Don’t Call Me Lucky

The other evening my family were talking about the concept of luck. We were discussing my sister’s car accident that happened a few months ago, and my Mum was talking about how lucky my sister was to come away with only the relatively minor injuries that she sustained. 

I told them that I don’t believe it luck. Yes I am extremely grateful that my sister wasn’t more hurt in the accident. But I don’t put that down to “luck”. I believe in probability and coincidence. I believe in cause and effect. I am aware of the concept of privilege. But luck doesn’t come into any of that. 

Luck insinuates that neither we nor others can alter our circumstances for the better (or worse). It suggests that certain people get dealt bad cards by the universe for no reason other than because they are “unlucky”, even if a change in circumstances could have led to a very different outcome. 

It puts the responsibility onto the person who is either “lucky” or “unlucky”, when actually sometimes things happen because that is what all the events leading up to it determined would. Everything has a cause, nothing happens in a vacuum. People who have suffered multiple traumas haven’t suffered because they are “unlucky” as though it is some innate trait they possess, but because the world can be a very adverse place full of harmful people and circumstances.

Similarly, I don’t believe that my sister survived the car crash because she was lucky; she survived the car crash because a number of events came together that resulted in her surviving. Regardless of whether it could have been worse or better or different in any way, the distress and trauma she experienced as a result had a profound effect on her. Thats her reality, her truth, and what she has been left to deal with as a result.

One family member particularly disagreed and didn’t like what I was saying. Fair enough, we all have a right to our own opinion – and I can respect that. But then, unfortunately, the conversation took a horrible turn. They started arguing that if someone is sexually assaulted, but not raped, for example, then they should consider themselves “lucky”. Similarly, if someone is expecting twins, and one of the babies dies during childbirth, the mother is still “lucky” that at least one survived. 

This infuriated me!! Someone who experiences such a traumatising event should never be considered lucky nor forced to consider themselves as such! Calling a victim or a survivor lucky because it wasn’t “objectively worse” is exactly why I cannot stand the concept and use of the word “luck”. Neither of these situations should be associated with the word luck, ever!

Doing so completely invalidates the person’s experiences. It dismisses their distress and their pain and all the very real negative consequences of what they have been through. It puts the blame and responsibility onto the victim and what their response *should* be, instead of on the perpetrator or other external causes. 

“You’re lucky it wasn’t worse” is one of the most damaging things a survivor can be told. 

Guess what? There will always be someone who has it worse. Does that make everyone lucky it wasn’t worse for them, apart from the single person who’s at the top of the leaderboard? Fuck no! 

In my opinion, attributing an outcome to luck doesn’t add anything to the world. The concept of luck doesn’t need to exist for the world to keep spinning and people to keep smiling, crying, breathing and dying. We can be grateful and appreciative for what we have and we can be aware of our relevant privileges. That doesn’t mean we have to attribute all of that to luck. At the same time, we are allowed to feel pain as a consequence of the things we have been through. And we are allowed to do so without having to deny those experiences because we are “lucky they were not any worse”.

Good things happen to people. Bad things happen to people. Such is life. But please don’t tell people they’re lucky because you can’t accept their reality for what it is. 

I’m Still Alive

I apologise for the lack of posts. I appreciate people who have reached out to make sure I am safe. I am. 

I have just had a lot on and haven’t been writing as much as I used to. Much like with many things in my life and many people with BPD, I can be pretty “all or nothing”. So I either dedicate myself to things fully, or not at all. Unfortunately over the last few months this blog has become more neglected than nurtured. Whoops.

I am also struggling with pretty severe dissociation which makes it especially hard to think and write coherently. I am balancing a lot and trying to build a life for myself outside of the internet which is exhausting and consuming at times. I actually can’t think what to write so I’m just putting this post out there to let my readers know I’m alive, even if I don’t feel it inside.

Take care and I hope to check in soon properly 🙂

Finding My Inner Culinary Artist

Cooking has been something I have struggled to do for multiple reasons. It involves multi-tasking, keeping track of the time, spending money on oneself, associating with food, effort, sharing a (possibly failed) creation and can be time consuming – all things I can struggle with in some way. It is a form of self-care and self-care is not something that comes easily to me, especially when feeling underserving, self-hating or just plain lacking motivation.

But recently, I have been purposefully cooking meals for my family or friends as a way to get creative with DBT skills. I have surprised myself by how tasty and successful each of the meals have been, and the feedback from others has been really motivating, especially because I’ve always been mocked for my inability to cook anything beyond pasta in the past! It has been a way of creating structure for myself, of being productive when going out the house might feel too much, of influencing other more positive emotions during times I am feeling flat, or low, or sad. 

They say that the feeling doesn’t come first – that the actions do – and I see how that holds true here. Feeling proud of myself is a rare victory, but over the last two weeks my culinary creations have made that a reality a number of times. Every time I’ve cooked, I’ve felt more positive at the end of the process than I did at the start. Something I used to find anxiety-provoking and stressful, I’m starting to find relaxing, rewarding and enjoyable.

And the cooking process involves so many DBT skills, especially when you add booming music to the atmosphere like I have been doing (we recently invested in a new and very exciting sound system), that my DBT diary card has many more ticks than usual!

It involves self-soothing through pretty much all senses, such as smell, sight, taste and touch (and the sound of the accompanying music). It involves being fully present and mindful of the cooking process – no phone, Internet or other distracting gadgets. It involves accumulating positives and building mastery as in ABC. It involves the ACCEPTS skills – activities that are positively distracting, contributing (by sharing meals with loved ones, which is a treat for them too) and sensations (as described above). It involves the E in PLEASE skills, by nourishing oneself by eating healthy and balanced food. 

I’ve now successfully made dishes ranging from cauliflower cheese, mushroom pepper and zaatar rissoto, to ratatouille, morrocon spiced fish and tzatziki, and veggie shepherd’s pie. 

So for anyone who needs a helpful distraction, mastery-building, sensory and creative skill, I suggest turning on some music, pouring yourself a glass of wine (if it’s effective!), and getting out a new recipe to try your hands at! 😊

EMDR Rant

I had EMDR yesterday and to cut a long story short, I struggled with it. I didn’t struggle in a painful way, as in I didn’t struggle with the content or emotions; I struggled with the process and my judgments about it.

In fact, I struggled to access any memories or emotions. Instead, my brain didn’t form any helpful associations. I felt nothing. I struggled with the lack of a struggle; the lack of the pain I was expecting to arise from the process. At points I found myself willing my brain to recall things – almost trying to forcefully draw memories to the surface – so that at least there would be something there. Anything. But this made me worried that I would interrupt the process by forcing things too much. So, that ended me up focusing too strongly on the starting memory, which meant I got stuck on it. As a result I had barely anything to say each time my therapist asked me what had “come up” after each round of bilateral stimulation. It was a lose lose situation.

Nothing was coming up. I couldn’t access any memories, images or emotions. Even when we chose a painful memory to start with, I couldn’t feel anything in that moment. I know I felt intensely at the time but none of those emotions came up when recalling it. I was trying to “make myself” feel what I “should be” feeling but I was totally cut off from it. To make it worse, the memory kept fading away and I couldn’t picture faces or play it like a video reel in my mind, which is what I was supposed to be doing. The more clarity I tried to visualise the scene in, the more patchy it became.

A very small number of changes happened but they all made me more frustrated. At one point, the image turned into a cartoon and the main character resembled a monster from a childhood book I used to read. At another point, I had an image of a rocket launching on a TV screen. Great. Lastly, I visualised a black screen with white words going across it saying one of the core beliefs my therapist told me to focus on. But no image, no memories, just bloody writing on a bloody screen.

Apparently these were just more clever ways that my brain has learnt to dissociate from my experiences. I told her she was reading too much into it. She pulled this funny face that she does.

I was getting frustrated with myself and convinced I was “doing EMDR wrong”. My therapist said that no one fails at EMDR, and there is no such thing as doing it wrong. But I wasn’t reassured. All I could think was “My childhood clearly isn’t traumatic enough for this to work. My brain isn’t processing because there is nothing to process. I am a fraud.”

My therapist said all the right things but the judgments came thick and fast and I was digging myself into a rut. I know that if I had memories to back up the things she is claiming and all the theory I know so well, it would make it a lot easier for me to accept the nature of my childhood “trauma”. But there is nothing. In fact, I have barely any memories with the person who hurt me the most before the age of 10 or so. I can think of 2.

My therapist says the memories are so few because I learnt to cut off at a young age. But cut off from what? I remember themes and phrases and what certain people were like generally but I don’t have the specific memories to match them. And so I convince myself that it must be because nothing happened; my childhood was fine; we are digging around in the dark for something that isn’t there.

After the session, I felt so self-hating and irritable that I wanted to hurt myself. (I didn’t). I had a ton of self-directed anger and self-disgust, for being such a failure, attention-seeker, fraud and all the other terrible things I am. Beating myself up because my life “should have been worse”. The voice in my head telling me “it’s your fault you’re like this”.

I spoke to my therapist on the phone later on because I was struggling with the above big time. Again, she said all the right things, but for every point she had, my brain had a counter-argument. We decided that in order to try and move forwards with this, I’m going to have to put my own judgments about myself to one side, and try internalise her perception of me as my own. Even if I don’t believe her (which I don’t), even if I don’t believe it (which I don’t), faking it to make it by talking to myself in the way she talks to me.

I hope EMDR is better next week. She said it’s common to feel this way at the start and that it can take a while to get used to. I’m obviously not convinced. But I hope she can prove me wrong.

One Of Those Nights

(To be sung through sniffles and tears to the tune of “Show me the way to go home”)

Show me the way to feel okay
I’m tired and I want to feel at peace
I had another breakdown about an hour ago
And it’s really fucking up my Chi

Wherever I may be
In my bed, on the floor, or in my dreams
Existential suffering is stalking me
And I’m tearing at the seams

Show me how to stop the tears
I’m hopeless and drowning in my fears
Not sure how much longer I can take this for
It’s been like this for years

Wherever I may be
It is never far away enough from me
I can always rely on my bloody BPD
To strip me of all my sanity

‘Felt-Sense’ Nightmares

Last night I dreamt the same nightmare about 8 times. Every time I would wake up in a panic, sweating and with my heart pounding. And every time I fell back to sleep, the nightmare would reoccur. My friend was staying over and I feel extremely safe with her, but even her presence couldn’t calm my unconscious!

I’m frustrated because I cannot remember the specifics of the dreams, even though I remember the feelings associated with them like crystal. This happens often; I may not remember the actual images so clearly, but the felt sense of the experience remain intact and often overwhelming viscerally.

Usually the physical sensations associated with my nightmares are ones of panic. Often there is also shame, self-disgust, sadness or jealousy. Last night however I only remember anger. Literally suffocating anger as I was short of breathe each time I awoke. Feeling anger in this way is not common for me at all which makes it even more bizarre. Why anger!? I have never had such a strong sense of anger either within a dream or upon waking. I wonder what it means and if it’s related to my EMDR session at all. I’m going to text my T.

If anyone else has experience of dreams that become nightmarish thanks to the physical sensations they evoke (and perhaps the tangible images of the dream get lost, like mine did last night), please tell me your experiences!

Skill of the Day: Facebook Basketball

I found a new DBT Distress Tolerance activity. It’s basketball on Facebook, believe it or not. 

I’m not usually one for online games or apps, but recently my friend introduced me to this one, and it’s been a real help. When I feel an influx of anxiety or become consumed with unhelpful thoughts, I take out my phone and go back to playing Facebook basketball. It really calms the anxiety as it is so preoccupying and addictive. 

My friend and I also get super competitive so it takes all my focus trying to beat her high score. It’s helpful having her engage in the game with me, too, without having to explain my intentions. Skill use is easier when someone else is involved, I find.

All you do is go onto a chat on Facebook and type in and send the basketball emoji that looks like this –> 🏀

Once it’s been sent, click on it and the game will begin.

My high score is 22. Try beating that, suckers!

Exposing My BPD at Uni!

A couple of weeks ago after a meeting with my personal tutor, I agreed to go public to my class about my experiences with mental illness (see this post here). Today was the day of my presentation and my anxiety was (understandably) sky high. For about 5 hours before the actual presentation, I was in a limbo state of near panic-attack versus trippy dissociative symptoms, and didn’t think I would be able to follow through.

I had planned ahead for this so had my cold water bottle with me, as well as cinnamon balls and chewing gum for grounding. I also made a list of words I was banned from saying to myself in my head (e.g. “I can’t do this!”) as well as a list of cheerleading statements that I tried to replace them with (e.g. “I’ve got this shit!”)

For the entire hour of the lecture before, I felt shaky and dizzy with nerves, my temperature kept fluctuating from boiling to freezing, and I couldn’t concentrate at all on the content. As the clock struck 3, our lecturer wrapped up her workshop and asked me if I was okay to go ahead with mine. I said, “No, but I’m gonna do it anyway”. There was no way I was going to let those hours of anxiety be wasted! I was determined!

Honestly, I don’t remember doing the presentation because I was so frikkin’ dissociated. But here is what I do remember: The presentation lasted 15-20 minutes, my anxiety after starting lasted 5. I barely used my notes, everyone’s eyes were on me the entire time, and apparently I spoke coherently and at the perfect speed. One lecturer called me a ‘budding psychologist’ and told me about her own family members’ struggles with mental illnesses, another lecturer said she wants me to do a presentation for staff in the future! We got an email sent around to us, which ended with “And another huge well done to X, for being so brave and doing her presentation for us today!” A number of peers asked questions or made comments, I received a handful of hugs, and one boy opened up about his friend who has BPD too – and said I really helped change his perspective on her situation.

I felt so fucking proud of myself – and I never ever feel proud of myself! It was hugely empowering. I am still in shock as I genuinely did not think I would be able to do it, due to the crippling anxiety beforehand. I feel so touched by the 3 lecturers and all my peers’ support, and honestly don’t think it could have gone any better. Everyone’s reactions gave me the boost of passion and energy I needed, and I feel determined to continue following this path and doing more advocacy work in the future.

I have actually been asked to speak at a conference next year, so watch this space, I’m on a roll!

Invisible Borderline

The highs are just as dysregulated and dysfunctional as the lows. The highs make the crashes hit even harder.

It’s so unpredictable, I can flip to the opposite extreme in a flash and have no idea what’s triggered it.

When I’m around people I think I am okay, because I have to be okay.

And despite the fact I hate acting, it turns out I am a fucking good actress.

Sometimes I even believe I am okay; I tell them how well I am doing and actually feel it for a moment.

But a short while later I’m back on the floor, unable to function – and all I want is for them to see this secret side of me, too. 

Sometimes I wish I could be as broken with other people as I am when I’m alone. 

Hello Again, Darkness

It’s back. 

The possessiveness of depression; the thick veil of darkness that seeps into every pore; the nothingness that seems to weigh on me like the world despite the paradox.

Therapy is hard at the moment. We are delving into unexplored corners, and I know the heaviness of these feelings is expected to a degree. 

But I have uni and work to attend, deadlines and reports to write, and people around me who I need to maintain a façade of functionality towards. 

My brain is taking me to dangerous places and my body is keeping me trapped inside of myself. My solution is to sleep to block out the noise, but these days even my dreams haunt me.  

Right now, in this moment, the passive suicidality is strong. I am not actively planning and I am not unsafe, but I feel as though if I fell asleep and never woke up, that wouldn’t be so bad.

I can’t really tell anyone how I feel because there is no one to tell (my therapist is trying to get me to be more self-sufficient between sessions) – and I have a pretence I need to keep up too.

Let’s hope the fog lifts when the morning comes. I’m never sure how long I can last in these states for.

Going Public with my Story at Uni

A few weeks ago during a meeting with some people from my course at university, two members of my group made a derogatory and upsetting comment about people with mental illness. This was not the first time I had heard people on my course speak in this way about mental illness – it was simply one of many. 

Yesterday I met with my personal tutor to discuss how I am doing. I updated her and told her about some difficulties I have been having with other people on my course, especially with their judgments and insensitivity. She told me that she had been thinking about me since I emailed her about my concerns, and that she had an idea and wanted to set me a challenge in order to address them. 

She said that despite my social anxiety, she has great faith in my ability to communicate openly and honestly to people on things I am passionate about. She always appreciates and learns from what I share with her and believes that I have a lot of insight into not just my own struggles but into life in general. She believes that I have a lot to offer and that through sharing some of my experiences at university, I could really help educate my course mates, which could help both them and myself. 

She set me the challenge of designing and presenting a talk, workshop or presentation to my peer group about what it is like living with mental illness. When she first told me her idea, I immediately shrank into myself and said there was absolutely no way I would even consider it. I told her I am too scared of having a panic attack, my face going red, sweating like a pig, dissociating in public, making a fool of myself, etc, that I couldn’t ever contemplate the possibility of such a thing. 

However, as the day went on I got thinking about it more and more. Despite the prospect of getting up in front of my class and talking about all things related to mental health being my absolute worst nightmare, it could also be an amazing opportunity and potentially really positive experience. (Wow, so dialectical, I know!)

I have always dreamed of being able to get up on stage and advocate for myself and others with mental health issues. I have seen so many people share their stories publicly in this way and have never been anything less than inspired and blown away by their bravery. I have always said to myself “I wish I could do that” and then brushed off even the possibility that maybe one day I could.

But now I have been offered the chance to expose my story to this group of people (who, believe me, are in great need of being educated about mental illness!), and a part of me knows that it is an opportunity I just have to take it up. (Okay fine there are only 20 of us, and I definitely won’t be on a stage, but hey ho, the intimacy of this option is anxiety-provoking in itself!)

I really want to dispel some of the myths these people hold about mental illness and the “crazy people” I have heard them mock. I want to help them realise the importance of sensitivity and compassion  – not judgment and ridiculing – for people struggling with mental illness like me every day. I want to teach them what validation is, and what things are helpful or damaging to say when someone is struggling with their mental health, or heck, just struggling in general. Most of all I want to help them understand that people with complex mental illnesses are not another species; we are not scary, we are not going to hurt you, we are not people you need to avoid. We are people just like everyone else, who are ill and need support without being made to feel ashamed. In fact some of us are the most sensitive and caring people you will ever come across.

I want them to ask questions and not be scared of me and I want to answer them honestly. I want them to know how bad I have been and how far I have come in many ways. I want them to know how hard it still is and what I have to face every single day. I want them to know how many people there are like me out there in the world, and how mental illnesses are nothing to be ashamed of. I want them to stop judging me and instead understand why I sometimes have extra provisions in place which previously have made them resentful. I want to help open their minds to consider that all is not what it seems, that everyone has their story, and you really cannot judge a book its cover. 

I’m shit scared, and have no idea how I am going to do this whatsoever. I just know that I am going to do it, whatever it bloody takes!

I want to finally be able to wear a t-shirt in class, to expose my self-harm scars with my peer group, and feel like I am accepted regardless. 

Dialectics in DBT

DBT stands for Dialectical Behavioural Therapy. But what does this name really mean? Many of us will understand conceptually what ‘behavioural therapies’ are. But what on Earth is a ‘dialectic’?!

A dialectic occurs when multiple things – which are seemingly incompatible or opposite to one another – can both exist and be true simultaneously. For example, it is possible to be both happy and sad at the same time; to love someone and hate them at the same time; to be both scared but also willing and brave to push through that fear, at the same time.

The core dialectic in DBT is that of ‘Acceptance’ versus ‘Change’. Much of DBT is centred around balancing these two concepts. DBT aims to validate and accept someone’s experiences as understandable, whilst at the same time flagging them up as potentially maladaptive and requiring change.

In many situations, dialectics can be especially difficult for people with BPD to wrap their heads around. Generally, people with BPD tend to perceive life in a very all-or-nothing way. This means that we usually get stuck at the extreme ends of emotions, thoughts or behaviours and find it hard to see any other possibilities. We find it so difficult to live in the grey because often we simply do not see that there even is a grey at all… So, the fact that a synthesis of many different and often contradictory actualities can exist at the same time is a hard concept to master.

For example, if I have gotten into an argument with a close friend, I may become blinded by the situation and start to see them in an entirely negative light. I may experience intense anger and hatred towards them and believe that they are truly very awful indeed. I may convince myself that they are the worst person in the world and that our relationship is over. I may think of all the times they have hurt me in the past and find all the most fitting evidence I can in order to confirm my current negative perception of them as true.
(See this post on Teleological Thinking, for more!).

Finding the dialectic within this situation would involve being able to acknowledge the distressing emotions I am going through and validating my experiences, whilst simultaneously being able to keep in mind the strength of the relationship and possibility that things can be resolved:

  • The ‘Acceptance’ side of the dialectic could look like this:
    I acknowledge that yes, I am feeling incredibly angry towards my friend right now as a result of their actions. They have behaved in a way that has upset me profoundly, and as a result I am hurting. I am struggling to trust that things will resolve between us and have the urge to end our relationship for good. I feel let down, betrayed, misunderstood, angered and saddened by the situation.
  • The ‘Change’ side of the dialectic could look like this:
    My friend and I go back a long way and have a very strong and caring relationship. My friend is generally very supportive, attentive and loving. I have valued them in my life for a long time. Regardless of what has happened, I still care about them, and they still care about me. Perhaps there is a possibility that we will be able to get through this and that our friendship can survive like it has done many times before. 

Being able to hold these two opposing truths in mind at the same time is what we are aiming to achieve. Dialectical thinking encourages us to slow down and be more mindful, remain descriptive and less judgmental, and widen our perspective on what we deem to be true.

The use of the word “and” can be especially helpful here. For example, saying “This is a really difficult situation, AND I can get through it” is a simple but effective way to cheer-lead oneself to get through life’s challenges, whilst simultaneously validating them.

Being Introduced to EMDR

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It is a type of therapy that was originally developed for the treatment of trauma, and is most known for its success at helping those with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) recover. It can also be used to treat other disorders including depression, anxiety, BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), C-PTSD (complex PTSD) and others.

(I found this link pretty helpful in trying to understand how EMDR actually works)

After months of talking about it in therapy, I am finally about to start EMDR with my (previously DBT) therapist. We have not started any of the reprocessing yet – that is still at least a few weeks away – but we are in the preparation stage, so I am getting a feel for how it works.

Firstly, she has explained to me how EMDR works and introduced me to some of the concepts. Whilst I have done a lot of research online into EMDR, I am finding it hard to completely grasp how it works before actually experiencing it for myself. Because I haven’t started the actual reprocessing yet, I am still unsure of what to expect. So far however, this is what I’ve got:

1) The set-up of the room is different to usual, which at first I found quite unnerving and will probably take a while to get used to. I have gotten comfortable with the familiarity of sitting with my therapist on opposite sides of a small room in big comfy armchairs. Pretty ‘typical’ for psychotherapy. During EMDR, however, we have to sit right next to each other – uncomfortably close – on chairs facing opposite directions, in the middle of the room. This is so that she can guide the reprocessing, which I will outline below:

2) Next, she explained and showed how she can conduct the reprocessing part of EMDR in one of three possible ways (I believe there are more out there). The first involves her ‘waving’ her hand or two fingers from side to side in front of my face, whilst I have to follow the movement of her hand with my eyes. The second involves me placing my hands on my knees, and her tapping on top of my hands with her own – one at a time, continually and in quick succession. The third involves me holding two ‘buzzers’ – which vibrate independently and consecutively, left right left right etc – one in each hand. Different people find the approaches effective to different degrees. So, closer to the time, and perhaps with some trial and error, we will see which one works best for me.

3) There is a big emphasis on finding a ‘safe place’ – an image in my head of somewhere I feel at peace in – to refer back to for visualisation at different points within the processing. This image has to be sensed on all levels, including and especially in my body. When we do the reprocessing, it is the felt sense of this image that we want to be transferred into my body, so that I can work towards freedom from the usual trauma-related body sensations that I carry with me.

4) Sessions are longer than typical psychotherapy sessions. They can be anything from 60-90 minutes. My therapists knows me well enough to believe that we will need the full 90. So the entire structure of my therapy is changing – and that in itself brings with it a fair amount of discomfort.

5) With single “big-T” traumas, EMDR can ‘work’ in as few as a couple of sessions. It sounds like a miracle cure really – some studies show as high as 98% reversal of all PTSD symptoms after 6 sessions, for example. However, for multiple-trauma PTSD, complex PTSD, relational trauma, prolonged “little-t” traumas and BPD and the like, it isn’t so clear-cut. Years worth of ingrained trauma will take hours to reprocess. It is going to be painful and it is going to bring up a whole lot of unresolved and hidden issues. I’m terrified.

6) Grounding grounding grounding. I have so much work to do on grounding. It turns out I most likely have a dissociative disorder as well as BPD, and this can really get in the way of EMDR. We use ice cubes in my sessions occasionally, which I find extremely helpful, and I have a ton of skills to practice in between my sessions to help with it.

I still feel far away from fully understanding this therapy, but I am hopeful about it. I have heard great things about EMDR and my therapist is exceptionally knowledgeable and experienced within the field. I have so much faith in her. So, even though I am terrified of the uncertain things in store for me in the near future of therapy, I trust that she will catch me if I fall.

I feel like DBT has saved my life from the outside in, but I am hopeful that EMDR is the therapy that maybe, just maybe, will provide me with the healing I need from the inside out. 

An Invisible Sea of Sadness

For days I’d just been pushing away and distracting. I had so many painful emotions I couldn’t deal with… they in turn turned into urges or thoughts about wanting to die and such… and then to cope with that, I distracted. So I never actually felt the pain of the emotions that had started the chain. 

I spent the entire time that I wasn’t self-destructing, trying not to self-destruct – and I did so by distracting. On Monday that meant that I spent the entire day distracting. I didn’t give myself a single second to actually feel anything, I was so scared of the power of the emotions and the urges I was having but trying not to let myself have. Finally I tried to go to sleep around 11. I was therefore not distracting from myself any longer, and suddenly, it hit me like a tsunami. 

It was as raw as anything I have ever felt. The biggest most painful amount of sadness took me over and I went from complete dissociation and not being able to cry to being unable to breathe through my tears. My breakdown was like a scene in a movie, it was so immense. The sadness was so massive that I literally was choked by it, gulping and flailing for air like a fish out of water. 

I felt absolutely terrifingly connected to the sadness. I was so taken over by it and it hit me so hard, it felt like I was dying. I wonder if it was that that had been trapped within me the whole time. Maybe it was the sadness that had been beneath my efforts to so urgently distract from myself. And yet I hadn’t even realised it, until it erupted out of me, because it had been tucked so deep inside, barricaded from my consciousness by fear. 

I think maybe that’s why when the tears finally subsided, and I woke up this morning (albeit emotionally hung-over, confused and disorientated), there was an element of relief and a shift within me.

When The Universe Conspires to Help You

A few months ago I came across a link to an eating disorders conference taking place near where I live. I got in touch with the organiser N and asked if she needed any help on the day as my friend and I were interested in volunteering. She was chuffed that I had emailed and took our offer on.

After a few email exchanges it became clear that we were both in similar positions; that neither of us are the scary, formal, older professionals we had assumed the other one of us to be, but that we are merely two young women recently out of formal services who want to make a difference. 

In fact, after looking at the website in more depth, I realised that N was actually an ex service-user of the hospital I myself was in when I attended CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) from the age of 13. The page also listed a few familiar names from that service who were planned to be speaking at the event.

This weekend was the weekend of the conference. My friend and I arrived at the venue, both giddy with nerves and excitement. We met the girl organising it, and clicked with her instantly. We shared memories of our favourite member of staff who was helping out at the conference, and bonded over old times we had experienced within that service. 

It turned out that N is the kind of person you feel like you have known for years despite it only having been a few minutes. I have never felt so inspired by or proud of someone I have only just met! And the event was truly amazing.

By the end of the conference I had met and spoken with some of the clinicians who treated me when my anorexia was at its worst, about 8 years ago. I was elated to hear that they still regularly talk about me, sharing my update letters in staff meetings and reminiscing about all the mayhem I got up to when I was under their care all those years ago. 

There were two clinicians I was particularly close to who I could not stop hugging and cracking jokes with. I felt like a small child lapping up their attention and love, desperate to make the most of my time with them – and to make that time as plentiful as possible. They both expressed such pride and warmth towards me; and I really felt their genuine glee at seeing me there as a much healthier, cheerier version of myself.

I also bumped into other ex-service users who I knew (either through friends or hospitals… once way or another) – talk about the small world of mental health service users and staff! 

After the conference the volunteers headed back to the organiser’s for some food and drinks. As the drinks were consumed and the stories shared between myself, my friend and N, a vast number of similarities and connections became apparent between us.

  • All 3 of us suffered with anorexia (and other things) and were under the same service. We all were inpatients in the same ward.
  • N was a patient in a specialist unit that my late cousin was also in, before she passed away.  
  • My friend and N both lost their mums to the same type of cancer, at around the same time. They both have 2 younger brothers. They are also both descended from the same region.
  • One girl there randomly knew my friend through her brother. (And other connections like this)
  • N lost a friend to suicide a few years ago…. the same girl who’s Mum went to parenting classes with my own Mum, before we were even born.

Last, but certainly not least, was the craziest connection of all –

  • We somehow got onto the topic of blogs. N realised that SHE KNEW ME FROM MY BLOG, and that she has followed it for months.

She started reminding me of things I had written which even I had forgotten about! I have never met someone in real life who is a fan/ reader of my blog, (and especially because I’m anonymous, the chances are more than slim!) She told me how much my blog has helped her, and how much she relates to my writing. She was treating me like a celebrity, whilst I remained in drunk hysterics and shock 👍

Overall the entire day felt profoundly meaningful in a way I cannot explain. The whole thing from start to end was inspiring, the speakers brave and interesting, the people loving, curious and open-minded, and the atmosphere one of connection and appreciation. Meeting N and the start of this new friendship was just the icing on the cake. 

Some things are just meant to be – and today I had the real and rare sense of many beautiful things coming together precisely as they were meant to.

Realisations 

It is my second last day in California, and whilst I am immensely grateful for all the wonderful moments I have experienced, the trip has not been without its challenges. As a result of the more difficult moments, I have come to a number of realisations:

  • Why I find it so difficult to make even the most menial decisions:

    Whenever one member of the family asks another for their opinion or preference about something, it is usually met with some form of negative and controlling response. For example, whether it is choosing a meal, an item in a shop, or something so insignificant as a song on the radio, it is never good enough for anyone. The same applies to both the most and least important of subjects. After being consistently asked what my preference is in certain situations, and then met with comments such as “but why would you choose that?”, “I think it would better if you did this instead” or even just looks of judgmental disdain or disapproval, it increasingly grates on me. Why ask me what my needs are if you don’t really care enough to listen to them anyway? I would rather remain passive, apathetic and indecisive than have a strong preference in any direction only to be chronically shut down, dismissed, shamed or disappointed by my family. This struggle has spread to other areas of my life; I am so wary of making any potentially imperfect decisions in a multitude of contexts – because I am so scared of people around me responding negatively – that I simply do not make decisions at all. It is so much easier to not care, to respond with a simple “I don’t mind, you choose”, and to not experience the consequence of my voice being constantly stamped over. Of course it is not ideal, but it is certainly preferable to me than getting all the controlling bullshit I get for saying something *wrong* every second sentence.

  • Why I have such a fragile and complicated relationship with anger:

    When I try and express my anger with certain family members, I get mocked, shamed and made out to be the bad guy. There are many situations in my family when I am the most calm and contained one (at least externally) so usually when I get angry, it is genuinely justified. However, when I express it, it gets shut down and invalidated, my feelings dismissed. As a child I was very angry, but being constantly ridiculed and even punished for showing it meant that over the years I learnt to internalise my anger more, and take it out on myself. This has continued to today. I find myself getting headaches, my chronic pain gets worse, physical anxiety goes up and I can’t think straight. There is no where for the anger to go because expressing it doesn’t go well, and I’m scared I will explode because of how much power it has. Therefore, often when I get angry, it is followed by a period of dissociation. I become so aroused, and so stuck in that arousal, that my system can only shut down in an attempt to deal with it all.

  • How my dissociation manifests amidst my family in further ways and why:

    The constant stressful, dismissive and controlling behaviours of family members easily overwhelm me. The more exposed I am to these experiences, the more painful it is. The more I care, the more it hurts. It is therefore easier to disappear, fade into the background, shut myself down, make myself small, take up less space, silence my voice and reduce the addition of more stress to the mix of everyone else’s shit. I do this by dissociating. If I’m not mentally present to the toxicity around me, then I can cope much better than when I am fully exposed to it. Even if there physically, by shutting off mentally, it provides me with one way of navigating the chaos. When dissociated, I remain unphased by what would usually cause huge distress. Instead of feeling constantly on edge, angry, anxious, unheard and a victim of negative energy as a result of the interactions around me, I can disconnect instead – and it is one way I survive the uncontrollable unpredictable people around me. Instead of being pushed and pulled around by what goes on with them, I become immune to my environment. Dissociating is my shield. It provides (the illusion of) invincibility. Without it I would not have been able to get through the 3 weeks without some form of externally destructive behaviours.

  • Why romantic relationships don’t come easily to me:

    The two parental figures on this holiday spent more time bickering and controlling, yelling and cursing, than they did positively relating to one another. The holiday was just a microcosm of what I have grown up with; I have never seen a healthy relationship between any of my parental figures, almost every conversation is an argument, there are no conflict resolution skills, no productive listening abilities, no understanding of validation. There is more hostility than overt love, more control than encouragement, more shaming than compassion. They are both so negative towards each other, and it feels damaging to be around constantly. I cannot imagine nor foresee myself ever knowing how to be in a healthy relationship. All my “relationships” so far have been toxic, and half the time I haven’t even realised. I have not seen nor been taught an example of how to be in a relationship that works, and as a result it is something I feel completely hopeless and clueless about for myself.

  • Instead of missing people, I pretend they don’t exist:

    When I was little I had to get used to the people closest to me not being around. I adapted by learning once again to dissociate from my feelings of sadness and loss, because as a kid it was too much to deal with in any other way. I went from missing certain people and depending on them, to being immune to the unpredictably of when they would and would not be around by simply *not caring*. Still to this day, I don’t tend to miss family or friends back home when I am or they are away. It puts me in an awkward position when they tell me they miss me and cannot wait to see me – as I don’t relate to that feeling, but also do not want to upset them! The only people I miss are the people I am attached to, e.g. my therapist. Aside from her, I feel like I could go for months without missing anyone. It’s ironic because even though I don’t miss them, I am not left without the deep loneliness. I haven’t seen my sister in months but I feel nothing? My best friend has moved country but after a single breakdown, I forced myself to become immune to that too. It is like I forget people exist, because then it doesn’t hurt when they’re not around or we are apart for long periods of time. I am always reminded of this when I go on holiday in how profound the disconnection I feel from “home” becomes, and in my inability to really feel emotionally connected to anyone I know intellectually I do have back there.

  • There are certain toxic people I really do not want nor need in my life; my self-respect is growing:

    Being away I have had limited interactions with friends over social media. The friends I did speak to showed interest and compassion in everything I shared – and vice versa – we shared only pleasant interactions. Then there are those who seem only to care about and get in touch based on their own needs. In the past I would have just let people walk all over me, stayed silent when affected by their behaviour or put their needs ahead of mine. But now, when confronted with those who don’t listen to my own needs or respect my boundaries, who have such high standards that no one will ever be able to live up to them, who are judgmental and invalidating of my experiences and feelings, and who I really do not miss nor feel the desire to contact whilst away, I feel no need to pander to them any longer. In fact, contact had been more of a bother than a pleasantry and I am happy because it has forced me to think about what I want. A sour interaction was the last straw for me and forced me to reconsider my values and needs. It enabled me to gain some perspective and practice some self-respect in terms of what I want from the relationship – or if I even want it at all. I am very much relieved. I don’t owe anyone anything, but I know what I owe myself.

Am I Still Suicidal in Recovery? – The Truth

Trigger Warning: suicidal ideation

Generally speaking, I am not actively suicidal in the ways I used to be. Nowadays, the amount of time that I am actually unsafe as a result of active suicidality is negligible; and I have not made an attempt on my life since before I went to America for treatment, almost two years ago. 

However, there is another type of suicidality – of a more hidden nature – that remains a struggle for me today, and which I am regularly having to battle. What I am referring to is termed “passive suicidality”

Unlike active suicidality, (which is accompanied by specific plans to act on the urges, meaning that people are in imminent danger of attempting to kill themselves), people who are passively suicidal experience the desire to die, but without the accompanying intention to make that an immediate reality. 

When passively suicidal, the exhausting rumination is still there, the thoughts easily border on obsessional, and sometimes they become so intrusive and persistent that they take over my entire brain. When passively suicidal, I feel suicidal, and yet it all stays inside of me and I doubt others would recognise it as such. I may feel unsafe within myself, but ultimately know that I am safe and that I won’t do anything. The difference is that there is enough control to stop myself from actually acting on the thoughts. Suicide remains a fantasy, rather than something I actually have a plan for.

The truth is that after many many years of feeling passively suicidal, it is so familiar to me that I never really bother to express it to anyone, nor do anything about it – it has become just one of many daily struggles I face in life and something I have somewhat learnt to navigate using DBT skills, distraction and a helluva lot of sleep.

This may seem like a positive thing most of the time, and could even be seen as progress. However, when the ideation gets especially intrusive, it takes me over in a whole other way. Recently, I have been struggling with passive suicidal ideation of a slightly different nature.

I have been wanting to be dead, but without having to actually kill myself. The current thoughts are along the lines of wishing a life-threatening illness upon myself, being ‘accidentally’ run over by a car or bus, or being a victim of a terrorist attack etc – and dying as a result. They become obsessional, and I even succumb to researching around and dedicating far too much headspace to a vast array of related scenarios and outcomes. I also spend hours ruminating and fantasising about my ‘accidental’ death, then imagining my funeral plans.

I start thinking this way when I am in emotional pain because I want the pain to end, but because I don’t want to have to take responsibility for the action of actually killing myself in order to achieve that actuality. If, however, I could die in a way that was totally beyond my control, then I would be free of my demons, surrounded by feelings of sympathy and love in death – and it would not be my fault. My family and friends could not get angry, I would not have disappointed anyone, and people would show me sympathy instead of judgment and frustration. 

My therapist reckons that I get so preoccupied with these thoughts that they serve as a coping mechanism; I can avoid all the pain – all the actual feelings – underlying it all. 

Living is really hard this week, especially when my brain is fantasising about the total opposite. Yes, I am safe and alive and there are things to live for and…. blah. But no, it doesn’t feel like a “life worth living” when I am being constantly bombarded with thoughts about dying, whether they are passive or not.

A Thrill-Seeking Phase

I’ve always been a bit of a reckless adrenaline junkie, but for many years I went about getting my hit in ways that were not very good for me. Recently, I have found new ways of seeking the thrills I crave. 

Firstly, I have been going to fairgrounds in London. I have gone on the most stomach-churning rides, egging myself on to achieve what I know most people I know would not dare to even try, pushing myself to the limit. It has been so much fun; I literally cannot stop smiling when I’m on the rides – and they are incredibly grounding too.

Secondly, I had a horror movie marathon with a close friend over the weekend. Every moment I was gripped in terror by each of the movies, I felt more connected and pumped than I had all week. Being so riled up, due not to my own generalised anxiety but thanks to these terrifying movies, was an adrenaline rush I actually found pretty pleasurable. Much more manageable arousal than the usual anxiety I have to deal with which is usually so much more intangible than a horror movie, anyway.

I also took part in a tree-top obstacle course with my sister, with only a self-controlled harness for protection (basically, if I messed it up, it could result in fatality!). Swinging into Tarzan nets, cascading down zip wires and jumping from heights of 20 metres, I was again in my element. 

So now I’m thinking…. I would really like to go sky-diving at some point in the near future – I think that one is next on my list.

In Memory of Participant 62

The other day at work, I transcribed an interview with a patient with BPD and PTSD that I will never forget. 

Her interviews touched me more deeply than any of the others I had come across. There was something so gripping about her story that I just had to acquaint myself with all the data we had on her in the system.

A while later, still thinking about her case, I asked my supervisor if she had conducted any follow-up interviews with this patient or if she knew how she was doing. She asked me why I was curious, and I told her how much this case had saddened me, and that I wondered and genuinely cared about how she was getting on. 

“Not good at all. So sad”. She said, choking up, “So sad because… because now… now she is dead.”

Her response shocked me on one level but I was almost expecting it on another. This poor young traumatised girl – this girl who I had just learnt so much about and in my own way, come to genuinely care about – had to be yet another sufferer with BPD lost through the tragedy of suicide. My heart sunk, my stomach flipped, my words faltered, and both of us starting crying. 

The saddest part is that she changed her mind last minute; she changed her mind, but she was too late to be saved. I have not stopped thinking about this. About her.

I never knew this girl but my heart aches for her for what she went through when she was alive. My heart aches for all the pain she endured and the hell she had to live through for so long. My heart aches for the fact that she was not able to be saved even when she realised that was what she wanted. My heart aches for my cousin and the friends I have also lost to suicide. My heart aches for all the people who experience such unimaginable turmoil that it leads us to consider taking, or indeed take, our own lives.

As for myself, there are a host of mixed emotions and associations (suicide is oh-so complex, especially when so close to the bone). But on the whole, her story has evoked a passion within me to continue within this field, doing the BPD research I’m doing and pursuing a career to try and help people like her – people like me – with everything I have got. 

If, by the end of my own life I have contributed to saving even a single person’s life through this work, my own life will have been worth it. 

P62, I hope you are resting in peace. 


*The participant number of this patient has been changed for confidentiality*