Tag: emotional instability

Horrible feelings I don’t understand

I’m feeling really bad tonight. My head hurts. My chest aches. I feel empty and hurting at the same time. I miss my friend; I miss a lot of people lost in different ways. I felt drained after therapy this morning, which isn’t unusual but it was intense today. Things are happening in therapy. It’s needed but I feel like I’m coming apart as well. I don’t really understand the pain. I’m sleeping so much at the moment but I’m back in bed now. I can’t concentrate on anything I’ve tried to do. I’m going to pray, offer it all to God and try to rest in prayer.

xxx

Getting stuck on a loop

I’m gradually coming to notice when I re-experience feelings associated to long past experiences of abuse. I’ve described this as emotional flashbacks. They can include re-experiencing physical sensations of events, but also and often more overwhelmingly, emotional experiences. This often leads to certain thoughts being triggered and impulsive, uncontrollable actions that aren’t necessarily helpful for me or others. (I say uncontrollable. I must still take responsibility for them though I do not yet manage successfully control them and the impact the feelings have on me.)

I’m also noticing that I re-experience feelings and thoughts associated to more recent events; events which are not nearly as damaging as the abuse and trauma I experienced as a child. Sometimes, I can identify that the event triggered a deeper memory, which to some extent explains my reaction. But frequently, I can’t identify this. It is like feeling stuck on a loop. It causes me a lot of guilt and anger at myself. I feel I am being childish and self-centred because I should just get over it. I feel guilty, especially when it leads me to think over and over a time when somebody upset or hurt me, because I ought to be forgiving them. If I am repeatedly thinking of the hurt and wrong caused to me, I am holding it against them, not truly forgiving and I am keeping a barrier between them and me. God forgives us fully and it is as though our offences are blotted out. When we receive his forgiveness, we are washed “whiter than snow” and He does not look any more on our transgressions. Who am I to think I’m so important that things that hurt me play over and over in my mind? I’m reminded of someone close to me telling me “nobody else is responsible for making you feel better” “I’m going to be completely straight with you and I don’t have to think about what you’re feeling”. Am I making other people responsible for my feelings by my inability to move on? Am I making everything about me? I really fear that.

An example of such an event and consequentially getting “stuck in a loop” occurred this weekend. It’s a fairly low intensity example. Yesterday, I was in the street when I was stopped by a charity fundraiser – there are many of these people in shopping streets in my city, stopping people and wanting to take their personal details and sign them up to make regular donations. This person both irritated and intimidated me immediately. I watched him approach a lady who was a little way in front of me and follow her up the street. He then came up to me, coming uncomfortably close and half-blocking my path. I think this kind of approach is particularly intimidating to me since I’m disabled, unsteady on my feet and walk with a stick (and in my mind it is insensitive and inappropriate to approach in this way someone who you do not know, especially someone who is clearly physically vulnerable). He started to ask me questions and I simply replied “no thank you,” and carried on walking as best I could. I am in no position to give money at the moment and do not want to be signed up to anything, and think the best approach is to firmly but politely refuse to engage with this kind of approach. He then continued to follow me up the street, very close, muttering behind me sarcastically “oh, well that’s just charming” and so on. I was at once frightened and suddenly angry. I turned round and by no means shouting, but firmly, told him “Would you please stop following me. I am not obliged to give you my details. I do not want you to follow me.” “Well that’s incredibly [*&$% expletive deleted] rude of you” he retorted. I told him this was highly inappropriate and asked for the details of the organisation he was working for as I would be making a complaint. Fortunately, I was able to get sight of the ID badge he was wearing as he told me “Good, I hope that you do, because you’re incredibly unpleasant!” and noted the details.

Now, this event should probably no longer be in my mind. I was not hurt. I was probably not in any danger despite his intimidating and verbally aggressive behaviour. Likely as not I will never see him again. I have never heard of the organisation he was working for and have no dealings with them. It was nasty but probably not personally directed at me. It is an unpleasant way for anyone to behave, and all the more inappropriate on the part of someone representing a charity. I felt strongly about that. But it isn’t really an important event. The damage caused to me wasn’t major or worth thinking about (beyond that tomorrow I may make a complaint to the charity as I don’t think he should carry on representing them so poorly or treating other passers-by in the way he treated me and the lady in front of me).

The intensity of the fear and anger I felt at the time was much more than it should have been. It flicked me to come very close to an outburst of upset and anger that wouldn’t have helped anyone. I was able to stop that by the grace of God. I went some way into dissociating, hurting, being out of it but thoughts spiralling in a way too much to catch, being on the edge of going into a nearby shop and impulsively spending, which is one of the responses I’m most at risk of when I’m suddenly angry or upset. Again, I was able to stop myself. Mixed into this was the thought, what if someone was watching me, what would they think of what I had done? Was it my fault and was I wrong? I went home. I felt very low and was starting to shut down and everything I’d planned to do that evening was too much. I’m ashamed to admit this.

I’m more worried right now though, that instead of this whole minor incident now being over, it has come back on this loop in my mind today, several times. My mind has compulsively played over the incident many times, very vividly, but until this has been going on for a period of time, I’ve been unable to acknowledge what’s happening, whilst also being detached from what’s occurring in the present (for instance, no longer hearing the TV that was on, no longer doing the task I was doing). The way my mind has been playing this experience over has been similar to the way obsessional OCD thoughts about bad things I’ve done or am going to do, take hold of my mind. All the emotions I experienced at the time of the incident have come back again. With each obsessional repetition in this loop, my doubt of myself and my own actions in the situation increases, so that I am more convinced that I did wrong, that it must have been my fault, that people were watching me and now know how nasty I am.

Why am I unable to move on from even such an unimportant event? Why are my feelings so extreme at the time and no lower some time after? Why am I so unable to limit the impact of the emotion and the memory of the emotion and event? Does it in some way I do not yet understand, send me back to memory of a more damaging experience? That would give some explanation at least. Or is my experience just totally out of proportion, making me self-centred, self-obsessed, childish?

This event wasn’t particularly emotive in comparison to events that take place with people I know and care about. When upsetting interactions with friends and family get stuck on a loop in this way, it can completely affect and impede my future interactions with them and feelings towards them. I feel this is all my fault through my faulty reactions, emotions and thinking. Ultimately I end up self-punishing and self-harming as the only possible escape and a desperate attempt to punish myself enough for my failure to be an adult and my failure to forgive.

Writing this, it occurs to me that this feeling of being stuck in a loop does not only apply to things done against me. It applies equally to hurt I have caused or fear I have caused others, and other mistakes I have made. Wrong things and stupid things I have done play over and over in my head. The intense feelings of guilt, shame, horror, pain, etc, play over in my head and diminish little in intensity over the years. I regularly have vivid memories of, for example, things said during an argument with my dad and step-mum 3 years ago, or something wrong I did in my work that I worried endangered a patient 5 years ago, a time I stepped out of line with something I said to my boss in a meeting 8 or more years ago… I re-experience all the feelings and they can really shake me. I become afraid of any situations similar to those in which these events occurred, maybe because I believe I’ll do the same wrong again.

Again I wonder if all the feelings I have, whether it be a situation of wrong done by me to others, or a situation of wrong done by others to me and consequential hurt, in some way are (a lesser intensity of) feelings that were overwhelming and terrifying during the years of my abuse.

I also know that in personality disorders, emotions usually reach a higher intensity more quickly, and stay at the higher intensity for longer, than in people without personality disorder. I guess that explains to some extent why the feeling hangs around for longer, though not the vivid mental replaying of inconsequential events.

I desperately want an answer and I think I’ll talk about this in my 1:1 therapy tomorrow.

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I wonder have you had similar experiences? Have you felt stuck on a loop remembering experiences or having thoughts and emotions you want to let go, but can’t?

Ginny xxx

A very hard goodbye

This morning, one of the members of my MBT therapy group left, as it is the end of her time in therapy. It was her last group today. The MBT group is a “rolling group”. The group runs weekly, continously; members join (usually at least 2 people at a time) and are in the programme for 18 months, then leave. Usually, new members join to take their place and the group carries on. Sometimes new members join at other times. This means members start and leave at different times rather than a whole group doing a course together for 18 months and everyone finishing at the same time. Usually, at least 2 people would finish at the same time. It was a bit unusual that one person left alone today (someone else who would have left with them had to switch therapy groups earlier in the year).

It was a really emotional goodbye. I cried so much. A lot of us did. The depth of feeling at the point of saying goodbye was intense and in the group time passed much too quickly. At the start of therapy I would not have understood the depth of feeling for and attachment to another person that grows in group. She is a hugely kind person who has given so much more than I think she knows and I hope she does continue to know more of that good that’s in her.

I’ll write more later. Right now it feels very raw and surges of emotion are welling up out of the blue. It has been that way all week.

I need to get things done this afternoon because tomorrow I’m having a little fundraising coffee morning. It’s probably a good thing I have to be busy but I need to not push down my feelings totally either.

Ginny xxx

BPD and “Warhammer 40k”

I have a colleague who is really into the science fiction fantasy board game, Warhammer. It’s his main hobby. I can’t even begin to explain how the game works so, thanks to Wikipedia:

“Warhammer 40,000 (informally known asWarhammer 40K, WH40K or simply 40K) is a tabletop miniature wargame produced byGames Workshop, set in a dystopian science-fantasy universe. Warhammer 40,000 was created by Rick Priestley in 1987 as the futuristic companion to Warhammer Fantasy Battle, sharing many game mechanics. Expansions for Warhammer 40,000 are released periodically which give rules for urban, planetary siege and large-scale combat. The game is in its seventh edition, which was released on May 24, 2014.”

My colleague has gradually assembled a collection of the figures / characters used in the game, building and painting each one. Apologies to readers familiar with the game as I’m sure “figures” isn’t the proper term. It’s a very detailed game which I understand is played across the world.

I have never played Warhammer and it is too much based around war and combat for me personally to enjoy. However, as my friend told me about the game, I was interested by the premise on which the universe and how the characters originated. I’ve long been attracted to the way fantasy world stories and games allow us to explore emotions and values that may seem both threatening and fundamental in every day life. I think that’s why I enjoy the Divergent trilogy, the Hunger Games series and Harry Potter.

In Warhammer, as I understood it at least,  emotions like rage, anger, depression, lust, and so on take on a monstrous form and inhabit their own plane that was somehow separated from the world we live in. However they can sometimes get through the division between the two planes, into the world, as monsters and destroyers, and attack or take possession of people.

I thought that was quite a vivid description of the emotions that we fear. Sometimes I dissociate and cannot feel. It’s as though the emotions are supposedly safely shut away in the other plane, leaving absence and numbness, but still draining and hollowing me out so I no longer know who I am. The veil that keeps them shut away is increasingly unstable. It shifts and weakens and then with horrifying force, the violent and monstrous emotions burst through back into my reality. They attack. They hurt. They scream fury or whisper paranoia and guilt. They cling, unbearable and foul. They consume me, control me and wrap themselves so tight around my insides that all I sense is pain and I lose sight of everything good. Hope and empathy seem to have fled. I do the terrible things I most fear.

Sometimes I worry what the creators of games like this have been through to come up with these images! Or perhaps it only reads this way to people who think like me 🙂

Ginny xxx

Walking this Borderland #11: ice and lemon?

[Warning: the last 2 paragraphs under the *** contain discussion of self harm]

I know I’ve banged on about this technique elsewhere  in this blog but I just realised it may be a useful tip to add to the collection of coping strategies I’m trying to build up  in this Borderland series. Also, last week I learnt another similar very effective tip which I’d like to share. Thank you for bearing with me through the first two paragraphs if you’ve read my previous posts mentioning this topic.

In Borderline, regulation of emotions is difficult. States of emotional arousal shift quickly. Emotions and the intensity with which they are experienced can change rapidly and yet quickly become all consuming. The instability doesn’t make the emotions less real. Emotions may rise more quickly than they do in people without Borderline PD and stay at the higher level for longer. Equally, those of us with Borderline may suddenly enter emotionally numb or cut off states.

Both extremes can be dangerous, in my experience. Both can quickly tip into dangerous impulsivity, recklessbehaviour and decisions, self harm, suicidal intentions, explosive emotions and higher and higher states of distress. In either state we can’t explore our feelings and thoughts or other people’s feelings and intentions. Most coping strategies or systems of value that keep us strong, or protective factors like caring about other people, or religious faith or other beliefs that give us hope, become inaccessible in these states.

We need something that changes or emotional state so that we are able to reach again for these strengths and beliefs and strategies. One thing that can do this is giving the body a (non harmful) shock or surprise. We can only experience a certain number of sensations at once. A sudden strong physical sensation can serve enough to slightly bring our emotions away from the extreme. Once our emotions are coming away from the extreme, and only then, can we access other thought processes and coping strategies such as self soothing or the rescue box.

My top two ways to create this shift are as follows:

  • Lemon juice: lemon juice is a sharp sour taste. Take a couple of mouthfuls of neat lemon juice. You can even keep a small container of lemon juice in your bag when you’re out (easily available in supermarkets, eg the plastic “Jif” lemons).
  • Instant ice packs: I just discovered these! A really helpful nurse have me one when I was getting panicky in hospital last week after my op. I find this more effective and more practical than holding ice cubes, which is another alternative. Instant ice packs are really small and light, containing little crystals which activate to become cold when you squeeze and shake the packet. The tactile aspect is another helpful distraction too. I’m going to try to get some more. They appear to be available online from about 50p each, though I haven’t tried and tested any sources yet.

It sounds crazy, but the sudden ice and lemon shock does work. (Note to self, don’t follow the ice and lemon with the gin every time 😉 ! Remember to stick to Cola. Joke. No offence intended.)

Other potential ways of achieving the same effect include chewing small pieces of chilli (not too much and make sure you aren’t allergic first!), putting mustard on your tongue, or putting your head under a cold shower. The lemon and the ice are just the ones that work best for me and that I find most practical. I can use them even when I’m out or away from home.

This isn’t intended to be a long term solution but a short term way to keep safe and regain some stability. After you’ve used one of these techniques, you may then find you’re in a position to use other coping strategies once your level of distress is reduced (self soothing or mentalisation, for instance).

****

Incidentally, I wonder if there’s ever a link between why these techniques work and the drive to self harm. I say this with caution because it’s a sensitive and painful thing and what drives someone to self harm will be different for each person. For me, sometimes there’s pain, loss, need, anger, or self hate, or needing to hurt myself so I don’t hurt anyone else, or needing the physical pain to numb and quiet the noise in my head and voices, or to know what the physical pain will almost faithfully be as it stills some of the much more unbearable mental pain for just a little while. For the next person it’ll be different.

One CPN I talked to describes the ice pack and lemon type techniques as safe self-harm. It’s a shock, a not pleasant, over powering physical sensation. Personally I don’t see it as similar to self harm or at all a way of self harming safely. Nor do I think it has in itself directly reduced my self harming. I don’t think it’s yet something I could do to avoid self harming once I’m at the point I’m about to self harm, although perhaps it does stop me reaching that point in the first place. However I think perhaps I see some of the point the nurse was making, in that the ice or lemon shock serves to still and control the emotion a little bit. Maybe part of why I started to self harm was needing to control unbearable emotion.

Anyhow.  When life gives you lemons, as the saying goes. …

Ginny xxx