It’s a statement that I used to view as conciliatory bullshit; something you say when someone is in such a terrible predicament that you don’t really know what to say. I’m trying to remind myself that this can be a reality- that things can get better.
In my last post, I wrote about how painful depression can feel. The heaviness, combined with the need to crawl out of your skin and disappear. The only word I have to describe this feeling is pain. In the world of borderline personality disorder, emotions are generally very strong, but fleeting. It can be dizzying as you ride the rollercoaster from elated to suicidal to angry to elated in the span of one conversation. It’s why people with BPD have been described as “emotional burn victims”, because we feel every little emotion so intensely, and why we’re described as having little emotional permanence, because feelings don’t stick around. It’s why I was cracking jokes and being super engaged in my conversations until about 3:30 this afternoon when the depression hit me like a ton of bricks and I found myself choking back tears at my desk.
I would classify the days following my last blog post as “good days.” Of course, I speculate that my standard for a “good day” is relatively low, compared to your average person. By Thursday afternoon, I was getting excited, thinking I was going to make it through the week without doing anything impulsive. Friday morning hit, and I sat in bed with a cup coffee, scrolling through my phone. Tyler took Klamath to the vet that morning, so I was home alone. As it turns out, when you block someone’s phone number, you can still receive voicemails from that individual.
If you’ve read this blog before, it should be no surprise that I’ve blocked my mother’s number. That Friday morning, I found four voicemails from my mother. They all came in between the hours of 10:30PM – 12:30AM, and they’re just awful. I’ve chosen to share one of the four voicemails because I want y’all to understand that the pain that stems from this relationship is not just about name calling. I was convinced- manipulated even- to believe that I am a terrible person, unworthy of love. The idea that I am inherently a bad person, and will end up alone in life, has been ingrained in me as long as I can remember.
These voicemails were a shock to my system. I didn’t feel angry, just depressed because I already believe that I am a terrible person. They confirmed my own bias. With over six months of therapy under my belt, a few months of DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), and a class on emotion regulation, I was able to jump to the skills I’ve learned to manage these feelings. One skill says to ground yourself in the present moment by exercising your senses. So I started a warm bath and lit a candle. Another skill says to temporarily distract yourself from emotions that are difficult to digest, so I looked at pictures of my pup and watched videos on my phone.
“Urge surfing” is a more complex skill that I work on daily. The idea is that you acknowledge, while not judging, the urge or impulse to do something self-destructive. After recognizing that the impulse exists, you let it float away. The long-term purpose is to train your mind to ride out the duration of an emotion without giving in to your impulse. As time goes on, your impulsiveness increases until it reaches a climatic point, and then slowly decreases. If you give in to your urge before you reach the climatic point, you teach your mind that you cannot withstand any more pressure to urge. The graph below shows the kind of graph I am referring to. Emotional eating is not necessarily my urge (although after downing half a bag of giant marshmallows today, that’s questionable). This graph is relevant for any type of urge.
That Friday morning, I was working really diligently on urge surfing the need to self-harm. As I’ve written about before, self-harm is a coping skill I’ve relied on since high school to digest or suppress difficult feelings. I dragged myself out of the bath, managed to get dressed, and dragged myself to work- urge surfing the whole time. When I made it to work, I also reached a point where I no longer had the strength and energy to urge surf. I gave in and self-harmed. My original self-harm wasn’t enough to satisfy how much overwhelming pain I felt, however, so I continued to self-harm. I found the box cutters in my office and even used those. At this point, I turned my attention from urge-surfing self-harm, to urge-surfing attempting suicide. I felt almost panicked because there was nothing I could do to make this pain go away, and I just knew that I couldn’t continue to feel this way.
Finally, something in my brain clicked and I realized that I was losing control. I was sobbing over a pair of box cutters with an insatiable need to hurt myself in any way I could come up with. I was completely out of control, and I needed immediate help. I was able to notify friends, and someone took me to the emergency room so I could be in a place where I couldn’t hurt myself.
This all sounds like a story of defeat; something to be ashamed of. I’d like to point out three very significant ways in which this story demonstrates improvement.
- I had feelings! 9 months ago I was essentially dead inside. Many people with Borderline Personality Disorder describes themselves as numb or empty because we essentially turn off the emotions we’re unable to handle. It’s like continuing to touch a hot stove because you don’t have nerves to tell you that it hurts. When I listened to the voicemails, I felt really depressed and hurt, which is improvement over numbness.
- I spent about two hours urge-surfing extremely difficult feelings. As alluded to previously, urge surfing is a skill that is developed over time. I went about two hours without giving in to incredibly difficult feelings. That is fight.
- I recognized that I was losing control, but my emotions were temporary. Asking to be taken to the ER is a huge step because I had the awareness to realize that I was running out of energy to urge surf, while also realizing that the urge to hurt myself would eventually go away. I knew I needed help waiting for the urge to go away.
I suppose from an outside perspective, another trip to the ER looks like I’m regressing. Yet this is improvement, even if it is painful.