Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Standard

It seems that all I talk about on here sometimes are my little victories over my health struggles, how I have this great little tool, how I believe that things will get better. Last night would not be one of these little victories.

I had a pretty serious meltdown. When I was a teenager, I was yelled at when someone was angry with me. Oftentimes, the yelling was accompanied by hitting, either with a belt, switch, or paddle. Last night, I started to panic about leaving the house today (I have both my medication management and my therapy appointments this afternoon) and I was “going into my head,” an expression we’ve started to use whenever I stop listening to, or more accurately can’t hear, what someone is saying, and before the other person can finish their thought, my brain responds with the worst case scenario. This caused frustration in my wife, and she began raising her voice, since in her upbringing, you kept escalating volume until the other person acknowledged and validated what you were saying. Our pasts collided with one another as they usually do, with me unable to hear what she was saying in order to validate it, her yelling at me to get her point across, and me terrified that sooner or later, the hitting would start. I became a child again, mentally speaking, and that part of me was very scared at all the ruckus.

Eventually we calmed back down, and things got back to normal, but it took time and a lot of silence between us.

This morning, I’m not quite so panicked about my appointments, though the extraneous stops I was planning to make while I was out got tabled due to stress over money and effort. (While still fairly light, lugging my 17.3″ gaming ultrabook around, along with its cooling pad, power cord, mouse, headset, books to read, paper to take notes on, diabetes supplies, checklist books, pencils and erasers, and meds for the day suddenly became a lot more effort than I wanted to put into a trip to Starbucks. I can cut that down to the laptop, the mouse, my Bluetooth headset, my meds, my Moleskines, and my writing implements if I’m not planning a big trip, but the intent was to spend the morning out of the house, and a trip that long would eventually require battery power. Anyway, this is not a blog about my obsession with electronic gadgets, so let’s get back to the meat of the post, shall we?) I’m still planning my day around my two appointments, which means eating at a time that will allow me to check my glucose between appointments and not while in one or the other, and I’m still planning to pick my wife up from work (whenever I have the car, due to my agoraphobia, we usually plan on a plan B to get her home just in case; it’s been necessary about a third of the time).

If I can just make those two appointments, that will be the biggest single accomplishment that I’ve made in weeks. It’s difficult measuring your accomplishments not on the scale of getting a promotion at work (something that’s occurred precisely once in my life) or graduating from college (something that’s never occurred and likely at this point in my life never will) but on the scale of making it to your doctor and your therapist without completely freaking out and hiding under the covers in bed. It goes a long way to making me feel like my life has been and will continue to be a failure, but I have to remind myself that I have several chronic illnesses, and my body and brain are just not cut out for greatness measured in the way others measure it. As much as I’d love to say I’m going to get off disability, the fact of the matter is that right now I’m actually worse than I was when I was going through the application process, and I barely made it through that. With the way that my illnesses have been progressing, I see an extension of benefits in my future, not a career.

Yet there have been some astounding strides made to help me. I found out that my 30 year old bipolar diagnosis was either incomplete or incorrect, and that I’ve been treated using insufficient modalities all this time. I’ve learned a lot about my new borderline personality disorder diagnosis, and I’m continuing to educate myself on an almost daily basis. I’ve found that there are others out there who support me while I struggle to find some sense of normality in my life, and discovered who my true friends really are.

Maybe one day things will change. Maybe one day I can get back into the work force, doing something that I’m passionate about and can really set my mind to succeeding at. (I’ve wanted for over a year now to work toward certification and work as a peer support specialist, because the greatest resource I can offer many people is my life story and how I succeed in managing my symptoms through all I’ve experienced.) But today is not that day. Today is a day to conquer going through the door, out into the cold, bright day, facing my fears head on.

One step back. Two steps forward.

Advertisements

Off the Bandwagon, Crossing the Streams

Standard

I’m going back through the checklist that manages my life with BPD and diabetes and noticing that I’ve really let my new habits go during the holidays.

As described in an earlier post, I take Saturdays off from trying to accomplish everything on my list, but I’ve also decided that holidays are likewise exempt. Who wants to spend Christmas looking at a little black book trying to determine what comes next in a day of productivity? The problem with that is, if you consider the addition, there are four days out of the last two full weeks that I haven’t bothered to even crack open my Moleskine, and I can really feel the difference in my body and my mental state.

So, this being Monday, and the start of a new week, I’ve decided to rededicate myself to trying to get everything done. So far, today’s been good. I’m on time with my scheduled list of activities, and my blood glucose has been very good (both readings so far today in the high 90s).

This past weekend has been an exercise in putting my own health on the back burner in order to concentrate on my wife’s well-being. Without going into a lot of detail (I’ll leave that to her on her own blog, if and when she’s ready), most of last week has been a rough spot for her. Like me, the external validation wasn’t enough to fight the internal monologue, and she’s been struggling to keep a game face on. Unlike me, she rarely lets anyone ever know she’s having a bad time of things, so she keeps a brave face on until the negative self-talk is too powerful to hide anymore. This weekend has been one of those times that the mask broke, and I’ve been mindful of the fact that we both have BPD, and that can be an absolutely intimidating set of circumstances for a marriage to deal with.

Yet we tend to deal with it spectacularly, and I think I have an idea why.

According to DSM-IV, two of the diagnostic criteria for BPD are “a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation” and a “markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.” When one of us begins to exhibit signs of an unstable self-image, by expressing that we feel like we’re always in trouble, or someone’s always angry or disappointed in us, or whatever method the negativity channels itself through, the other immediately contributes by expressing the value that the relationship has to us. It helps to keep one symptom from sliding into the other one because the valuation of the relationship – not the idealization of it – becomes all the sufferer tends to hear. And eventually something clicks, we’re in the moment enough to listen to it, and soon the period of being actively symptomatic begins to fade.

I say “fade” rather than “go away” because recovery from being symptomatic in BPD seems to take time proportionate to the period of active symptoms. There’s a lingering belief that being symptomatic itself was wrong and getting past that takes some effort, for both of us.

Now, that’s not to say that only one of us is symptomatic at a time. Far from it. It’s when we’re simultaneously symptomatic that we have almost every disagreement, argument, and fight that we’ve ever had. Outside of our symptoms, our marriage seems almost ideal. But those symptoms keep us struggling.

For now, she has the distraction of work, and I have the distraction of my checklists to keep me occupied throughout the day. (I also have the cat, who just interrupted my writing to get some “daddy time” in. Having had quite enough of being petted and loved on, she’s now moved on to the next big adventure in her little kitty life, and I can get back to wrapping up this blog post.) Here’s hoping that our combined distractions are going to make tonight easier for both of us.

New Year, New Book, New Checklist

Standard

I realize the title of this blog post implies that I only read a book a year, and that is patently untrue. I read two.

Seriously, however, it’s time for a new book, and this time it’s “The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder” by Randi Kreger. I got this book back some years ago when my wife was first diagnosed with BPD, and I made some progress, but not a lot. It’s not to say that her diagnosis is less important than mine, but with both of us now diagnosed with BPD, it seems more relevant than before. I might find some tidbits in there that can help both of us.

Today I finally got around to flipping the page on my checklist. It’s now back to being organized chronologically instead of diabetes management versus everything else. So far, I can already see a difference in how much easier my day seems to be flowing.

Not much to report today, but I think I’m going to get back into the habit of writing daily. It doesn’t have to be profound in order to be documented.

Tomorrow I think I’ll have a longer post about New Year’s resolutions, why I don’t think they’re a good idea, and what I do instead of resolutions when the New Year comes.

A Cacophony of Time

Standard

Tonight I start the slow process of resetting my circadian rhythm. I’ll be awake as late as I can and sleep as long as I can afterward, in the hope that once more I can get my body back to being unconscious from 11 pm to 6 am. It’s bad enough that I get headaches that will wake me up from time to time, but when I’m not even getting sleepy until 2 or 3 am, it’s a problem.

One of the things that I’m discovering comes with the borderline diagnosis is a need for external validation. If you’ve followed me for any amount of time on Facebook, you’ve seen that in action. Now, for the most part, that validation doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. I don’t need to be constantly told how awesome and loved and other superlatives I am; I just want someone to talk to and spend some time with me. It explains how I can be an introvert that seems to crave social contact in some way most of the time. I’m not extroverted, I just need that mental reassurance that I’m not alone.

Perhaps by now you’ve already put two and two together and realized why someone needing the reassurance of social contact spending half the night awake is a problem. Most people keep “usual” sleep schedules, which means the later it gets, the fewer people I have available to while the time away, the more antsy I start to feel, and the higher the chance there is for self-doubt to start creeping in. It becomes a very delicate balance between staying up late enough to find that social contact and staying up late enough for my mind to turn against itself. When that happens, it’s almost impossible for me to sleep until my body’s overwhelming fatigue overrides my mind’s downward spiral.

So I have a computer game to keep me company while I revolve my circadian rhythm back to a “daywalker” schedule, and I’ll have music going in the background to distract me as well. I should be fine. But if the need arises, I’m not against packing everything up and heading down the street to the local IHOP for coffee and the occasional conversation with the waitstaff.

In the meantime, my checklists are going to slide by the wayside, with the exception of my meds and my vitals. (At least, I’ll keep track of my vitals as best as I can, but if I don’t wake up until 2:30 in the afternoon, breakfast and lunch is kinda shot.) It’s gotten to the point that getting back on a typical sleep schedule is more important than perfection on my checklists, which is something that’s been eluding me while I get more and more off kilter with my rest. While perfection isn’t the goal, health is, and I’m finding it to be an increasingly unhealthy thing to stay up half the night. My mind suffers at the time and my body suffers the next day.

The Fine Line Between Perfection and Paranoia

Standard

I woke up this morning at 11:00.

While I slept, I didn’t hear my vitals alarm at 6:00, got woken up to chug down my morning meds with a glass of milk at 7:00, and missed both breakfast and my 8:45 appointment with my general practitioner on a diabetes follow-up. My day did not start on a good note when I realized how much of it I’d already missed, and I was in a mind of “screw this” for the better part of the next two hours. I dove back into the computer game that’s ruled my life for the past several days and almost forgot to eat lunch.

My mind was telling me that if I can’t be perfect with my day, if perfection isn’t even an option at the point I get out of bed, why even bother with trying? That’s been a mantra of mine for the better part of my life. Once, while I was in grade school, I was taking a math test (in pencil, of course) and I made a mistake in writing down numbers. This happens all the time with people, they skip to the next number in a series or just write it down wrong. Rather than erase the mistake, my mind (emotion mind, I can tell in retrospect) told me that I’d screwed up the entire thing, and I made a grand show of ripping up the paper and flinging the pieces into the air, not caring that I was scoring a zero in a rain of tree pulp. I didn’t care that the mistake could be corrected; it was bad enough to ruin my day that I’d made it in the first place.

For years, I’ve realized that I could care less about the results, so long as the process to get there was flawless. I’ve never understood why I hold myself to that unrealistic standard, and in recent years it’s come and gone with my mental state. Is this something else that I’ll discover is part of my borderline diagnosis? There seem to be so many little aspects of major things that I’ve talked about in therapy recently and so very many others that were niggling little irritants that now seem to have a cause, and with that cause they can be dealt with.

Have my mental health professionals been so blind to this that they’ve missed it for 30 years? Or have I just not been so openly honest in therapy that it’s my fault?

As I read more into Kiera Van Gelder’s “The Buddha and the Borderline,” I see some new relevance BPD has to me. Those voices that I’ve been hearing all this time – are they really those parts of me that she speaks of coming to the Conference Table? My fast attachment to people and my chameleon-like ability to change to suit the people I want to be around – which in the past has included adopting new religious and political beliefs – has already been explained by BPD. I wonder how much else is because I’m a borderline.

I wonder how much of this can be fixed with therapy.

I’m finding myself more and more enamored with this memoir, because it feels like in so many ways it’s my own story. And as I start to come to the end of it, I’m realizing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Which brings me back to today.

At some point I realized that just because my day started out rough doesn’t mean that it has to end that way, and I started doing the things that I needed to do to turn things around. I ate lunch. I started the timer for my glucose meter. I read a chapter in “The Buddha and the Borderline.” I wrote this! I might go walking later (it’s threatening rain here, the remnants of the storm surge that drenched the West Coast a few days ago, and I really would prefer not to be walking in a downpour). I’ve even completed my to-do list and a few things that weren’t even on it. Today looks like it’s going to be a decent day after all.

Reframing was the magic tool that turned things around. I can recall my mind (wise mind this time) telling me that the day is not a loss, and that it is up to me what happens with the rest of the day. I can either sulk and feel sorry for myself that I overslept (in actuality, this is a symptom of another problem, that being that my entire circadian rhythm is out of whack, and that needs to be a priority in the coming week) or I can take the day by the horns (this is Austin, horns are a big thing here) and make the rest of it good.

And from here, I think I’m going to go make the bed, cause I’m not getting back into it until tonight.

Radical Acceptance

Standard

Photo: The Holy Grail prop used in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Image taken from indianajones.wikia.com; the prop itself is the intellectual property of Lucasfilm Ltd.

As promised in last night’s Three Good Things post, I wanted to talk more about the concept of radical acceptance and my rudimentary understanding of it. This is based off a revelation I had while reading “The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook” by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Jeffrey C. Wood, Psy.D., and Jeffrey Brantley, MD.

The copy I’m reading originally came from my wife’s library. She purchased it for her own use, lost it, bought it again in an e-book format, then we found the original, which she’d barely written in with a pencil. Five minutes with an eraser and I had a virtually new copy all to myself.

It’s important to note that my wife was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder before I was, and in our attempts to understand what she was beginning to go through, I’d picked up a couple of books and did some research online. We knew that the first step was something called “radical acceptance,” where you accept yourself just as you are, warts and all.

This was a concept that I had trouble with even when I first learned about it. How are you supposed to accept who you are when you know all those mistakes that you’ve made and just thinking about them brings those same emotions washing over you just as they first did when the mistake first occurred? How does one even begin to break that cycle? So for a while, the concept of “radical acceptance” was something that was a nebulous thing, a legend, a myth – something that we weren’t sure could or did exist, but would change my life if I could just find it. (Even before I was diagnosed with BPD, I knew that the concept would be a helpful one for me. Did I know in my bones that I really had BPD all this time? Not sure if I’ll ever be able to say.) Radical acceptance became something of a Holy Grail for me to search for, doubting I’d ever find it.

Fast forward to last night, when I was reading in the workbook and discovered that radical acceptance goes beyond just yourself and your self-image. It deals with accepting your present environment, whether it be good or bad, as being the perfect combination of all the events and decisions that have transpired before it. This is a concept that I more or less adhere to. Oftentimes I reminisce about some of the experiences that I have in life, and usually my wife will ask if I wish that I had done things differently, that my life was somehow easier than it is now. Invariably I tell her that I don’t wish anything were different because I don’t know if one tiny change in my past may have resulted in me missing out on meeting her, falling in love, and marrying my best friend and soulmate. When I read those words last night, I was stunned to realize I’d been practicing radical acceptance all this time – I just wasn’t directing it inward toward myself.

The revelation came when I realized that I can’t be a different person than the experiences that brought me to this point have led me to be. The two are interconnected, and that means that I am exactly the person that I mean and want to be, right now, in this moment.

If I can radically accept what events in my life brought me to this point, whether they be good or bad, it’s not that far of a stretch to radically accept the person those events made me into.

Last night, I found my Holy Grail. And unlike whatever Indiana Jones tells you, it resides within me. And my wife’s resides within her. And yours resides within you. All it takes is just accepting this moment as being perfect within all the imperfections that led to it. Accepting yourself as a product of all the moments before this is just a simple leap of faith. And any Indiana Jones fan worth his or her salt will tell you that’s the way to finding the Grail.