CW: The Single Life

Coping With...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.

There are many reasons why being single is so difficult for those of us with BPD and other similar disorders. I think it’s really important to acknowledge why it’s so hard before attempting to get past it. In Plato’s Symposium, he tells this myth to explain romantic relationships. According to him, humans used to be both male and female, therefore whole. But in their contentness, they had no need and began to rival the gods. As punishment, Zeus split all humans into male and female. From then on, they were condemned to wander the earth searching desperately for their other half, imperfect in all the ways they were. This lack of wholeness, or emptiness, is amplified tenfold in people with BPD. Ever since my first real crush at 16, I have believed that I needed someone to complete me. I chased one guy after another because the brief euphoric high I felt when they liked me back, kissed me back, touched me back, made it all worth it. Freshman year, I fell into a religious cult after they convinced me that God was the one who would make me whole.

Months of prayer later, I felt as empty as ever.

When you have BPD, you often forget who you are. One therapist described BPD as such: it’s like you’re always standing in the midst of a hurricane and your likes and dislikes are road signs. They exist, they are there, but whether they are visible entirely depends on the intensity of the storm. When every fundamental thing about you can change at any moment, you end up in a perpetual identity crisis. This not only makes you feel empty, it also makes a romantic partner all the more appealing. Although everyone desires on some level to be known, BPDs need someone to be their baseline, their sanity check, their historian. Correction — they believe they need that person. Because non-BPDs make it so easy. I often relied on my ex-boyfriends to tell me who I was. “When I see you, Rebecca, I see someone who’s terribly naïve and innocent, but badly scarred by life.” “I don’t think you know what you want.” “I make you happy, but you’re never going to be satisfied with me.” The problem with my behavior was that 1) my exes weren’t always right about me and 2) it made for horribly codependent relationships.

Taken before heading out to explore Shanghai solo. I made it to the National Museum, the Bund, and Din Tai Fung, but it wasn't pretty. As in, I spent a few hours crying in a fully packed movie theater.

Taken before heading out to explore Shanghai solo. I made it to the National Museum, the Bund, and Din Tai Fung, but it wasn’t pretty. As in, I spent a few hours crying in a fully packed movie theater.

The biggest lie that we BPDs tell ourselves every day is that we cannot be alone.

It’s simply not true. Yes, it’s damned hard to be alone. Sometimes, it feels like we don’t exist anymore. Sometimes, it feels like nothing is worth it anymore. Sometimes, it feels like we could die and it wouldn’t even matter. The temptation to chase another forbidden fruit is hard to resist. I’ve been single for all of 21 days (woohoo!), and I really wanna text my hookup buddy. But I know that, at this moment, I’m too fragile to handle a casual relationship. Plus, I’m pretty sure he had feelings for me towards the end and was pissed I started dating someone else. Even though I don’t owe him anything, he’s still human, and he doesn’t deserve for me to bait him back into my life only to ditch him for another dude. Because the truth is that, as cute as hookup buddy is, he’s not someone I really want in my life. Admitting that is much more difficult than you might think.

Yes, all of this is hard, but we can do it. The day we learn to be our own baseline, sanity check, and historian is the day that we begin to feel whole.

Has your mental illness threatened to turn you into a serial monogamist?

Ciao,

R

CW: Stop Apologizing

Coping With...

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.

Chances are, if you have BPD or any mental disorder, you’ve done a lot of apologizing. Why? Because you’ve probably made a lot of mistakes. We tend to make more mistakes than society deems acceptable. We’re the crazy girlfriends who run through streets screaming “rape” while our bewildered boyfriends chase us. We’re the sloppy drunks who inevitably end up passed out on bathroom floors at every party. We’re the college dropouts who cannot “achieve our potential” no matter how our parents encourage us, threaten us, manipulate us. When we get rich and famous, we’re the ones on the tabloid covers, cheating and getting high and killing ourselves.

It’s no wonder we apologize. We apologize over and over again. We don’t know why we can’t just suck it up and be like everyone else, an upstanding citizen. We believe we are weak, and we try harder. Then we fail, and we apologize some more. At some point, those who love us are sick of our apologies, and those words “I’m so sorry” sound false even to our ears. Inevitably, we come to the conclusion that we are simply bad. That we are terrible people, bad influences for our children, unfaithful lovers to our spouses, unending disappointments to our parents. This realization fills us with shame, which then drives us to commit more mistakes, fueling the cycle once again.

Today, I’m saying these words for all of us, me included, to hear: stop apologizing. Please, for the love of God, stop apologizing. Obviously, I’m not saying that you should avoid “I’m sorry” at all costs. If you hurt someone, apologize. But stop apologizing for who you are. Stop apologizing for the fact that you make “shitty” decisions, for being “weak”, for not being good enough. Stop apologizing for the fact that, on some days, you can’t get out of bed. Stop apologizing for the fact that, on other days, you can’t get in it. Stop apologizing for the fact that, today, homework wasn’t done and job applications weren’t submitted and laundry is yet to be done. Stop apologizing for who you fall in love with. Stop apologizing for not knowing who you are or what you want.

Why? Because you are not who your family, friends, or therapist says you are. Your reality is not theirs and they cannot judge you. You cannot be expected to function according to their rules when you were given a different set of tools to work with. You are not sick; you are simply different. You’re the duck in a gaggle of geese and no matter how much you stretch, your neck will never be as long as theirs. But that’s okay. Because you’re the one with colorful markings and you will never shit as much as they do.

The sad truth is that there will always be more of them than you and they will rarely be able to understand you. So you will have to learn to adapt, to blend in, to interact with them. You will never be the same as them, but you can learn to love them and they you. You can give them a chance to love you, even when by their standards you’re not “worth it”. You’re not the one who gets to decide if you’re worth loving.

If someone is able to see you for who you really are and accept that, listen to them, but never without caution. If someone judges you without knowing you, then tell them to fuck off and don’t apologize for it. Let yourself make mistakes. Make life-changing, earth-shattering, irreversible mistakes and then wake up the next day and realize that you’re just human, like everyone else. So maybe we’re not so different after all.

Do you find yourself apologizing often? Do you ever think of yourself as simply “bad”?

À bientôt,

R

CW: How to Be More Mindful

Coping With...

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.

My face when people talk to me about mindfulness.

My face when people talk to me about my aura.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Get a pet. There’s nothing like a warm, fuzzy friend to bring you back to earth.
  4. Cuddle. Whether it’s your dog, your boyfriend, or your body pillow, don’t forget your daily cuddle time.
  5. Smell things. I bought myself Rosemary-Mint, Lavender, and Rose candles to light when times get tough.
  6. Work out. That or general physical labor. It’s easy to forget you have a body when you don’t feel your body.
  7. Walk around naked. You’ll feel lots of stuff.
  8. 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.”
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Find an ice pack. Put it against your forehead or your stomach if you’re especially masochistic. Cold showers also do the trick.
  12. Cook something. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just physically handling the food and tasting it and feeling the texture will help.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.”
  15. 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?

Hasta pronto,

R