional response, and this also applies to situations that might induce fear. People with BPD tend to live in a state of high alert; the world doesn’t really feel like a safe place but instead is something to watch out for. We therefore have heightened stress responses, we have learnt to look out for the next thing to go wrong, and so experience even neutral stimuli as threatening. Studies have even shown that people with BPD have much higher levels of cortisol in our blood than the average person, and this is the case for people with anxiety disorders as well.

Also, because of the hypervigilance that we experience, and because of how much we struggle in relationships, anxiety in social situations is a frequent occurrence for people with BPD. The interpersonal difficulties I described earlier on, such as rapidly changing perceptions of others, constantly reading into interactions with those around us, easily become paranoid about others’ intentions, and often finding ourselves out of touch with reality, are all experiences that might contribute to and overlap with anxiety. This might not always be experienced physically for people, but for me I do get a lot of physical anxiety. For example, a situation in which I have felt rejected by someone close to me might spiral me into a state of such high physical anxiety that I have a full blown panic attack. Usually I experience a lot of anxiety off the back on interpersonal conflicts and this might last hours or even days or until the conflict has been resolved and my system can finally relax again.

I think ultimately whilst I do see my BPD and anxiety as two separate difficulties, they are absolutely connected and definitely overlap and contribute to one another. My BPD certainly makes my anxiety a lot worse.

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To finish off, there are a few myths about BPD that I would like to address. Firstly, people with BPD are often thought of as manipulative. The word manipulative has such negative connotations and puts people with BPD in a really bad light, making us look like we intend to cause harm. The fact is that we do what we can to survive out of desperation and sometimes our intentions can be misunderstood and perceived as manipulative – for example behaviours such as self-harm. The thing is that manipulation implies a conscious and intentional process that needs planning, but people with BPD are far too impulsive to think things through when our emotions are so high.

People with BPD are also often accused of being attention seeking. The thing is that needing attention is a basic human need that most people with BPD were denied of growing up. Unfortunately many of us therefore learnt to get attention or get our needs met in dysfunctional ways, for example through behaviours that might seem attention-seeking, instead of words. Again, these gestures highlight a feeling of desperation more than anything else. And the fact that people with BPD often feel the need to go to such lengths to be seen or taken seriously, including hurting ourselves, is an indication of how much emotional pain we are in. The other thing to realise is that whilst many people with BPD do crave attention in certain contexts, in other situations attention is actually something we massively shy away from.

I have also read sources that say people with BPD lack empathy. I think that this might be because when we are in the middle of a crisis we can get so caught up in our own pain that it becomes impossible to think about the other person’s side. However, more generally, the truth is that the many people I know with BPD, are some of the most empathetic and intuitive people I know. We are not only sensitive when it comes to ourselves, but we are sensitive towards others as well. In fact, a lot of people with BPD empathise so strongly with others that it becomes painful in itself!

Finally people with BPD don’t choose to be this way. There is absolutely nothing glamourous about having BPD; it is no ‘Girl, Interrupted’ movie. If it were a choice there would be none of us around, because having BPD feels pretty much like a living hell. The thing that I want to leave you with is this: We are just doing the best that we can to survive in a world that we don’t always feel equipped to be a part of. And although we can be challenging at times, we also have huge hearts and a lot of love to give. Thank you.

How Do I Manage Anxiety?

I haven’t been posting very much recently because I have an endless amount of deadlines and applications to get done. My anxiety has been through the roof and whether it is correlated with the stress of the above or not, I do not know. The way my anxiety manifests is almost 100% physical, so a lot of the time it is impossible to work out what is actually going on. Basically, it is not a cognitive tangible thing; it is a chronic state of physiological hyper-vigilance permanently trapped in the cells of my body.

People ask me how I cope with anxiety and I do not lie. I can tell you I do not “cope” with my anxiety – it totally consumes me! Imagine coming down with a virus and feeling so nauseous you can barely eat, so delicate you can barely get out of bed, and so dizzy you have to keep your eyes closed in order to stop the sea-sickness. I guess right now that is what my anxiety is doing to me.

My way of dealing with my anxiety unmedicated does not, unfortunately, involve getting rid of it. As much as I wish it could fuck off 24/7, willing anxiety away amounts to absolutely nothing. It is the same as saying “Hey I have a virus and it’s making me throw up my intestines twelve times a minute, but maybe if I wish it wasn’t this way, it won’t have to be any longer!” Nope… it doesn’t work like that. Not for me anywho.

The one thing I can do – and do do – however, is the one thing that enables me to continue having at least some semblance of a life to actually live. Very simply (although paradoxically the hardest thing in the world), despite the anxiety, I keep doing life.  

What I mean by this is that no matter how overwhelming the symptoms, no matter how sick nor tense nor shaky I feel, I do not let it dictate my actions 100% of the time. Despite the anxiety, I get up and do exactly what I would do if I didn’t have the disorder. I go to uni, I see people (sometimes!), I get public transport, I make phonecalls to companies, I keep appointments, I force myself to eat, I make conversations, I attend courses. I pretend to be fully functional in order to maximise my functionality. Even when I feel like I am dying internally, I act “as if”. I plough on. I work on my long term goals. I refuse to let the anxiety destroy my present and future aspirations.

To try and understand how much effort this takes, it would probably be helpful to think back to the virus analogy. Continuing turning up to life when afflicted with this level of physical anxiety is akin to being wrecked with a hellish virus but having to act like it just does not exist. Shaking and sweating? Doesn’t matter! Throwing up, diarrhoea, or both at the same time? Oh well! Too nauseous to stand straight? Do it anyway! Heart rate so high you fear for your life? Keep on keeping on regardless!

That. Is. How. I. Roll. 

If I gave in and stopped rolling, I would come to a standstill. I would not just be tormented by the crippling reality of anxious symptoms, I would also lose all the things in my life that make it in any way worth living. Gosh, it would be so much easier to drug myself up and avoid life in order to dampen the anxiety by even a smidgen, but if I did that I would have little reason to keep doing life at all. When even the ‘safety behaviours’ fail to reduce the anxiety by a worthwhile amount, the options become pretty limited anyway. 

I can either: a) experience crippling anxiety and venture out into the world, get stuff done, help people, build mastery and keep fighting despite how fucking tough it is, or b) experience crippling anxiety and hide away from the world, feel like poop, get nothing done, let all my hopes shrivel into nothing, but remain pretty much just as anxious anyway. Neither option is ideal, but the former is what keeps me plodding – and makes my existence worthwhile.

Ask me how I manage with anxiety? The truth is I don’t manage it well at all. I suppose I just refuse to let it totally manage me.

Chronic Pain, Trying, Dissociating and Failing

I’m getting really upset because I’m trying so hard to help myself but my mental health difficulties keep getting in the way. I struggle with chronic pain and have recently had scans and tests which have highlighted a number of problems. Today I went to my first specialist physiotherapy appointment. I’m determined to reduce my pain without getting addicted to Tramadol again. 

However my anxiety was high and I felt dissociated throughout, so even though I tried my absolute hardest, I can barely remember what the physiotherapist asked me to do. I asked her to write everything she said down for me as I anticipated this happening. But now I am looking at this piece of paper as though her instructions are in another language – and I really have no clue what I’m supposed to be doing at all. 

I feel as though this isn’t going to work without someone (my mum) coming with me to my appointments. I need her for her brain because I can never recall what I’m supposed to be doing alone. 

Also, the fact that I am so out of touch with my body in the ways the physiotherapist wants me to be means that I cannot physically remember the postures or positions either. My body just shrinks back to its default. (E.g. How am I supposed to breathe normally if I don’t even know what “normal breathing” entails? I naturally hold my breathe, and I don’t even realise I’m doing it.)

I hate having to ask my Mum to come to all these appointments with me as I am 22 and it’s humiliating. But otherwise it’s like I lose my brain and am unable to retain any information and the entire session gets wasted. I don’t want to waste any time nor resources by getting the exercises wrong and messing up. I’m making such a fool of myself looking in this fucking mirror trying to get these exercises right without the faintest idea of what I am trying to achieve. 

I feel like crying because I’m trying so fucking hard with so many things but anxiety and dissociation keep getting in the way of me doing simple things to help myself (whether physically or mentally) get better. I feel utterly incapable of navigating life independently because there are just so many small things I am unable to do on my own. 

So here I am desperately googling images of “physiotherapy exercises against wall” to try and jog my memory, whilst I’m sat in a contorted mess of physical pain with tears of emotional pain streaming down my face.

Trying to fix my faulty brain and body by relying on my faulty brain and body is the most fucking upsetting and ironic thing right now.

Crisis Point

Yesterday morning I was really upset about something. I texted my therapist to say “I notice feeling a disproportionate amount of sadness about…”, which was purposefully very descriptive and “effective”, according to DBT guidelines. I wanted a response but honestly wasn’t expecting anything, as I know the message wasn’t for skills coaching specifically, but more for comfort. Anyway, a few hours later after not having signal for a while, I saw I had a voicemail from someone. I called voicemail and was surprised and touched to realise that it was a message from my therapist. She knew that I was having a hard time and why I was so upset, and had taken it upon herself to reach out to me and offer support. It was a really special caring message; she was validating my sadness and saying that she was thinking of me. I appreciated it so much I was tearing up. So I called her back and when her phone went to voicemail I left a message thanking her for everything profusely.

A few hours later I was at home, and I was struggling with the sadness still. I had been trying to soothe myself and let myself feel sad without it overwhelming me, but it had been getting bigger and bigger until it felt like it was taking me over entirely. I was crying on the floor and struggling to regulate myself but having a hard time doing so. I planned to watch something to distract but was even struggling to get off the floor or even stop the tears.

I called my therapist again and left another voicemail – this time saying that I was really struggling to not fall into my sadness, and that I was in a lot of pain and really needed to talk to her. At the end of the message I told her what skills I was committing to practice, starting with watching Masterchef. She didn’t reply for a couple of hours so I started having loads of worries. I find it hard to regulate myself when she doesn’t reply to me for a long time, and get into my head a lot of negative distortions. I was panicking quite a lot and digging myself further into a rut, barely able to distract myself or summon Wise Mind. I thought that because I hadn’t heard back, I must have done something wrong and that she was angry with me. I tried to rationalise but as usual, it wasn’t helping me. I felt guilty for sending the second voicemail and worried she was thinking that I was taking the liberty, especially after she had left me such a nice voicemail earlier in the day.

(She often says that when she offers me support or reinforcement I just end up wanting more and being ineffective in order to try achieve that, and I was scared she would think this was one of those times. However it genuinely wasn’t. I was feeling very dysregulated and whether she had left that voicemail or not I would still have reached out. I only reached out when it got to point I didn’t feel I could manage any longer after a few hours of trying to contain the situation myself. I was being effective as I was reaching out in order to take her advice. In the mean time I was trying to self soothe, check the facts, challenge the paranoia and validate my sadness.)

After about two or three hours of not hearing back from her (and me using distraction skills myself, but still not feeling calmer, in fact getting more agitated) I wrote her a text as I wanted to apologise in case I had done something wrong, and let her know that I wasn’t trying to take advantage of her support. I apologised for leaving the second voicemail and said I was worried that she may think I was “taking the piss”. I said I honestly wasn’t, but that I felt like I was “going to die” without her, because that’s how much pain I was in. I asked if we could talk because I was very distressed. I sent the message.

Ten minutes later I received a reply from her. In it, all that she said was that she regretted calling me earlier (when she left the voicemail) because it had encouraged my ineffective behaviour and judgments. She said that she wouldn’t do it again. That was it.

Literally as soon as I saw that message, I went into a complete state. I sent a long string of messages apologising profusely, trying to explain descriptively, asking for her help, expressing my current pain and distress and literally begging for her to call me. I explained without judgments what I had meant by “taking the piss” (i.e. I didn’t want her to think I was taking advantage and wanted her to know how much I appreciated her earlier voicemail) and explaining that I used the word “dying” to describe how I felt inside and how much pain I was in. I apologised for any misunderstanding and for being “ineffective” but made it clear that I hadn’t meant to be and that I was trying my hardest. I asked her to call me. She knew I was in a panic attack, you could hear it in my voice, tears and breathing.

The above messages were all a few minutes apart and were sent as my panic attack was progressively getting worse. I also called her during this time, 6 times, in utter desperation, and she wasn’t answering. Two of those times I left voicemails in which I was literally hyperventilating begging for help – expressing how I could no longer reply by text because my hands had gone numb and I couldn’t move, apologising profusely, expressing how willing I was to be effective, how I needed to talk to her and fix this situation because I thought it was a misunderstanding as I had been trying hard all day to be effective and how I needed her to call me back in order to help me calm down.

It hurt me so much that she had said I was being ineffective when I was trying so hard to be effective. I felt so broken that her text said she will never call me again like she did in the morning, due to my “ineffective” behaviour. I still don’t know what I did so wrong. I feel like I always try and do everything I can to be effective and not hurt others, but somehow always end up doing something wrong and making everyone hate me or feel negative towards me. I feel like I am walking on eggshells around her half the time; like if I say something a tiny bit wrong, she will completely turn on me. She didn’t seem able to mentalise that I was in a total crisis and therefore how I may receive her messages – and that what she said and did would obviously make me even more dysregulated. She knows me well enough, believe me.

She reminds me of my Mum when I was a kid. The smallest step out of line and suddenly I’m the worst person in the world and it’s all my fault. I don’t know how much of this is real or how much is based on that – but yesterday provoked an emotional flashback of sorts for sure.

Anyway, after my messages and calls I received a message from her listing some skills (which I was way beyond able to use, considering my current physical state) and reminding me about a commitment I made to not use skills coaching ineffectively. I still don’t know how it was ineffective of me as I have never needed skills coaching more than in that moment, and yet she refused to call me back. I feel as though by that point, it would have been more effective of her to call me and let go of her own reaction because I was at an all time low and unable to manage it alone. Whatever was going on for her, it definitely got in the way of her being effective with me. How she responded to me was exactly what set the entire panic attack off in the first place and she was only making it worse with each response (or lack of one).

So of course her last message was not what I needed, I was literally mid panic attack and couldn’t grasp reality let alone think about being effective. I couldn’t even breathe. I was unable to reply to her at that point anyway because I was on the floor and my hands were numb and in a paralysed contorted position so I couldn’t type. I could just about press my phone (every time I called her I put it on loudspeaker so the phone was with me on the floor and I didn’t have to hold it). I was literally sobbing my heart out, screaming crying, hyperventilating etc, but so desperate to get through to her and show her I was being fucking effective and willing. After I managed to slow my breathing down I called one last time and left a voicemail, breathing through it, slowly trying desperately to make myself clear, and said, very descriptively “Hi, this is the last time I am going to try and call you, I would really appreciate it if you could call me as I am extremely distressed and in need of help, I am willing to do anything to be effective”. Bear in mind this is MID panic attack. The worst one I’ve ever had.

She didn’t reply, she didn’t call me back. I ended up having the worst panic attack of my life. I had to call my mum which in itself was nearly physically impossible due to my hands being so numb. She was freaking out as she was about to get on the train with no signal, so she called my dad, who came over with my step-mum as quickly as they could bearing in mind that my Dad has broken his foot and can barely walk. By that point (no idea how many minutes later) I was lying stuck on the floor in the hallway, my hands were totally totally paralysed and contorted, my hands and feet were numb, my legs were shaking, I couldn’t open my eyes or see properly, I was sweating and apparently burning up despite the fact our house is freezing. Luckily they had a spare key.

My stepmum had to support me and prop me up as I couldn’t move, take my top off and hold about 6 ice packs over my body. The entire thing lasted over half an hour, I was probably shaking and numb for longer, and was the most humiliating thing in front of my Dad and stepmum. I work so hard to constantly hide my distress from my family but I had lost my grip on reality and that was no longer possible – especially considering the uncontrollable physical reaction I was having. My mum had said she wanted to call an ambulance but I told my Dad not to as I was so ashamed. He was freaking out with worry so called my therapist from his phone – she still didn’t answer. He texted her saying “Hi this is X, please help us, she is having a panic attack and cannot move her limbs at all, we don’t know what to do”. She didn’t reply, and still hasn’t.

I can’t express how upset, angry and broken I feel right now. I can’t believe she would do that to me. She left me at my lowest and most desperate point. And her rationale didn’t even make any sense, or if it did, she could have chosen a more appropriate moment to express it. I’m terrified this is going to affect everything, I don’t know how I will ever get over it and learnt to trust her again. Yet again. She won’t even talk to me to sort it or explain it in a way that will help me make sense of her actions until I next see her. I have to live with this shit until our next session and who knows what will happen after that. I don’t know what to do. I am surprised I made it to today as I honestly wanted to kill myself last night. I feel the most suicidal I have in months or longer.

My Medication Miracle

They pumped me full of chemicals and got me hooked on tens of pills:

S.S.R.I.s, the first I tried, Fluoxetine then Sertraline.
Antipsychs like Seroquel, Respiradone, Olanzapine.
S.N.R.I Venlafaxine, do not forget Duloxetine.
Pregabalin, Propanolol, their uses oh-so versatile.
And benzo faves Diazepam, Temazepam, Lorazepam.
The tricyclic Lofepramine, futile attempts with Clonidine.
Add Trazadone, Moclobomide – who knows how many more I tried.

But 18 months on, free of them all, and what a bloody miracle.

Social Anxiety and Shame at the Petrol Station (and Beyond)

The other day I had an awkward social interaction with an old family friend when I was filling up petrol. He is a few years younger than me and a very kind and friendly boy, but I was gutted when he recognised me and came over to say hello… 

It was the first time I had filled up the car and I was shaking with anxiety having driven there and being far out of my comfort zone already (I am an extremely anxious driver). I barely even knew how to open the sockets or use the petrol pumps and even though I’m not a total idiot, my brain was completely blank. It is incredibly frustrating but this is what happens when my system is overloaded with anxiety: it shuts down.

Anyway, the family friend saw me struggling to put the pump back into the holder, making a complete fool of myself. I hadn’t even finished filling up petrol but I really struggle with multi-tasking and wanted to try and focus on the conversation with him, which is why I was attempting to replace the pump. I was shaking and felt so embarrassed and self-conscious. At the same time, my head was in the clouds. I tried to loosen the tension so joked to him about how it was my first time filling up the car and what a nervous driver I am. (Haha, hilarious….. Not.)

He was really sweet and we just made small talk but it was awkward and stilted and I have no idea what bullocks was coming out of my mouth. Because I was struggling to hold a coherent conversation, he misunderstood some parts of what I was saying – which made it even more awkward as we got into such a muddle. (He thought I had said my grandma was unwell, when what I had been trying to say was that I was going to hers for dinner that night!)

Anyway… That evening my mum by chance went to a dinner party that the family of this boy (and the boy) were at. I had told her about the situation earlier and my social anxiety and shame. She decided to speak to the boy and “justify” my behaviour. She told me that she apologised to him on my behalf, saying –

“My daughter said she saw you at the petrol station and was really awkward. I’m really sorry – she struggles on some days you know… She said she was really out of it and felt really embarrassed because she was hardly able to hold the conversation. She’s a really nervous driver and it was her first time filling up, and she struggles with multi-tasking, so it wasn’t personal. She was worried you would think she was being weird and she feels really embarrassed”, etc…

I was pretty taken aback by the level of detail my mum had gone into, and do not really understand her motives. Maybe she was trying to help me, maybe she is ashamed of me, I don’t know. But I don’t think what she shared with the boy was helpful in any regard, considering he isn’t someone I would ever want to share the details of my inner life (and struggles) with. I barely even know him.

I feel like there were a lot of judgements in what she said and also that she made me out to be someone who is unwell, socially inept, flawed, a freak, etc – like people need to treat me differently because I’m “mentally ill”. I do not think that is helpful at all for my identity and how a) I see myself and b) how others see me. I feel even more ashamed and like the boy probably sees me as a struggling weak pathetic person because of it, who’s behaviour needs to be justified through the “mentally ill” card.

I don’t know if I am upset, angry or relieved (because yes, I do feel the need to justify my “atypical” behaviour when I come across like how I did in that interaction with him). All I know is that it has the total opposite effect of helping me to build mastery when my mum says things like that, especially because I am trying hard to move away from that sort of thinking. I am very ashamed. 

Also, I feel like I “should” be angry with my mum but honestly, I don’t really have enough self-respect to fully care enough about the whole thing?

Interpersonal Paranoia is On Me

The thoughts the thoughts the thoughts; they will not stop – I cannot escape them.

Everyone hates me, I have no friends, I have no one, I have messed up again, everything I do is wrong, I am evil, the universe is out to get me, I am trying so hard but it is backfiring, I am a burden, I am exhausting, my friends cannot deal with me, they don’t want me in their life, I should die, I cause more harm than good, is this all a test? Is this real or am I imagining things again? X is angry with me, X is not replying on purpose, X knows it will impact me, X wants me to suffer, X is choosing them over me, X prefers them, X hates me, everyone hates me, they are doing this on purpose, this is all about me, the world is out to get me, this is all a set up, they know, they think I’m insane, I am insane, I am delusional, I am losing my mind. I need to die.
And on and on and on.

Worry thoughts, black and white thoughts, catastrophic thoughts, magnifying, jumping to conclusions, judgments. Or are they? It feels so real and grounded in evidence. I don’t even know any more. 

Checking the facts doesn’t work because I don’t know what is real and what is not.

I just know that this is no way to live and I cannot do relationships like this any more. I really, really need help with this.

The Struggle Is Real

I am feeling a lot of sadness and shame, anger and fear. Loneliness. I am having hopeless thoughts and catastrophising thoughts and judgements and worry thoughts and all-or-nothing thoughts. My head is very busy. 

I am struggling with friendships and social anxiety and finding the willingness and courage to venture out into the unknown and meet new people. I feel alone but my anxiety is preventing me from taking any meaningful action in the right direction to combat this. 

I am struggling with self care; with changing my clothes, wearing a bra, drinking enough water, eating healthily, putting on make up so I feel a little more confident and able to look people in the eye. 

I am struggling with getting out of bed at a decent time, and even when I do I somehow manage to end up in the foetal position on the sofa for hours a time.

I am struggling to concentrate and be productive; even when I get out of the house to the library, my brain just isn’t in the right place. Yesterday I spent over 4 hours in the library. I wrote down the title and 2 sentences. The rest of the time I was picking at myself, staring into space, thinking about nothing and everything at the same time.

I am struggling with food for the first time in ages. I have been feeling compulsive and out of control with food much more than I usually do. When food wobbles, everything wobbles. I have to keep an eye on that.

I am struggling to balance my emotions with all the other demands I have – specifically uni and all the assignments I am currently finding impossible to get done, amongst some difficult family stresses I have had going on. 

I am struggling with friends who let me down in various ways: invalidating me, not responding to me, cancelling on me. I feel like it must be for a reason – I really must be very flawed indeed. 

I think I am still feeling triggered after my therapy session last Tuesday when we spoke about trauma and I disclosed things I never had before after I was triggered the day before. I have felt unsettled ever since. I feel somewhat not here, like I haven’t quite come back to the present. 

I have cried so much today. Even when I started feeling more okay, the tears physically would not stop. 

Values and Long Term Goals

There is a DBT worksheet on values which we went through in group today. It reminded me of some of the things I truly value in life which I haven’t been attending to very kindly for a while.

The value I am struggling to generate action for is with regards to relationships; to creating new ones, maintaining old ones and ridding my life of unhealthy ones. 

I really value having people in my life and need the connections I do have with the people close to me very much. However, I struggle with “normal” healthy typical friendships and a lot of the friends I do have I’ve met solely through mental-health-related means and sometimes this is what the relationship centres on.

There are many pros of this of course and I care about these people hugely, but I also recognise the importance in generating other types of connections in my life. For example, so that I can extend my identity to one beyond the disorder (BPD) I let define me. 

I outlined 3 goals in group which I would like to work on:

  • Rekindling old friendships with those I’ve faded from over the years
  • Create new meaningful connections via non-mental-health-related means
  • Get a boyfriend 

As for the first, I am in the process of arranging a reunion with my primary school friendship group of 6 girls. It will hopefully be at some point over the Easter break and at least for a few hours. In the meantime I have texted 2 of them in an attempt to get the ball rolling, and the other night met up with one of them for the first times in months for just over an hour.

As for the second, I have been looking on meetup.com for social events I can go to where I can meet new people. My social anxiety is getting in the way of translating these intentions into actions, however a friend from my DBT group said she would like to do the same, so we are going to try and find an event we can go to together. I also plan to join more societies next year at university and stop saying no to event invitations. 

The third bit about the boyfriend is a bit of a joke. It is also not a joke but I shall leave this one for now! (I am massively avoidant with this kind of stuff)

It can be very hard to know that despite the fact that meaningful connections are one of the most important things to me in life, they are also something I struggle with immensely. It is a bit of a paradox because the thing I crave and need the most, is also something I fear massively and want to avoid and hide from for ever. 

I just have to keep reminding myself that the longer I put off the little steps, the no closer I am to my long term goals, and the more time I am losing to proscrastinating.

It is so much easier to spend my time staying in, studying, babysitting, communicating via social media or sticking to the few face to face interactions I have in my life. But in an attempt to create this life worth living for myself, I have to start pushing myself to inch slowly beyond my comfort zone.

Family

I love my family but there is no justification for what is going on in this house right now.

My mum is away and I have been ordered to stay at my Dad’s so that I am not alone, but it is not helping me in the slightest. If anything it is making me worse. 

Everyone is arguing, one sister is screaming the house down, the neighbours are complaining, everyone is on edge, my other sister is being yelled at simply for existing because the parents are so stressed out, I have taken up smoking again and am hiding in my bedroom trying to breathe and block out the noise from downstairs, unable to get hold of my therapist, not coping with this atmosphere at all.

I am 100% safer being alone at my mum’s house than being here in this toxic environment right now. But I am stuck here with nowhere to go because if I leave, my dad will assume the worst and have yet another thing to cause him worry. And I am tired of being the cause of people’s worry. Especially when I know what’s best for me, and when that isn’t in line with what they believe. I just want to disappear. 

I feel so trapped. I don’t have a home. I need a secure base, somewhere I feel safe. I just need out, but there is no where for me to go.

My University Experience of Support around my Mental Illness

I have heard a lot of horror stories from people struggling with their mental health regarding how they have been treated (appallingly) by their universities when struggling. Living with BPD and aware of all the stigma around it, I expected that my experience of this would mirror those common stories of others.

However, I have been lucky enough to have an entirely different experience of mental health support at university to so many people I know. Numerous members of staff at both my current and previous universities have been so generous with their time, support and compassion throughout all my difficulties. It is so important and yet so often not something that people receive.

I have been struggling with dissociation recently and when in a dissociative state at university, it becomes near impossible to function. A number of my tutors have asked me if I am okay, because the disparity between how I have been recently compared to how I can be when present, enthusiastic and keen, is huge. This week (and I know it’s only Tuesday), I have been conversing with three lecturers separately about their current concerns, and my current needs.

I would like to share some of their email responses here. We hear so much about the negative side of mental health treatment, but rarely do we hear about it when it is experienced positively.

Here are a couple of extracts I have received from the staff members who are supporting me at university, who are genuinely helping make things a little more manageable for me:

“These things take time. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help support you further.”

“Thanks for sending this over, it’s given me a bit of a better idea of what you must be going through.” 

“No need to thank me for the chat, I’m pleased we spoke.”

“Please don’t feel embarrassed, I completely understand that people go through difficult times and our conversation will go no further, unless you want it to.”

“If there are any small changes that we can make to support you then please do let us know.”

I feel very appreciative and validated, and it really makes a difference during the difficult moments.

 

Triggered at University and Unsure How to Proceed

I need some guidance around a situation at uni which negatively impacted my mental state in an extreme way, and am hopeful someone here may be able to help me…:

On Thursday I had a horrible experience at university in one of my classes. Our lecture on memory was about to start, and the lecturer was just introducing herself to us. Suddenly, a male professor burst into the room and starting yelling at us all to get out.

He said that he had booked the room and that the university had messed up. He swore and shouted and ranted about how the organisation is a mess and that he didn’t have time for this bullshit. And on and on and on. His manner was aggressive and threatening, and his last words along the lines of “If you’re still here by the time I come back you are all going to seriously regret it”.

I was absolutely petrified. It may seem ridiculous, but considering things that have happened in my life, it makes sense, and I am trying to validate that. Situations such as this are a massive trigger to me. It was such a shock to my system. I immediately went into a trauma state and felt incredibly unsafe and paralysed within myself.

The fact that he had entered through a door which was out of my sight and was standing directly behind made it all so much worse. As I was so taken aback and in shock, I couldn’t even turn around to see his face because I felt too stuck to move.

The instant physical trauma reaction was totally out of my control. My face flushed bright red as the girl next to me starting asking if I was okay. My heart was racing. I felt whoozy. I was overheating. I was shaking and sweating. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was stuck. I really was not okay. Continue reading

Au Revoir Anxiety?

It’s not Goodbye because I know it will be back, however “See you soon” is better than anything I could have hoped for, for now.

This time last week I was panic-attacking all over the place. I had been consistently waking up with heart palpitations and such intense physical anxiety. I had been having between one and three panic attacks on average a day, and it was debilitating. The physical anxiety was taking over my life.

But since Saturday my physical anxiety has fallen substantially. I have no idea what I have done differently or what the change has been because of. I am trying not to analyse but it’s hard because of the unpredictably of it all, and the fear of its return. It’s baffling, actually. The difference has been hugely noticeable – and beyond confusing!

So I am trying to be really mindful of this relative peace and freedom from the panic, and not judge it – even with the positive judgements like “THIS IS AMAZING”. It’s just been a long time since my anxiety had been a 1 or 2 out of 5, instead of a 4 or above.

The fact is that I have a strong preference for the former. And that I am grateful and relieved being in this state, as it is right now.

That’s pretty descriptive, right? 👌

Drowning in Jealousy 

I am so incredibly jealous of somebody right now and it’s making my insides hurt. It’s been going on for a few weeks but every now and then something new involving the person happens – triggering an intense burst of emotion which quickly becomes overwhelming. It’s making me want to cut myself, or act out in some self-destructive way. 

I feel so on edge and dysregulated each time I am exposed to or reminded of them. But the fucked up thing is that I am actually making the situation so much worse for myself by putting myself in a position of awareness, hence triggered to feel the subsequent hurt. I could so easily withdraw and put some healthy personal “bottom-lines” in place so that I am sheltered from the person, but for some reason I just can’t.

Some sick part of me would rather expose myself to these triggers and feel the intense jealousy and emotion that I do; instead of choosing to not know anything at all and risk the ignorance and lack of control which that alternative brings with it.

My insides hurt with jealousy and anxiety, and I can’t even talk to my therapist about it because of what it entails. I don’t even think there is a solution – the “threat” feels so strong that I’m not capable or willing enough to use skills to deal with this situation alone – and so I don’t know what to do. 

Riddled With Anxiety

I have spent the entire day feeling riddled with such physical anxiety that I want to scream or cry. 

Anxiety is the most absolutely debilitating, terrifying and frustrating thing ever. The way it manifests physically makes me feel so unable to control it that I reach my skills breakdown point and basically let it take over me. 

After trying all day long to manage it I really don’t know what else I can do but give in to it. Perhaps this is where Radical Acceptance comes in but I feel so resistant and unwilling: I DO NOT WANT TO FEEL THIS WAY, let alone accept that I am indeed feeling this way.

I have done TIPP including stair-running in the hotel, ice-diving (well, cold water), and paced breathing. I have tried MOCE and body-scanning but the interoception made it even more intense. I have listened to Headspace and other meditations and I have distracted using both ACCEPTS and IMPROVE. I have done Pros and Cons and fact-checking and all the other cognitively based skills but they haven’t even touched the sides; whilst I know that “it is not effective to go with the anxiety“, it does not feel like a choice and the physical discomfort just will not budge.

It is not that I am ‘going with the anxiety’, so much as it feels that the anxiety is going with me. I do not remember the last time I felt so chronically anxious for so long without a single moment of relief. And I am getting so incredibly annoyed with myself, reality the skills and my therapy, because I feel like nothing is working right now and it is all hopeless and dire... 

… But even in saying the above, I have to be ‘effective‘, and censor or block the judgements and worry thoughts and “fuck them off to the fuck-it factory“, or challenge them with counteracting statements. Every single moment is a moment I have to think about and no matter how hard I am trying there is always something more I could be doing better.

I have to fight so hard to not screw myself or my life up in ways neurotypicals take for granted. I can’t just live for a moment without being ruled by some kind of dysfunction and it can become really fucking exhausting. 

I know this is an ironically catastrophic and all-or-nothing (essentially ineffective) post, but I need to vent about the shittiness and struggle for what it is – and today, well, it has been pretty shitty.

Waking Up Anxious

Every morning I wake up and the first thing I notice is the thumping of my heart; the way it skips a beat every now and then; the pressure on my chest; and the need to gasp for air because I can’t get enough oxygen into my lungs. 

Every morning I wake up with these anxious heart palpitations and other symptoms and I’m starting to wonder if there is something legitimately physically wrong with me. I’ve looked up symptoms and talked to my therapist and I know the most likely cause is my generalised anxiety, but I can’t make sense of it because it happens even in the absence of an anxious mental state. I even had a ton of tests on my heart in Boston, when my heart rate would go as high as 130bpm solely because of anxiety, and apparently my heart is fine.

It feels so out of my control and manifests so physically, so I use breathing and other TIPP skills every morning to try regulate and calm my body, which takes about 10-20 minutes – or longer when I am mentally anxious or have had a nightmare, which can sometimes make it last hours or more. 

I had noticed until today that it was definitely less intense being on holiday in Florida, and also sharing a bedroom and a bed with my sisters (not being alone always helps). But then today I woke up and it was back as strong as ever again. It’s not like it is life-threatening but it is certainly unpleasant and scary. I’m so used to it – too used to it – but it’s been going on for months and years now on and off and I think I need to do something about it… although I’m not quite sure what because I really don’t want to go back on meds. 

Apologies Etc.

I am very sorry for my lack of posts; I have been drowning in assignments and commitments and I also have exams coming up in January.   

Tomorrow I’m going to Florida for 10 days with my family. I’ll be studying there and also trying to relax as much as poss.

Generally I’m going to try and post more often, but posts which are shorter and more raw and momentarily relevant. I have found a ton of old diary entries and I miss my old style of writing. Maybe I was more creative back then because of the level of emotional pain I was in. 

I’m just going to mix it up a little and not try and make every single post solely ‘recovery-orientated’. Writing without happy endings or DBT skills or conclusions, in a way which still portrays my experiences for what they are in a given moment, can still be just as (if not more) meaningful.

As for Florida, I’m scared to go away because I’m a control freak who thrives on consistency, and I find it tough not knowing what’s coming – even if that unknown is likely to be positive.  

Also I’m not scared of flying specifically but I do have this irrational fear that my whole family (this holiday it’s family on my Dad’s side) will die whilst travelling; and that my Mum will be left alone in London without us.

As my therapist often says, these thoughts can “fuck off to the fuck it factory”, thank you very much. 

Holidays can be a tricky time but this doesn’t mean they always are. I hate that I always assume the worst, because chances are that it will actually be highly enjoyable. 

I’ve realised that my mind often thinks along the lines of “it’s better to be safe (assume and prepare for the worst) than sorry (assume and prepare for the best)”. 

Imagine if we went around life assuming the best possible scenario was always around the corner. Maybe they should make that into a DBT skill 👍