Tag: memory loss

I don’t remember why – the guilt of my dissociative episodes

It is scary sorting through piles of possessions I do not remember buying.

As part of my recovery work I’m allocating time to take care of my home, household related tasks (bills, organisation, housework etc), in order to take responsibility for living an ordered life, to not get into trouble or overwhelmed with unpaid bills and tasks ignored until they become insurmountable, and to make a safe calm and even beautiful home. I had no home for many years, moving from room to room, moves often prompted by my mounting distress. When I was blessed to find this place, it took a long time to feel at all safe or dare to believe in any stability. Then gradually, it became an escape, flight not by constantly moving around but by means of a protective enclosure. Which is good in some ways and something I still need when things are too much, which is frequent, but now it is time for my home to be more than that; even a place and a life that supports my health.

Part of this is continuing what I’ve been trying to do for some time, which is clearing through accumulated items and clutter and organising the things I decide I do need. I’ve been working on this for some weeks or months on and off, tackling different areas. I’ve acknowledged for several months in therapy and with my support worker how I bought and accumulated items as a desperate attempt at escape, distraction and protection. I acknowledge how out of control my spending used to be and too often still is and how impulsively I buy things when in my dissociative episodes, apparently driven by some desperate need at the time that leaves me sick at myself and painfully empty afterwards when my consciousness returns, a massive blank missing in my memory and emotion, but the fallout of my actions apparent – money spent, arguments had, horrific things said, tablets taken, sometimes alcohol drunk and most of all items bought (usually clothes, makeup, accessories, things I’d never buy for myself “normally” or rationally). I hate myself then, most of all for the money spent on myself and the hurt I’ve caused other people.

I’m coming face to face with all this as I’m clearing through hoarded possessions. Much as I’ve been aware of and fighting these problems for months, it’s still very scary finding things I don’t remember purchasing and don’t know why I have. Perhaps it’s even scarier because I don’t really know why I do this when I’m dissociated. Why? Why do I buy things? Why do I become what the evidence means I am in these times – selfish, irrational, irresponsible, needy, childish, bad? What else am I doing in these times? The violent emotion that takes over and hurts people around me, but still I can’t control it – who am I and where is it leading? Why do I behave in ways I can’t remember, that people close to me say are terrible?

I’m scared. I want to take responsibility. I’m trying to carry on gradually sorting out my home. It occurs to me whether looking at items I bought in these dissociative states where there are huge memory gaps, will help me connect at all with what I was doing and who I was at these times. I don’t know.

Ginny xxx

Managing money with Borderline Personality Disorder

I am bad with money. I panic about it. I’ll panic for days beside being able to sit down to look at my financial situation. Partly this is because it’s usually so dire and it’s a constant background stressor in my mind that sends me to extremes of distress when my thoughts are in the foreground and that I block out at other times. I even find myself dissociating from it. Additionally, there’s the fact that I find it hard to deal with figures and hold them in my head and follow steps through when I’m budgeting. I always did find dealing with numbers hard, even before I was particularly ill.

However, with help, for example from my lovely support worker or my very close friend L., I can list out all my money coming in and my expenses and I can draw up a budget based on that – even though the outcome for months has been that I don’t have enough to meet basic expenses. It may not be workable but I can at least get things down on paper.

It’s very hard for me to get to that stage but that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is when it comes to spending. I have been very bad with money and very impulsive and out of control and I really want to change that. I must change that if I’m to stay out of debt and all the spiralling material and mental consequences.

Even if I have made a budget plan, when I’m most ill I do not stick to it. Best laid plans to waste, as the saying goes… When I dissociate, or flip, I am no longer in control. It’s my responsibility and I don’t want to deny that but I’m not mentally in control. I make decisions and act on impulses and spend money rashly. I act on a temporary conpulsion to buy things I’d never normally touch. Sometimes I know it’s temporarily squashing down the unbearable feelings. Sometimes I’m buying a different life. Sometimes I’m buying for one of my “others” or it’s the “other” wanting and needing it and making the decisions. Often I’m too far gone to have any awareness of what or why I’m doing it and afterwards I see what I’ve bought and have only a dim recollection of why and when i did it.

Afterwards, infallibly, I feel terrible: guilty, disgusted, that I’ve been selfish, greedy, confused, angry with myself, scared, an absolutely unbearable feeling I can’t describe. There’s dread there. There’s shame – a lot of shame. There’s panic. There’s something more. Yet I still do it. There’s always the next time I lose control and dissociate and spend again. I’d call it a kind of manic dissociation that leads me to spending (it leads me to impulsively angry and needy actions too), as opposed to the frozen and numb dissociation that accompanies self harm or the safe dissociation of slipping away from this world into the imaginary one in my head. The manic dissociation is probably the most socially dangerous.

I really want to break this. I can’t stop the dissociation and impulsivity yet but I’m trying to find ways to reduce its impact. It’s become very important right now because, having had problems for nearly a year with my disability-related Benefits, with my support worker’s help we have now resolved the problems and I am due to receive some back-payment of money I should have received some time ago. This is absolutely great for me because it means that I can pay off my arrears and make a stable budget going forward and it looks as if finally I will have enough to live on! I am so so so thankful for this. It also means that I have a lot more money than I usually do (even if only temporarily til I pay the arrears). This is scary because I know that I cannot be trusted with it.

I texted my support worker straight away about the back payment and he’s going to call me this afternoon so that we can make a plan, pay the arrears and make an appointment to look at my budget again now that I’ll have a bit more money coming in. I’m hoping we can come up with some things we can do so that, at the times I’m being impulsive and not in control, I can spot this quicker and ideally, my access to money could be strictly limited at these times. I’m not sure how we could achieve that but maybe he will have ideas.

I know that ultimately I need to get to the root of what’s causing the impulsivity and learn to take back control of my actions at those times and stop the dangerous behaviour. I’m hoping therapy is going to help me find this, though it worries me I’m so far through therapy and still I don’t think I’ve changed in this area. Until I can do that I need to try to stay safe and be as responsible as I can.

I’m interested to know, if you or someone you know has Borderline, or indeed any other mental health condition, does it affect how you / they feel about money and how you / they can manage it? Is it an area you feel vulnerable or find stressful? In all the years I worked at a hospital and in the various services I’ve been seen in, it isn’t talked about very much.

Just recently I saw a useful self-help booklet at the PD Service I’m seen in, on these kind of issues. I’ll share here the booklet here later today or tomorrow (I think there’s an online version). It was about the first publication about managing finances which I’ve come across targeted specifically for patients.

Ginny xxx

 

Losing time

I know we all lose track of time and sometimes time flies by, other times it drags.

When my emotions are very high or when I’m rocking between dissociated and cut off and very distressed, I lose time. It’s not the normal “time flies”. I do not know what I have been doing. Impossible-feeling amounts of time pass and I don’t know how or what I’ve done. Or large periods (maybe half a day or sometimes as much as 2 days) vanish from my memory. It usually precedes and/or proceeds a time of intense distress. It’s frightening. 

I thought it would get less as therapy progresses but if anything it’s more.

Also, I feel a greater dissociation between different states of need or emotion and rock between them more precariously. I thought the distance would close with therapy, not widen.

Does anyone else feel in this way? If so do you mind me asking what do you do to cope with it?

Ginny xx

Goldilocks and the three bears (with a sore head – or three sore heads I guess)

Goldilocks and the three bears (with a sore head – or three sore heads I guess)

[Artwork is not my own.]

Q “Why are you chasing after a giggling fortune teller with a crystal ball?”

A “Well, my therapist told me that I have to try to reach a happy medium…”

Yeah okay sorry about that one…

In therapy recently we’ve talked about different concepts of an emotional thermometer.

One view could be a bit like a normal thermometer which can read positive and negative temperatures (ie plus and minus zero, not positive and negative in the sense of value). When we reach a very extreme emotional state either side of the middle, it is a bad time for us and we are not able to use coping techniques or mentalise, because of the extreme we are at.

At the high, hot, “red” extreme, where the thermometer has “shot up”, we are experiencing very intense emotions – extreme anxiety, distress, hurt, anger etc. I guess it could also be an extreme of a positive emotion although I wonder if this would make coping as difficult? I probably should think more about that.

At the low, cold, “blue”, frozen extreme, we also aren’t able to manage because we feel so low, cut off from our emotions, maybe as if we are in a numb state.

It might, perhaps, be more possible for us to function in the low extreme than the high extreme – we might be more able to get through the day better than when we are in an extreme of eg distress and crying – but it is not a place we are calm or happy.

In the middle of the two extremes, so a range around the imaginary zero, is a mid-ground where we can have calm and balance and where we are able to mentalise about our thoughts and emotions and be curious and reflective about what we and others are experiencing. So the zero is not a zero in the sense of zero = no emotion, but it represents the mid-ground.

This happy middle ground is the “Goldilocks state”*- where we are not too hot, not too cold but “just right”. (Sadly the term just works with reference to Goldilocks and the porridge part of the story. It is not the emotional state one frequently reaches when finding someone else sitting in your seat on crowded trains and I’m not even going to touch on what happens when you find an unexplained person sleeping in your bed 😉 [joke!]…)**

In order to be able to employ coping strategies, the aim may be to find ways to bring ourselves away from either of the two extremes to this happy “Goldilocks” middle ground. No end of different factors, including our personality, what we have learned about regulating our emotions as children, the role models that we have had, and so on, can affect our ability to return to the middle ground and the extremes we go to in the first place. I guess this something I’m going to find my way through in therapy. Someone said to me that they find the term “emotionally unstable personality disorder” more accurately descriptive than “borderline personality disorder” because it better represents these extremes of emotion.

I think there are lots of ways the thermometer metaphor could be used. Perhaps instead of imagining a plus and minus end of the thermometer, it is more helpful to imagine a thermometer from 0 – 100 degrees and that the happy medium is around the middle of this range, too much is going towards 100, etc.

Personally I can identify with the metaphor that involves the minus temperatures because I definitely feel I slip into a state that’s like sub-zero, when I am so numb and cut off from my emotions (and others’) and can’t engage with anything. Sometimes I can’t even talk to anyone. It is not the heightened emotional arousal of my extreme distress but it is by no means good either. It may allow me to give the impression of functioning for a while, but I feel I am operating in a dream world, not really present. And it is very dangerous because of where it can quickly lead me to, or switch to.

Which brings me on to the thought that for me, as well as the thermometer there is a cyclical path that does not involve going vertically up and down the thermometer, but oscillates straight from one extreme to the other. My “sub-zero” state can very quickly flip straight to the high, hot, red end. My numbness can flick straight to anger, hurt, agitation, even thoughts of violence or fury which I would never normally experience let alone act on. I can flick straight into the compulsive need to self-harm and self-punish to turn the anger and emotional energy on myself. It feels like a frightening loss of control. I can oscillate in the other direction too. Overwhelming sadness and distress can suddenly plunge into numbness and disconnection and dissociation from the world into what feels like one of my other personalities and my memory of what has happened will go very blank. It feels very out of control afterwards.

I don’t know yet how I will start to learn how to some how get off this dangerous oscillating circle to get back to the happy middle ground or how to get control of the extreme emotions, especially managing anger.

Does anyone else switch or spin through emotions like this? I’d be really curious to hear other people’s experiences.

[Note – *and** : as in the children’s story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a famous children’s fairytale in the UK / USA. I know some readers are not from the UK so please ask if this reference is puzzling to you!]

Ginny xx