Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Borderline Personality Disorder

If you know me, you know that I hate over-pathologizing things. You're not depressed, you're grieving;  you're not OCD, you just enjoy having a clean bathroom, and so on, but then, I stumbled across a little thing called borderline personality disorder....  oh, wow, there's my entire personality described in the dsm criteria of a mental illness: excessive emotional reactions (anger), chronic feelings of emptiness, chronic boredom, impulsive behaviors (unsafe and inappropriate sexual conduct), tumultuous and unstable relationships, unstable self-image, fear of abandonment, idealizing people followed by hating them.   

In reading, I stumbled across several other symptoms (which may fall under the categories covered above or may not) but that I also see in myself: telling strangers intimate details about yourself, seeing anger in neutral faces, inability to manage time well, inability to keep track of things (driver's licenses, keys, etc), ability to manipulate others easily, self-awareness of certain issues or patterns and unwillingness/inability to change, inability to lie (except through omission) due to childlike nature, non-linear thought patterns, constantly changing emotions (minute to minute, day to day), being drawn to ideological extremes, intelligence, disassociating (I'm not sure about this one, the way that I disassociate may be normal or just drift-y), bursts of happy mania, fluid gay-straight sexuality, tendency to have more than 20 sexual partners, excessive guilt.

There's also a lot in the literature (yes, I'm calling random internet browsing literature) on self-harming behaviors, and aside from making bad decisions (regular and sexual), taking drugs excessively (back in the day, not really now), over-drinking (not too much at the moment), and fantasizing about suicide as an adolescent, I'm not really a big self-harmer besides maybe a bit of head banging and hair pulling while in a rage.  

There seems to be two types (or maybe it occurs on a continuum): people who are visibly very troubled and are in and out of mental health care their entire life and people who can hide all of these symptoms except in front of the people that they are closest to. I fall into the second category, mostly. So people whom I've known for 25 plus years actually aren't that familiar with many of my symptoms (although I have memories of being compared to the Sharon Stone character in Basic Instinct due to all the weird obsessions I was harboring in high school), but my husband and two people I dated about fifteen years ago can easily look at those symptoms and agree that they are a perfect match for me. 

I'm not really concerned about whether I have BPD or not. One one hand, it seems like identifying a mental illness at a time when I feel ready to change could be counterproductive and could become a crutch/excuse. On the other hand, it has been useful to read about the symptoms because they have elucidated some of the issues that I wasn't that self aware of. For instance, a couple yeas ago, I had a conversation with a neighbor (it was probably my second conversation with her and just so that you know how fucked up I was making the situation at the time, I should probably admit that I was hitting on her husband at the time using some weird manipulation techniques that (I thought) I hadn't used in years), and after that conversation, I came home and announced these huge changes to my husband: I'm putting the kids in school, I'm going back to school, everything is changing, and he protested that it was weird that I would have that conversation with a virtual stranger instead of running it by him. I don't think I realized that was actually weird/unhealthy until I started reading about BPD. There were several other situations that were made a bit clearer as well, and there were also patterns that I identified in my book (the memoir I wrote last year) that seem a little clearer now that I stumbled into the magical world of BPD.

The problem is that I have been aware of much of this stuff for years. I even talk about breaking patterns in my damn journals from fifteen years ago. If I took a red marker through those to identify BPD behavior, every page would be red by the way. So, I bought another damn journal, and I'm going to read it when I'm 50 (in case you lost the math that means I have a journal from age 20, one from 35, and then, I'm reading at 50 so 15 year intervals), and if I still have the exact same set of BPD-emotions, I'm going to... what...  who knows, but I'm exhausted, I have no interest in carrying the same destructive emotional patterns for another 15 years. Also, I think there were a lot of patterns (ie telling strangers intimate things) that I could get away with because I was young and cute, but telling random strangers about your issues when you're old and crusty is just tacky and gross. 

That said, whether we're dealing with BPD or just symptoms that are similar to it (who cares), I know this is not an intellectual game. If it were, I would have busted it at 20 or even last year when I identified many of these patterns in the memoir. I think...  it's more about emotional walls and letting myself break long long term patterns even if they are relatively comfortable to me in their shittiness.   

And what happens if I drop all my defenses, will I become a fat person in a hemp dress? 

Yes, yes, Minger, you will because, all mental health recovery involves getting fat and wearing hemp. 

Will I start thinking more linear-ly and does that mean that I will never be able to write the stream-of-consciousness masterpiece I've been dreaming of since I finally read Mrs Dalloway a few months ago? 

Or there is the remote possibility that by changing some of these behaviors (primarily the one where I fight against/build emotional walls against the people who are supposed to be the closest to me or the one where I freak out at the smallest things by having a rage fit) that I will be a happier healthier person and have happier healthier relationships. 

And what's my block, why do I feel noticeably tenser even writing that? 

Well, that question is why I'm paying for therapy. (and omg, btw, I can't wait until Obamacare kicks in in January so that I can actually get these costs covered, and according to what I've been able to find, it looks like we will be able to get a tax credit that could cover the entire cost of insurance at our income level, so we'll see how that pans out). 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


I dipped into a pretty negative place the last month or so, and after writing and deleting a blog post where I realized I was reliving my parents' marriage, I had the even worse realization that I am becoming my mother, so I immediately scheduled some therapy.

(That's supposed to be funny; I am a little worried that if therapy removes my defenses that I won't be funny anymore, but the therapist assured me that she's not that good so I guess I won't worry; I'm so tired at this point, that I would sacrifice a lot just for some peace, but it's a pretty scary process, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't, what is me, what is a defense.)

Anyway, I have an incredible support group, and in their own ways, they have given me respite from my head, lately. A few weeks ago, my good good friend cooked me dinner in her childless apartment, and it was just beautiful watching her cook as sweat streamed down both of us, and the urban-ish landscape stretched out behind her apartment window. She was fabulous, and during dinner, she and her husband who know our entire family well just made me feel very very loved.

Last night, I met with a friend who has been, in so many ways, a real growing experience for me to have. I read her bits from some fifteen year-old journals I had found in the basement, and she sang me the song she had written for me (I mean who writes me songs... sublime) which was incredibly touching, and I just love her.

And today, we went to the reservoir, which is really one of my favorite places on the planet, and it's just nice to get out, to know that people have the same goals, similar outlook on life as you and that it doesn't need to be too complicated.

And my other dear friend sent me a letter a few weeks ago, which was so reassuringly her, smart, caring, theoretical, perfect. I cried while reading it and saved it to reread.

There's probably more, but I just wanted to take a second from working to recount a few things that I was grateful for.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dirty and Paranoid

I have been dirty my entire life, and "not in a good way", my husband would add (with a wink). I was dirty when I lived with my mother who is the cleanest person on the planet, and I have been since I've lived on my own. A few months ago, I was telling Max how dirty the carpet was in the apartment I shared with my husband and our friend when we lived in London--It was black because we didn't have a vacuum cleaner, and we smoked and cooked all the time.

And he said, "Were you mad about it all the time?"

No, of course not, I was never mad about it. I never thought twice about inviting people round for dinner and eating fabulous food on paper plates on the floor. So what's different now--now that I'm not 23, more importantly, now that I have kids, I'm supposed to be clean, and if I'm not, I'm supposed to feel bad about it? I'm also supposed to feel like I'm the worst mother if my kids are not tidy and obedient. Fuck that. Where do these ideas even come from?

Side note, my then-eight-year-old said, "No wonder we look naughty if all the other kids are on behavior drugs; they have an unfair advantage."

I've been trying to shift things, trying to see why things are dirty and not worry what it looks like to somebody who just stops by. If the carpet is covered in bits of foam and strips of newspaper and crumbs, it just looks bad, but I'm not going to worry about it anymore because I saw the day that created that mess, the creation with the foam and the studious taping of newspaper bits, and although it didn't amount to much (two swords), it took a lot of concentration and there must be something to process regardless of what it yields. If the kitchen is full of sugar and dirty pans, I know that it looks like that because the five year old made himself a snack with sugar and we cooked four meals in the last two days (instead of eating fast food or frozen food or boxed food), and I was probably distracted by working and had only done the bare minimum of dishes.

(As a parenthetical note, I feel like I'm working all the time, and my husband is working all the time. We've finally gotten our income up to what it was in 2007. After that year, it went steadily down until maybe 2010, and it's been going up from there. I know of a few things that we waste money on, but I also know that we live in a two bedroom apartment and don't own a second car and never go anywhere that would require renting a hotel room so... (it's too much to make conclusions there--let's just go with the ellipses). Also, we're working about twenty hours a week more than we did in 2007, and the kids eat more, and our cheap rent that we had been enjoying just got bumped up by $200/month (it's still less than the average in town). (And the magical answer to this is that I put my kids in a government institution for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, and I will magically make so much more money, but we're trying not to go to the place where we question every thing about what we're doing. Constantly reassessing stresses me out; I really tired of the idea that it is financially irresponsible to raise your own children.))

We also break a lot of things. All five of us, accidentally, on purpose, without even realizing that we are, and fixing them is almost always the last priority. None of the people who live here seem to be remotely handy when it comes to fixing almost anything, but I have to be positive and hope that in the next five or so years, my little eight year old will be fixing things.

So I was working and cleaning and trying to reframe things, and then, everything that makes it hard for me to reframe came splashing about... unexpected very clean company, my period which is now on a twenty-five day cycle, my landlord's yearly guilt trip where she goes into all kinds of issue with an accusatory bent--like needing a new roof--which have nothing to do with me and tells me how they worked hard their whole life so they could have what they have and how she doesn't want to raise my rent.

I think maybe that's why she gets to me because she's so emotional. I'm well aware that I'm very hard on her property, but let's just be business-like. Sorry, a BB ricocheted off the fence and hit a window, I will write you a check, I did the last time we broke a window, and I will the next time. If you need to raise my rent because it costs money to keep up your property, that's not a problem.

Summer has not been awesome the last few years. It is hot, we're crabby, and my husband always increases the amount of time that he spends at work. This sentiment from my eight year old pretty much sums up the last few weeks, "Mama, stop yelling at us. You're taking out your stresses on us, like Daddy takes his out on you."


Reframing isn't about making excuses. It's about realizing that we're the ones who have to live with ourselves, the choices we make, the priorities we set. We need to make our home around what is important to us, and if it's cooking instead of repairs, or going to the reservoir for the afternoon instead of cleaning, or experiencing life barefoot instead of worrying about the the dirt that gets into the carpet, or shaking pans to get the sauce right instead of worrying about the splashes getting on the walls, then so be it.

But stress sucks, and for the last few years, ours has jumped up in the summer, and when it does, the kids need to be obnoxious and naughty and test our boundaries because we've been stressing them out, and we need them to behave perfectly and quietly because we are stressed out, and together, those two things can become a vicious, self-depleting cycle.

I know at the end of the day, that I'm the one who needs to give. I'm the one who needs to let the stress go, just go, not onto anyone.

(I forgot to address the paranoia section of the title, but just think of figuring out where that fits in like a fun puzzle I created for your amusement.)