The difference between my young Borderline self and my older, somewhat wiser Borderline self is that I may still have the same intense feelings of rage, paranoia and injustice, but I now sit in those feelings and try to discover what they mean to me and channel them into a different, more positive direction. Instead of hating civilisation and its discontents I embrace the suffering, look inward and transform it into a learning opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. Part of that was learning to love what I already had instead of seeking out what didn’t belong to me and never would. The Buddha said, “Suffering is inevitable.” And it is – sometimes. It is what we do with that suffering that counts. I had to learn to lie down beside the Borderline bull, embracing her lacerating horns at a level we were both comfortable with.
After fifty years of eating disorders, lap bands, a small bowel obstruction, kidney cancer, malnutrition, metabolic syndrome and diabetes type 2, I was further diagnosed with a lump on my ovaries in August 2012. So I went to see my disease-free, de-toxed, slim, fit, healthy, yoga-inspired, meditative, free-range, organic, body-centred clinical psychologist who advised to me to do what she had been advising me to do for the past 17 years. Look after myself, be kind to myself, be gentle with myself and start to eat and exercise accordingly. What would you know about life? I thought, as I threw my last sugar binge in her outdoor bin before taking off on holiday with my husband.
Bali for me is usually one long, eating/drinking self-indulgent binge punctuated with cheap shopping sprees in and around Kuta – buying clothes I never wear and items I would sneer at back in Australia. This time we stayed at Lovina Beach and Ubud and I made the epiphanous decision to eat organic vegetarian, drink detox blends and spend as much time as possible being mindful at the Yoga Barn. I also relished the idea of torturing myself by hiking 500m almost vertically down (and back …
Sometimes, I catch myself having fierce arguments in my head with people I have never met, about situations that have not happened, followed by resolutions that are never satisfying. My headspace is cranky and irritable and there is no logical preceding incident; it is just where my head automatically ends up when let off the leash and wanders free range. I call this IBS – Irritable Borderline Syndrome.
Now, when I catch myself doing this, I redirect my thoughts into something else. I discovered I was doing this on the 45-minute journey to and from work. Without external noise distraction (my radio/CD broke) and only my thoughts to keep me company on the stop/start traffic jam journey to and from work, I was mentally irritable from plotting evil thoughts, arguing with my inner self and ruminating long before I reached my destination. My armpits and skin would itch with stress induced hormones and my bowels and intestines would cramp into knots.
Borderline Personality Disorder is not just about mental illness and emotional distress, it is also about social skills (or lack of them), empathy, manners, conflict resolution and self-care. Most children learn these vital social skills early on at pre and primary school where they observe other children’s behaviour, learn a “theory of mind” or how other children think and feel (mentalising) and experience compassion and empathy for others. These things come naturally to them.
But some children, through no fault of their own, are unable to learn and remain totally clueless about how to survive socially in the playground. These are the kids who suffer social neglect, rejection and abandonment. These are the children who need a step by step guide or a “recipe” on how to learn empathy, how to be a team player, how to get on with other children, negotiation skills, conflict resolution, the rough and tumble of give and take and sharing toys with grace and dignity.
These kids need to learn that when this happens, this is the correct response. I was not one of those naturally cluey children; I lived in social Siberia most of my school life and became a library refugee.
Here are five survival techniques desperately needed when suffering from BPD:
There is a saying in a self-help group I used to be in back in the eighties. When a “normal” person gets a flat tire, they call the Automobile Association. When someone with (what’s now known as BPD) gets a flat tire, they call the suicide hotline. There’s an awful lot of truth in that.
My goal recently has been to respond rather than react to what I perceive are excruciatingly provocative circumstances and situations. I want to think and act with grace and dignity, to deep breathe, turn around, walk away, move on, learn the lesson and get a life. This attitude has, in the past, kept me in relationships, out of the law courts, out of jail, out of psychiatric hospitals, in employment and in therapy (or life coaching as we are now doing).
No longer is my therapist my nurturing supporter, smothering me endlessly with loving/kindness, reassurances of never abandoning me and justifying my bad behaviour and lack of social skills as a result of my environment. We have a more pragmatic egalitarian relationship where I feel mentored, rather than mental.
When you suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (or complex trauma) one person’s constructive criticism or negative response is another person’s life-threatening narcissistic injury. I received a narcissistic brain hemorrhage this week when my challenging and authoritative therapist decided it was not relevant to our therapy to watch a video link I had emailed her.
My borderline reaction went to DefCon One in less than a nanosecond and I thought my brain would implode.
To be fair to myself, my thoughts remained relatively mindful (she’s said no before for the same reasons and yet I continue to email her things; it could be said that an idiot does the same thing all the time and expects a different response. If that is the case, then I am that idiot) but my body was transported instantly back to the mid-seventies where school bullying and parental fighting had finely tuned my fight, flight or freeze response.
At my last therapy session my therapist turned into a savage rottweiler; baring her sharp teeth at me, picking me up by the scruff of my neck and shaking the living daylights out of me. The doggone woman deliberately picked a fight about nothing, provoked me into a snarling row, called me a liar and then threatened to sue me for slander.
Interpretation of unfolding events is always a personal perception. I have been seeing her again for some workplace issues that need resolving. I was having problems accepting constructive criticism from the top dog in my organization. I found I was getting deeply triggered when told I was not achieving what I was supposed to achieve in the way she wanted it achieved and I was getting my feathers ruffled in a big way, getting upset, huffy and resolving the issue by fleeing or freezing.
So when within five minutes of arriving, my barking mad therapist activated every button on my panel and almost blew us both up, I almost called her a bitch, walked out the door and planned on brooding, ruminating and plotting impotent revenge against her for the rest of my natural life. Talk about an idealizing transference killer.
Learning how to accept criticism graciously is a form of art, but for me it is a work of art in progress. This is because I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and part of that syndrome is being unable to tolerate critical comments, no matter how well-meaning.
So what happens when I get criticized? No matter how mindful my brain wants to be, my body has an anaphylactic reaction. I feel as though someone has thrown acid in my face. I feel my body disintegrating and my internal organs shutting down and psychological and physical death is imminent. Does that sound familiar to you?
This isn’t planned, this isn’t about me being a Drama Queen or a Princess with a slipped tiara; it’s about staying alive. I go into survival mode where I have to sit in a chair, breathe deeply, count my fingers and toes and make sure that I am all here. I have to detoxify my body before I can even start to work out cognitively what was said, why it was said and what the ramifications of the criticism were.
At what point does a therapist decide to terminate a client because their relationship has broken down? Over the past three years writing my blog I have received many emails from therapy clients telling me that their therapists terminated them, either for no reason or for a small infraction within the relationship.
Are therapists being over-sensitive or are clients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder unaware of their own personal lack of empathy towards someone who is on their side? Being terminated for relationship issues with the therapist does not make sense to me. The entire reason we are in therapy is because we have huge external relationship problems and this plays out in the therapeutic relationship and the therapist should be aware of this.
When Borderlines and Narcissists clash, it makes When Worlds Collide look like two butterflies locking wings together in a mid-air prang. As someone diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder I had the misfortune to run up against a Narcissistic Personality Disorder and I would describe the experience like running full speed, head first into a brick wall without a helmet.
For me, it is exceedingly rare to come under the microscopic scrutiny of a dangerous and mentally unhinged person who appears to be made out of concrete in such a manner that a nuclear bomb would be unable to dislodge their black and white thinking. For this person it was either night or day, there was no pearly pink twilight or early misty mornings.
This person was highly and appropriately right and I was incredibly stupid and wrong. I know this because it was hammered into my skull at every given opportunity.
It used to be that if I ever ran into my therapist at a café, at the airport, in a restaurant, or walking down the street, I would have to walk out, catch a different plane, leave my meal or cross the street and get hit by a bus. She once said to me that I would have moved on when I could pass her in public, either wave or not wave, and my care factor would not be there.
So how do I avoid either the impending feeling of doom and chaos or the sheer guilty pleasure and excitement of seeing my therapist outside of therapy for free? I have had a mixed reaction on the handful of occasions I have seen her or her car out in the wide, wide world.