Tag: obsessional thoughts

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.

***

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

Pop goes the weasel…

Do you ever have so many things in your head it feels ready to go “pop”?!

47c80978d00873295360a6d78a2bf16c

In therapy group on Friday, I felt I could identify really strongly with what a couple of other group members were saying. We talked about so many themes that are really pertinent to my life right now. My thoughts started spiraling and firing off faster and faster in my head and I felt I couldn’t keep hold of them all. I wanted to write them all down right after group as it seemed so important they didn’t get lost. There were so many things I wanted to ask the group members.

I often get spiralling thoughts. In my 1:1 therapy we identified this often happens when I’m starting to experience a strong out of control emotion. The spiralling thoughts are somehow safer or more possible to name than the emotion. Focusing on them can suppress some of the emotion. If I can’t – like in group last week where they were just too fast and I was trying to stay focused on what others were saying – the emotion intensifies and is really uncomfortable, though I can’t name it or understand it. I just know I feel panic. I’m working on trying  to sit with the emotion and explore that rather than plunging straight into compulsively following the thoughts.

Interestingly, my thoughts used to do something similar when I was studying. I’d frantically try to get them all down. They seemed important. Sometimes they were and sometimes they were not. But it was often really hard for me to explain the links between them to other people or get them down coherently.

Writing this, it’s occurring to me – does this sound like I experience manic episodes? I have never felt as though I have manic periods in terms of hyperactivity or boundless energy but can manic episodes affect your thoughts alone? The spiralling thoughts can stop me sleeping and if i miss any medication doses at this time i can end up going all night without sleeping. Though the thoughts take the focus away from the uncomfortable emotion at first, eventually it returns, often more extreme than before and together with a lot of anxiety and physical exhaustion.

After the spiralling thoughts have squirmed and pushed their way round my head for a while, it’s as if part of my brain shuts off. I feel frozen inside my head. It’s a huge effort to fight to interact with people and speak and respond appropriately. I can’t bear the emotion and spiraling energy. It hurts. I can barely understand what’s happening round me. I want to get out. Go home, shut off and curl up somewhere safe, or have someone hold me (though there’s almost never anyone. ..) If anyone talks to me and I’m required to interact I am likely to somehow jump to irritation and frustration, though it isn’t really irritation I’m feeling inside.

I’ve never talked to my therapist about the idea of manic states but perhaps I should. Do others with Borderline experience this kind of thing, I wonder? Do you struggle with this?

It’s been worse in the past week or so because I’ve had more stress with my Tax Credits being stopped and consequent further financial panic. I’ve also been exhausted from low physical health with a lot of pain. Every day off has been taken up with hospital appointments and trying to sort out my finances. I’m worried I won’t be able to keep up my job as I’m struggling with the physical aspects of it and it is also very discouraging that pushing myself to the limit of what I can do to keep working, I’m left without enough to meet basic expenses. I’m so fortunate I have a very good friend and a family member who are helping me from time to time. Without them I think I’d have ended up on the street by now.

Ginny xxx

 

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry – Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #6

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry – Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #6

Protection in Emptiness

Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #6

“Closing the drawbridge” – eating disorders and rigidity

PLEASE READ WITH CAUTION – this post contains discussion of eating disorders (primarily anorexia), description of my eating-disordered thinking patterns, and a link to an article about studies on calorie restriction

[Wow, again it has been too long since I have posted in this series. Sorry.]

Many books about eating disorders, in particular anorexia, mention rigidity of thinking as a symptom which emerges as restriction of food increases and weight drops. When I worked at an eating disorder service, it was frequently described in inpatients on the ward. I’ve been pondering why this is and how much did I experience it when I was anorexic. I never used to think that my eating disorder was about control, although I now would take that back and I think I did use it if not exactly for control, in order to separate myself from my mother’s abuse and protect myself (and, I thought, others too) from demands, emotions and the dangers I felt they presented.

Perhaps it is logical that counting calories and measuring portions and exercise, forcing yourself to adhere to a punishing regime of starvation and painfully excessive activity in the very weakened physical state of anorexia, requires a strong, almost angry, obsessional drive. Sticking to this above and against all the natural urges of your body to keep you well and nourished, to the point that your body consumes its own muscle for energy, requires a steely determination that must be fuelled from somewhere. This could be seen as rigidity. It could easily spread to other areas of cognition and daily routine.

Certain chemical changes in the brain are thought to contribute to this rigidity as well, I believe. Two studies were conducted in the 1950s, using as participants conscientious objectors to National Service and former prisoners of war. One of these is the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, where starvation was imposed on physically and psychologically healthy participants who had no history of eating disorders. As the participants’ calories were reduced and their weights dropped, their thinking patterns became more rigid and obsessional thought and behaviour patterns emerged. When their calories were no longer restricted, they also became vulnerable to binge-eating. You can read more about Ancel Keys’ Minnesota Study here. (It would be considered highly immoral by today’s standards, although perhaps it is worth bearing in mind that one purpose of the study was in order to find out how to care for and manage re-feeding and weight restoration in victims of starvation in several countries following World War II.)

I am not sure to what extent rigid thinking was a big feature in me when I was severely underweight. Others who knew me at the time might disagree! It was mentioned to me on a couple of occasions.

On further thought, perhaps I did not struggle so much with rigidity over, say, my daily timetable – with the notable exception of excessive exercise, as I forced myself to swim a certain distance a certain number of times per week, until I was so exhausted and weakened that I could no longer move through the water which felt ice cold, my legs cramping, and I would drag myself to the changing rooms with my skin purple and blue, bruises appearing that did not heal and no number of layers of clothing warming me up.

However, if the rigidity was not externalised, it was certainly internal. This is what I think of as the “closing drawbridge” of anorexia that locks up or locks away everything we fear. I’ve talked in previous posts about the blissful, safe numbness of anorexia, ensuring my emotions were in check and flattened, and ensuring the evil I perceived in me was locked away to hurt only me, weaken only me, so that I could not hurt anyone else. Locking up the perceived evil locked up feeling, too. No more panic – just obsessive counting calories, distances, how to hide or avoid food. No more fear – just explicable pain, wonderful blanks and emptiness, safe empty gnawing in my stomach. No need to feel others’ feelings. No need to be hurt or be overwhelmed. Just glorious numb, nothing, whiter. lighter, clearer than before. No needing; no taking; just closing down, separated, apart from everything, locked up safe, pushing away and always succeeding, taking nothing in, frozen.

As a friend pointed out to me recently, emotions take energy, just as physical exertion takes energy, so with vastly insufficient calorie intake, there simply is no energy with which to feel. Despite the lack of energy, the drawbridge was shut tight and closing harder. The further I starved and restricted, paradoxically, tighter shut the door and even stronger came the energy driving me on, not to need, not to feel, not to fear, not to touch anyone or anything.

Coupled with that strength came a desperation never to leave this closed up place and never to need or feel again, to remain unreachable, to keep safe away and to keep everyone else safe away from me. If I could just be sure to hurt myself enough and never to eat, this wonderful place would stay with me. The fear of everything the drawbridge kept away joined the energy and both drove me harder and deeper into the numb place of anorexia.

Combined with my mother’s illness and abusive actions, there was no shortage of reinforcement from the outside that this numb place was good. The only period of my life in which my mother’s emotional abuse and threats reduced and in which she was even caring towards me, in which interactions with her were free of threats and scorn and twisted statements about the harm I was doing to her and my father, was when I was severely underweight with anorexia so severe it was probably life threatening. I was no longer a danger and no longer seemed to be so evil. I even thought perhaps she loved me. I even dared to hope perhaps the evil thing I was sure was in me and that came out and hurt and controlled and deceived everyone, was gone. If I could just stay like this, perhaps it wouldn’t come back. On the other hand with the drawbridge tight shut my body was mine as well, only mine, and the anorexia was mine, and she would never come near me again, literally never touch me again.

(Perhaps that was the one thing that was eventually true in all my twisted anorexic thinking. She did abuse me sexually during the anorexia but afterwards, she didn’t ever abuse me sexually again.)

Until I started to eat again and weight restore, there was only one thing that cut through my rigid defences, and that was singing. I’m not a particularly good singer but I was in a musical at my school (more because I used to be able to dance, than for my voice, I think!) and afterwards I took singing lessons, which were about the only part of my later school years that was enjoyable. Although I enjoyed singing, during the anorexia I would find that the music had a peculiar effect. We didn’t usually sing particularly emotive songs but I would often find music bringing me to want to cry or causing a strange twisting feeling of unease inside me, as though it was draining away the rigid kind of energy but I wouldn’t let it go. My mother prevented me seeking any professional help for my eating disorder but the only two people to whom I did talk about it honestly at all at school were my singing teacher and my art teacher. (My swimming coach was also very concerned about me and to some extent I did talk to her but, for some reason, although I knew she cared and was a safe person to trust, I was never able to be truthful to her, I think because in some way I feared hurting or disappointing her too much.) I don’t know why music and to some extent art, broke through the rigid protective mechanisms, but it did. I know that music can be very helpful in therapy for people with various conditions, including dementia and depression. I’ve never read about it in relation to anorexia but that might be something I should look into!

The struggles I have with overpowering, overwhelming emotions in my Borderline Personality Disorder, are the complete opposite of the protective place I entered in my anorexia, and they are an excess of feeling and needing which are probably, actually everything I feared. If I’m honest the numb place was safer. I’ve long lost the way back there and lost the key to the drawbridge and I hate that and I’ll admit that in the worst times, when I really hate myself and everything I feel and need, I wish I could return and it’s hardest at these times to try not to punish myself with cutting or purging. I’m trying to learn how to choose life and staying connected to other people – and to my body and my emotions – without the unbearable and dangerous becoming all that there is.

Ginny xx

Regretting

I fought with a friend today. She is one of my two closest friends and the person I see the most. She probably does more practical to support me than anyone else.

I feel so so stupid, selfish and cruel right now and like I’ve demanded the forbidden. I’ve asked too much and am too much for anyone to cope with.

I got angry and exploded at her really mad and upset because of something we were discussing that a CPN at my service had said to her about carer support. Suddenly and irrationally I felt they wanted me alone and I was never allowed any help or to have a friend and was so harmful to everyone I had to stay on my own and no matter how much it hurt, never show it and never have any help and at that time I felt I couldn’t trust them anymore.

I was hurting and screaming out for someone to hold me but at the same time knew I was so bad I just had to be away from everyone.

My friend does so, so much for me and is the last person I’d be angry with. She was the last person I wanted to hurt or make feel she’d hurt me. I absolutely do not want her to feel responsible for me, that she has to help me or save me, or that she should do more.

I felt like I knew she didn’t want me and I was too bad really. But the frightened child part of me was still screaming for comfort.

I don’t know why I made the leaps of judgement I did. I wish it had never happened.

She told me she is okay. She told me I have not hurt her. She told me she does want to be my friend and does want to meet and she would not do things she does not want or feel able to do, and that she would tell me if she cannot do something. I do believe her. I do.

It was one of those periods where the anger I can’t really explain and the hurt of what felt (irrationally) like confirmation I was never allowed anything but to be on my own blacked everything else out.

Perhaps it is better that we could both speak honestly.

Does the childish part of me want and need too much and is that why I find it so hard to be on my own? Do I ask too much in friendship? Do I become too close in both what I want to give and how I need to be able to count on someone? She was right today – I trust completely or I am completely hurt and closed.

I regret today and I am so sorry for what I said. However, I do believe what she said and assured me as well and I do know we will keep meeting up. Perhaps that’s less “black and white” than my obsessional thoughts would have allowed me a while back  – I would never have allowed myself to see her again because of the hurt I might cause again.

I am so very thankful for the very few people who stay with us when we are frightening and repulsive to ourselves.

Ginny xx

“When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Then again, if one door closes when another one opens, your house is probably haunted.

“When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Then again, if one door closes when another one opens, your house is probably haunted.

What a week of decisions and emotions rocketing out of control.

I resigned from my job on Wednesday. (My post “not working out” explains some of the reasons behind this.) It has to be one of the hardest decisions I have made and I can only begin to describe the feelings around it. It wasn’t a hastily made decision and came after months of trying to make things better and stay in my job. I am very sad because I had wanted to stay in that role for a long time. I wanted to be able to give back to the firm, to thank them for keeping me on after I was off sick with three hospital admissions at the end of last year and in January 2015 and for letting me come back part time (in principle at least). I owed them. Also as I am longing for some stability and security. Also because I had met two colleagues who were very special and I felt privileged to work with them, clicheed as that may sound. They were kind and compassionate and thinking and brought something much needed, special and rare to the team. I learned from them. I really hope we stay in touch.

Having said that, I do know I feel that this choice is going to be better for my health. I have had to leave jobs before, but it has been a question of giving up at the point I am totally exhausted and cannot cope anymore, my health is spiralling down (well that part still applies, I guess!) and have lost all hope and there just seems to be nothingness. This time, it doesn’t feel like nothing. Making this choice, I have borne in mind being able to be stable and being able to find a job I can sustain whilst also having some balance in my life – being able to do some work but also not being so utterly drained from coping with it that I can’t do anything else (I stop eating properly, can’t look after my home, don’t do housework, cut myself off and have even less contact with friends than I usually do, can’t manage my finances because I’m so vulnerable to giving in to impulsivity). I have also borne in mind being able to fully participate in the treatment programme I’m in at the moment – getting to appointments, being able to be present in them not having to keep part of me shut off because I will not be able to bear the pain of openness and exposure necessary to examine thoughts and emotions and relationships, if I am then to rush back to work afterwards and somehow keep it together.

Admitting my limitations and my fragility at the moment takes humility and trust in the support systems that are there at the hospital community team and willingness to make myself vulnerable in order to begin to learn. Knowing what I fear, what I love, what I care about, what I struggle with, what I feel, what I think; learning to understand what is in other people’s minds and hearts and how to be able to reach out and walk forward, to respond to what I feel from them without being terrified or crushed and without the spiralling storms of thoughts in my head obsessionally spinning, trying to prevent disaster…. This takes energy, hope and a space in which it is possible to be vulnerable but not crushed and somehow also hold on to hope despite knowing all I cannot, at the moment, do.

I feel so many things right now. The actual meeting on Wednesday was made much easier for me than I thought that it would be. I was surprised to encounter compassion I did not expect. I was pleased to find that there is someone who has come as a temp into my post and who seemed very calm and very nice, so I know that the team I used to work for do have secretarial help. I was very thankful to get to speak to two colleagues in particular – and I really, really hope that we will be able to stay in contact – and to leave a couple of notes. I was reassured to be able to “hand over” on a few points of work  to be assured that things will not be lost or forgotten (though as ever I’ve remembered so many more things I should have let people know – where things are kept, where things are up to, etc, etc!).

It was a very very hard day with the highest anxiety for a long length of time that I have experienced for a while. I cried a lot. I walked a lot, trying to stay out of the flat where I’d be alone, to at least be around people if not with anyone, because I would be less likely to crumple completely that way and give in to the self-destructive urges.

It was done.

And somehow I did get through that night to the next morning, even though it was one of those nights where I hurt so much it blacked out everything else. I know it sounds so terribly ridiculous writing this. So childish and stupid and self-centred and incapable. It is no disaster or tragedy and it is a very very little thing in the scheme of things. Everyone else will move on in an instant. Yet that is the reality of what these things are for me at the moment. I am ashamed afterwards and feel ridiculous thinking how much I felt it would be impossible for emotion to pass but at the time it is absolutely that complete and total that it as if a cloud or a wall has fallen over every other factor in my world, enclosing me in spiralling thoughts and plunging emotions and frightening voices.

***

I can’t really describe what I’m feeling now. After the meeting on Wednesday, more happened, which left me feeling further conflicted and intensifying the guilt I feel over leaving and that I really should have been able to keep doing it. I think these will have to wait for another post.

This week there were many little gifts too. I started applying for other jobs. It is incredibly fortunate that I came to my decision at the time that there is an abundance of Christmas work which gave me more hope of being able to find something, at least temporary. Trying to keep focus I took a deep breath and a lot of coffee (not at exactly the same time 😉 ) and redid my CV, walked round town to clock the job adverts in windows and shopping centres and made several applications. Thanks be to God that once I had got over the initial frozen feeling (which was a hard fight) it was not as awful as I had felt it would be.

My confidence is very low right now and I was so frightened walking in to shops to give my applications, actually physically feeling I was shaking. It was not helped by a couple of very difficult experiences. I went into one store to give in my application and went up to the two assistants who were chatting to each other. Instantly I felt incredibly intimidated and uncomfortable and that they thought I was ridiculous. Swallowing my feelings I spoke with the supervisor and handed in my application and she told me she would pass it on to her manager and I thanked her and turned to leave.  As I was walking out I am certain that she and her colleague burst into laughter and made comments about me. I was shaken, not least because instantly I did not know, had that actually happened? Had they actually laughed and teased or had I imagined it and heard it all in my head because I was so much expecting that to be what people would really think of me? I still have no answer. I am just trying not to think of it.

That one clearly was not going to go forward, but I did have some better news and was extremely surprised and thankful to be offered two interviews, including one for a sales assistant in a department store. The selection process was scary for me because after quite in-depth online testing it involved a group task assessment as well as individual assessment. Though I did not feel that I had done well and looking back, could see so many things I had done wrong and ways I should have responded differently – and again, so many ways people would see how stupid I am – I did also somehow manage to enjoy some of it and enjoy being with the people I met, which had to be a good sign, I thought. It suggested I would find some common ground with colleagues and be able to interact with them. It was interesting too. The managers who were present seemed supportive and one was even encouraging when I needed to discuss my health/disability needs – straight away she said that she thought it would certainly be possible to adjust my hours so that I could attend all my hospital appointments.

A couple of days later, I was absolutely astounded to receive a conditional offer! In a very hard week this was a very precious gift! Not least because this means that things will not be completely terrible financially in the next few weeks, though this is a major source of anxiety, both because I will be working fewer hours so managing with a much lower salary, and because in times of distress and anxiety I can be much less able to resist the impulsive urges that come as part of BPD, and one area in which I can be far far too impulsive and irresponsible is spending money.

I still cannot believe it and it does not seem real and I do not think I will quite dare to count on it until I actually get to my first day. I’ve been completing the final questionnaires and going through the health screen, which was much less uncomfortable than I had expected – I’ll post about that another day soon because it certainly was food for thought – and was passed fit with a couple of suggested “reasonable adjustments”.

I thank the Lord for this opportunity. Yet again, it is a situation I did not think I would be in, which I really did not want to come to. Something I really counted on – being able to have a little bit of trust that I could do my work and do a good job and try to please and help people – was taken away and even seemed never to have been real, when I discovered how poorly everyone thought I was performing and how little they thought I could cope. But there is a better way forward being illuminated bit by bit and right now (since this is a moment of relative rationality!) I can remember that we may not be where we planned to be, but we are right where God needs us to be.

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” I hope it will be a French window because otherwise it’ll be a bit tricky to walk through, not that I’d complain at this point.

Ginny xx

(Title – first line from “The Sound of Music”; second line adapted from a funny meme someone sent me a while back – I am not sure whose was the original idea.)

Sitting with uncertainty – Part 2

Sitting with uncertainty – Part 2

I apologise for not writing this Part 2 yesterday as hoped.  I had a weekend away for a very dear friend’s 80th birthday. It was special and lovely but I was very drained when I got home and I did not manage to write. I’m sorry.

***

I am starting to realise that it is terribly difficult for me when I realise that my thoughts or emotions are different from someone else’s about a certain situation or matter.  It could be about a particular situation or experience we are both sharing in right now, or a memory of something that happened before, or a matter of belief (religious belief, a principle, that kind of thing), or any case of sensing someone’s strong emotion. It was my therapist and someone else in a therapy group I’m part of who identified this first, then went on to identify that this difference of emotion/thought between individuals is another instance of uncertainty we must learn to sit with.

I sense other people’s emotions more strongly than my own. I find it hard to identify and name my own emotions. When I do feel them they can be very frightening and overwhelming; I may feel them so strongly that they block out anything else, becoming to me everything that there is, frightening me about what will happen and what it means about who I am. They can feel as if they physically pain me. I may feel physically utterly drained or consumingly panicked and driven, unable to sit still, pacing constantly for hours (compulsively, despite the physical pain this causes by aggravating my joint conditions). Times of overwhelming emotion are times I often self-harm.

Other times, I may feel numb and nothing at all. I may be painfully conscious that the other people I’m interacting with feel very strongly but I feel unable to reach out, to come to any connection with them. I may want to say something and know I should and know I should and want to empathise, but feel frozen and unable to respond, and know that by this I am hurting the other person still further.

Or, despite not knowing at all what I feel, I may feel the other person’s emotion (especially sadness, anxiety or anger) so strongly that beyond what I think would be described as empathy, I actually feel their emotion myself to a level that I cannot stand it. It can happen very fast and I do not make any conscious decision or any particularly strong attempt to pick up the emotion. It just happens. Sometimes, I have as little as passed people on the street, sat beside someone on the bus or had a minimal “meeting and greeting” interaction on the reception at work, and this wave or wall of emotion will hit me and stop me in my tracks. I passed someone on the street the other day and was suddenly hit by a wall of such strong anger and hurt that I stopped walking. It was like a physical presence around me and in my lower chest and I gasped and this was swiftly joined by extreme fear. The person had done nothing to me, not even noticed me nor interacted in any way.

A couple of people who share my religious faith have told me that it is a particular gift to be able to empathise to a particularly great extent – it could allow me to help someone, be there for them, pray for them, understand their needs, know if they are in danger, and so on. I think perhaps it can be a gift and could be something from which good can come. Not that I think I have any particular ability, certainly not any power, but it is a sensitivity that could lead to good.

The problem is the intensity is so great it is frightening – as frightening as my own emotions can me. It can be there to such an extent that I can no longer continue to be with the person / people, and withdraw completely in exhaustion and confusion and fear and feeling huge guilt that I cannot resolve what is happening to the person and can’t be sure – there’s the uncertainty again! – is it my fault they feel this way and how should I respond? Then I end up back in the numb place of then not knowing how to respond and not being able to give anything at all.

Whichever of these happens, I’m left unable to interact socially. I haven’t yet unpicked quite why sitting with the uncertainty of the differences and unpredictability of emotions between people is so very frightening and overwhelming to me.  However it does seem to be shared by several people I know who suffer with personality disorder.

A particular problem where thoughts, emotions, intentions and communication are involved is that you can never check enough. You can never get to be completely sure what the truth is and what is right or wrong and if you are good or bad.

In Part 1 of this post, I gave some examples of other kinds of anxieties in situations of uncertainty. All of these are around things that are more concrete, if that is the right word, where eventually you will find out some answer.  For example, to go back to the same examples I gave: tomorrow will come and I will find out what will happen, I can ask my friend which colour she prefers and be sure to choose the mug that colour, and in time I will eventually find out the interviewer’s opinion of me and whether I get the job or don’t. If I’m trying to overcome an obsessional activity or belief, for example, if I don’t wash my hands 10 times before I speak to my friend she will get sick because of me, it is possible to test out this belief in the concrete world – it will be extremely distressing to me at first and cause a huge amount of anxiety, but I can if I dare to, not wash my hands 10 times the next time I speak to my friend and see what happens. If she does not get sick, and if I dare to keep testing this out, eventually perhaps I may be able to see that I do not need to keep doing this ritual to keep my friend safe and I will be able to stop washing my hands so much. I have suffered and still do suffer to some extent with this kind of obsessional checking and in the past, CBT therapy I’ve tried has focussed on changing behaviour and seeing that the awful things I fear do not come to pass.

But where the internal world of thoughts and feelings are concerned, I find it is not possible to check or “see what happens” in the same way and I never find peace.

For example, in the above instance I can see at least to a large extent without doubt that my friend does not get sick physically. But if I am fearing that I have hurt someone emotionally, how can I be sure? If I ask them, how can I be sure they are not just saying something to reassure me? If I think that someone is having a particular thought or a particular emotion, can I be sure that I got it right? Often it’s harder to ask in these situations (and I suppose I feel that it would be socially inappropriate to do so in many situations – I don’t want to inconvenience other people with my own obsessions and fears). If I say something, can I be sure that the other person understood it the way I meant it?

Often, if I have said something that I intend as encouraging, helpful, etc, I worry afterwards that I have communicated a message that I did not intend, which is bad and that is going to be terribly hurtful and upsetting to the other person because they will get that message rather than the one I intended. Then I worry that I actually, unbeknown to myself, subconsciously intended and thought the bad interpretation, and that’s why I said what I did. This must show that I’m actually evil and nasty and need to punish and hurt myself to make sure I don’t hurt anyone else. Then I will self-punish or self-harm. For example, a friend was worried about her baby girl who could not be with her during her medical appointment, and was instead with a babysitter in the waiting room outside. I said to her something like, “It looks like she is with someone who’s looking after her very well,” intending to reassure my friend that her baby was well. Immediately I’d said it, I panicked that this sentence could have implied “she’s with someone who’s looking after her well, because you don’t” and that my friend would think I was saying that she didn’t look after her baby properly. And my mind spiralled out of control thinking that although I didn’t know it, I was really being nasty to my friend and judging her as a bad mother and my intention, although I thought that I wanted to encourage my friend, was actually to upset her because I’m such a bad person inside. I wanted to check with my friend and say, oh no no I didn’t mean this, I meant… etc, etc, but I didn’t dare to, in case that would only make it worse, because if she had not seen the bad interpretation, it would only make it even worse to mention it. I felt the desperate urge to self-harm immediately to punish myself for being so bad inside.

In these kind of instances, nothing whatever will ever reassure me as to what my intention or thoughts really were (whereas, in the earlier example about obsessional hand-washing, I could obtain the concrete proof that my friend did not get sick). There is no way to check for certain what my real intention was, that it is not unconsciously something terrible which I’m not aware of and can’t control. There is no way to check for certain what effect emotionally I’ve had on someone else, or what they have understood from something I have said.

So I don’t know what the way out is.

For some reason, self-harm does seem to be the only (maladaptive) way that I do cope with this kind of uncertainty. When I can’t check enough that I’m not actually doing bad, or intending bad, then I have to hurt myself. The one thing that does seem sure is that if I’m doing something to hurt myself, it will somehow keep other people safe, because I can make sure I’m hurting myself, not other people. I can make sure I’m punishing the evil greedy part inside me so that it doesn’t burst out.

I don’t know how to begin to deal with these kinds of uncertainty. In time I think I am going to give this a Part 3, to look at ways of trying to sit with uncertainty in communicating with people. I’ve a feeling that it’s going to be an important part of my therapy as so much of my interpersonal problems, and perhaps for others with personality disorders too, are connected to these themes.

Thank you for reading, as ever.  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences and what you find good, or difficult, in interactions with others and in communicating about emotions.

Also, an important note: I know that in this article, I have contrasted examples of anxieties and obsessional thoughts surrounding what I have referred to as things I can check in the concrete, external world, with obsessional thoughts and fears about what is going on in one’s head / emotionally / internally. I say that it is harder for me to find the way out of the latter obsessional thoughts and fears. Please note that in no way do I wish to belittle or minimise the distress experienced by those who are struggling with OCD thoughts and actions and fears relating to the external world, for example checking doors or switches, or cleaning. I know from my own experience and from hearing loved ones’ experiences, that these struggles are deeply distressing and the thoughts just as consuming. I empathise very much with what you are going through. All I wished to do here is draw a distinction which I have come to in my own mind and to suggest that the way out of the two sides of these obsessional thoughts may perhaps be different. As I’ve said from the start, I am neither a clinician nor medically trained, and these are just my own thoughts.

Ginny xx

Sitting with uncertainty

“Sitting with uncertainty” is a phrase I first heard one of the psychologists for whom I used to work use.  The department that we worked in was going through a lot of change at the time and I think we were all anxious about what was to come – changes to our jobs, changes to service users’ treatment plans, worries over how we would continue to give good care and whether or not the changes would bring good.

As we talked, it struck me it is a challenge and a skill valuable to acquire across so many fields of life, particularly therapy and social interaction. It is a theme coming out prominently in my therapy at the moment.

I like the phrase “sitting with”, in particular, as it describes living in/with and encountering uncertainty without judging or supposing a particular response.  We might more commonly think of “resolving” uncertainty, “dealing with” uncertainty and so on.  However, sometimes it simply is not possible to do this. We cannot find a definitive answer, we may not be in a position to change (at least certain aspects of) our situation, or we may not yet, or even never, be able to be “sure”. Especially in interpersonal sharing of values and thoughts and emotions. Then, we might also commonly talk about having to “accept” uncertainty and say we have to learn to do this as part of growing up.  However, can we always do this? Perhaps often we feel that we cannot truly accept it, for instance, because it may be intensely uncomfortable, or something we really wish was not there, or something we feel frantically, painfully driven to eliminate. Hence, I like the words “sitting with”, because it describes the situation and at the same time acknowledges there may not be a resolution and attaches no judgement or obligation to either resolution/removal or acceptance.

In the language of the MBT therapy I am participating in at the moment, perhaps we would say it describes the situation and allows us to explore or be curious about the existence of the uncertainty.

I’m starting to be more alert at identifying uncertainty, and it’s effects on me.  It’s clear there is uncertainty about events that have not yet happened (I can’t be certain what will happen tomorrow), or that we do not know about (I can’t be certain if my friend would prefer me to buy the pink or the red mug for her birthday because I don’t know which is her favourite colour), or that are for now out of our control (if I have just had an interview and I know I did my best, but it’s now with the interviewer to make their decision, I can’t be sure if I will get the job or not).  And so on.  These are just some categories that sprung quickly to my mind which I think we might recognise are particularly difficult for someone who suffers a lot of eg anxiety or depression. For example, if we have a sense of dread something awful is going to happen, we might be terrified about what will happen the next day.  If we are socially anxious we might worry a lot about doing or saying the wrong thing or upsetting someone or being thought stupid because we do the wrong thing. If we are desperately seeking a job and have had lots of rejections we might feel very low waiting for the outcome of an interview and frightened about what will happen if the interviewer thinks we are rubbish and we don’t get the job.

It took me longer to consciously recognise how much uncertainty is going on all the time, particularly interpersonally, and how much – even though I did not recognise it – this affects me.  This kind of uncertainty seems to me to be a difficulty often encountered by people with personality disorders like me, and no doubt, many sufferers of anxiety or other conditions as well.

There is just so much that it is not possible to be certain of. This can be a frightening thing to me.

If we are speaking to someone, can we really be sure that the meaning they have understood is exactly the same as the one we intended? Probably not – every person expresses him/herself differently, and words hold different connotations for all of us in different situations. Could there be implications in what we have said that we did not intend, but that the other person infers? Probably. Could this hurt or offend the other person? Possibly. (For example, if I come home after work and my sister is sitting in the living room reading a book. I say, “Oh dear, this room is a bit of a mess.” I could be thinking that I really left it in a tip that morning because I rushed out to work late, and I shouldn’t have done that. If my sister were already feeling guilty that she had intended to tidy up that afternoon but had not been able to because she hadn’t felt well, she might make the interpretation that I had been intending to imply, “Why haven’t you tidied up, you’ve been at home all day whilst I was out at work?” It would not have been my intention, but she might have taken that understanding, and so without intending it I could have upset her. And if I then realised that, I would feel bad that I should have chosen my words more carefully or not said anything at all.

If we have an emotional reaction to a comment, an event, a situation and so on, can we be sure whether we should communicate it? What effect communicating it , or not, may have on another person? Can we be sure what their emotional reaction really is, and whether they are being open about how they feel? What if we feel something very different from what they do? Does that make us wrong? Or stupid, or bad, or… the list goes on. How do we respond, what do we do, when our emotional reaction or our thoughts are very different from everyone else’s? Does that mean there is something wrong with us?

And the ever, unanswerable, uncheckable, frightening question – have I done something to hurt someone? Am I really evil inside? Have I done any good, even though I think I want to, have I done good or have I done bad? Have I done something awful without knowing? Does everyone know I’m bad really and I just fool myself if I ever think I do good? Is there a terrible evil thing in me that I can’t control? We don’t always know even what we ourselves think or feel or intend – do we? Can we ever be sure enough that we are good not bad?

It is much, much harder to ever definitively answer these questions than it is to answer some of the other kinds of obsessional thoughts or anxieties which have a more “external” or “practical” element.

In part 2 of this post, coming soon (tomorrow, I hope!) I will continue with this thought to describe some of the thought processes and actions that this then triggers off in my personality disorder, and to think about how to learn to sit with these kinds of uncertainties.

…..More soon!….

Ginny xx