Scars, Stigma and Sadness

Today was sad. I had a beautician appointment with a new clinician. I hate those sorts of appointments, they bring up their own triggers and vulnerabilities every time. But this beautician in particular made things even trickier to manage.

I have scars over various areas of my body, and they were exposed. She made a handful of inappropriate (and highly unprofessional) comments. I will give a few examples of the things she said:

“Why do you do this to yourself? You are so beautiful and young”

“Aren’t you upset with yourself? Look at what you’ve done”

“You should really consider getting them covered with tattoos, then people won’t ask questions”

“But what will your boyfriends/ future husband think!?”  [This assumption is honestly the worst, I can’t stand such heteronormativity – UGH!]

“If you do it again, I’ll tell your Mum and she can sort you out”

“Oh babe, you’re crazy”

She kept on making comments, and we kept on going around in circles. I envisioned having a conversation with my therapist and her coaching me through the interaction. But even though I knew the interpersonal skills I needed to use, I was far from being able to implement them.

I left the appointment feeling a ton of mixed messy feelings. Her comments and attitude made me feel even more uncomfortable (quite literally) in my own skin than I already was. Everything she said highlighted and reiterated to me all the fears and self-judgments I have about myself. There I was, being told in so many words, just how unacceptable I am. It hurt.

The worst thing is, the woman was trying to be nice. She genuinely thought that she was being considerate and helping me with her oh so fucking fabulous words of wisdom. She had no idea about the impact of what she was saying. She had no idea how unaware and insensitive she was being. And I remained stuck, frozen, unable to stand up for myself. As always.

Nevertheless, ironically, all those feelings turned in on myself. Self-disgust. Self-hatred. “YOU ARE SO WEAK – why didn’t you DO something?”. Self-blame. Familiar feelings of inaction and paralysis. A spiral of shame. A desire to hide, to hurt myself, to destroy the unacceptable.

I am trying to remind myself that this is just the opinion of one woman. One woman who doesn’t know the first thing about mental illness, who lives in a world very different to my own, who is irrelevant to my life except for one hour every 6 weeks.

But I guess the truth in all of this is that I am sad. I am sad because my scars are a result of the things I have been through. It doesn’t matter what schtick I get for them, they do not exist for no reason. I am also sad because as much as they are a part of me, and as much as they interfere with my life, the only reason they do interfere is because of people like her. Inherently, I don’t hate my scars. I don’t see them as bad. They are mine and they are a part of my experience as a human being. I have come to accept them as a part of me – just one of many parts. But when others fail to see beyond that – when they judge my past, my present and my future on the physical marks etched onto my skin and fail to see beyond that – it is hard to not slip into judging myself in much the same way.

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! ūüėä

A Profound Dream about Me and My Therapist

My therapist was at my Mum’s house in the morning, helping Mum clear some toys in my sister’s room. I heard them talking and tried to overhear, but they realised I was awake. My therapist challenged my “morning ritual” but I wasn’t comfortable confronting it yet. So I snuck out of my room when she wasn’t looking and into the bathroom to quickly shower. 

I was rushing as I wanted to see why she was at our house and not miss any time with her! I was really anxious and worried that she would leave before I saw her properly. Damn my morning ritual! But I had to shower first. However, the shower (the one in the bath) got stuck after I had finished, and water was going everywhere. For some reason she was right outside the bathroom, so I called to her to help me fix it. 

She came in before I was ready as she misheard me saying “don’t come in!” for “come in!”, so I quickly grabbed a towel and held it over me. She was sort of trying to look at me even though I told her to look away, but for some reason I didn’t mind that much. I managed to wrap the towel around me and she started to fix the shower. She was then naked in the bath trying to fix it and turn it off, so that her clothes didn’t get wet. We were both quite chilled though, for some reason; it wasn’t too weird – there was just this feeling of safe motherly-daughterly trust in the air. 

Next thing I know, I am at a table with her and some other professionals and they are staging some sort of intervention. My therapist informs me that she has set up a mentoring service and that she is offering to take me on. How the service works is you pay ¬£400 a week for the standard version (or ¬£8,000 a month for the unlimited version) for her services. 

One of the male clinicians explained that it doesn’t work for a lot of people, but that they had been reviewing my case and that for people with my difficulties it might help get my life back on track. Because of “your social anxiety, depression and trauma, it could really help you”. They told me they were worried about me and this was a measure they took for extreme patients who needed such a level of support. I found that validating to hear.

I was informed of what it would entail: my therapist would stay at my Mum’s house with me, basically live with us, be there most of the time to help me with my life, come with me to social events, out and about, helping expose me to the things I find challenging and supporting me with them. She would be doing something called “adult exposure therapy” with me. 

She told me having the mentoring didn’t mean that I wouldn’t have therapy with her; it was just a supplementary tool to enable me to get my life back once and for all, as the team were feeling a bit lost and thought this could be a last shot for me. She said it would also include creative ways of expressing myself, that we would come up with together. 

She asked if my dad would be willing for me to do it, or if insurance would cover it, and I told her it would be fine. I was so excited at the prospect, even though I had to play it cool. For some reason though, I was also extremely shocked and dissociated, and tried to tell her this. I was getting quite dizzy and struggling to hold myself together as I was pretty overwhelmed by the whole situation. But she was gentle and supportive and I was really hopeful that we could make this “mentoring” service work, especially after how special it felt for me to have her at Mum’s house earlier that day.

I was then in a large old-fashioned hall, with some other girls, maybe also patients of a sort. I started dancing and singing, acting and improvising, in front of everyone. Each scene I played was a different chapter of pain from within my life. For example, a self harm scene, a sexual trauma scene, an anorexia scene, a “what neediness feels like” scene. 

It was all extremely moving and emotional, like expressive movement/ dance therapy, or contemporary dance. I didn’t have any inhibitions, even though one of my biggest fears in life is dancing. I was also singing in it despite not being able to sing! And even though it was entirely improvised, it was a pretty professional and incredible performance. At the end, everyone was so impressed with how wonderfully beautiful and expressive I had been. They couldn’t believe I had made it all up on the spot, nor how profoundly my pain had shone through. 

I found myself in a large hotel of sorts, and had been told that my therapist was the “Dean” and that her office was the Dean’s office. Well that sounded important… I was impressed. Anyway, I had to be somewhere in half an hour but I needed her company. So I headed to reception and asked for her. They mistook me for her, so I corrected them: “no, I’m looking for her”, and so they dialled her for me. 

Once I was in her office, I asked her if this was the new business she had set up, and she said that yes, indeed it was. I asked her how many other clients she had taken on, and she said it was just one other girl, and me. She said over half of the week she would be spending and living with me at Mum’s house, and just a couple of days with the other girl. She expressed a lot of love and care for me, and I was touched by how motivated and willing she was to work with me in such a dedicated and extreme way.

I told her I had to get somewhere although I can’t remember where, and we put it into google maps. It said the walk was 23 minutes to a station, under a tunnel/ walkway connected to a busy road from the hotel. She said she would come with me as she was now my mentor, which I wasn’t expecting, but was elated about. 

We started walking together and I felt really happy knowing that I would have her in my life so much from that moment. I kept giving her cuddles and she had to basically do whatever I wanted. We walked together linking arms, me beaming, my BPD in full swing. I asked her what would happen if the mentoring went wrong. She said it was definitely a risk to let me have such a free reign and potentially cross every boundary with her, but that if it worked well, it could also change my life. I told her I would make it work; that we would make it work together.

Do Not Forget this Pain: A Note to Self

Even though it’s hard to remember exactly what it feels like when you’re not in it, you know how bad it gets and how suffocating that amount of pain feels. The number of times you’ve been in that contorted mess of a state on the floor, wailing because the pain is so intense, so out of control, repeating to yourself through the tears “Make it go away, make it stop, I’ll do anything”.

But when anything doesn’t mean killing yourself, how far are you willing to go to “make it stop” in another way? A way that is by no means easy or painless, but a way that is a way nonetheless. If you give this your all, who knows, maybe it will make life feel more bearable and you won’t feel the need to die any more. If you kill yourself, you’ll never know. Remember how painful it gets and the utter desperation and willingness to do whatever it takes that comes with that.

It’s okay to be scared of the pain. But no matter how painful the next part of this process, it can’t be worse than the pain you’ve already felt so many times before.

Christmas, Cookies and aCcumalting Positives

I spent a good number of hours creating this baby in an attempt to build mastery and accumulate positives during what has been a challenging week. I am proud of the result, and am therefore showcasing it here. BE JEALOUS. Happy holidays, friends.


 

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.

Intrusive Suicidal Thoughts… When I’m Not Suicidal

People experience suicidal thoughts in all different ways. One of the ways I experience them is in the form of intrusions. For me, intrusions related to suicide do not just happen when I am actually feeling like I want to die; they often are random and unrelated to my overall mood state. I can be in a relatively stable mindset when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, I become bombarded with intrusions telling me to kill myself.

For me, it isn’t that I hear voices that are external to me; I don’t. I know they are my own thoughts, however, they don’t feel like my own as they take on a different quality to usual. Often it feels like they are thoughts which have been generated by an external locus and then implanted into my head. They are usually also second¬†person thoughts, so “you” instead of “I”, or instruction words like “do X, do Y”.

This is immensely frustrating as it gets in the way of whatever I’m doing, especially if I am amongst people and all I can hear is my brain telling me I need to die. It is especially unsettling when I start having these thoughts when in a more positive frame of mind, because the contrast between how I feel emotionally compared with the mental experience of the distressing intrusions is so stark. It’s like… “WTF are you doing here, you’re not bloody welcome!?”, and then when they refuse to settle, I want to bash my head on a wall just to get rid of the internal noise.

It is almost easier for me when I am experiencing suicidal thoughts during the times I am actually feeling suicidal. At least then the thoughts make sense to me as they match my emotional experience. The more random intrusive ones, on the other hand, just send me into a spin. Sometimes they seem to be linked with dissociation and paranoia; but for the most part I remain dumbfounded by the ways my brain continues to fuck me over like this, even when things are supposedly feeling manageable.

Back To Where It All Began

I wanted to write a profound and meaningful post, but the truth is that I have no words for what I want to say.

I spent the past week in the US, visiting friends I met when I was in hospital there almost 2 years ago. I hadn’t seen any of them since, but many of us stay in touch. When I found out a few months ago about a friend from the hospital who sadly took her own life, I decided that I needed to go back to that group of friends to reconnect, and seek and share comfort and love.

I spent the first half of the trip in New York. I have never been before and it was more vast and awe-inspiring than I ever could have imagined. I played tourist; I went to see a show on Broadway, ate my first garlic knots, viewed the city from the Empire State observation deck, went on a Big Bus tour, and spent a lot of time with 3 different friends in and around the city.

I spent the second half of the trip in Boston. I stayed with a friend, and saw a few others, and did a bunch of touristy things. The highlight of my trip was going back to visit the hospital where I started my BPD recovery journey, almost 2 years ago. I was nervous because my expectations were so high, and I didn’t want to be disappointed. But it could not have gone any better. It was an overwhelmingly special and positive experience.

I was reunited with almost my entire treatment team. I spent a number of invaluable hours catching up and hugging my old therapist, psychiatrist, support workers and other members of staff. Members of staff who don’t even work there any longer came to see me and went out of their way to make my visit the most joyful it could have been. For that – for these people – I could not be more thankful.

I returned the next day because they wanted to spend more time with me. I felt so touched and honoured and grateful beyond words. I felt important. I felt loved. I felt worthy.

I lapped up their attention and affection, I let myself be vulnerable, I updated them on my life, they updated me on theirs. They told me I was a ray of sunshine during such a distressing time (Donald Trump related, I shall say no more) and I was able to internalise how happy they were to see me. They told me that seeing me doing what I am doing is what motivates them to keep doing what they’re doing. They told me that I make their jobs feel worthwhile. I was beaming for the entire time we spent together. My face hurt for hours after from smiling so hard.

I have felt so many emotions this past week. I have cried a thousand happy and sad tears. I have been nostalgic, joyful, scared, proud, anxious, connected, concerned, envious, grateful. I have been every dialectic there is, every paradoxical combination of emotions. I have had urges which I understand are my brain’s way of dealing with some of what I have been exposed to, and what that brings up in me. I have also felt the deepest love and longing for some of the people who have had the most profound impact on my life.

This trip was such a huge deal for me. I wish I could stay in that bubble for ever. But it is time to return home. I didn’t know it was possible to feel¬†so achingly happy and so painfully sad at exactly the same time.

When a Minor Mistake Becomes the End of the World

I have Borderline Personality DisorderI feel emotions to a level that is off the scale, and I react intensely to those experiences. One of my biggest triggers is feeling like I have hurt someone inadvertently. When I let someone down or evoke even the tiniest amount of negative affect in someone I care about, I fall into a spiral of guilt and self-hatred that totally consumes me.

This means that I am hard on myself to the point that one mistake can lead me to feel as extreme as suicidal. If I accidentally hurt someone even just for a fleeting moment, I can become so self-hating and fearful that I truly believe the world would be better off without me.

Even though I never intend to upset anyone, and even when the person I upset forgives me or even forgets about the situation completely, I find it near impossible to forgive myself. I cannot seem to return to an emotional baseline for far longer than is reasonable. I just cannot let myself off the hook; it feels like too much of a threat to let go.

When I do anything that is the opposite of pleasing others, it feels like the end of the world. It feels like the walls around me come crashing down with such force that nothing can keep things upright. No matter how seemingly small or insignificant the incident, the only thing that helps soothe my distress is the constant reassurance of the person I have ‘wronged’. And even then, often that isn’t good enough to bring me back down.


The other day I sent a funny photo of my sister with food spilled down her top to her boyfriend. He had been staying with us during the previous days – and this was not the first time my sister had spilled food on herself, nor the first time we had laughed about it together! I was trying to be playful and develop our friendship further, by joking around and acting like I would with any other friend or family member. Because they are at a stage in their relationship where they are totally comfortable in each other’s company, and have seen one another in every state, I didn’t think it would be a problem. (It’s not like they have just starting dating or anything – I am not that clueless!) I wanted my sister to think I was putting effort in, to show her that I care about that part of her life. I thought we would all have a giggle. My intentions were only positive.

However, she responded in a way that was totally the opposite to what I had intended. She was angry with me and started speaking to me in a tone and manner pierced with disdain and disgust towards me. I felt like what I had done was the worst thing in the world for the fact I had caused a negative reaction in her, however big or small. As a result, she was acting cold and bitter towards me, and the light, jokey dynamic of the past hour had disappeared completely. Although when I apologised she said that she forgave me, I could feel that she did not.

I was officially The Worst Person In The World for causing her the negative emotions she was feeling. My own distress was heightened by the fact that my only positives intentions had entirely backfired. The “I can’t do anything right even when I try my utmost” core-belief was activated at top strength.

I went into my bedroom feeling totally and utterly defeated. I (literally) burst into the tears that I had been trying to hide from my sister, and spent a good half hour crying into my teddy bear, feeling like I deserved only to die. Every time I started calming down, the reality of just how Awful A Person I was hit me yet again, and I would collapse back into the old self-hatred and pit of desperation.

After about an hour I texted my sister (who was in her bedroom 10 metres away) telling her how sorry I was. She said it was fine and asked me not to do it again, but that she had forgiven me and that it really was not a ‘thing’ any more. I wasn’t convinced so texted her back asking for reassurance (surprise surprise!). Eventually I went into her bedroom – still sobbing, eyes bloodshot, face red and puffy – and started apologising profusely.

She started laughing at me (in an endearing way) and telling me to “stop being such a cry-baby” because she was “totally over” the situation and it was “all fine”. I climbed into bed next to her and begged her for her forgiveness, over-justifying and explaining and apologising all the more. She let me sob into her shoulder whilst she reassured me that it was okay, that I wasn’t so awful after all and that I had her permission to move on 100%. The reassurance continued for a good while until I had calmed down enough to start taking back a little control.

I felt guilty not just because I had initially upset her, but also because from that point on the entire situation became about my distress and inability to regulate my guilt. Something so ‘small’ had become such a palaver in my head, which meant it all became about me when my intentions were totally the opposite to that. It really highlighted just how extreme my relationship with making mistakes is – and how hard I am on myself.

I am understanding more and more that these reactions come from my early interactions as a child, where one step out of line really was a threat. As a kid it made sense that any mistakes I made should feel like the end of the world. That was adaptive back then and it’s what moulded me to become the perfectionistic people-pleaser I am today. But it often goes too far, and when that happens it just causes havoc to my life and is more of a nuisance than anything else.

My therapist says trauma therapy is about equipping me with a choice. I hope that one day I am able to have more of a choice around these things. I hope to have more of a choice about the extent to which my past continues to dictate my present.

‘A Part Of’ or ‘Apart From’?

I feel really sad right now. I feel like I really want to be a part of something that includes a lot of people. But social anxiety, my difficulties with relationships, lack of a sense of self and many other factors continually get in the way. All the ways I used to know people (school peers, drugs and alcohol, my religious identity, 12 step meetings, swimming club) are not things that are a part of who I am today.  

I have a real yearning to have a friendship group, which is something I lack. It would be so lovely to have a group of guys and gals I can call my friends; a whole bunch of people who I can have fun and mess around with together and feel loved within their company. I want to go to a party and feel like I’m amongst friends and like I belong. But I don’t get invited to parties. I don’t know the right people. I don’t belong in that world any longer.

I have amazing close friends but none of them know each other so it’s rare that there is an opportunity to get everyone together. Whereas when I was younger, I was part of a small friendship group which was part of a large friendship group that consisted of more than 50 people. We were like a huge extended family. 

I miss being a teenager and having a busy social life before my social anxiety got too bad age 17 or so. Before some of the trauma that messed me up with men. Before I stopped taking drugs. Before I let go of my religious identity and that group of friends. Before the months and years of treatment during which all those old “friends” moved on with their lives and forgot about me.

I miss those times, not because of the drugs or whatever but because of the people and the togetherness. I used to feel like I was “a part of” things. Not “apart from”. I would go to parties every weekend. I spent all my time with friends. The room would be filled with people and I would slot right it. I’d be drunk and high and in my element, and yes, maybe it was thanks to the substances, but I did genuinely feel whole. 

I remember lying on my friend’s roof one time. We were high, staring at the stars in each other’s company, wrapped up our pyjamas and dressing gowns, and huddling like penguins. I belonged. I felt like I owned those moments. Most of all, I thought we would grow old together and stay a part of each other’s lives for ever. I never considered that I would be so distant from them such a short while later. It’s like none of that ever truly existed.

I know I’m looking back through tinted lenses. ‘Euphoric recall’, they call it. I guess I am lonely, and I am naturally remembering a time when I was able to be intimate with a lot of people at the same time, and question whether that is something I can access again. But I know it was the drugs that led to that mentality, and I have to remember the downside of what my life was like during that time. 

But it’s hard because I miss it. I miss the people. I miss having people. I miss the days of such disinhibition and intimacy. And I do wonder if it would be worth re-engaging with those people, in that way, if it meant I could feel “a part of” something again. And then I remember the reasons I disengaged, and how far I’ve come in that context in some respects, and I know deep down I’m not going back to that lifestyle. Those years were also some of the worst of my life and I need to be careful not to remember them falsely through a pair of rose-tinted glasses.

The truth is that if you had asked me at the time, I would have told you I was miserable. I have never felt like I have truly belonged anywhere for the right reasons. Or if I did, it only lasted as long as the high. I haven’t been happy or fulfilled or okay within myself for a decade. I was very unwell with my mental illnesses during my teenage years, it just manifested differently. I need to be careful not to confuse the insanity of that time with ‘joy’ or ‘safety’. I was wreckless, self-destructive and delusional. Yes I had people but did I really? If I had really ‘had’ them, they would still be a part of my life now wouldn’t they?

I need to find ways to receive those feelings of fulfilment, closeness, bonding, togetherness, mutuality and social satisfaction without destroying myself in the process. 

I Build Homes Within People

I had therapy today. No EMDR, no DBT; we just talked for a double session. It was exactly what I needed. 

At one stage in the session we discussed my perception of “home”. I explained to her that home isn’t a physical place for me, but that I build homes for myself within people. The only times I’ve felt truly “at home” have been when in the holding of an authority figure who I am attached to. For example, when she hugs me, I feel like I have arrived home. It’s why I was so upset when she told me that she wasn’t going to hug me any more.

Towards the end of the session, my therapist said that she had been thinking about me and my experiences of our relationship. She told me that she recognises how challenging it can be for me when we have interpersonal conflicts, but that conversely she also knows that when things are going more calmly between us I find it extremely rewarding and motivating. She said she wonders if we could find ways to help us use our relationship in a way that is more sustainably healing, instead of letting it become a regular obstacle to the work we do together when interpersonal difficulties arise.

She asked me if I had any suggestions of ideas that could be helpful for us to put in place, in line with this. I joked that we could go to a fun fair together, because we both love fun fairs, just to test the waters. I asked her what she was thinking though, realistically. She suggested that I could meet her for lunch or coffee during her breaks every so often on days I don’t have therapy, for example. I felt so touched and happy that she was offering me such a reward, as I really wasn’t expecting it. 

For a while I started getting paranoid, confused and scared because I didn’t understand why she was being so nice to me or what was going on. I didn’t understand why it was impacting me so much either, because surely I should only be feeling positive emotions in response to her offer? I told her about my confusion and anxiety and we processed it a little. I’m so scared of losing something so hopeful that I feel paralysed to move from the spot I’m in right now, just in case anything goes wrong. It’s also more familiar and natural for me to be in a place of fear or uncertainty with authority figures as that is what I’m used to.

I asked her why she was bringing this up to try and get some clarity. She told me that she wanted to reinforce how effective I was being in session. She said she had never experienced me as being as open and ‘congruent’ as I was today, ever before. I joked that it must have been my pain meds making me high and disinhibited. She told me that actually my vulnerability was making her want to get closer to me. She said she noticed her own urges to scoop me up and hold me and make everything better. I told her “you can if you’d like”. She smiled at me with compassion. I wish.

Then she told me that she just wanted to make it clear to me that her care and love for me are unconditional and that they don’t cease to exist outside of the therapy room. She used the word love. I almost melted. 

She asked me what I wanted to do; if I had any ideas for motivators or positive reinforcers. I had many ideas. I thought, “I want to come over to your house in my pyjamas and watch documentaries about nature, whilst you cuddle me and stroke my hair and tell me how much you love me”. I wasn’t brave enough to verbalise that fantasy but coffee or lunch sounds like a start so I will settle for that for now. 

I am so grateful and in love with her (in a non romantic way) that it aches my insides. I want to spend all my time with her. I feel like a baby or toddler with severe separation anxiety…

At the end I asked her shyly if I could have a hug. She hasn’t given me a hug since the hugging ban was put in place after our last interpersonal conflict. Despite this, she gave me the hugest and most comforting hug. It wasn’t a cold hard hug, it was a proper emotional cuddly hug – I felt the affection and care and was able to internalise the moment for real. She wished me a safe journey for trip next week and said “take care lovey”

The feeling we had talked about above was back. I felt that rare feeling of such safety and holding. I felt like I had arrived home.

Catch Me When I Fall

So many emotions. 

I thought I was fine, after everything with my sister (see this post here). But I have crumbled today slightly. Not that anyone knows it.

I got home from my extra session of therapy and sobbed quietly for a couple of hours. I wasn’t even necessarily aware that I was crying; the tears just kept streaming of their own accord. I felt dissociated but pained at the same time. It’s hard to explain. My body was doing the crying – communicating the sadness to me – but my brain had cut off for a while. 

I keep flipping from numb to full of emotions. From managing to falling apart. From dutifully caring for everyone around me to feeling like the neediest tiniest loneliest most vulnerable baby in the world.

And then there is the additional dilemma I find myself in: that throughout all of the trauma of the last few days, the only thing that makes it any better is the comfort of my therapist. Obviously I cannot carry her in my pocket 24/7. So even though she is being the most wonderful support to me, I miss her every second that I am not directly with or talking to her. 

I just want her to scoop me up and rock me like a baby. I feel so vulnerable and young, like the only thing that could soothe my sadness even just for a moment is her embrace. I need her to hold me so tightly, so that she can stop me from falling. 

And the fact I cannot have that… well that hurts more than anything.

My First EMDR Session

Yesterday was my first official EMDR session. My T forgot the buzzers so we had to try it with tapping instead (her tapping my hands which were placed palms-down on my lap). It was uncomfortable being so close to each other and having physical contact whilst I was feeling pretty anxious, but I was able to just about manage it at that point.

She wanted to start working with the core belief “I am bad”. The memory we had agreed to start with was an incident that happened when I was about 6 years old with my mother. She had gotten incredibly angry with me in public off the back of a menial mistake I had made completely by accident. She reacted with such disgust and lividity and I have never forgotten the shame I felt because of how she responded.

So working with the core belief “I am bad“,  the phrase we were going to replace it with was “I made an innocent mistake, and Mum was unable to manage her own emotions in that moment” or something of the like. I had to visualise the memory whilst she did the tapping for about 10-15 seconds at a time.

For a while, nothing came to mind and I was convinced it ‘wasn’t working’. After a few rounds however, I started getting very very hot and flushed with a lot of physical anxiety – verging perhaps on panic. I still hain’t had any tangible thoughts or memories come to mind, but my body was responding of its own accord. Apparently I store a lot of memories in my body. My T reminded me to breath in between sets, as apparently I was holding my breath without realising it – as I tend to do.

After a couple more tapping sequences with the same memory, I suddenly had a visualisation of a water sprinkler in the garden of my Dad’s old house. I had also become less anxious and less heated, but didn’t think the memory meant anything as it seemed so insignificant. I told my T about the water sprinkler when she asked what was going on for me, and she asked what I thought it represented. I told her I didn’t know, that we used to play in the sprinkler as kids, but I wasn’t picturing a specific time or incident. When she asked how I felt within that memory, I told her I assumed I would have been happy. She explained that my brain was probably trying to block the distressing memory I had previously been panicking over by instead lingering on a happier and easier subject matter.

She then suggested that we think instead of a recent time that I have felt the “I am bad” core belief, as the earlier memory seemed to be too blocked off. I told her about a situation this weekend. I had been feeling paranoid with a friend, convinced they were angry with me or that I had done something wrong – essentially that “I am bad“. I visualised this recent memory and the ‘felt sense’ accompanying it, and she recommenced the tapping.

The next memories that flowed were all times related to when I was bullied in primary school. I remembered being called names, being run away from and being left out of my ‘friendship group’ for various petty reasons. I fed these back to her and we continued. The next memory was of the first time I ever self-harmed aged 11. I was in the shower at my swimming club when one girl asked what happened. I had wanted people to see my injury but without them knowing I had done it to myself, but felt shame for this thought process. I was terrified to be vulnerable but also desperate to be seen at the same time.

My T encouraged me to focus on this, but then my brain skipped to thoughts about how “I am so dramatic, I don’t have any ‘proper’ trauma, it doesn’t make sense I am this messed up, I shouldn’t be like this, it’s my fault” and similar things to this. She asked me to try and focus on the feelings, and less so on the thoughts. The feelings were shame and fear. The shame was the strongest. She continued another round of tapping.

As I was focusing on the shame, my body started getting unbearably hot and I was becoming increasingly flushed and anxious with it. I had a memory of one of the times I was sexually assaulted, and tried to block it out. I was unable to and must have squirmed or flinched a little as my T asked me what was going on. I muttered “I don’t know” because I couldn’t say the related words, as usual. She encouraged me to help her out by communicating what was going on. I tried my best and said “A memory I can’t say“. I’m sure she could have guessed the theme I was referring to though.

She told me to keep going with it. So I did. I let myself focus on the memory a bit harder but soon my whole body was having a horrible reaction and I couldn’t contain it any longer. A wave of panic took over me, my heart felt like it was pulsating through my chest, and my breathing was becoming very rapid and irregular. This was all very fast and she was actually still in the middle of tapping when the surge of panic peaked. I had a reflex reaction to shrink away from her and ended up automatically pushing her hands off of my lap, perhaps more violently that I had intended to. I curled over towards one side of the chair and crossed one leg over the other to try and gain control over my body and block all the internal sensations out.

I was panicking and dissociated at the same time, as often happens when things overwhelm me in therapy or elsewhere. My T asked me to get up and do star jumps, then label things around the room and sip some water, before going to quickly “ice dive” in the bathroom. That was the end of the EMDR part of the session, because I had gone outside of my window of tolerance and she suggested we call it a day and spend the remainder of the time talking instead. Next week we are going to try again but using the buzzers instead of tapping. Hopefully that will help me be more able to stick with the processing for longer.

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 –> ūüŹÄ

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. 

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.

Nightmares

I am doing a ton better than last week, I am pretty much stabilised and back to my usual up-and-down Borderline self. Out of hospital, back to work, back to life. However, one thing is different and it’s seriously unsettling: Nightmares.

For the last week or two, I have been having vivid and suffocating nightmares almost every night, then waking up in a confused and panicked sweat. The themes of the nightmares have been related to events of my past, and in them it feels as real as though I were awake; there is nothing dreamlike about them, so it’s hard to differentiate from reality.

I am wondering if as I approach trauma therapy (EMDR), even though I haven’t started the reprocessing part yet, talking and thinking about traumatic material in itself is having an impact on my subconscious already?  

From what I’ve read, traumatic memories are held unprocessed in the brain alongside the attached emotions and physical sensations. During sleep, the brain continues to try and process the memory until it is resolved. That’s why people often feel a sense of clarity upon waking, when the brain has done its job of processing unresolved information successfully. 

However, if a traumatic memory gets in the way, it often blocks that resolution. People will experience nightmares that they wake up from in the middle, before the brain has had the opportunity to process it fully. The emotions and sensations linger and can last well into the day. So although healthy nightmares lead to effective healing, interrupted nightmares mean that the healing process is disrupted. The nightmares continue, and it is a vicious cycle.

Maybe it has to get worse with EMDR, before it can get better?

The Hiccup that Put Things into Perspective

This weekend I did something I have never done before. Usually when I feel unsafe, I either push myself through it until I get out the other side (by some miracle), or I combust, give in and end up self-destructing. 

This time, the build up was pretty bad. Bad to the extent that I genuinely feared for my safety and what I might do to myself (although I suppose at the time I didn’t fear for it, because I didn’t give a fuck. I was done). Sometimes even though I feel unsafe, I might know on one level that I won’t follow through with anything totally life-threatening. However, this time I hit such a low that I genuinely believe I could have followed through with catastrophic actions. (See this post here for context!)

Luckily, I didn’t do that. I didn’t force myself to push through. And I didn’t self-combust. I did something I have never done before in this way and I reached out for urgent help. I told my parents I was feeling suicidal. I did it over text because I couldn’t get the words out. But I did it alright. And it was fucking tough.

My dad called my psychiatrist, who in turn called me. Hearing me in such a state and realising the severity of the situation, he recommended I go inpatient just to be safe – both for my benefit and for my parents’. A couple of hours later he admitted me to the psychiatric hospital. It’s the same hospital I was in almost two years ago.

Ironically I am in the exact same room I was in during my last admission. (Well, it’s the same room I ended up in, after I had to be transferred because I had tried to smash the lightbulb in my first room in order to get glass to hurt myself with…!)

Being back in this same spot got me thinking. Physically, yes, it’s the same room, the same bed, the same floor, the same hospital. But besides the physical, almost everything is different. The people are different (none of “the old crew” are here any longer, thank goodness); the staff are fairly different (quick turnover of nurses, apparently); the timetable is different, the food is different, even the name of the hospital has changed. 

The biggest difference, though, is in me.

Sounds cheesy, I know, but hear me out:

Last time I was here, I arrived in an ambulance off the back of a serious overdose from another general medical hospital, where I could have died.

Last time I was here, I cut myself so badly in the bathroom by my bedroom that I was found by staff half conscious in a pool of my own blood, before being carted back off to A&E. 

Last time I was here, I was so ill I had to drop out of university. 

Last time I was here, my therapist had just “split up” with me because she was unable to manage the severity of my illness any longer.

Last time I was here, I had to be restrained and put on 1:1 monitoring after trying to severely harm myself with a can of coke I had found in a bin in the staff smoking garden after being assaulted by another patient. 

Last time I was here, I didn’t even step into the canteen once; I lived for weeks off hot chocolate and cigarettes and lost about 4kg, punishing myself with starvation. 

Last time I was here, I was on 7 different medications, totally hooked and unable to function without them, constantly begging for more in order to get through my day.

Last time I was here I was absconding, smuggling and using drugs on site, yelling down the entire ward and scaring staff who admitted they did not feel anywhere near equipped enough to manage me. I took up their constant time, energy and attention.

Last time I was here, I was being threatened with being sectioned and moved to a more secure NHS ward in another hospital.

Fast forward to this admission and it is a totally different story:

This time, I was admitted after asking for help BEFORE I did anything self-destructive or life-threatening to myself. I arrived in a car with my parents, and walked myself through those doors, willingly.

This time, I have been trusted enough to start not on 1:1 supervision, but 15 minute observations, which have now reduced to hourlys. 

This time, I have been to the canteen (albeit with support from staff) and made sure I’ve eaten an adequate amount in order to take care of myself.

This time, I have asked for support when I’ve needed it using words, not actions – and that has been responded to accordingly.

This time, I haven’t made any scenes, I haven’t shouted or threatened anyone, I haven’t set any alarms off. The nurses are finding me pretty easy to manage – I’m apparently unrecognisable. 

This time, I am not fighting the system, wreaking havoc or worsening the situation for myself nor anyone else. I am working with the staff, and they are working with me.

This time, I am probably the only patient in the entire hospital not on a single pill or drop of medication.

This time, I am feeling safer, calmer, more contained and ready to leave after only 2 days in here. 

Tomorrow evening, if all goes well after seeing my psychiatrist I will be discharged. I will not be discharged to another hospital nor treatment centre nor therapist. I will be sent back into the world and I will go home, where I will go to sleep in my own bed. The next morning I will wake up, at home, and I will continue fighting this battle outside in the real world, like I do every single day. 

I felt a huge amount of shame coming back in here, and was scared it represented a huge set-back, or even a full blown relapse. But the truth is, being back has actually shown me, my family and my psychiatrist just how far I have come over the last few years. Whatever my therapist thinks when I see her (we are in a huge conflict, and they are very anti-hospital in DBT), I have to remain proud of myself and know that I made the right decision.

After all, I’m still here, aren’t I?