Content note: eating disorders and self harm
Content warning: childhood physical abuse, voilence.
I don’t want to go to sleep.
Recently time has been slippery. It twists and turns at the edges, leaving me unsure of where I’m standing. I only have the most tentative grip on what day it is and sometimes I’m caught by surprise. Day after day melds into the last, punctuated only by sleep and food and going to the bathroom.
Sometimes I forget there’s a world outside my flat because I rarely see it. It catches me by surprise the rare times I remember to go outside. When I peer through the peephole in my door it’s a shock that anything exists beyond.
When you broke our relationship, I was trying to let you in.
I’ve built a lot of walls in the last few years. I’ve nearly perfected the art of seeming to be an entirely open book, someone who easily lets people in on the insides of the deepest, darkest parts of their soul as easily as breathing.
But I know that as soon as you dip below the surface, you might realise I’m further away than I seem. There’s a whole maze of walls and towers, and a lot of the doors I think I’ve lost the key to.
Standing in the middle of them, sometimes I see them. Sometimes I can run my hands over their rough surfaces, acknowledging every scar where someone has beaten fists against them.
And sometimes I bury myself away so I don’t have to look at them.
Over this holiday period, I actually did something incredibly stupid.
I came off my medication.
My holiday started on the 17th of December, as the last college week my class had was actually an assessment week, so we didn’t have scheduled class time as all our coursework was in for assessment with our lecturers.
For a variety of reasons I started to forget to take my medications (the biggest being massive changes in my routine throw me) and, despite telling myself I should start taking them before I crash, I kept doing it.
But it lead to a realisation.
I like watching things to wind down. TV shows, anime, cartoons. And there were certain points in them where I could tell the writer was trying to get an emotional reaction out of me, but hadn’t quite done the legwork to make me feel like that. I didn’t care for the characters. And so, normally, it wouldn’t get the emotional reaction the writer was going for from me.
But I was starting to cry.
I knew, intellectually, I had no reason to cry. I knew the writing was bad. I could reason all I liked that I shouldn’t actually be crying. I wasn’t moved.
But I was still crying.
And I’ve been thinking about this on and off for the last few weeks. Over the last few weeks, I’ve put myself back on the medications. I’ve actually done a lot of the legwork I needed to do to re-stabilize myself. Because while I hadn’t fallen into the depths of depression like I usually would, everything was off and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
I know what it is now. I couldn’t emotionally disengage.
You see, any other time I could watch the tv-show with the wanky writing and make comments to myself about it. I could laugh about overly-dramatic scenes and the writers failure to make me feel for the characters. Intellectually I could do this still. But emotionally I couldn’t disengage from the characters emotions, regardless of how believable or not they were.
And that’s life for me and many of the other people out there with Borderline Personality Disorder.
There have been times for me when someone, a stranger, has insulted me. And while I don’t know this person, and this person obviously doesn’t know me, I’ve struggled to move past it. What they’ve said, I know, intellectually, has no bearing on me as a person. It was a random moment in someone else’s life where they felt so bad they felt they had no choice but to insult me, and maybe they’ve hit on a sore point or maybe they haven’t. I still haven’t been able to work through it or past it.
So I talk to friends, and they tell me I’m over reacting. I shouldn’t care. They dismiss it as a non-issue because in all actuality it is a non-issue.
But the issue isn’t the insult. The issue is the fact I cannot emotionally disengage from the insult. I can know intellectually that this shouldn’t upset me all I like, it doesn’t matter because it still fucking upsets me.
It’s this inability to reconcile the difference between my intellectual knowledge about a situation and my level of emotional engagement with that situation that, for me, has been a large part of my experience of my disorder.
And I am insanely lucky that something as simple as an anti-depressant medication helps me dial back my feelings and bring my emotional engagement more in-line with my knowledge of a situation. Don’t get me wrong, they are still out of whack. But it dials it back from “completely unbearable” to “okay, I can deal with this if I work at it”.
I know a lot of people who don’t get this relief.
People question as to why, nine years later, I’m still on these medications. Doctors, actual medical practitioners who hold my access to these medications in their hands, have smiled at me knowingly when I say to them I don’t feel I’ll ever be off them (I don’t fucking want to be), and given me the line, “we’ll see”, as if they’re the keepers of some arcane knowledge I don’t and can’t possibly have.
Hell, just this summer a trainee psychiatrist base lined me – took me off all my medication – just to see what would happen. I felt like a child at the mercy of someone else’s whims.I crashed swiftly and hard, and this might have been part of the reason I didn’t correct myself sooner over this holiday period, because I knew a large part of this crash was because it wasn’t on my terms.
Friends do it, too. They look at me as if acknowledging I’ll be on these medications for a long time to come is giving up. What they don’t get is that these medications give me hope. They lessen the severity of a condition that by all accounts, all scientific knowledge, I will have for the rest of my life. I will always struggle with my mental health. I will always have a disorder that I’m fighting with to live a half-way normal, productive life. But by popping a little blue pill twice a day, I trim that fight back to one I have a chance of winning.
Today I decided to participate in Yoga Camp. It was both spurr of the moment and not, a very dear friend pointed me towards it. We both have fucked-up backs and those fucked-up backs are helped by yoga. Only I’d lapsed, back to the position I was at the start of the year – if not worse – where walking or standing for small periods of time very quickly leaves me in agony. Now I have the space and floors of my flat to myself I was aiming at pushing myself to get back into it.
And this is an excuse.
The first email and accompanying video informed me there would be mantras. And the first mantra was about acceptance.
And then I wanted to blog. Because acceptance is important.
When I started doing Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, they gave us a black-and-white photocopy of a house. The basement was hell, there were two more floors, and an attic where we could be considered happy.
The point of the exercise was to mark where we were on the house. Some of diligently placed ourselves in hell. Others creatively placed themselves outside the house, wandering through the garden, expressing their reluctance to even be in the room at that particular moment.
This, they said, was so we could work on accepting where we were at that moment of time. Accept what a bad, horrible and scary place we were in – you had to be to get into that program, there was only one program with ten places and a two-year waiting list, for most of us this was a last-ditch attempt at saving our lives – so we could work on getting out of that place.
I was one of the people who marked myself down as in hell. Trapped in the basement. I had behaviours that were life threatening, treatment threatening, quality of life threatening.
But the thing about accepting how bad things are is suddenly you notice it. Most of us took a nosedive before we climbed. Some of us didn’t climb.
The way I prefer to think of Borderline Personality Disorder is that it’s a structural abnormality in my brain. Because, well, it is. Studies have found smaller and over-active amygdalas, smaller hippocampuses, less active prefrontal cortexes, stuff they think explains why we’re hyper-emotional people with a focus on the bad and a difficulty reigning in how we behave.
But it also means the odds are stacked against me. Being ill was never my fault. This isn’t something I can wish or want or cut away.
The biggest thing about being diagnosed was that the focus changed. There were no cures. Recovery became a far-flung goal with a full-out slog to get there, not something that could be achieved in eighteen easy sessions. And the word recovery began to mean “management” not “take your bloody meds and get back to work”.
I mourned for a while. I mourned for a life I never got to live. A life where I did as many of my peers did – go to University, get a degree, work, marry, have children. Every now and then I stop and I grieve. I don’t think it’s wrong to mourn. Mourning is still acceptance. It’s accepting those things that are gone and giving yourself some time to be sad about it.
I started to use the sentence, “I’m disabled”. Some people told me off for this. They said, you’re saying you can’t do things, but you can do things. That’s right, I can do things. But things are harder, getting up in the morning and getting dressed is sometimes bloody hard, let alone the rest of the day. It gets easier when I have support – when I’m enabled. Disability and enabling go together, they balance each other. When something is hard, someone coming along and helping you makes all the difference.
In my mind, “I’m disabled” means “I can do the thing, I just need support”. To say “I’m disabled” is again acceptance – and this acceptance can allow me to wave my hands around and ask for support when I need it.
If, today, I was asked to put myself in the House of DBT again, I would put myself on the first floor – stage III. Maybe I hover around the stairs, but I’ve climbed out of hell. I’ve learned how to decrease my suffering, sometimes I need to go back and rework the skills into my life, take a moment to realise I’m not looking after myself properly, but who doesn’t lapse sometimes? Now I’m able to work on my personal goals. I enjoy life and it’s an ordinary enjoyment.
[Just all the trigger warnings]
I know the blog posts here are becoming increasingly, “I am not okay, here.”