BPD

A different take on the holidays

I’m writing this from an airport on Christmas Day.

I’ve always found the holidays tricky and uncomfortable.

I remember the love, sure. The magic of dressing the tree. The cuddles and cookies around the fire. Watching Christmas movies. I also remember the endless fights about how naughty I’d been. From a young age, Christmas became associated with the wars my mother and I waged during the year; either we were still fighting and Christmas was a temporary truce, with the resentments shoved under the surface, waiting to boil over or else we were in a good patch, and then my mother would write me cards about how the next year would be better, and I’d be reminded with shame of how hard I made her already difficult life. I remember the fights in the car rides going to my godmothers. Either it was me getting a disciplinary raking for something I’d done (I was a difficult child), or else my parents’ marital problems would take center stage, every Christmas Day, like the worst possible type of fireworks. As I grew older, Christmas became twisted with my growing shame for my inadequacies as a daughter to a mother who loved me so much, and who was so ill. Older still, I grew to dread the annual reminders that I still hadn’t accomplished the life I reasonably should have: no car, no house, no boyfriend, no marriage, a middling career that took up all of my energy. Shame and love, that is what I associated with Christmas.

Then my mother died in 2012. And since then, I associate the holidays with grief. My father and I have struggled to build any tradition that satisfies us, so we latch onto other people’s Christmases: my godmother’s, my Qc uncle’s, my Boston uncle’s. I’ve had some really good Christmases since my mother died, unpoisoned by shame, but heavy with her absence. We’ve been drifting for years, my father and I.

My father became a priest, in the Russian Orthodox Church, this spring. That was something. He was ordained as a deacon 4 years before my mother died. Her sudden and unexpected death left him gutterless. He wrote to the Bishop in the first year of his grief to state his readiness and willingness to be ordained a priest. In his wisdom, the Bishop chose to not acknowledge that letter until this year. Identifying and following through on one’s vocation is a significant decision, one that should not be taken following a tragic event. This year, 6 years after her passing, the Bishop was confident my father was no longer reactive in his grief. He broached the topic, my father was still desirous of being ordained, and poof, one month later my father was a priest. A couple months after that, my father was appointed rector of a parish in Quebec city and is now in the process of moving to that city permanently. He’s happy, and has found his purpose. Christmas is now a community affair, with gift baskets and liturgies and little children learning about this major feast day.

My 2018 was less happy, but equally significant. My year was defined by borderline. The first half of it was spent pulling myself out of a scary depression caused by my inability to handle the emotional strain of my failing relationship with Hickster as well as work pressures. Pulling myself out of that depression meant getting professional help, but also learning to identify unnecessary sources of stress and impose boundaries professionally and personally. That caused me to discover much about myself. I had a few flashes of happiness halfway through the year, and then in August I got my long awaited diagnosis. The 4 past months have been very difficult, professionally but also personally, as I struggle with this new understanding of myself and most upsettingly, the negative impact I have on those I interact with in all areas of my life. I’ve always known I was different; while I am relieved to understand why and how, I mourn the loss of innocence that comes with this knowledge. Every memory, every interaction is now colored by this disorder. My darling Mimi, constant companion through my life, source of stability and joy, my teddybear with whom I still cuddle every night and have conversations with, is no longer merely the product of my overactive imagination: borderlines are prone to transfer their affections to inanimate objects as a coping mechanism for their unstable relationships and sense of self – all my memories of Mimi are now tainted by the understanding that even at a young age I was demonstrating the undetected symptoms of this significant disorder. Rewriting history is no easy feat. I grieve daily.

This year, as I tried to make plans for the holidays, I was beset by the urge to get away. Away from the work pressures, family, complicated memories, regrets and the temptation to shame. I wanted something to re-energize me, to give me enough hope to keep on fighting the good fight for one more year. 2018 saw me learn who I am, truly, and begin to reclaim my life. I didn’t want to end it the same way I have ended every year so far this life. Time for a clean break.

That is why I am writing this blog post from an airport, in the evening of Christmas Day. I am flying to London, to visit my dear friend DD, who moved there 6 months ago. Instead of dealing with the Ghost of Christmas Past, I’ve opted to see what the Ghost of Christmas Future has to show me. Unlike Scrooge, I’ve already begun my transformation into a Vanilla who is more self-aware, a Vanilla who will find a way to build a fulfilling life crammed with meaningful relationships and interactions, all while advocating for the humanity that underlies mental health issues. And that means doing things differently. The holidays don’t bring me joy? Well then time for a new approach to new memories and new hope.

I can’t wait.

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BPD series: the ability to see colors

I adulted!

6 months after ICB gave me the best present of my life, I looked up a store that does frames. I felt like such a grown up, discussing standard frame sizes, methods, style. I was so excited. I learned mounting a painting onto a frame requires time: it would be available for pickup in 1-2 weeks.

I picked it up yesterday. ICB came along. I was jumping up and down in the store while I waited for the clerk to fetch my painting from the back. ICB didn’t understand, it had been 6 months, what was a few more minutes?

So rational, that guy.

Well, that rational guy had a little something in his eye when he finally saw the painting mounted on its frame. We walked to my home in silence, both of us deep in our memories. I put it in my favorite room, the room where I write most of my blog posts.

It’s an interesting dynamic I have with ICB. He is a dependable rock, always there for those he cares about. A good, solid man. He uses few words, but he cares deeply. Observant. His stability makes me feel more grounded.

But.

He does not accept my mental health issues. At all. More than once, he has told me that while he rationally accepts my diagnosis, he can’t reconcile that someone as “beautiful, smart, and wonderful as you could have such problems. I know you are emotional, I can see sometimes you struggle, but part of me thinks that if you just learned how to not let it get to you so much, you would be fine.

His good-natured non-understanding has both been an inadvertent motivator and a burden. Like a child, I try work on certain aspects of my behavior, and proudly announce when I’ve succeeded on something small, like cleaning my floors or keeping my temper. The benefit of that is clear: I have a less messy apartment, and I have navigated some social situations better than I would have had ICB not given me advice. But it’s that wanting to please him and make him proud of me that is a problem. Because it implies that who I am, my baseline, isn’t something he would be satisfied with. Which, considering that I want him to be proud of me because I inconsistently and haphazardly manage to do Adult 101 tasks and avoid brutal, exhausting and mortifying emotional meltdowns… isn’t a stretch. The more I want him to be proud of me, the more I believe that who I am is not enough for him. And that is without him saying things like, “I worry I won’t be strong enough to handle your emotional swings. That I won’t be what you need from me. The intensity scares me.” Bro, if only you knew how much it scares me too.

Who can blame him? I am the girl who had a week-long meltdown about some Instagram likes. It isn’t unfair for him to wonder what my reaction would be like if ever we hit a real hiccup or problem. BPD is the most associated with suicide amongst personality disorders; it is estimated that 40-65% of suicides have a personality disorder; among BPD, 8-10% commit suicide, up to 75% attempt suicide and 69-80% self-mutilate. That knowledge is a heavy load to carry. Heavier still is my realization that I have on multiple occasions this fall considered that not living would be an acceptable option for shutting out the whirlwind in my head. Most days, I can easily see that I have many other options, and that not living is a pretty terrible option, but whereas I used to not have these thoughts, with every year that goes on, I understand more and more why people chose to end their lives. That is something I have to deal with, but is not easy knowledge for those who care about me.

I wish I could explain to ICB, I know the burden I am to those around me. I value so very much those that love me as I am, including these very imperfect sides of me. Those who are proud of me whether or not I clean my floors, because they know I am trying. The ones who try to fight away my pockets of shame, because there is no side of me too awful for them to love. The Allies, DDs, Dynamos and Coaches of this world, who hear my paranoid rants, realize that I am in one of my episodes and offer practical suggestions while patiently waiting for me to ride it out, always speaking to the Vanilla they love, ready to give me a reassuring hug once I’m back on the other side of paranoia and cognitive distortion. They give me the gift of acceptance. I give them… not sure what, but their love for me is so deep I don’t worry about my inability to reciprocate like a normal adult.

I want to tell ICB – my inability to see the world as he does doesn’t make me any less lovable, it just makes me different. Occasionally, I do manage to see the colors in the world. This duality, living mostly in a world of greys, with flashes of colors, is what gives me my capacity to love – I am in tune to others’ suffering and shame, and it doesn’t phase me. It gives me my humanity.

I wish my humanity were enough.

To the extent it is not, I retain a friend who does not understand but who cares.

Vanilla, I know you slide into a world of no color, of black and white and grey. I know you find it hard, that it makes you suffer. Paris is your happy place, where you feel alive and see clearly. I want you to have this, so when things are not going well, you can look at it and remember those colors that you can and sometimes do see. I want you to remember the colors. I want you to see them.

All the colors in Paris

What RuPaul’s Drag Race taught me as a straight woman

I don’t do reality TV, never have. I believe that if I am going to waste my time doing something non value added, I can scroll on social media, see memes that occasionally make me think, and watch self-help motivational videos. The digital version of popcorn as nutrition for my brain and my soul. However, when my depression started last year, I found myself unable to concentrate on anything. Movies stressed me out, TV shows required too much concentration. Till one day, unable to listen to the negative soundtrack in my head, I began watching episode 1 of season 8 of RuPaul‘s Drag Race. I was hooked. Still had trouble concentrating, it would take me 2-3 hours, sometimes days, to watch a 40 minute episode. But something about this show kept me coming back. I thought it was the fashion. I do love clothes, even though for the past 2 years, as I struggle with my mental health, I can’t be bothered. I thought it was the competition. I thought it was the pretty colors and the funny one liners. I finished season 8. I started following most of the queens on Instagram. I was done my foray into reality TV.

I got my diagnosis of BPD in August. In the past few months, I’ve been struggling to find my identity, as I realize how much of my reality has been skewed and unreliable. I feel lost, very broken, and in a lot of pain. I went back on Netflix to the earliest available season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, season 2. It was not slick, not beautiful, full of awkward moments. Lots of catfighting. It was so interesting to me to see these fierce women stand up and say what was on their mind with poise, grace and shade. In the solo interviews, they are back to being men, talking about their hurt feelings and fears, in an articulate manner that I wish I could achieve. These queens were effectively acting as role models to me for what a strong woman can be like. I found it disorienting to remind myself that they were actually men, with insecurities that sound identical to my own. Except, who cares? I need role models, and these girls are fierce.

Season 3, the show morphed into a version that more closely resembles the current version. Less traditional drag, much more creativity and diversity in both the candidates and their self-expression. Fairly early on in the season, one of the candidates from NJ was chatting with another girl from Puerto Rico. The New Jersan dude was dressed in guys clothes, with a face semi contoured. The Puerto Rican was sewing a gown, 5 o’clock shadow to the max, wearing a fabulous pink wig. The Puerto Rican was confused, what did the other one mean, she was married. To a boy?! Yes. Legally? Yes. You can get married in NJ? Yes. So girl, you are stuck in America’s armpit because most other states won’t recognize your marriage? Yes. That is when I realized season 3 aired in 2011. Gay marriage, which I take for granted being a Canadian (it became legal nationally in Maple Syrup Land in 2005!), was legalized across all 50 states in 2015 – 4 years after these contestants were chatting. So here I am watching a show where half of the contestants cannot legally marry their loves, and what does RuPaul do? One of the challenges for his queens is to have them film a 4th of July PSA for the overseas troops. In full drag. It had to be uplifting, a message of humor and love and gratitude, because that is what drag is all about and “we are all grateful to those who serve our country”. Stop. Check. Google. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was in effect until September 2011. I realize I am watching a beautiful example of what it means to forgive and accept those who are different – RuPaul encouraging his queens to forgive and accept us, the privileged few that dictate who does, and does not, fit an arbitrary definition of normality.

Drag has this message of preaching love and preaching acceptance of difference and celebration of difference and strangeness. I think we all need go out into the world and just fill it with that spirit because this is a time where we need love and light instead of darkness and hate.

Sasha Velour, RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 Winner

Season 9, one of the contestants was in his 50s. He admits to deep loneliness, because most of his fellow drag queens he grew up with are dead from AIDS. Another queen admits to struggling with severe eating disorders. Another queen admits to being transgender. Season 9 made me cry multiple times. It explored the back stories of the queens a bit more than in the other 3 seasons I watched, and it became obvious to me that all the queens share pain, and all they want to do is find out who they are, and what they want to do with their lives. Me too. RuPaul makes no secret that the goal of his show is to challenge these girls to go beyond their limited perception of themselves. Why? Because we only find our true power and purpose when we embrace who we truly are – not who we think we are, or what society tells us we are. And on his show, under all the sequins and fake eyelashes and padding and gowns, these men, these girls, struggle to do just that, beyond the journey they have already undertaken to even make it on Ru’s show. Not all queens rise to the challenge, and it’s oddly heartbreaking. Their struggle is my struggle, that I fight every day.

Oprah: You’ve become this symbol that inspires, not just young people, but so many people in the midst of their own questioning, their own pain, their own identity. You must hear from so many?

RuPaul: I’ve heard from a lot of young people… from everyone, from everyone. It’s not just gay or drag queen, or any of that. It’s people who not only dance to the beat of different drummer but who are super sensitive. And sometimes too sensitive for this world, because their hearts are so open and they have been beaten down so much that they see in what we’re doing a place where it can be celebrated.

 

I realize that as a straight white woman, I have little to complain about, comparatively. (Although, glass ceilings are a thing! #genderbias!) I know I live a life of privilege compared to so many. Yet through my mental health struggles, my identity is in shambles – it’s hard to figure out who I am when my grip on reality is tenuous at best. A life of unstable relationships, paranoia, dissociation, extreme emotional mood swings and unclear/unstable self-image does not allow me to have much of a perception of self, never mind discover my true self. I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I feel like these queens are my people. They can mentor me. They can show me what it means to fight to be fully alive, and fully myself. They have thick skins, they are fierce strong women, and sensitive artistic men, all at once. They refused to be defined, and they embrace the messiness of life. I feel, through their very existence, a bit more able to accept who I am and my struggles.

Who knew reality TV could do so much?

If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an Amen?

Mama Ru

 

Epilogue: boxing

I went to a boxing gala at my gym on Friday.

Since quitting boxing 2 years ago, I train in the conditioning section of the gym. Great vibe, different people.

It was nice to see Cap again. I ran into Bradley, in town for the first time in over a year. I didn’t recognize him. No longer a wee adolescent boy, he is a grown-ass man now. In the 2.5 years since this hilarious mortifying story, he’s grown a foot taller and 50lbs of muscle heavier. Still shy and modest tho. He is gonna make some young girl very very happy one day. Good kid. #notanasshole #thosestillexist. Chair Thrower was at the gala, as was Cereal.

I felt at home, on Friday. In my life which is more tumultuous than one would expect for an accountant (now we know why), this gym has been my constant, my refuge, my safe place since fall 2012. 6 years. That’s longer than most of my friendships. This is the place that has given me the space to grow. To risk. To try and fail. To discover myself. It is the birthplace of Vanilla.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

I remembered something on Friday, that I’d long forgotten: boxing is a team sport. Yes, it’s true, no one can fight an opponent except yourself, no one can climb into the ring for you. And yet. Watching the teammates cheer on my gym’s fighters until they lost their voices, seeing them weep for their fellow fighters’ losses, jump for glee with every win, I remembered. I remembered what it feels like to stand in the middle of that ring, petrified and exhausted, and the wave of energy that would wash over me as I’d hear my friends cheer me on.

Lately, as life has been very hard, throwing me too many curve-balls professionally and personally, I have felt so alone. Friday reminded me: no one can fight my battles for me, but in the ring as in real life, I am not alone. At least at this gym, for a few hours every week, I am seen and I am understood.

Everyone who walks into the gym is looking for an escape from the outside world. Yes, the same can be true of a yoga studio. But here, people are looking for a reprieve from the tangle of thoughts, emotions, and frustrations that is a necessary by-product of being alive through the action of hitting an inanimate punching bag over and over again. It’s a safe haven that allows a person to work through whatever they need to work through, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The particulars of each individual’s tangled mess is irrelevant; everyone has preoccupations, and the gym is our way to work through our shit. People who walk through the door are looking for the freedom of a few hours when socially acceptable constraints are no longer required. The punching bags become the recipient for every harsh word that was bitten back through the day, every slight that was received, every injustice, every worry. For a few hours, the world stops pushing, and we can push back as hard as we want, without any consequences. Bliss.

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

It feels good to not feel alone. It feels good to have a family.

BPD series: understanding the role of dance in my life

I went dancing on Saturday. For the first time in 5 weeks. Before that? I’d only gone dancing a handful of times this summer as work was ramping up.

The last time I went to Teacher‘s dance school was in July. I miss it so much it hurts. But what with work, I just can’t handle the late nights (class ends at 9:30pm on Wednesdays, and then there is a social till midnight). I am either in bed by 11pm, or else I am working till 1am. I started dancing only on weekends, when I could sleep in. But then, as work really stretched me to the limits, physically and emotionally, I started skipping those too: on Friday nights, I wanted to be completely alone with my PJs, wine and my teddies. On Saturdays, I’d find something, anything else to do rather than expose myself to the vulnerability required to dance. I was too tired to be brave.

But I see videos of Teacher dancing. Occasionally he and ppl on his team check in on me. I see them with their big smiles, full up of joy, and it makes my heart ache. I miss it so.

And so, I went dancing on Saturday.

I was nervous. I was nervous that I would be rusty, have forgotten how to move my body, be stiff and an unpleasant experience for my partners. I wouldn’t be enough.

Dance has been both a blessing and a curse. There is incredible growth and courage required to learn to accept and enjoy one’s body in space. I think it is something we all struggle with. I am grateful for all these difficult lessons and with each one learned, for the additional freedom to be myself. But since dance requires everyone to face their insecurities, it fosters insecurities. As far as I can tell, this is not unique to kizomba. Ballet – Black Swan. Ballroom dancing – Strictly Ballroom. I am not sure if dance draws the unstable drama queens with raging insecurities, or if it wears people down into such caricatures, or both. In my case, it has brought my underlying insecurities to the forefront, such that I can no longer deny their existence. Life was simpler before, but I suppose coming to terms with these insecurities is a good thing.

I am not enough. Familiar refrain.

Just like that, I understand now why dance has been such a love/hate relationship. It has triggered many of the same emotional responses as Hickster, the ICB Instagram snafu, and my disagreement with my boss. Often, so often, dance makes me realize my failures, and the I am not enough echo in my head grows so deafening, I can’t hear the music and have no awareness of my partner. There have been countless nights that I’ve gone home in tears (remember this dancefloor meltdown in Dubai?), miserable from the micro rejections from my partners.

Additionally, I now realize that much of my strained relationship (exhibit A and exhibit B and exhibit C) with Teacher’s dance squad, my former teammates, was caused by my BPD, and my long history of unstable interpersonal relationships. Yet another case of splitting.

Ricocheting like a pinball from one extreme to the other often characterizes other aspects of the borderline’s life. (…) To some, these oscillations may seem like pure whimsy, or the height of fickleness, or even a way to rationalize a “fear of failure.” But other issues may animate this behavior. The fear of failure is certainly real, of course, but with failure might come rejection, which is even more frightening. For Patty, the lure of succeeding on her hockey team is also the lure of belonging, of being accepted by her teammates, coaches, and classmates; if she fails, she may be exiled by those from whom she most wants acceptance.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

How I wanted to belong. To have a squad that had my back, that would tell me I was enough. I wanted so very badly to have a 2nd family that accepted me as I was. Dance is like boxing – you can’t fake or hide your weaknesses, they are on display for all to see. I assumed that my flaws would be met with kindness and sympathy.

Naive.

My dance squad’s purpose was not to pander to Vanilla’s crippling insecurities and fear of abandonment. My dance squad’s purpose was to produce an army of good dancers. To produce good dancers means to point out weaknesses and failures and say, “fix this”. I understand that now. It makes sense. It isn’t mean. It just is a bald statement of fact – a weakness. But I processed it as a relentless flood of Bad Vanilla, Vanilla is not good enough, Vanilla can’t keep up, Vanilla is in the way, FFS why is Vanilla still talking, enough about Vanilla, oh there goes Vanilla crying AGAIN, why can’t she just suck it up like the rest of us. And from there… my survival instincts kicked in, and I fought back uncharmingly. The less charming I became, the more abrupt the list of “fix this” became, till I quit. I who yearned for acceptance and belonging inflicted exile and ostracization upon myself.

It makes me sad that I associate such unpleasant memories about a dance I love so much. I have no doubt that the team’s memories of my time with them are not flattering either. As I am slowly realizing, when I split, I turn into a paranoid, obstinate, miserable, angry individual that exhausts everyone around me.

It makes me really sad that I came so close to destroying something I love so much.

But…

That’s the thing about dance. There are moments, the length of a song or two, where everything falls into place. The music, my connection to my partner, and suddenly, I am free – fully myself, fully in the moment, fully alive. The voices in my head are silenced.

It feels like peace.

Those moments of peace, few as they may be, are worth it.

I missed dancing. So much.

#thisiswhyIdance

BPD series: professional consequences

I had an”episode” this week. At work.

The term “borderline” was first employed more than sixty years ago to describe patients who were on the border between psychotic and neurotic but could not be adequately classified as either. Unlike psychotic patients who were chronically divorced from reality, and neurotic patients, who responded more consistently to close relationships and psychotherapy, borderline patients functioned somewhere in between. Borderlines sometimes wandered into the wild terrain of psychosis, doctors observed, but usually remained for only a brief time. On the other hand, borderlines exhibited several superficial neurotic characteristics, but these comparatively healthier defense mechanisms collapsed under stress.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

It’s been real stressful time lately. My unexpected promotion came at the worst time: budget season and the year end audit. In my immediate team, 6 out of 8 are new to our responsibilities and/or the company. Add to that a FUBAR situation that happened on my very first day in position and took 8 weeks and 100 hours to resolve semi satisfactorily… it’s been a lot. Too much.

I’ve been working on average 70-75 hours a week since the last week of August. That’s a new record. Around this time last year, when the workload hit a sustained 60hr work-week, I lost my fight against my shadow and snapped into the worst and scariest depression of my life, one so problematic I eventually got put on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist, and that is how I found myself learning that I have borderline personality disorder. I’ve been wary of pushing myself too far and finding myself right back in that same pit of misery. The volatility of my emotions has increased, but I seemed to be keeping it together. Until.

A relatively minor issue during month-end caused me to lose my temper. I said some shit that no manager should say publicly and boom! I now have a well-deserved HR issue. Talking to my boss later that week, we had a heart-to-heart about some of the issues facing the department. I was very emotional, but I’d thought through my arguments, and had a concise list of identified problems + proposed feasible solutions + timeline, ranked in priority. I knew WHAT was wrong. What I didn’t know was whether my proposed solutions would be accepted nor my ability to sustain any longer the crushing workload and pressure. My boss told me we’d resume discussions the following week (last week), and I hung up the conversation feeling somewhat heard and almost hopeful that with his support, things would change and get better.

The borderline tends either either to idealize or denigrate features of the external world and imposes this kind of blank-or-white perception on his relationships. These perceptual extremes roll like marbles along a constantly tilting tabletop, first to one side, then the other, but never coming to rest, never balancing in the middle. This “polar perception” utilized by borderlines in relationships is called splitting, a coping mechanism that is normally expressed among eighteen-to-thirty-six-month-old infants and toddlers. Because babies at this age do not easily tolerate ambivalence or ambiguity, they split the world into all-good and all-bad compartments. When the mothering figure satisfies the child’s basic needs, she is seen as all-good. When she frustrates these needs or is unavailable, the child transforms her into an all-bad persona. Only as the child develops can he integrate these opposing perceptions. Eventually he learns that someone he loves and admires can still disappoint or frustrate without transforming him or her into a hero or villain. Heroes can be accepted with flaws. Villains can be perceived as having some worthwhile qualities.

The borderline, however, remains stuck in this childlike blank-and-white topography because it protects her from the anxiety that accompanies attempts to reconcile contradictory feelings.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

I got into an email scuffle with my boss Saturday morning. I’d gone about something in an unorthodox manner, he didn’t particularly like the surprise, he reacted categorically.

His email hit me like a ton of bricks. I read it at the gym, right after warmup. I found Coach sitting on a bench, fell down beside him sobbing hysterically. My teammates stared in shocked silence as I drew lung shattering breaths, my endless tears making a puddle on the floor, Coach patting my back as he would a wounded dog. For 5 minutes I cried, unable to form words to explain the cause of my breakdown. Eventually I managed to explain that my boss had sent an email that upset me. More silence. One of my teammates chirped, “Well Vanilla, usually when you cry at the gym it’s because of a boy and some disaster dating story, so at least this is something different?” #outofthemouthoffriends

Just like that, my boss morphed into the Wicked He-Witch of the West. I texted CSD angry rants, endless streams of angry commentary about the status of our department, the hopelessness of it, how I hated my job. I felt betrayed by every level of the company. CSD was fairly pragmatic about it on Saturday. By Sunday, I was still angry typing, he was patient but bored.

On Monday, I met with my boss. It didn’t go well. I cried and yelled in his office for over an hour. He even left for part of it to go to a previously scheduled 30 minute meeting, leaving me to calm down. I didn’t. We resumed when he got back. Highlights include him instructing me to go do something, and my response of, “I won’t do it, you can’t make me”. I don’t remember much, other than telling him he thought I was a monkey, and his shocked denial. I do remember the anguish that consumed me, and the despair. My angry rants to CSD continued throughout the day. Monday night, CSD was fed up, and told me that if this is how I really felt, I should just quit, because I was destroying team morale and my health.

By Wednesday, I noticed that my angry typing endless rants to CSD were very similar to my disfunctional behaviour with Hickster. Pause. CSD ain’t Hickster. CSD ain’t even the authority figure representing the company doing me wrong, yet I was attacking him through my texts. Crying uncontrollably? Check. Staying stuck, replaying similar scenes over and over? Check. Paranoid slant to everything I said? Check. Unable to think of anything else because the pain was too consuming? Check.

5 days into my BPD episode, I finally became aware I was experiencing a bad case of splitting and cognitive distortion. With that awareness, I could explore what was really going on.

I am not enough and I have no value/am worthless are the two narratives my brain feeds me constantly. As soon as I wake up, while I shower and get ready for work. While I sip my coffee. As I work on a tax problem or coach my junior. As I’m doing sit ups at the gym. In my dreams. It is the worst possible Christmas music playing endlessly in the background that I really wish I could turn off, but can’t. Year round. It wears me down, and the fight to not succumb to it’s hypnotic rhythm is exhausting. Periodically, that relentless soundtrack pushes me into a depression, and when that happens those thoughts become so loud in my head, so painful, I crave release from the anguish. That’s the danger zone.

So anything or anyone that seems to confirm that I am not enough to love; I am not worthy of time; I am not valuable enough to be taken care of; that makes me go crazy. It feels like an attack on my ability to survive. Every day I remind myself that my brain is lying to me, it isn’t true that I am not enough and worthless. But when faced with what appears to be proof that my brain is right?? Well then. Why bother fighting my brain? I should just give up. No point in survival.

That is why Hickster + ICB’s mundane Instagram oopsies + my boss at work all trigger the same emotional response. That is why my reaction always appears overly dramatic. It IS overly dramatic, if all that is at play is a misunderstanding about social media or a relatively small argument at work. But that isn’t the case. What is at play is my brain that will eventually wear me down to nothingness, like so many before me.

There also be anatomical correlates with splitting: the brain is divided into right and left hemispheres, which are connected by a midline structure called the corpus callosum. Nerves connecting the two sides of the brain intersect at this structure. Further, it has been demonstrated that the two hemispheres serve somewhat different functions. Emotions, particularly negative emotions, are associated more with the right hemisphere. Logical cognitions and positive emotions may predominate on the left side of the brain. Under ideal circumstances, both hemispheres balance each other. However, when a stroke or other neurological injury occurs in one hemisphere, an asymmetry between emotional expression and self-control often develops. Perhaps stress in the borderline disrupts the laying down of the brain cable that connects and balances the two hemispheres. If so, it is possible that negative experiences are shuttled to the right hemisphere, where they are quarantined. Positive perceptions may be billeted on the left. The usual communication channels between hemispheres remain underdeveloped. In this model, it is proposed that stress disrupts normal brain development, especially the connections between the two parts of the brain, resulting literally in a partitioned brain.

(…) In any event, borderline splitting may indeed be the result of literally perceiving the world with two disconnected brains.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

You know what I am paid for? My brain.

You know what I am not paid for? Two disconnected brains that don’t work together the way they are supposed to.

By Thursday and Friday, I felt myself relatively free from the grips of splitting. My boss is back to being the kind man I’ve long admired. Except he doesn’t know that for 5 days I wasn’t dealing with him, I was dealing with a distorted split version of him. He doesn’t know I am back on the healthy side of that border. All he knows that I am the grown-ass woman who shouted and cried accusations at him. Thank goodness I happen to be really smart. It must be so disorienting for him to be left with a rational acceptance of my analysis but an emotional rejection of it because of the paranoid slant that poisoned our discussions.

I see my team tiptoe around my office, always hesitant to address me, because they don’t know if they will be faced with Regular Quirky Vanilla or Angry Harridan Vanilla.

I am dismayed at the very real mess I’ve caused. BPD or not, that is not ok, as a manager.

This is a problem.

BPD series: dealing with shame

Without justifying or condemning ourselves, we do the courageous work of opening to suffering. This can be the pain that comes when we put up barriers or the pain of opening our heart to our own sorrow or that of another being. We learn as much about doing this from our failures as we do from our successes. In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience – our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

Pema Chödrön, The Places that Scare You

I was working late at the office, a day like any other lately, when my bestie Allie FaceTimed me with her little baby Willie. They blew bubbles and kisses at me together,”we love you Auntie Vanilla and we are proud of you. You got this!!” My heart. I hung up, goofy smile on my face. My phone rang again, another FaceTime call. Laughing, I picked up, “Yes, Allie, what is Willie up to now?” Except it wasn’t Allie. It was Hickster, video calling me on Whatsapp.


Months. It had been months since I’d cut my losses and blocked him. Months of mourning the absence of someone who’d made me feel more alive than I’ve ever been. Months of trying to understand and accept that love is not enough. He made me feel fully whole and fully broken at the same time.

Months.


I might have blocked Hickster on all our usual platforms for communication (his number, Facebook, Messenger and Instagram), I’d forgotten that since I was in his contacts, he could use Whatsapp. My stunned brain couldn’t connect to my fingers to end the call. I sat in silence looking at a 2 dimensional small rectangle of a face that once meant the world to me.

“Vanilla, please. Hear me out. I want to apologize.”

He apologized for the relatively mundane trigger of our last fight. He apologized for the trigger of the fight before. He apologized for the trigger of the fight before that. As I tried to cut him off, and let him know it was ok, we didn’t need to revisit the past, he could just drop it, Hickster insisted, “No, Vanilla. I need to say this, and you need to hear it. I am sorry.”

45 minutes. It was a real apology. Not a “I’m sorry but” apology. No “yes I did this but you did that too” bullshit. He covered the big betrayals. The micro-betrayals. Specific moments where he made me feel inadequate. The accusations, the disregard. He described with precision and sadness the impact it had had on me. It was painful to listen to and hard to watch a proud man struggle to push the words of his shameful behavior out of his mouth. “I did all that. Me. I did that to someone who loved me. I broke something beautiful and I have to live with that knowledge every day. I am sorry.” 

I thanked him for the apology. Hung up. Cried for 2 hours.


I woke up different. The gaping wound I’d been carrying for all of 2018 felt slightly scarred over. One of the hardest parts of the deterioration of my relationship with Hickster was the cruel switch that happened almost overnight when I went from being his love to being nothing. It was like a denial of my existence in his life. I know I matter, I know I mattered to him, I know I brought goodness into his life, how can he pretend it never happened? I am so worthless, even the memories of me can be forgotten? Reconciling my reality of what we’d shared with his behavior made me almost insane. During those months, I gained a whole lot of understanding of Shakespeare’s Ophelia. And now, unexpectedly, I had confirmation that not only I mattered, but that his behaviour had been intentional, born not of a revulsion for my worthlessness but of his own brokenness.

The world had titled, somewhat.


A week later, Hickster texted me an innocuous comment, a feeler to see if I would be open to the idea of cautiously settling those few items which we’d never settled. I felt the bubble of panic rise inside of me. I can’t do this, I won’t manage, I can’t face any more pain, followed by the dread of another meltdown at work, I can’t afford that right now, I need to concentrate, I have too much on my plate, I can’t do this, I can’t, I can’t…

And just like that I was back in the grips of this other me. The endless texting, pages and pages and pages of lamentations, and pleas and regrets. Hickster initially reacted abruptly, but as my texting continued, uncontrolled, as I cried hysterically in my office, it shifted to bald responses: “Vanilla, I can’t read your think” followed by “Chill Vanilla. Chill. It’s ok. We’ll talk later, when you are better.” I cried and cried, used an entire box of Kleenexes, still typing. Silence. I kept typing, using scrap paper to blow my nose, because I couldn’t leave my office and show my coworkers my wrecked face. Typed some more. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I can’t do this, please don’t be mad, ok? Please. I’m sorry, I don’t understand this either. I know I’ve annoyed you and I’m crying and crying. I’m sorry Hickster, for real I don’t know how to control this. I don’t think this can work out, I’m just too fucked up. I want to try keep my shit together, to close out our shit on a good note, but I don’t think I can handle interacting with you. I think I’m more fucked up and hurt than I even realized. I hope you believe me; I can’t control this and I hate it as much as you do. I’m sorry.” I continued crying and typing into silence for another HOUR, until it dawned on me that Hickster had just demonstrated the same behaviour he used to when I was very depressed. He had flagged I was “off”. He had tried to keep me calm, and when that failed, stepped back until my emotions burned themselves out. THAT is when I realised I was having one of my BPD meltdowns triggered by my feelings of inadequacy. Almost 75 minutes after Hickster had backed off, I had finally understood what was going on. I felt deep shame.

I left work early, feeling defeated, and mortified.

The next day, around lunch, a text from Hickster. “You ok?” I called him up, started apologizing for my meltdown, for using him as an emotional punching bag, as I had so many times before. That I realized now how much exhaustion I’d caused him, while believing myself to be the only victim in our relationship. He cut me off. “Vanilla. Stop it. When I called you to apologize, I knew what I was getting into. This is who you are. You can’t control it, it just is. I know that now, even though back in the day, I didn’t know what was going on and I reacted very badly. You didn’t know you had this condition. You were doing your best. I know you can’t help these waves, I just gotta ride it out, not engage and wait till you are better and clear-headed. That’s ok. That comes with the territory, and I knew that when I decided I was ready to apologize. Don’t be sorry for who you are. Who you are is who I said sorry to. All of you.”


A few days later my 3-part Instagram meltdown with ICB. One week after that, ICB and I decided to part ways. ICB admitted that he feared the burden of my emotions, that he wouldn’t be able to manage them, long-term.

Who can blame him?


I’ve come to believe Hickster’s purpose in my life was to help me uncover my BPD diagnosis.

My whole life, I’ve known something was painfully off about me. I leave a long trail behind me of broken, confused relationships, filling me with shame. Some times I manage to hide it better, to appear more normal, but I always felt different. Apart. Managing to mostly fit in while being painfully aware of my secret brokenness.

And then came Hickster, like a hurricane, and he pushed all my buttons and overwhelmed me until my brokenness became so obvious and problematic I needed to get help.

I have a name now for what I have. An action plan. Books. Therapy. With hard work I’ll eventually build healthier responses to my brokenness such that I don’t in turn in Hulk Smash those I care for.

Without Hickster, I would never have known what it means to be fully broken and fully whole.