This post is part of the Coping with… series, in which I will share my experiences with Borderline Personality Disorder. Whether you also have BPD or you struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress, I hope this series will be helpful to you.
Mindfulness. It’s one of those buzz words that Life Coaches™ use to draw you in, and before you know it you’re wondering what color your aura is and if you should rearrange your furniture to be more zen. I’m the last person to buy into New Age bullshit and the word meditation makes my blood pressure rise — sitting still and doing nothing makes me more angry than anything else. Yet these days, I’ve been trying to be more mindful without actually thinking about that particular word. Because really, mindfulness is at the core of DBT, the only form of therapy that has been shown to treat BPD. When I was in therapy, I never received DBT because my therapist was a PhD-in-philosophy, psychoanalysis-certified, no-labels woman who was probably judging me for the way I signed my checks while wondering about the purpose of my life. After learning a bit more about DBT, though, I’m considering going back to therapy for it.
You see, mindfulness is essentially the opposite of dissociation. In layman’s terms, dissociation is when you disconnect from reality and from yourself. Almost everyone experiences it in the most harmless form — daydreaming. For those of us who struggle with BPD and other disorders, however, dissociation becomes a serious issue. I remember having frequent out-of-body experiences as a child, during which I’d wonder where my mind would go after my body had died. My nightmares were of being able to fly or jump really high, but not being able to come back down. When I drank a bit too much, I’d stare at my reflection in the mirror and not recognize myself. Even now, driving is stressful sometimes because I think about all the ways I could possibly crash. Just a little turn of the wheel and I’ll cross into the other lane, in front of the oncoming traffic. What would it matter if I died? Is life real anyway, or is it all an illusion? If I spun my car into that ditch over there, would I just wake up in an alternate universe?
I try to stay away from cliffs, roofs, and balconies for the same reason. The urge to jump is almost unbearable sometimes. It’s not that I’m suicidal; it’s that I’m not quite convinced this life is real.
Over the years, I’ve been using DBT/mindfulness coping mechanisms, unbeknownst to me. When I’m overwhelmed by my emotions, so much so that my body begins to react to stimuli that doesn’t exist, I’ve been known to hide in closets. Feel free to make as many “coming out of the closet” jokes as you like. I love closets. I used to sleep in them instead of my four-poster, king-sized bed. In the darkness and safety of a closet, I feel that at last I’m in harmony with myself. For once, my mind and body are in the same place. I also enjoy activities that require physical exertion and hand-eye coordination, like sports and playing piano. The cold surface of black and white piano keys against my freshly trimmed fingernails is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. I study in coffee shops because I need the constant chatter around me to remind me that I’m human. I love the airport because it’s one of the only places where I can be alone and yet fully present.
The problem is that some of my preferred activities have an anti-mindful effect. Or, perhaps, you could say that they require a state of dissociation. When I’m writing, I’m as detached from reality as possible — I even enter a parallel universe that is often as real to me as this life. Music, films, TV shows all take me to a similar place. This type of escapism can be healthy, but in moderation. Especially as someone with BPD, I have to be extremely careful.
Lately, I’ve been swept up in a swirl of emotions that have made mindfulness difficult. In light of that, I’ve composed a list of
exercises BPD ass-kickin’ skills:
- Hide in a closet. Because, well, duh. Okay, this might not be the healthiest thing to do…I’m not sure “hide” is a very positive word either. But until I find more socially acceptable yet effective methods, this will have to do.
- Write about your feelings. Lately, I’ve been writing things I can’t say on paper. Sometimes in Spanish. I wrote an email to someone I no longer speak to, and then deleted it because I no longer needed to say it.
- Get a pet. There’s nothing like a warm, fuzzy friend to bring you back to earth.
- Cuddle. Whether it’s your dog, your boyfriend, or your body pillow, don’t forget your daily cuddle time.
- Smell things. I bought myself Rosemary-Mint, Lavender, and Rose candles to light when times get tough.
- Work out. That or general physical labor. It’s easy to forget you have a body when you don’t feel your body.
- Walk around naked. You’ll feel lots of stuff.
- Describe an object. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop thinking, pick up something — a rock, a shirt, a phone — and describe it, i.e. “This is soft and stretchy, and it smells like armpit.”
- Limit your alone time. Alone time is healthy, but it can lead to severe dissociation. Sometimes, you just have to get up and go somewhere with humans in the vicinity.
- Get alone time. Yeah, I know what I just said. Sometimes, though, being with certain people can trigger dissociation, and it’s better to just leave the situation.
- Find an ice pack. Put it against your forehead or your stomach if you’re especially masochistic. Cold showers also do the trick.
- Cook something. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just physically handling the food and tasting it and feeling the texture will help.
- Turn off the music. When your Pandora playlist leaves you feeling lost and confused, turn it off and listen to the ticking of the clock, the creaking of the house, the howling of the wind.
- Talk to yourself. This seems counter-productive, since you’re kind of treating yourself like a separate person, but it can help you reconnect with reality. Don’t be surprised if you catch me saying to myself, “Come on, you, let’s go. Get up now, attagirl.”
- Talk to someone. It helps to hear about other people’s life crises. If no one’s around, you can always talk to the air. I know someone who takes nightly drives just to scream at the top of her lungs.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Have any of these worked for you? Do you have any more to add?