Where I went wrong/ A girl on fire

Where I went wrong:

  1. I wasn’t open and honest because I was happy and didn’t want to risk losing anything. I knew there was a really good chance it would blow up in my face, but I opted to deal with the consequences later. I forgot that I don’t quietly implode. I’m a ticking time bomb and everyone around me is hit by the shrapnel. That’s really the main thing.

If Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)  was a person, I would say they are extremely clever and cunning. Really, everything just works out perfectly in their favor. (Note: I am not blaming my actions on BPD. They are still my actions. But my emotions and thought processes are due to some fucked up circuitry in my brain, and I still haven’t quite figured out how to handle them.)

I have real, valid, understandable worries and fears that are amplified beyond comprehension to others. Does anyone watch Community? There’s this one scene where Troy is brought into a secret initiation into Air Conditioning Repair school. The room includes ridiculous figures such as an astronaut cooking paninis in one corner and “black Hitler” in the other corner. This is to ensure the potential recruits don’t tell anyone about the school, and even if they did, it would be too ridiculous to believe anyway.

That’s what I feel happens to my emotions. At the seemingly smallest events, I react enormously, to the point where others think I am being childish or purposely difficult. And then the emotion dies and I’m 100% reasonable and calm. Absolutely ridiculous.

I have talked about stigma that we carry, including being ‘crazy’, ‘manipulative’, and abusive. I don’t intend to do so, but I do come across as being all those things. I hope you all don’t think that I think I’m a perfect shining example of recovery and strength. I certainly have moments of great improvement, but I’m far from perfect.

You say I’m self-centered, manipulative, controlling but I’m really not. Well, no, I suppose I technically am self-centered because I am so extremely preoccupied with my issues that I forget that people around me have problems too. Though, when we think of a self-centered person, we think of someone who doesn’t care about others and who thinks they are entitled to all your time and attention.

I hope you know in your heart that that is not me. I am not dramatically weeping and wondering why you aren’t paying attention to me like some diva. Rather, I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off because my kitchen spontaneously erupted in flames, but as I’m trying to put out the fire, my room erupts in flames, but then I realize I’ve actually been on fire the whole time.

This is why I believe it’s better to talk over the phone rather than texting: it is easy to detach yourself from the person on the other side of the screen, so their demeanor and intentions are all up for interpretation. I get the sense that you might think I’m sitting around pouting and rolling my eyes, when the reality is I’m in sheer panic mode. I am very worried about what you might say next.

It is not malicious and calculated. It is panicked and out-of-control. That doesn’t make it any more okay, I know that, but I think it’s good to understand the nature of the beast.

We can talk about mental illness and how tough it is for the people struggling, but that’s really not the whole picture. That really doesn’t fully capture the devastation that mental illness leaves in its path. I wrote a piece called Termites, in which I expressed my fear of spreading my “disease” around to my loved ones. Honestly, it is not a completely unfounded fear.

I am a girl on fire. I know that I burn everyone I come in contact with; some more severely than others. I cannot expect my loved ones to hurt just because I’m hurting. When the fire temporarily dies down, I’m left aching and raw, and as the smoke clears from my vision, I can see the damage I’ve caused. I’m sorry I burnt you, I really am. But please don’t forget that I was hurting too.

You might think I’m a manipulative, cruel, monster, but the reality is that I’m a good person who is struggling and in immense pain. The reality is I’m still hurting you, another genuinely good person, and pulling you down with me just because you cared enough to lend a helping hand. I get a sense of burning guilt and helplessness as I watch the situation unfold. I can’t ask you to stay with me or change in any way. In the end it is my struggle to deal with.

I am hurting and hurting others, but people still stick with me. This is a bittersweet realization. Thank you for burning a little bit with me. Thank you for telling me you need space. Thank you, and I’m also very sorry. This is advice I know you’d give me, so I’m going to give it back to you. Please don’t stress over me; first and foremost, take care of yourself.

We set the wrong course
and headed due North
That’s where we went wrong

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The lotus flower 

The lotus flower is sacred to many cultures and religions including Buddhism, which is what dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is heavily influenced by. We see the use of the lotus flower becoming more popular – tattoos, yoga studios, jewelry etc. Why is it such a revered plant? It has to do a lot with the context that it grows in.

Lotus seeds plant in the bottom of shallow, warm, murky waters. The plant grows upwards towards the surface, seeing nothing but the muddy waters around it. Despite being surrounded by nothing but this dark, ‘impure’ environment, the lotus plant flowers above the surface of the water, in vibrantly beautiful colors. The petals rise above the water, and are hydrophobic – meaning water slides right off of them. They bloom in the morning towards the sun. They are resistant to cold, so they don’t bloom in winter. However, they always return when the weather is warmer. 

We too can be like the lotus flower. We can grow to be beautiful and bright despite our pasts. We can interact with but still be separate from our emotions, letting them slide off our petals. We may wither in the cold, but we can be resilient enough to return in better weather.

Scientists against stigma!

I have no training in neuroscience from my undergraduate degree, so it was probably a little ambitious and maybe also a little stupid of me to add a neuroscience component to my PhD dissertation. Luckily, my supervisor is a superstar and I have excellent mentors (psychologist and neuroscientist) on my supervisory committee. The only reason why I’m surviving at all is because I have a personal interest in my topic. I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and depression, and it’s made my life pretty difficult at times, so I’m trying to understand it and tackle it from within.

I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it a million times: the best weapon against stigma is education. I really believe that studying the development of and the internal workings of mental illnesses and certain behaviors can be that weapon. Individuals suffering from mental illnesses hear it all the time from people who are healthy. Just get over it! It’s all in your head! Everyone else goes through tough times, just suck it up! I personally think these people need to learn a lesson or two in empathy and respect, but if we can’t convince them otherwise, maybe hard, scientific evidence can.

Now that I have a bit of a better understanding of the brain and processes of behavior, I’m a lot more forgiving towards myself. After an emotional outburst or a depressive episode, instead telling myself I’m weak, stupid, or crazy, I’m a lot more understanding. While understanding the chemical and biological processes behind the mental illness is important, this does not mean you surrender all responsibility for your behaviors and actions. Oh no, I think this gives you even more responsibility. I like to think of myself as an exasperated mother or an owner to a bunch of particularly rowdy dogs. Like, ‘well crap, my amygdala is acting up again so I’ve gotta go take care of myself until it calms down’. Or, ‘my medial temporal lobe is being a little brat and refusing to make neurotransmitters, so I’m gonna go refill my prescriptions’.

Other sciencey ways I use to validate myself that amuses me include:

  • Being exasperating with my limbic system
  • Thinking, that the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines and cortisol pumping through my blood must be through the roof
  • “The cognitive distortion is real af today” (credit this one to my sis)
  • My mind is ruminating, brb as I calm it down
  • Hang on, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying but anxiety is being a little shit and screaming at me, so why don’t we talk later
  • Yes, yes, depression I know you think I have no friends and I’m worthless, you tell me only all the time but can you just sit down it’s getting old
  • Oh come on, we’ve been through this! I’m counting to 3 and you’d better come back here. *indistinct grumbling* (as I watch my mind jump to conclusions)

I’m not saying you should always just downplay your pain and brush it off. I still experience the extreme emotions/pain and suffer, but this just helps me get through it a little more. Keep pushing and fighting back, everyone 🙂

Related reading: The Neurobiology of Borderline Personality Disorder

Idealization/devaluation

This post is dedicated to you. Not the post you probably even wanted, but it has the explanation you deserve.

In my last post I explored my tendency to resort to all-or-nothing thinking. I am aware that this is a huge problem I have and am usually hyper-vigilant about it. The problem is, I will either drift off into either extreme (which is still better than racing there full speed) or I will become overwhelmed at times, thus reducing my ability to regulate my tendency to split.

Here is a recent example of this. Idealization and devaluation are common defense mechanisms in individuals with BPD.

From the day we met, I was very careful not to let myself fall into this cycle with you. And I was doing a great job, considering you consistently challenged everything I had previously known. There are countless instances where I braced myself for the worst and nothing happened. So really, your biggest character flaws here are:

  1. Not being so insecure that you have to put me down
  2. Not being so insecure that you feel entitled to have control or power over me
  3. Not playing games and
  4. Not taking me for granted.

In other words you were a decent human being. How dare you.

I was really worried I would start idealizing you while you were here, but I can honestly say I didn’t. I will give myself props for staying level-headed. Whenever you proved another fear wrong, I truly appreciated it, and tucked it away to create new positive memories I could look back on. This whole situation was so encouraging because it showed me that all my hard work I have put in for years was paying off. It also showed me that good people do exist and that I should never accept anything less ever again. 

Then you left. No matter who it is, I always take goodbyes very hard. This goodbye was definitely extra difficult, though. After you left, stress started piling up slowly but steadily with school, other friends, people reappearing from the past, and my health. 

I had also been preparing to move overseas (which will be in less than a week). It will be the first time I will live away from home, my family, my support system. Sure, I’m only gone for 6 months, but understand that that is a really long time to go without therapy and support. I relapsed and overdosed last week, and this made my stress about moving skyrocket even more. I’ve been given this opportunity that will be amazing for my career, something that I’ve dreamed since the start of my graduate studies. I didn’t even think it was a possibility until after my PhD, and even then I was doubtful. But here I am, in my first year of being a PhD student, being given my very own project with this lab I admire so much as part of my dissertation. Despite all of this, I sometimes seriously consider backing out and not going because I don’t know if I will be able to make it.

Before, your validation was like a little treat. I didn’t need it, but getting it was always nice. When I began drifting back into a depression, I clung to anything that could lift my mood. 

I started thinking of you as the most amazing person who could fix everything and anything. I’m not trying to downplay how much you have supported me, my point is I was starting to rely on you too much, which is something you had noticed and pointed out too. Talking to you made me feel better, getting a message or one of your stupid snaps made my day and distracted me from the other stresses. All that hard work I had put into trying to prevent idealizing you was out the window.

My expectations of you had become too much by this point. I relied on you too much. And then things that never would have bothered me before became overwhelming. If you didn’t respond in a way I expected or didn’t respond at all, I was thrown right into devaluation – and I did not land gracefully at all. That’s it, he hates me, he’s horrible, he doesn’t care about me, I never want to talk to him again. This would happen multiple times in the span of a couple days. Sometimes you would be my favorite person ever in the morning and by night I was convinced I was through with you forever. 

The last straw was the day that I stumbled across the fact that you were connected to a painful piece of my past. What are the odds? My handle on the idealization/devaluation scale felt shakier and a lot more out of my control.

After this, everything became more confusing and tiring. My emotions became so big and out of my control, I felt like I was being whipped around incessantly. With each flip, I was hit harder and harder. It’s tough for me to know what to do when I feel such extreme emotions on both sides of the spectrum. It’s difficult to know how to weather the storm once I’m already caught up in the middle of it.

Eventually the painful moments overshadowed the good and I decided I had had enough. I cut our connections and told you I didn’t want to be your friend. My perception of our relationship was skewed because I was so overwhelmed, so tired, and I just wanted the pain to stop. I said a lot of things that were true but worded harsher than they needed to be. I said some things that echoed how I was feeling at the time, but definitely not throughout the majority of our time knowing each other. Honestly, I believed I would never talk to you again and after distancing myself I felt better. Then 12 hours passed and I realized that was not what I really wanted.

I considered everything we talked about and realized I had done that thing where I drifted off and started subconsciously splitting. I reevaluated and changed my expectations back to where they were initially. In the previous link, see the list of words that indicate splitting:

  • Always
  • Never
  • Impossible
  • Awful
  • Perfect
  • Ruined
  • Terrible

I think I said ‘I don’t think we were ever on the same page’, which is essentially another way of saying ‘never’. Other than that I think I did an alright job of not using too many dramatic words.

I think you’ll understand that I’m not asking you to condone my behavior – I want you to understand what was happening behind the scenes. I want you to know that I’m grateful for friends like you, who call me out and make me realize when I’m being unreasonable. These are the people who push me to become better.

Before, I was rambling and asking why you’d want to be my friend. Asking, ‘what have I ever done for you?’ I intermittently have these moments where I feel completely indebted to my friends because it feels like they are saving me and making such a big impact on my life, whereas I feel I do little to nothing for them.

In the end, I know that other people can’t save me or fix me. Any progress is my own doing; a result of my own hard work and resilience. And out of big moments of crisis and pain like this one, emerges a smarter, wiser, more determined version of myself. I am doing my best to build myself back up. There are people who love and care for me, and when I am in a healthy state of mind I definitely do not forget this. This has been a particularly large bump in the road, but I’m getting back on track. I will not make the same mistakes again. I would like things to go back to the way they were, and this time I’ll know how to diffuse the situation if things go south. However, I’m afraid that the damage has been done, so I will take a deep breath, back away, and give you (and I) some space.

My headache is giving me a splitting personality

I easily fall into the trap of splitting, which is just another way to describe black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking. I’m very aware of this habit and I try very hard to keep myself walking along the grey zone.

You know how we easily adapt to slow change? For example, during childhood, you don’t really notice how much you’re growing until you see a family member months later and they start gushing about how tall you’ve become. And then you sort of think about it and go, ‘yeah, I guess I never really noticed’.

Or when you’re staring at a clock, time seems to pass so slowly. But if you occupy yourself, it will seem like time has zoomed by. So it’s almost like if pay too much attention to something, we don’t really notice the change.

Like I was saying before, my biggest struggle is with my black-and-white thinking. Even when I think I’m not splitting, I probably am. I focus so hard on walking the middle path and staying in the grey zone that I just stare and stare and stare at it as I walk along. I will slowly start straying off the straight path and start veering off. The shade changes ever so slightly so that I don’t notice until I find myself in a sheer panic, looking up to find I’ve wandered into either a white or black zone.

Here’s the thing. There are many instances where there are very clear opposites: up or down, black or white, open or closed. It’s easy to identify the middle ground or the grey zone. But life, emotions, recovery… everything is so much more complicated than that.

Our lives are not two-dimensional. Yes, we can be in the grey zone in terms of “up or down”, but what if we’re shifting on the “left to right” scale? Just because I’m making sure I’m living in the grey zone in one area does not mean I can neglect other areas.

That’s a very black-and-white way of trying to avoid black-and-white thinking.

HOW TO DESTROY A GIRLS SELF ESTEEM

TW: this post talks about/alludes to emotional abuse, suicide and sexual assault

  1. Target a vulnerable girl. Someone shy, already slightly insecure, depressed. Get her to open up to you. Shower her with attention and flattery. Write songs for her. Serenade her. Show her grand gestures of love. Make her feel beautiful and worth loving.
  2. As soon as you’ve caught her, there’s no need to try. Lie to her. Start reconnecting with your ex girlfriends and flirting with other girls. Tell her she’s possessive and clingy if she expresses discomfort. Hide your activity and sneak around behind her back. To really make it sting, be just a little careless – enough for her to find some information to be suspicious, but not enough for her to be certain.
  3. When she asks you about any of these things, deny. Even if you weren’t doing anything wrong, just lie for no reason at all. Lie to make her question everything you say. If she sees text messages between you and another girl, delete them and show her your phone again. Make her question her own sanity.
  4. Make sure she knows about how attractive you find other girls. Sometimes people you know, sometimes random models or actresses. Talk about how hot these girls are. Make lewd comments and lust over them openly in front of her. Click the like button on every photo you do this to. This will condition her to remember your reaction everytime she sees a guy like a picture of an attractive girl. The beauty of this is that you can then tell her she’s being jealous and clingy. And every future guy will say the same because they won’t know what you did to make her so insecure.
  5. Tell her how hot she would be if she only looked like those girls. Maybe if she had bigger breasts. If she worked out and got a little more muscular. If she just gained a little weight. Say it in a lighthearted tone, as if they are friendly suggestions and you’re just trying to help. Then there will always be a part of her wondering if she is being compared to others.
  6. Pressure her to sexually gratify you. Make her feel bad if she doesn’t. Make it seem like what you’re asking for is normal. Guilt her. How dare she kiss you and not want to do anything else? She has to finish what she started. No, not later – now. If all else fails, remember you’re a lot stronger than her – just hold her down, ignore that annoying crying and do what you need to do.
  7. If she breaks up with you, make her pay for it. You know she is scared to open up about her depression because she fears she will “infect” the people she loves. So all of a sudden, call her up one night and scream and yell and call her every name you can think of. She’s fucked up and she ruins everyone around her. Tell her she should be ashamed because now you’re depressed and suicidal and it’s all her fault. Tell her you’re going to self harm and kill yourself and it will be all her fault. You know she cares too much and she’s too nice to hang up the phone, so she stays up all night making sure you’re okay while you tell her how awful she is under a guise of hurt and self victimization.
  8. After she finally cuts you out, isolate her from all her friends. She has opened up about all her fears and flaws. Use these against her. Make yourself look like the victim. Make sure she has nobody. Make sure rumors about her keep spreading.
  9. Eventually, she’ll find new friends. She’ll move on and meet someone new. No worries, there’s other ways you can try to control her. Send her anonymous messages over text, Facebook, and on her blog. Taunt her and harass her by threatening to talk to her father, sister, or current boyfriend. She’ll block you, but be persistent. There are so many anonymous apps and platforms available for all your harassment needs.
  10. Make a fake Facebook and email under her name and try to turn people against her. She will be terrified. She will suspect it’s you, but since you’ve turned so many people against her she doesn’t know for sure anymore.
  11. Over the next few years, keep messaging her anonymously. A nice monthly tradition. Say encouraging things to her. Typical stuff like, “Happy New Year! Hope this is the year you finally kill yourself!” Give her comments out of the blue about her outfit or what she’s doing at that moment. This will make her feel on edge. She will constantly be looking over her shoulder or peeking out of windows, unsure of who’s watching her. She will be paranoid and afraid.
  12. Eventually you will give up the game, but don’t worry. The damage has been done. Even years later, she will still have these reactions ingrained in her. When she’s in a healthy, happy, consensual relationship she will sporadically remember how it felt when you forced yourself on her, feel a huge wave of dread and break down. She will always be actively fighting the nagging voice in her head saying, if only you looked more like her. If only you were prettier, fitter, curvier… She will always be suspicious of people’s motives, she will be unable to fully trust any guy. She will self destruct and sabotage relationships with people who truly care for her.

Congratulations! After wasting years bitterly holding a grudge, stalking, harrassing, and intimidating her, you’ve done it. Was it worth it?

Termites

Tunnelled through my brain

Scratched away at my skull 

Hollowed out my insides 

Sucked me dry of energy 

Happiness 

And hope. 

Burrowed through my marrow 

Pierced through my skin. 

Now ugly outside as I felt inside,

I ran for shelter.

In the security of open arms and broken silence, 

I finally closed my eyes. 

Restless, turbulent, but nevertheless, sleep. 

In the morning, to my horror, I saw the people around me 

Grey, diseased, 

Empty. 

I closed my eyes. 

11.6.15

This was written after a very vivid dream I had of this happening. I used to be afraid of seeking help because I believed I would hurt the people around me. 

Ruined

Back when we kept pictures in photo albums,
We stored memories behind plastic covers or glass panes.
In fear of misplacing or wrecking them,
We kept them tucked away somewhere safe.

Over time, corners would fold
Edges would crumple or become stained by spilled tea,
But these memories were protected, more or less.
They remained far away. Separate from us.
They remained where they should be – in the past.

Now, in the age of newsfeeds and numbers
They never leave us;
Easily accessible reminders of what we’ve lost.
Photos are crumpled by obsession
Memories are stained by emotion.

23.4.16

Stigma hits like a ton of bricks

Warning: mentions of self-harm and suicide

Stigma surrounding mental illness can lead to devastating  consequences. People have lost their jobs, been shunned by their loved ones, or abandoned. Me, being as naïve as I was, thought that stigma was mainly an issue in the general population. Silly me, thinking that doctors would be trained in treating various medical problems in an unbiased manner.

2 years ago, I was woken up by my mother one morning. She told me that my cousin and best friend (basically my sister) was in the hospital because she had attempted suicide. Fortunately, she got the help she needed. I was angry. Really angry. Not at her, of course. Angry because this was another reminder of how things could have gone for me, if the stigma wasn’t there.

Similarly, about 5 years ago, I also landed myself in the hospital. When I finally got to see a doctor, the first thing I remember was him asking general questions about my life and how I was feeling. He seemed a little rushed and abrupt, but still nice enough. I was already on edge, and feeling uneasy. I remember thinking, there are actually people dying and seriously injured and I’m wasting his time. I need to get out of here. Why am I even here?

He asked me if I had an “official diagnosis.” I told him I was diagnosed with depression… oh, and also that other thing – borderline personality disorder. The second that came out of my mouth, I knew something was wrong. I froze over as I watched his demeanor completely change. He gave me a smug smile that will unfortunately always be branded into my memory and asked, “do you agree with that diagnosis?”

Excuse me? I was completely taken off guard, I didn’t even expect being asked that. I didn’t even really know much about it. When I was initially diagnosed, I latched onto the diagnosis of depression because I knew what it was. So truthfully I didn’t know much about BPD. I didn’t even know what stigmas were associated with BPD.

When I gave him a hesitant “yes”, he began interrogating me. “Are you sure? Do you even know the symptoms of BPD? Do you agree with the diagnosis?” I just kept saying yes, hoping he’d let me go. He laughed. Then he said, “huh, that’s really funny. People with BPD usually don’t agree with their diagnosis.”

At this point I was overwhelmed and confused and I was sobbing and I kept saying to him, “why are you saying that?! What are you doing? Do you think I’m lying? What do you want me to say?”

He called me melodramatic. He downplayed my self harm scars. I felt trapped by this doctor, who seemed to want nothing more than to prove that all my problems were trivial.

I don’t even know how long I was there, but by the end I felt like I had aged. I felt a little more weary, and a lot more broken. At the end he knelt down so he was eye to eye with me, and said, “now, we aren’t going to see you back here again right?”

No. I’m not coming back next time. Next time I’m suicidal I am definitely just going to kill myself. That’s for sure.

And that’s what I really felt. The hospital was my last resort to save myself and this interaction proved that people like me, people with BPD, apparently do not deserve that treatment. Thank goodness my parents arrived. Thank goodness they are as supportive as they are. Thank goodness they acted quickly and put my mental health first. They hid away all my pills and sharp objects. They watched me day and night. I am so grateful.

After this happened, I immediately began researching more about BPD. I found so many heartbreaking posts. “Borderline Personality: The Disorder That Doctors Fear Most” published in TIME magazine. Individuals with BPD are “manipulative” or “drama queens”. They ruin the lives of everyone around them. People in relationships with them need to be saved. They are lost causes that can never be helped.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is often viewed in negative terms by mental health practitioners and the public. The disorder may have a stigma associated with it that goes beyond those associated with other mental illnesses. The stigma associated with BPD may affect how practitioners tolerate the actions, thoughts, and emotional reactions of these individuals. It may also lead to minimizing symptoms and overlooking strengths.

Source: Borderline personality disorder, stigma, and treatment options. Aviram et al., 2006.

There has been incredible progress over reducing stigma surrounding depression and anxiety. There are a lot of people speaking out, celebrities and role models speaking out. But we don’t have that for BPD. I don’t have someone I look up to who has gone through BPD. Whenever I read on forums where people discuss relationships, do you know how disheartening it is to read comments like, “what a fucking psycho, she definitely has BPD”?

Like I said before, when I looked into my BPD diagnosis, a lot of things fell into place. I was mistreated because the doctor made assumptions about me, my motives, and my character based on the stigma surrounding BPD. These stigmas are not me. But because they exist, I was stomped on by a healthcare system that was supposed to save me.