I don’t like it when people try to get me to have what they call “perspective,” but I am a firm believer in context. I’m not interested in being beaten about the head with stories that are supposed to remind me that there are people so much worse off than I am. I know about the Holocaust, and all the other mass-killings that society doesn’t deem worthy of capital-letter infamy. I know about serial killers, abused children, the poor. I know, I know, I know.
But context is a different thing. As my friend J says, your own worst day is your worst day, period. And he’s a one-armed, eye-patched survivor or a horrific car accident, so I think his words have some worth. Nando Parrado, survivor of the Andes Flight Disaster says that everyone has their own Andes. It’s all about the context of your life and how much you can bear. We learn that we can survive horrible things because we survive horrible things. But some people die from horrible things, and some people simply never get better.
So comparing my worst day to your worst day doesn’t really amount to much. And frankly, it’s bullshit to try to put someone else’s pain on some arbitrary scale and say, all right, you get to suffer this much and you get to grieve this much and then you’d better get over yourself and move on because, frankly, we’re tired of all this boo-hooing and don’t you know that so many people have it so much worse?
In September, I spent five days in a mental health center because I was having suicidal thoughts. While I was there, I was diagnosed with something called Borderline Personality Disorder. I didn’t find out about the diagnosis for over a month and a half because no one mentioned it, and some people thought I already knew. I was shocked when I was told that I’d graduated to the ranks of the truly mentally ill (depression is so common as to be passe, after all,) and especially because everything I knew about BPD was gleaned from an outdated book on mental illnesses that I read in my high school library back in 1995. Apparently, in the 18 years since I first heard about this disorder, the prognosis has become much less bleak. But all I knew when I got my diagnosis was that people with this condition were considered untreatable. It felt like a life sentence– I will never be sane, I will never feel whole, I will never be loved or be able to love anyone else in a healthy way.
So as soon as I got home, I did some research to try to figure out how I was going to navigate my life with this terrible illness, and that’s when I learned that psychiatry has taken a few leaps since 1980, when this disorder was first brought into the public eye, and even since the 1990s when BPD really was kind of a horrible thing to be labeled with. There’s treatment, now, and people do improve. There’s a lot of work to be done, but there are many reasons to believe that I’ll feel better soon.
And GEE WHIZ, does this diagnosis fit. According to the internetz, these are the nine hallmarks of this disorder, and if you’ve got five or more, chances are good that you’ve got BPD*.
[*Of course, it's possible to have one or several (or all) of these symptoms and not have Borderline Personality Disorder. Everyone can identify with some features of mental illness, to some degree, some of the time. These are human issues, and most are common enough. It's when these symptoms disrupt your attempts to live a healthy, successful life that they're considered pathological.]
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
- Identity disturbance, such as a significant and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self
- Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
- Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
- Emotional instability due to significant reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
- Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
- Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms
All my impulsive decisions, my wanderlust, my inability to let anyone get too close while paradoxically craving acceptance and unconditional love, my intense emotions that no one understands because everyone else is cold and unfeeling and detached – all of that suddenly makes sense. I’m not shiny and special, I’m mentally ill!
Well, my shrink says it’s possible to be both. That my intensity is both a gift and a curse, and that my job now is to figure out how to still be emotional and vibrant and intense, but not get torn to shreds by my own transient emotions.
Being crazy is hard work, ya’ll.
The past year has been excruciating. In fact, the past three and a half years have been such a mish-mash of BEST EVER (!!!) and HOLY FUCK PLEASE STOP that it’s hard to know what to expect. I keep losing important people, not to death or distance, but because we’ve failed to meet each other’s expectations. That’s the most diplomatic way I can put it. It keeps happening. To quote noted existential poet Jewel:
Guess I’ve mistaken you for somebody else
Somebody who gave a damn, somebody more like myself
I have to move again around the end of the year because of one of those dissolving friendships. Just as I had to move in May because of a dissolving friendship. And while my friendships dissolve, so do I. I don’t understand why people keep leaving me. And it’s not all in my head, but maybe I have been unconsciously choosing the very sort of people who can’t give me what I want or need. Maybe the detachment I admire in them actually indicates a basic incompatibility in the way we relate to others. I don’t know.
But I’m proud of myself for having done so much of the work already. Even before I knew I had BPD, I’ve been a counselor to myself as part of my quest to not be a miserably destructive human being. And so I’ve been asking myself for a long time if I’m the one who’s the asshole. I’ve been good at not emailing people after midnight because usually those emails are insane. I try not to blame people, or think in black-and-white terms, and I try to forgive when I can. I certainly haven’t figured everything out, and I am far from perfect, and I still have a long way to go, but I started the work a long time ago even before I learned what I was working on.
And as much as I can, I’m trying to take these incremental steps to improve my life. I’m seeking stable housing, supportive systems, ways to lead a successful and healthy life. It’s difficult, and I’m exhausted, but I’m getting things done. I have hope. I can hold my head high as I walk away from (metaphorically) yet another burning building that I once called home.
The Aliens, by Charles Bukowski
you may not believe it
but there are people
who go through life with
they dress well, eat
well, sleep well.
they are contented with
they have moments of
but all in all
they are undisturbed
and often feel
and when they die
it is an easy
death, usually in their
you may not believe
but such people do
but I am not one of
oh no, I am not one
I am not even near
but they are
and I am
It has gotten bad again.
What some of you know, and many of you don’t, is that I stayed in a residential crisis center for five days in late September because I was feeling suicidal.
I’d gotten into a car accident less than two weeks before, and was still suffering some pain and trauma from that. My car was disabled, though not totaled, and I had just found out that my temp job was ending earlier than expected. I held it together pretty well at work, then got home and collapsed. I called my mother, hysterical, and she told me to call 911. Instead, I called the county crisis line, and they sent me to a walk-in crisis clinic, and they, after some stupid red-tape bullshit that wasn’t their fault, sent me to what I deemed “Crazy-Person Sleepover Camp.” I wanted to leave after 24 hours because I was bored and I hated it, but one of the staff convinced me to stay, and I’m glad she did.
I didn’t get fixed, and I’m still a mess, but for a few days at the crisis center and for a few days after I got out, I felt a sense of renewed hope. I got the ball rolling on several things I need to do to make my life better, but it’s all rather slow-going, and it’s easy to lose momentum when there aren’t a lot of tangible effects from all. that. effort.
So I’ve spent a lot of the past two weeks alternating between an almost eerie calm, despair, dread, and terrible anxiety. My sleep is irregular. I want to be held but I don’t want to be touched. So it goes.
Vulnerability is nauseating. Hope feels like a cruel trick.
On most days, I can get out of bed, put on clothes, get things done. I am still capable of dressing myself, washing dishes, going to the store, eating, bathing. But I am exhausted all the time. Some days I can’t summon the nerve or energy to make an important phone call or eat anything that can’t be prepared in a microwave. Other times I’m a flurry of activity, doing all the dishes, scouring the bathroom, or mopping the kitchen floor which was so dirty, I’m nearly certain that no one had really cleaned it in the three years my roommate has lived here. I have fits of annoyance that border on rage.
When I called the crisis line, visited the crisis clinic, and checked into the crisis center, I was asked the same question over and over: Did you have a plan? And the answer to that is, no, not really. I didn’t know how I wanted to kill myself. I wasn’t that resolute, and I hadn’t made up my mind about a method. Perhaps I could have explained that I fantasize about my favorite view of Portland being the last thing I see: the view from the top deck of the Fremont Bridge. Flying, falling, flailing, toward the cold water of the Willamette. Maybe I could have told them that I own surgical scalpels, that it wouldn’t even take much force, that I know how and where to cut, that I’d take painkillers first to dull the pain and thin my blood. Instead I said that I had decided a long time ago that if I ever really wanted to die, I should just go to the hospital, since that’s probably where I’d wake up anyway. When I told these volunteers, clinicians, peer counselors, shrinks and psychiatrists that I did not have a plan for my own death, they seemed to take me less seriously. And so I finally said something along the lines of this:
I am very bright. I have been depressed for a very long time. I have fought thoughts of suicide since I was eleven. I have gotten very, very good at not killing myself. I know that I must try everything I can think of first. Because I am very smart, very pragmatic, I know a lot of ways to soothe myself. I know that the rational thing to do is to try to get help, to fight, because this life is all I have, and there have been times when I was happy, and I remember those times. So no, I did not have a plan. I came here, that was my plan. They seemed to take me more seriously after that.
And I’ve never been to Hawaii. I can’t die before I see if maybe warm water and beaches could save me. I have dreams about swimming in the ocean, somewhere where the water is warm, and I can’t die yet because I’ve never done that. I could live in a tent on the beach somewhere. If that didn’t work, maybe then I could die. Or maybe then I’d realize I’d never seen fjords, or the Aurora Borealis. And I can’t kill myself because it would destroy my mother.
I remember feeling good. I remember being happy. It wasn’t so long ago. And yes, this depression is in my head. I firmly believe that I have a chemical deficiency, faulty wiring, something that makes me more susceptible to these fits of sickness. Because that’s what depression is for me, a chronic, relapsing, recurring, dreadful disease. And it kills people all the time. And I am resigned to fight it as hard as I can.
But I am so tired. And it has gotten very bad again.
My car limps along. I try not to take it above 30mph. My “best” friend in Portland and I have differences that are, for the moment, irreconcilable, and she wants me to move out. I don’t know where I’ll go or how I’ll pay for it. I should start getting unemployment again next week, but it’s not remotely enough to live on. It seems like there are no good choices, only shitty compromises. I’m tired of being pitied, tired of asking for help. But I need help. I cannot work when I’m like this. I am registered to go back to school this winter, but it seems like it’s too soon, and so I need a plan. I don’t have one.
To be honest, it’s really goddamned hard to see the point in any of this. Why keep trying? Why keep starting over? There is no cosmic plan, no one has any answers, and all I can do is keep plodding along and hoping that my medication will stabilize me, or I’ll have some breakthrough, or at least I won’t have to worry so much for awhile.
I’ve moved several times in the last few years, and every more was less a choice than an exile. I have run out of places to run to. There is no “home” anymore that I can go back to. The pills aren’t working anymore and I don’t have money to see my psychiatrist or my psychologist. It’s all such a massive clusterfuck, and I don’t know why I try anymore.
I still try. And I will. I’ll go to bed soon, and I hope that tomorrow will be better than today. Odds are that it will be.
But I am very bright, and pragmatic, and after awhile I know that this will seem like a losing battle against the inevitable. The pain will never stop completely until I die. I can never stop fighting, no matter how tired I am, until I die. How much pain should we be expected to endure before we’re allowed to give up and give in? We’re all going to die anyway. Why keep fighting?
I know what it feels like to be stalked and harassed. I have an ex-boyfriend who continues to try to get in touch with me even after I told him I never, ever, ever want to speak to him again. He’s slowed down quite a bit, but a month or two ago he tried to contact me through my mother, asking her to send along an email that said how he was and expressed hope that I was well. This would have been a fine olive branch were it not for the fact that he emotionally abused me for four years while we were together, stalked me after we broke up, and has sent similar “friendly” emails in the past as a way to get the door open so he could insult and degrade me more. Of course I didn’t write back this time, and I told my mother not to forward anything else along.
So I know what it feels like to have someone from your past who just won’t go away. And I’ll admit that I’ve been a little, shall we say, obtuse in the past when it comes to other people’s lack of desire for further contact with me. But I’ve learned and I’m trying to do better. I don’t want to be the creepy stalker ex any more than I want to have a creepy stalker ex.
Since moving back to Portland last year, I’ve been very aware of the proximity of both my abuser/stalker and a certain someone whose boundaries I’ve stomped on/over in the past. I can make excuses and try to mitigate it, but the truth is that I was abnormally fixated on this person for years after we broke up. I should have known better, I should have behaved better, but I was insensitive and kind of an idiot when it came to other people. I’m still learning, I guess.
I’ve written a lot on my blog about my feelings about this person. I think it would be dishonest to go back and change or delete what I said, since some people liked those entries, and they are the truth about where I was at the time. But I never intended to bother this person with my writing, I always assumed he didn’t read any of it, and other than his relatively common first name, I didn’t share a lot of identifying details. It was my way of dealing with my own stupid feelings, and I didn’t think it was hurting anyone. But it turns out that some friends of his read this blog from time-to-time, and it seems that some of what I’ve said here was getting back to him. I got a very curt email last year asking me not to contact him again, and other than a momentary lapse earlier this year (which I immediately felt like an idiot about) I’ve done as he asked.
But now we’re both members of a Facebook group that meets once a month. I noticed that he and his wife only went the last meetup I went to after I’d left, which made me think (perhaps wrongly/self-centeredly) that they waited for the all-clear before they showed up.
So I decided to email the wife, in advance of the coming meetup, to let her know I mean no harm:
I wanted you and [redacted] to know that you don’t have to worry about running into me at events. I have no interest in causing awkwardness or confrontation. Y’all don’t need to avoid me, I’m happy to pretend [redacted] and I are strangers. I think we can coexist in this group and let the past be the past.
Perhaps I was an idiot for thinking that a gesture of peace would be welcome. It turns out that it wasn’t welcome at all, and I woke up today to a very angry email from wifey about how little they appreciated my sentiment. Apparently treating me like a stranger won’t cut it because “I’d be glad to meet a ‘stranger’, but we won’t be interacting with you in the least.”
Well. That’s fine.
When I think back to my behavior over the last four-and-a-half years, there are a lot of things I’m not proud of. Several of those things involve good ol’ Redacted. But I have never said or done anything threatening to him or his wife. I don’t follow them, I don’t come anywhere near them at all. I’ve emailed him maybe four times in the last three years, and while I’ve made an ass of myself many times over, I stopped trying to make him care a long time ago. I was a headcase when Redacted and I dated, but I was a headcase that he willingly and eagerly dated for a year. We were still on pretty good terms for about six months after things ended, we even hung out a few times before things got serious with wifey. He emailed me on my birthday in 2010, but I responded badly (I was going through some shit) and that’s when the pleasantries stopped.
I never hacked into his email, read his text messages, or showed up announced when were together or after we broke up. I know how it feels to have someone do these things to you, and I’d never want to make anyone feel that way.
But it seems I did in fact make Redacted and his wife feel harassed. And for that, I’m sorry. But I’m not some psycho who’s trying to fuck up anyone’s life. I hate there’s nothing I can do to smooth this over or make it right, but it seems that there isn’t.
And that is something I’m just going to have to live with.
I had a weird bout of anxiety at the grocery store this morning. At one point I was in the aisle with the body washes and shampoos and I had to lean back against the display because it all got to be too overwhelming. It took me an hour to do some basic grocery shopping because I kept sort of zoning out and wandering around. And then I couldn’t find canned olives. And then I couldn’t figure out how the hell to check out and leave the store, even though I go there all the time (in my defense, the layout of this particular store is very confusing.)
But I’m home now, and I just finished doing my nails. Which apparently took two hours. I’m a perfectionist.
I’m desperately poor, but I have fantastic nails.
I also bought a purse yesterday, because it was on sale, and because it makes me happy.
HOW COULD I NOT OWN THIS PURSE?
I need to take my pleasures wherever I can find them, because I have been wicked hella depressed, yo.
I haven’t found work. I’m trying to find work. I have some interesting prospects. I know that I could be an asset to the right business. I want to work, and I’m willing to work hard. But no one will hire me, and I’m at loose ends and barely scraping by financially.
My boyfriend has been living here and helping me pay rent, but lately he seems angry a lot of the time and he’s starting to spook me a bit. I feel trapped with this angry person, but I honestly can’t afford to kick him out, and I don’t want to just leave him homeless, either. It seems like there’s no good solution except to get a job and become financially independent– and I’m trying but no one will hire me and also MEH.
Something I haven’t really talked about here is my new living situation. In May, I moved back in with Delilah. I have a bedroom this time, not just the stuffy garage. But my rent is about 60% of my monthly unemployment income, and I always run out of food stamps long before the end of the month.
I moved because my formerly supportive and encouraging roommates turned on me suddenly. My brother and his wife very quickly changed from being happy and seeming to love having me around to believing that I’m a selfish taker who takes and only thinks of herself. Or something. Although she wrote me about 70 paragraphs of vitriol and accusations, I’m still not entirely sure what the hell happened. But it was clear that I had to move, and so I did.
Losing her as a friend has been both devastating and, in an odd way, affirming. Because I realized quickly that there wasn’t much of anything I could do to change the way she feels, because she was being crazy, and reason doesn’t work on crazy people. I have my own theories about what made her change her attitude toward me so suddenly and sharply, but the most important thing I know is that I can’t fix this right now. And there’s a lot of peace in that. I’m incredibly sad about losing my good relationship with my brother and his wife, but at the same time, I’ve suffered worse. I can live with this.
I haven’t been able to find an even keel for months, though, ever since the family crisis started. There’s a melancholy fog over everything that I just can’t shake. There’s less joie in my vivre. There’s something particularly scarring about someone who you’ve trusted with the most delicate parts of yourself abruptly deciding you’re a terrible person and using what they know against you. Even if you know they’re wrong, it’s still horrible.
My spirits are pretty good, considering all that. Taking into account that I’m in daily pain because my back still hasn’t healed from a car accident 20 months ago. Taking into account that I’ve got a sadness I just can’t seem to shake. Considering that my relationship is starting to seem abusive. In spite of the fact that I’m running out of unemployment and I don’t know how I’m going to make ends meet in a month.
All things considered, I’m doing just fine.
[And I managed to quit smoking.]
Some of the more recent ones:
When you gonna love you as much as I do? is from Winter by Tori Amos
Some of them want to abuse you is from Sweet Dreams are Made of This by the Eurythmics
It’s almost everything I need Sullivan Street, Counting Crows
I’d rather leave than suffer this Monkeywrench, Foo Fighters
love is a hell you can not bear/give me mine back and then go there Sleep to Dream, Fiona Apple
only something new Least Complicated, Indigo Girls
Did you know that most of my blog entry titles are song lyrics? I should really link to the songs in my entries. Like this!
It’s pretty damned relevant.
This month, yo. THIS FUCKING MONTH. Here’s what this month has been like: I had two teeth pulled, got hired and then fired from a job that I actually really liked, was abruptly dumped, and seem to be losing one of my best friends. I haven’t been sleeping super well. But I am strong like YAK*. I will persevere.
And I am taking my pills and going to therapy and relying on my awesome friends, and it’s keeping me sane.
I can be blustery and blunt and I crack jokes at the wrong times, and sometimes this makes people think that I don’t take things seriously, or that I am not introspective, or that I don’t hold myself accountable for things. But I do, I am, I do.
When someone tells me I’ve been an asshole, one of the first thoughts I have is OH MY GOD AM I AN ASSHOLE? When the answer is yes, I apologize and try to make things right. Sometimes it takes me a few days to realize it, but then I do my best to make amends. When someone in my life feels wronged by me, I take it extremely seriously.
I am not perfect. I fuck up. Sometimes I hurt people. But I try super hard not to. And when I do, I say I’m sorry.
I just haven’t held the rest of the people in my life to that standard.
I have held on to the incorrect idea that if I am good enough, people will love me. I have seen where compromises needed to be made and done all the compromising myself because, oh my Google, I have things to be sorry about and to make up for. And maybe if I’m good enough or kind enough or sorry enough, I’ll be forgiven for being human. So I don’t hold people accountable for their actions, because they are in pain. I don’t ask people to make things right, I don’t demand fairness or kindness or consideration. Because I’m bad. Because I owe so much. Because I believe that I deserve the shitty things that happen to me, the careless things that people do to me.
And I drive myself absolutely crazy trying to be good enough, and I vibrate with the tension of holding things in, and I still can’t win anyone’s love.
Love isn’t something you can win like a prize. It isn’t something you have to earn. It is something that is freely given, or it isn’t given at all. You can’t convince anyone to love you. It has nothing, nothing, NOTHING to do with being good enough if what good enough means is that you have to twist yourself into knots, prostrate yourself, or make all the compromises in your relationships.
*Inside joke. You don’t really have to know anything other than that yaks are strong, and it’s meant to be said in a bad Russian accent. That’s the whole damned joke.
In romantic relationships, I have a hard time holding anything back.
Sure, with age and experience, I’ve learned not to express every emotion immediately as it occurs, but there isn’t a lot about myself that I conceal from people. What you see is what you get, right from the beginning.
So I’m always puzzled when I get to know someone and all of a sudden they let their guard down and… whoa. This isn’t really what I signed on for.
My neediness manifests so differently than the neediness of others. I am quite obviously a sucking chest wound of need. And if I meet someone and I get the sense that they just want someone and I seem to fit well enough, I tend to run away, not always gracefully.
But when I really get to know and like someone who seems, at first, to be fairly self-confident and independent, and then they get super depressed and down on themselves, it baffles me.
Because, like, how can you hate yourself? I love you. You made me love you. And doesn’t the fact that you are loved by me and several other cool people make you believe that you’re lovable? It’s always worked for me. Perhaps it’s because I seek my validation outwardly, but when I’m getting that ego stroke of “someone loooooooves me,” I tend to feel like I’m doing something right.
So when that someone turns into a depressed ball of insecure, I get very frustrated.
And so I watch, helpless, as my lover drowns in a sea of doubt, with life rafts all around, and there’s the shore. Because, while I am a strong and capable swimmer, I can not keep us both at sea and afloat, and you won’t let me carry you to someplace where your feet can touch the bottom.
You say you have no anchor. I say, Who the fuck wants an anchor? Why not sails? Why not wings?