Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Admitting It is the First Step

Day 48
317 Days Remaining

Imagine that you walk outside into the gorgeous morning sunlight.  The birds are chirping, the sun gently touches your skin, the cool air greets your cheeks with a kiss.  You feel alive, well, and happy.

All at once, the sun brightens and continues to brighten, getting slowly more and more radiant until it becomes hard to look anywhere without the rays blinding you.  You shade your face, trying to make it go away, but you can feel the heat and light of the sun beating on you, no matter what you do.

Then, the gentle chirps of the birds begin to increase in volume.  The light background noise becomes louder and louder until you can no longer detect individual sounds.  It blurs into a cacophony of sound that is louder than any rock concert, forcing you to your knees with your arms pressed tightly against your ears and over your eyes, trying to protect yourself from the onslaught of sensory information.

While you are still crouched there, desperately attempting to shut out all the glare and dissonance, the gentle wind that you had felt on your cheeks picks up, catching your hair in a tight grip and whipping it around your head.  Your clothes are pulled at, and you feel the swirling air flowing around you, madly clutching at you as you try to stay steady in your crouch.  With the deafening sound pounding your ears, the intensity of the sun breaking through the filter of your lids, and the sudden whirlwind thrashing at you, you can no longer stay upright, and you are knocked, sprawling, desperate and in pain, to the ground.  Yet there is still no escape...even flattened to the cement, you are battered by the wind and assaulted by the sun and noise.  There is no escape.

This is what living with borderline personality disorder is like.

Instead of light, sound and wind, try to picture living with emotions that are experienced to their most heightened extent.  Everything you feel, you feel to the extreme.  Happiness is bursting.  Sadness is desolate.  Fear is all-consuming.  No matter how much you try to ignore or control them - and, when this is the only normal you know, you may not even realize that they should be controlled or ignored - you cannot escape from the grip of the way your own brain experiences life.  It affects everything you try to do.  It takes over.

You may have heard of Bipolar Disorder, all too commonly (and erroneously) called Multiple Personality Disorder.  In a lot of ways it is similar to BPD, especially in that emotions are experienced to their very extreme.  The main difference is that with people who suffer from Bipolar Disorder, their manic stage (defined by as "an abnormally elated mental state, typically characterized by feelings of euphoria, lack of inhibitions, racing thoughts, diminished need for sleep, talkativeness, risk taking, and irritability") stretches on for a long period of time, sometimes weeks or months, and then alternates with a similarly lengthy period of depression.  With BPD, there is no stretch of one heightened emotion or another; you are bounced back and forth between them with no warning nor necessarily any particular real reason for the change.  Imagine trying just to function normally with even just one of those factors (wind or heat or noise) assaulting you.  Then picture trying to skateboard through a park where the wind and the heat and the noise all take turns throwing themselves at you without warning, sometimes two at once.

Most people feel one or two of these at a time, and at "normal" levels
From my early teens, I suffered from borderline personality disorder, and had no idea what was wrong with me until I was nearly in my mid-thirties.  For twenty years I fought through my emotions, realizing that the way I felt and experienced things was not normal to other people, and constantly vowing to find a way to get a handle on them "next time", but never finding a way to do that.  My marriage was extremely strained - and although of course I realize it takes two to make a marriage work, and I am not blaming either one of us more than the other, but my emotional excess definitely played a part in it - my relationship with my children suffered after our separation because I absolutely did not know how to get a grip on the pain I was feeling, and I too often found myself seeking absolution in the wrong pair of arms.  I did see a counselor following the breakup of my marriage, but her "yes-man" techniques did nothing to help me work through my issues; she basically told me that I should just do whatever "felt right".  Happy to be given permission, I did.  It went wrong, as did so many other things I attempted.  Then a particularly bad fight with my boyfriend led to my realization that there really was something wrong with me.  This kept happening.  It couldn't only be that I chose the wrong people to be in relationship with (although that was, likely, a factor); I could feel deep down that there was an issue that needed to be addressed once and for all.

I made a visit to my family doctor, who had been with me through my entire marriage, three pregnancies, and a lot of ups and downs, and after a lengthy session (full of tears, naturally!) she suggested - gently - that I may be bipolar.  Although it hurt to consider that there could be something very wrong with me, I accepted it because I knew that once I finally had a diagnosis, something could be done to attempt to rectify it.  My doctor told me she would work on getting me in to see a psychiatrist, and in the meantime, I should read up on the disorder.

I did more than read.  I took dozens of books out of the library and worked through them diligently, filling my head with as much information as I could.  I began to make lists of what triggered my extreme emotional reactions, because as they say, "Forewarned is forearmed."  If I was prepared for how certain things would affect me, I would better be able to stop the emotions from getting out of control.  I wrote reminders to myself: "It is okay to feel this right now."  "This is a real feeling, and you are allowed to feel it...just watch what you do with it." "You are in control of your feelings; they are not in control of you."  I began putting that big red X and a number beside it on the calendar for each day that I did not have an extreme emotional reaction.  If I slipped up and reacted in any way that was outside the accepted norm, I had to start counting the days over again.  Everything I had read about bipolar disorder sounded right to me, except for what I mentioned earlier: I did not have long periods of mania followed by long period of depression.  I could have a "manic" episode that lasted half a day, then watch a sanitary napkin commercial (all floaty and misty and mother/daughtery) and burst into tears.  I could be feeling like it was the end of the world one moment and then be dancing to music and baking chocolate chip cookies the next.  There was no rhyme nor reason to my emotional roller-coaster.  Nonetheless, I assumed that my doctor knew what she was talking about - and everything else seemed to fit - so I looked forward to the day when I could get in to see the psychiatrist, and could be given a diagnosis and perhaps find a course of treatment that would finally help.

And in the meantime, I continued to read, to practice practical and acceptable responses to emotional situations, and to mark those big red X's on my calendar.

1 comment:

  1. Have been so busy lately that I just got a chance to catch up now! I wish that I could be as brave as you, to be so open and share so much of yourself. You've got invaluable insight that we can all be envious of! :)