Black and white thinking

My therapist told me many things that I actually have known deep down already…but one thing was completely new for me: Apparently I suffer from the BPD-typical black and white thinking. I didn’t believe it at first. For me, black and white thinking was this fairy tale thing of good and evil. And my family was way too reflected for me ending up as a person who thinks in good and evil when it comes to politics or stuff like that. I hate when people read the newspapers and think in black and white about what they see.

However my therapist convinced me that I think in black and white when it comes to small, emotional things. A classic example: When I didn’t feel great in a job, my first thought was to quit. Either everything’s okay – or I go. I can make pro/con-lists but in the end I always see just one side. Nothing in between, no other options than yes and no. Like the way I always glorify my partner as long as everything’s fine but start to devaluate him and question everything as soon as something hurts or is unpleasant. The closer people are to me the more I get confused when I see positive and negative things about them because those things can’t go together in my eyes. That’s why I was always good at ending relationships – when somebody is in disfavour with me, then he/she is and nothing that was good before matters any more – no reason to think about it.

That is the often mentioned splitting which can be found in children and borderliners. My therapist always said that I am intelligent and handle my life like the grown-up I’m supposed to be. Emotionally though, she said I am like a 4-year old and that therapy would be my growing up in time lapse. With everything that comes with it. Great. By the way my partner finds it very funny to tease me about that – everytime I realize that I just thought in black and white (and it’s the only symptom I often don’t notice regardless of all vigilance – grrr) he praises me and tells me I’ll soon be a schoolchild – and I am easily teased by that.

And so I try to avoid black and white thinking which makes my life very complicated. I mean, yes and no are so wonderfully clear. And I like clarity. I hate “maybes”.

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BPD and relationships

If you have read about BPD a little, you probably know that  it is very difficult for borderliners to have stable relationships due to impulsive behaviour, problems with closeness and distance and extreme emotions.

I am extremely grateful that my partner seems to cope quite well with all my little peculiarities. What makes me very angry though, is the way that media sometimes deals with borderliners: You can find lots of scary accounts about how terrible it is to date someone who has BPD – there are ex-partners who write about people with that condition as if we all were monsters.

Yes, I know that we can act completely unpredictable, be difficult to handle, I know that fits of rage on a daily basis can be annoying and I see that nobody wants to be asked “Will you please, please stay with me forever?”, only to be shouted at a few minutes later.

BUT: I know borderliners (including myself) who manage to have functioning realtionships – it only takes a lot of discipline, love and patience from both sides. For example, I ask my partner if he wants to leave me about three or four times an hour. Somebody else might be annoyed by that and feel overwhelmed by my clinginess. My partner understands that I am seriously afraid that he could leave me, so he tells me that everything’s OK – over and over and over again. Might be that I’ll never believe it but at least I feel safer that way. Security and stability can help borderliners a lot!

On the other hand, I have to control myself immensly when I get angry about something. When I am angry with somebody, I turn really cold towards that person, I won’t shout, I will just let them know that they are completely worthless which is probably even worse than yelling at them. So when I get angry with my partner, I have to leave the room in time. Usually, I am able to talk about things in a more constructive way quite a short time later (a nice thing about mood swings :)).

I don’t really know what I intend to tell you with this text, I guess I just want to show that borderliners are able to love (and yes, there are lots of people who think we can’t), that we don’t spend 24 hours a day trying to ruin somebody and that we are only manipulative because we are scared or confused or whatever…not because we are evil.

So to all the awesome understanding partners of borderliners who struggle with us every day – you rock!

I have no idea who I am

There are lots of complicated explanations as to why borderliners don’t have a stable self-image, always need a mirror and seem to change their mind all the time.
You are very welcome to read articles on that because I can just tell you what it feels like for me.

When I get up in the morning, I pick some clothes. I don’t think about them in order to make me look godd but in order to give me a role for the day. There is a version in jeans and old T-Shirts that are too large for me, a verion in skirts with flowers in my hair and so on…what I want to say is that I feel as if I WAS that role, and I can’t imagine ever feeling different again…at least for a few hours.

Many borderliners (including me) are constantly afraid that people might see through them as they feel as if they were just pretending to be something or someone. The only orientation we have are the reactions of our surroundings. They tell us, who we are – that explains why many people with BPD do not have the best opinions about themselves…

As I have clear views about many things such as ethics or politics, it is hard to imagine that I do not have a stable image of myself but for me it feels as if I am a different person every day, depending on who I spend my time with and what I’m wearing. I can tell you, what I do, so I kind of know what I am capable of on a rational level. But I don’t have a feeling for what I AM – am I my name? My clothes? My job? My partner? A mixture of all those? I honestly have no idea…there are so many different aspects of me that I can’t get hold of them, I can’t see the whole thing.

The more I think about it, the more confused I get so that is probably the best explanation I can give.

Being scared at different stages

Fear of distance…and closeness

One of the most typical fears that borderliners have all the time is that of losing an important person, in most cases this is focused on the partner. As borderliners do not have a stable self-image, it is extremely important to have a “mirror” and the partner is exactly that. Sometimes, I feel as if I wasn’t there if I don’t have somebody else to focus on and interact with. This might sound quite confusing as I am perfectly able to do things on my own and people tend to think of me as very independent. That is true for things such as work, handling my every-day routine and so on. It is not at all true for my emotional life.

I first encountered this extreme fear of losing someone when I was about nine years old. The fear was focused on my mother then, I had to call her all the time to hear she was well and I really panicked when I couldn’t talk to her. It felt as though my life would end if she left me, or worse, something happened to her.

Today, I am afraid of losing important people in general, but the fear of losing my partner is the worst. I honestly have no idea if I could cope with losing him if it ever happened. Just thinking about it makes me physically sick. That leads to funny behaviour: Let’s say I am in the supermarket with my partner and each of us goes looking for something different. As long as I am searching for what I want, everything is fine but as soon as I’m finished and can’t find him immediately, I start to panic. My thoughts go from “Where is he?” to “He will never come back, he probably left me or died…” in an instant. I know it is completely baseless but I am unable to stop it.

That was just one example but I guess it illustrates how bad it is just every single day. I feel stupid because of it and I try to distract myself from those thoughts. The fear stays, though.

Funny thing is, after being seperated from somebody for some time, I get used to being on my own and then it is difficult for me to get used to that person’s presence again. So if I was at home on my own and my partner comes back, it can feel as if he consumes just everything, I can’t stand being hugged and I just feel overwhelmed by his very existence. That was the way I felt towards most of my previous partners. It probably sounds completely illogical that I am afraid of losing somebody and can’t stand that very person’s presence at the same time but that’s the way it is.

So the flow between closeness and distance doesn’t work – it is black and white. No shades of grey (sorry, I had to do that :D). It reminds of a child who doesn’t want to go to kindergarten in the morning. Contrastly, the same child will probably protest against being picked up in the afternoon – that’s how I feel. Constantly.

Panic attacks

In my case, panic attacks accompany BPD, so they are a comorbidity. They are not a symptom of BPD!

Panic attacks are annoying for me. I’ve had them since I was nine years old, sometimes more, sometimes less of them but I had plenty of time to get used to them.

Most people ask me what a panic attack feels like, so I’ll try to explain:
If you ever where in a situation where you nearly died of suffocation, you know the feeling – an acute fear of death combined with the physical feeling of not getting enough air. The heart is beating way too fast, you can’t focus on anything but that all-consuming fear. And you fall…
There are short and intense attacks where I don’t even notice if somebody is talking to me. Sometimes, the attacks last longer than a few minutes, but usually the symptoms are not as strong then – I feel scared but I can still manage opening the window, giving short anwers and try to breathe more slowly.

The first attacks when I was nine were recognized as a problem and I was taken to a psychologist who was specialised in fears that children have. She actually helped me by what felt like playing with dolls and painting…guess she was really good at what she was doing.

After that, the attacks stopped for a while, only to come back when I was about fifteen. At that point, I was unable to access any of my emotions due to BPD emptiness, so I could just utter what it felt like. I was taken to a respiratory physician several times – he found nothing. But damn it, I knew that I nearly suffocated every second day – what the hell was wrong? It had to be asthma…

Today I know, those were panic attacks, desperate tries of my body to tell me that something was really, really wrong. What is tricky is that the attacks come out of nothing: If I panic because of a distressing situation, I’m cool with that. But sometimes, the panic comes when I’m just sitting and reading or talking to somebody. In contrast to most BPD-symptoms, I just can’t find triggers for the panic which is frustrating.

After an attack, I usually cry and feel extremely tired. Hyperventilating for minutes on end is quite exhausting. I got used to the attacks more or less. I am able to do breathing exercises to keep them under control sometimes. They are really more annoying than distressing for me by now.

Red tears

The most controversally discussed symptom of BPD is self-harm and the most “popular” form of it is cutting. Even though I know quite a few borderliners who have never once cut themselves on purpose, it seems that people always think that cutting and BPD go together in every case.

First of all, I want to stress that self-harm doesn’t begin with a razorblade touching skin. It can be so much more: sabotaging job interviews, getting drunk and driving afterwards, spending too much money or having non-safer sex are only some of the ways that a borderline personality might use to harm themselves. So not everyone who cuts is a borderliner (although anyone who does so should probably talk to a therapist anyway) and not every borderliner cuts!

Another popular assumption is that people cut just in order to get attention. Even if that was the case, it should worry people if somebody has to use such drastic measures in order to be heard. But I know from personal experience that I never once cut myself in order to get attention: I did it because I wanted to feel something again after days of being disconnected with my body. I did it to regain control when I was on the brink of getting really psychotic. I did it when I hadn’t been able to cry a single tear for 4 (!) years – and that was in my teenage years which are renown for being the easiest in a persons life (attention: sarcasm).

I got incredibly creative concerning finding explanations for my injuries and I am really good at doing things that nobody will think of as a self-inflicted wound: cutting fingers during woodwork class, cutting armpits “accidentely” while shaving and so on. But also, hiding the wounds is an art that I consider myself an expert in: Biting the inner side of my cheeks, scratching my scalp until it bleeds, cutting parts of the body that nobody ever looks at…it is shocking, how many of my partners have neither felt nor seen cuts under my pants because they were too busy at the moments in question.

To be fair, my body doesn’t look like what people expect from a borderliner: Not a single scar on my forearms. I remember about 40-50 occasions where I hurt myself and at the moment, I only count about ten visible scars on my tanned skin – not bad, ey?

I already talked about occasions for cutting, but not about reasons. My first try was a situation in which I was completely disconnected from my body. I felt the urge to see blood in order to know that I was still alive. And it helped. An injury gets the body into a sort of alarm mode which means that I can get back into my body by feeling pain and/or seeing blood. Because of the hormones that are produced in that process, it gets kind of addictive.

I have never been addicted to any substances (save for chocolate maybe) but what addicts describe sounds very much like what I feel about self-harm: Getting relieve from doing it, but later feeling ashamed because it happened again. A sense of freedom and superiority first and the cold turkey later. I am absolutely capable of keeping myself away from knives. But sooner or later, there will be a situatuon in which I don’t know what I’m trying for to avoid cutting. Why not do it when everybody else would get drunk or violent, shout or smash something? It is really comparable in my eyes.

What also reminds me of an addiction is that I can have enough for a while: As long as I have a fresh cut that hasn’t closed yet, I feel no urge to hurt myself again. The first few days with a new scar might still be fine but with every hour that goes by, self-harm takes a larger and larger amount of my attention. It builds up, the longer I don’t do it, the worse the withdrawal gets and sooner or later I end up doing it again. Not because of a small annoyance but maybe when my night terrors get too bad again…

I realise that this is a difficult topic and if you cannot understand why anyone would cut themselves at all, that is a great thing because it probably means that you are mentally stable and healthy. If somebody cuts in a way that is actually dangerous, intervention is incredibly important, of course. And everyone who does it deserve a chance to get a therapist and support from their family and friends.

The worst thing that can happen are people who tell a borderliner to “just stop” and “try a little harder” – do they really think that anyone cuts themselves for fun?

Talking for myself, I only cut when somebody else would probably get really, really drunk. None of those is a good solution but then again, nobody is perfect, right?

The huge grey cloud…

One of the most afflicting symptoms of BPD is the extreme emptiness that can last for hours, days, or even weeks. I know that it is difficult to make a healthy person understand that because other things like the fear and the cutting seem to be much worse. For me, being empty is the most difficult symptom to deal with. It makes getting up in the morning extremely hard, and not in the same way as being depressed does: When I am depressed, I just want to hide in my bed, see nobody, start crying at the thought of having to dress and shower and that is really bad. BUT: It is possible to get me out of this extreme desparation, if my partner takes my hand and coaxes me, I will at least manage a weak smile.

When I’m empty, that doesn’t work because I won’t even feel his hands taking mine. Also, eating breakfast doesn’t make sense because everything tastes like styrofoam. Going to work is exhausting and I don’t know what I’m making the effort for. The hours go by and when I go home in the evening, I remember nothing about the day. It all just rolls past me as if I wasn’t even there. That can go as far as feeling invisible, which is not a good feeling at all.

The problem is: nothing can stop the emptiness, if I feel as if nothing at all makes any sense and I just think that it will all be over in about sixty years anyway, I really don’t see any reason to struggle any more. Even people I love dearly cannot make any difference in such a situation – it isn’t even possible to focus visually on anything, let alone emotionally. I know that the occasions where I was really close to ending my life all came up when I was empty. Never, when I was depressed – too much fear and self-pity involved. Never when I was scared – there is no running away from fear. But this complete numbness just makes me feel as if it didn’t matter at all if I die today, tomorrow or in sixty years. So why stay…?

There is a difference between depression and emptiness, I guess it is hard to understand, but when I am depressed, I know that I am not just a zombie – everything might seem hopeless and sad and scaring, but at least I am alive. When I am empty, I am not sure whether I deserve being called a human being.

And then there is dissociation and depersonalisation. Apparently, only people with a severe BPD have that symptom, so jackpot…there are lots of scientific explanations for those two words, but for me they mean watching myself from the outside on many occasions: When I am really stressed, or can’t cope with a situation, I might suddenly watch the event from just behind my back. It is like watching a movie and normally doesn’t last longer than a few minutes (if it does, that really is a problem). I function quite well under these circumstances, at least I think so as only one single person in my life seems to realize when it happens. My partner says “Stay with me.” then. I think, my responses are rather monosyllabically and my eyes not focused. Interestingly, I make no mistakes when it happens during work or a maths test, it is like an autopilot mode.

Another thing that occasionally happens and really scares the hell out of me is that I can’t feel my hands anymore.That is the last and worst alarm sign before I shut off completely.

Nothing of this is a scientific explanation, if you want to know more, you might refer to articles about BPD emptiness, depression and dissociative symptoms. They don’t have anything to do with one another necessarily but for me they are very similar things that can happen to me and that my surroundings might confuse.