I’ve been doing pretty well lately, in terms of managing my Borderline Personality Disorder. I have, for the most part, been keeping everything on an even keel. Sure, there have been stressful situations and phases – but I have dealt with them using a variety of strategies, such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and there has been minimal disruption. I’m not going to lie – it’s felt pretty darn good.
There’s always a ‘but’, though, right? Especially when it comes to BPD. This disorder is a sneaky bastard. It makes you believe one thing – then slaps you upside the head with another. It lets you regain your balance – then pulls the rug out from under you. It pretends to be cowed, and then you discover that it has been quietly plotting your downfall. Again.
I felt pretty calm and confident about going into a prolonged triggering situation last weekend. It was ‘Family Camp’ with a local scouting group, and it’s something we’ve done many times before for our children. The first time we did it, I was barely able to function during the weekend. Living in a tent, in a muddy field, with toilet and washing facilities shared by hundreds of people, and children getting their shoes all over the duvets meant I was incapacitated by overwhelming obsessive compulsive disorder. Living with many other families in a social setting for two days set off paranoid spirals which, in turn, set off extreme emotional reactions. It was a psychologically gruelling experience, but it was important for our children to participate.
Every year since then, we have attended this Family Camp, and every year since then, I have managed myself better. The improvement was so notable this year, that I was congratulating myself on how relatively unstressed I was in the run-up to the event, and when it was over, my husband and I both acknowledged how remarkable it was that I had survived the whole weekend without once touching any of the five bottles of hand-sanitiser I had packed. I had felt no rage, nor panic, only minimal paranoia, and had actually had a fairly pleasant time – lack of sleep notwithstanding. “Look how much progress I’ve made!” I exclaimed. I felt empowered, and somehow vindicated. All that hard work and uncomfortable psychological exploration had clearly paid off. Actually enjoying Family Camp was the reward.
Here comes the inevitable ‘but’. That relief did not last long. Returning home, I became highly irritable. I put this down to exhaustion – having had about 3 hours sleep in 48, thanks to the Cumbrian wildlife, and the fact that it never really seems to get properly dark in North-west UK in June. That must have been the explanation, because why on earth would I get irritable about camping after the fact? Two days (and much sleep) later, my irritability had not only not subsided, but it was now partnered with intense low mood, apathy, and extreme self-loathing. I noticed my husband began using his well-practiced ‘BPD-response-mode’ – taking steps to proactively defuse situations before I had a chance to react to them. Crucially, I noticed my voice had changed, too.
That’s something else I’ve become aware of in terms of BPD – my voice changes. It truly is the clearest indication to others that all is not well. It’s the closest thing there is to changing the colour of the bulb in the warning system – but it is entirely involuntary. I do not like my BPD voice. It’s tone is harsh and unforgiving – almost cold – and when I hear it, it doesn’t sound like me at all. That only adds to the feeling of disconnection that accompanies a BPD episode.
But, I digress. It’s now five days since we returned from the Family Camp, and I’m still in this BPD thing. It is clearly a delayed reaction to the triggering situation that I thought I had managed well. It shouldn’t surprise me that this happens – a main feature of BPD is emotional dysregulation, after all. I have yet to come up with an answer as to why I dealt with the situation in the moment, only to be blindsided when I got home. I can only think it is connected to the way in which I processed my reactions at the time. Was I mindful, or did I simply repress them? At this point, I really have no idea.
Where does that put me, and what does it mean? Well, it puts me back in The Pit, and it means that I am entirely disheartened. I thought I had earned more slack in the line, but it yanked me right back down to the bottom as soon as I tried to rise a little further. As a result of that, I am entirely demotivated. What’s the point of all that hard work and uncomfortable psychological exploration if I am never going to be free of this godforsaken condition? It’s all very well understanding it, and having an explanation for where it comes from, but what good is that if it doesn’t prevent it from chewing on my ankles?
Then there’s the physical aspect: the binge-eating and subsequent self-loathing, the increased skin-picking on my fingers, the stress-related digestion issues, and the disturbing lack of energy. All of these things combine to pile in on my already low mood. Gone is the feeling of achievement at having made it through the weekend without a meltdown. Gone is the feeling of being capable.
Oh, and I have to go to a formal ball tomorrow night. Hello, paranoia.
This whole bitter-tasting BPD feast is garnished with a layer of frustration – because as much as I rely on CBT strategies to get emotional spirals under control, I still don’t have the hang of using them to alleviate extreme low mood. Even after all these years. There really is nothing more ironic than having to go back to the drawing board – back to square one – when you have exactly zero motivation.
So, this is the point in my thought process where I take a deep breath, and look at all the pieces I’ve laid out on the page before me – because I work stuff out more effectively when I place it outside of my head. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer – it’s the quickest way to empty my overactive brain.
I’m back at the bottom of The Pit – how do I get out?
First things first: I’ve recognised that I’m at the bottom of The Pit. It sounds so simple and basic, but those that have been in there know that this, in itself, is noteworthy. The thing about The Pit is that, once you are in there, it is incredibly easy to forget that there is a world outside of The Pit. It is difficult to remember what it feels like to not be in The Pit – even after the shortest period of time.
Secondly, I have a desire to not be in The Pit. I don’t like it in here, and I don’t like who I become when I’m in here. This is also noteworthy, because it indicates that I have not yet lost the sensation of what it feels like to not be in The Pit. I have a sense of something that I want to get back to.
The combination of those two things tells me that, actually, this set-back is just that – a set-back. It is a temporary thing. They allow me to remind myself that I had been feeling relatively well for an extended period of time – perhaps the longest in a decade. This is something I can remain happy about. Like any chronic illness, when the frequency of episodes continues to decrease, continued recovery is indicated – even though those episodes still occur occasionally. Dismissing all of my progress because of one relapse is an extreme reaction in itself – a BPD symptom that exacerbates the downward spiral. I can stop that spiral here, and take control of this delayed emotional reaction.
And there it is – a small olive branch extending from my rational mind to my irrational mind. From the calm, zen little creature on one shoulder, to the chaotic, stroppy and explosively moody little Borderline Personality Disorder creature on the other. A shaft of sunlight hits The Pit, and illuminates a route by which I can clamber up to the top once again. The Pit is deep, and the route is long, but seeing the way out means I’m in a much better position now than I was an hour ago. That’s progress.