Managing My Mess

This is the moment I make myself.

In the Dragontree Dreambook and Planner, this was the mantra I wrote for my year, the power phrase utilized not only to trigger my future-oriented mindset while planning, as the book’s creators intended, but to check myself, to pump the brakes when I’m at the crossroads between the right call and regret. I have not used it as much as I meant to and I all but stopped saying it when planning. Even so, it resonates with me every time I remember it. It reminds me that the now, this moment, is all I have and every moment builds it, builds on the last, creating the next, making me what I am. It’s a lesson I shouldn’t ever forget. And yet I do.

This semester has been a shit storm. Just check the dates between this post and the last. I drastically lowered my medication, my mood stabilizer of 13 years, to half the original dose. Even doing this with my shrink on board, it was shit timing. I was only just starting school again after over a year off, and I was not coping well. My parents routinely fight, making home toxic. Two of my best friends were going through break-ups and near-breaks ups, and my sister, who has five kids, is defeating a deeply abusive relationship. Everyone kept asking for my help with school, their own emotional needs, favors, watching kids, watching animals, editing, and even just boredom and amusement, and I kept saying yes. Throw in the group work in my classes, volunteering for the homeless and in-need, doing piles of bookwork, essays, struggling in a shitty French course, and my free time became sleep time. My partner was destabilizing due to his own mental health, living situation, and horrendous luck. Then, before he’d had even two days to breathe after his last crisis, his father died, leaving him a mess while I was a mess without either of us having a partner fit to lean on (which was predominantly circumstances rather than either of our faults directly). I broke. I broke hard and I said I was going to leave for a while, delete our chat app and deactivate Facebook. He didn’t believe me. And why would he? When I got dark I’d said that before but codependence and loneliness always spurred me back within a day, if not an hour (I call it the borderline bounce-back effect). But when he said, “I’ll probably see you tomorrow.” I just…I couldn’t. It resolved me to prove both of us wrong.

We ended up not talking for a month, during which I neared a nervous breakdown and fell back into the savagely dark and self-destructive side of borderline traits. I deactivated my Facebook for the first time ever, which was actually a smart move because it’s an addicting, shallow, and dopamine-driven timesink (I regret recently reactivating it as my addiction has completely surged). I dropped my French course because it was so poorly designed that the only way to pass was with Google and I was not learning anything, even with independent study to supplement it. I hate the idea of cheating, and the stress was chest-clenching so I dropped it to spare myself and my GPA. This choice also cost me my ability to double major in Communication and English, as the latter requires language credits which I didn’t get in high school. So boom, yet another worry, another stressor. Things got so bad that not only was I talking to my other two teachers about accommodations, but I got a note from my shrink. I got a fucking doctor’s note from my shrink.

It fucked me up. I don’t know why. I’m a mental health sufferer and outspoken advocate. I talk about my baggage publicly to normalize it, and yet the idea that I needed a doctor’s note to explain why I hadn’t turned in assignments and why my work was slipping chafed my pride. But why? If I’d gotten the flu or broken a leg I wouldn’t have felt shame or guilt. I’m friends with my teachers. They knew I was crazy long before it fucked things. So why did I feel so shitty about it? Because even I wonder how much is my head and how much is an excuse. I don’t think the line is clear. I’m not even sure there is a line.

But I know it was becoming self-perpetuating, an excuse. The more I focused on my condition, the more power I gave it. While I was away from my partner and Facebook I journaled and talked to friends who reached out. I vented, and initially, it helped, or so I thought. But the plan had been for isolation, contemplation and detoxing. That didn’t happen. It took me a couple weeks before I realized it. Instead of gleaning perspective, I fell into the BPD narrative rewrite mode, constantly repeating and bitching about my perspective and my view of the situations fucking things up. Constantly bitching about him. But it wasn’t all his fault. Yes, we have several years of unresolved issues. Yes, a fair chunk of that is on him. But the more I focused on that, the more I lost sight of the present context, of just how much shit had been dumped on him, how much bad had happened, how much he hurt, how stressed he was, and how fucked his head was. I objectively knew these things, but with each repetition, each venting of my own issues, I erased a little more objectivity with subjectivity, a little more him, a little more us, coloring it with a little more me.

When we started emailing to resume contact, his letter slapped me back to reality. Or as close to ‘reality’ as anyone can get (as Nabokov says, it’s a word best used in quotations). My partner wasn’t right about everything, maybe 60%, but he was right about enough. And I needed that reminder. I needed to stop talking about shit and start thinking about it. Interrogating it myself. Reminding myself to question my reads, assumptions, opinions, and feelings, to find the sources, to ask more than I claimed.

We’re doing better now. I’m no longer sick with terror that I’ll lose the love of my life. I’m no longer swinging like a broken pendulum at the slightest thought or stimuli. I’m not riding out rapid ups and decaying downs, or snagging on every fear until it tangles and traps me. My moods are moving with the destructive, reactive and unstoppable force of magma, melting away reason even as it tries to contain them. The lava leaked into the ocean. It’s hardened, solid. I’ve stabilized. I’m recovering in my two remaining classes and sorting out my head. I still don’t know if going to finish dropping my medication completely. I’m afraid to given the spiral it contributed to before. I don’t know if moving will happen in June or house-hunting in May. I’m not ready. But will I ever be? Is anyone ever? I don’t even know if my friend will be able to be my roommate. And my family needs me right now, but I’m so fucking drained. Stable, but depleted. They only seem to take anymore. It’s killing me. Everyone needing me is killing me. It’s no longer fulfilling, just emptying. I just need space to be. I need boundaries that are respected by everyone, and most of all by me. So I think a change is for the best, scary and fiscally idiotic though it may be. Even so, it’s difficult to know what the right path is, assuming there is one.

I meant to write this, and did mentally, dozens of times over the last couple months. It’s changed in form and content every time. I don’t know what I originally planned to write, and I know that there are things I’ve forgotten. I also hate that it’s mostly just an update again. Narrative is my strong suit, and thus it is equally my failing because it overshadows the takeaway. The point of writing should always be to give something, preferably to someone else, unless we’re talking journals (then that someone else is you). So then, what’s the takeaway?

Check yourself. Check-in, be critical but not cruel, be analytical, question, and play devil’s advocate with your habits and comfort zones. I’ve fallen off the wagon with all of these. Two of my goals for the year were to be mindful and to be deliberate, to act with both awareness and intention. I’ve grown reflexive and thoughtless. I need to slow down again, to talk less (so much less), to draw lines around my alone time and not cross them. Both mindfulness and deliberateness are practices. You do not stop practicing. They’re mental muscles that strengthen and grow, getting easier as you use them. If you use them. So I need to pick up the damn weights and start pumping again.

When I slouch, I need to straighten. When I gossip, I need to still my tongue. When I assume, I need to ask why and on what I base that assumption. When I get offended, I need to find the hurt behind that hurt, the reason it was able to touch me. When I repeat myself, telling the same story to multiple people, I need to ask why and if it is necessary. When I reach for the phone—for Facebook, texts, messenger, TV, whatever—I need to stop and consider if it’s the best use of my time. When I move to get a snack, I need to freeze and feel into my body, to feel if the hunger is in my stomach or my mind. Which emptiness am I trying to fill with these things? Why? Is that choice good for me? In the words of Lady Speech, I need to follow my fucking instinct. I need to hold space for myself and my silence, to hear what my body, my instincts have to say. I know what is right. And I can tell myself if I’ll just stop talking and doing long enough to listen.

So this is me managing my mess. This is me pausing to see it. This is me stopping to feel it. This is me listening.

This is the moment I make myself.

Where I’ve been, Where I’ve Gone, and the Borderline in Between

I’ve been all over the place. Impressive considering, as aforementioned, I’m still here. I’ve gone to Dallas with friends (and handled logistics nearly solo), to Paris with people—the majority of whom—I’d be happy to never see again, I went back briefly to California for a funeral and a friend, to Ohio for love, to the city, to a dungeon, to work over and over, but mostly, I’ve gone to the far reaches and dusty divides of my mind. It’s a mess. Admittedly, an enlightening one.

I recently accepted that I have borderline personality. Previously, it would’ve been the disorder, but I’ve achieved a state of functionality and balance that prevent it from really impeding my life in ways I can’t overcome. A lot of luck was involved. I was originally diagnosed as bipolar. It never really fit. I always fell into the ‘other’ classification at the bottom of the thirty-some-odd listings on the Wikipedia page. My shrink, who I’m fond of, didn’t challenge the diagnosis, but then, he only sees me in controlled environments, so it makes sense, and I do have upswings and downswings. They just aren’t cyclical. I turn like a hiphop ballerina—back-forth-back-round-down—in seconds, seamlessly. This may not sound lucky, but it means I don’t get stuck in moods (not typical of everyone with borderline, by the by). Rather, I learned what stimuli can snap me one way or another.

Fiction is my recovery go-to. Furthermore, because the mood swings were more prominent than the depression, which was just one of many common states, maybe the most common at the time, I was put on a mood stabilizer. Again: lucky. Mood stabilizers are a good treatment for borderline. So, I was better. I still wasn’t well. But I was better. I didn’t have any reason to think the diagnosis was wrong.

This all goes back over a decade. Borderline personality was first brought to my attention by a friend who suggested, after an Abnormal Psych class, that it seemed to fit me better. I just kinda kept it in my brain for years, occasionally glancing at it, but not really digging into it.

I only recently learned, after having looked into and accepted it, and then discussing it with my shrink (I use the term fondly, honest), that anger is a big thing with borderline personality. And man, did I have a temper. I mean, I still do, but I police and manage it now. From infancy on, I had rage. More off-tilt luck started me on the path to dealing with it.

The first step was arguing. I used to argue about everything well past the point where I knew what I was talking about. Well, maybe seven or eight years ago, I was in a toxic friend-relation-not-but-kinda-ship. We clashed. Hard. Ironically because we’re at once extremely alike and fundamentally different. We argued a lot. We argued so much people actually attempted to intervene (we not-so-kindly told them to fuck off). We argued into tears and torment, into agony and sunrises, into fits and circles. We would routinely stop hanging out for multi-month stretches to detox from each other, then we’d hang out again, honeymoon for a month, and promptly dissolve into mutual toxicity and conflict. It went on like that for years. Long story short, I burnt out.

I think he may have too, though it wasn’t quite the same. For me, I lost my desire to argue. I started to draw lines. It initially was hostile. I got irritated once it became clear there was a disagreement. I blamed the other person. Gradually, it receded into something more healthy like, “Look, I don’t think that’s right, but I don’t actually know, so…” Sometimes, particularly if I’m low on spoons, I regress and get a little toothy. But I try to stay mindful, to recognize that differing opinions aren’t personal attacks. Likewise—and this one I learned from massive conflict in my current relationship—it’s okay to be wrong. You don’t need to try to convince or convert when you talk. You can listen openly, and if it turns out that they know more than you (woe to those with brainy spouses), you can adjust your thinking. It’s hard. It’s really hard, but it gets easier, and you get happier. Again, luck in the form of conflict.

All these epiphanies fall under the types of things you’d cover in BPD-specific therapy. I learned them the hard way, but I learned them well. There’s probably more that I’m forgetting, but whatever. I promised myself this would be a low-pressure blog and I meant it. This is a record, recorded to process and ponder outside of myself.

Anyway, I got tangential (that never happens). The point is, I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I work. BPD is a big part of that. We’ll likely get into others (sleep is essential, discipline is a bitch, meditation changes everything, referring to yourself in the second person disowns responsibility, etc.). For now, though, I wanted to talk about some of the mistakes I made that caused me to fuck up and drop this blog, as well as…way too many other things.

A big mistake is over-planning. If I can barely get myself to write, forcing myself to write this, then that, then this, when maybe I want to write that other thing over there is going to cause me serious issues. This can be applied more broadly to life as a whole. I need to not set myself up to fail by over-planning and trying to take on a mountain when I can’t even tie my shoes. I need to pick reasonable, small, manageable goals. They add up.

I went to TEDxMileHigh (speaking of places I’ve been) last year and there was this talk the punchline of which was “collect the 1s.” Essentially it means collect small victories instead of aiming for the big ones first (in terms of the talk, the 1000s). The 1s add up to 1000 eventually. What’s more, they motivate you to keep going because they’re tangible results. On the flip side, while failure can teach you, every time you fail, you encode the idea that you can’t do the thing you failed at. So, if you’re constantly failing at the same task, it becomes increasingly more difficult to do every time.

Basically, I’m saying this hot, tangential mess of a post is a 1 rather than 100 (maybe a 10; I just realized it’s pushing 1500 words). But I felt better even as I wrote its initial draft. Because I was writing it. I was actually doing what I intended to do (still am). I didn’t get hung up on the fact that I really meant to talk instead about ‘hey, so here’s why I failed before, and here’s what I did right!’ in a nice orderly and catchy post. And, frankly, I did talk about those things. I talked about them like I would if I was holding you captive in my office and you made the mistake of asking “What’s new? It’s been forever!” No joke, that question involves ducktape and no potty breaks if you expect the whole answer (I lose my train of thought easily; I’m sure you’d never guess).

And speaking of what’s new, in lieu of a better transition, since this is just a brain dump apparently: silence is another change. Ironic timing, but it’s true. Silence: I’ve tried to find it and feel it. To accept I don’t need to live in the spotlight 100% of the time, and that attention elsewhere has nothing to do with my worthiness or value (that last bit about worthiness, specifically being worthy of love, comes from my shrink and was an intense process Fall 2015). Silence blossoms. When you’re quiet the world can get in. And honestly, not every thought needs to be heard by others (another trait of borderline personality is needing to give an action to every emotion, and for me that is usually talking). This one is still a work in progress obviously, and I’ve kinda fallen off the wagon the last couple months. But that’s partially because my partner and I were binging on each other.

We aren’t going to have any time coming up here because of my super tight Spring schedule (we’ll also get into that). Speaking of, I need to go the sleep asap if I want to meditate in the morning. It’s 11:24pm and I have class at 9am. So, sorry to end this abruptly. Maybe I’ll edit it to be tidier. Maybe I’ll leave the snarls and tangles and brambly bullshit for posterity. I mean, if you’re coming on this ride, you should know whose driving. This is a pretty clear picture of the license.

-L.

 

 

Post Script: Reread this prior to posting and opted to leave the stream-of-consciousness, even though the last page or so led to deepening winces. In my defense, I was racing the clock. (I lost, by the way.) Hopefully, the next post will be more focused. I’m still playing catch up so we’ll see what happens. Things will continue to develop organically, but will likely find a form eventually.