Seeing is believing

Something that people with Borderline Personality Disorder are known for is over-thinking and worrying about something that has happened, or something that may happen. We often struggle to ‘be in the moment’ or live ‘in the now’.

I can’t begin to count the number of conversations I have replayed in my mind, or for how long: did I sound stupid? did I make sense? did I make a fool of myself? will they hate me because of what I said? did I say enough? I think I said too much…

Last week I gave a talk to a group of people, about my experience of BPD and also about my book. The talk was organised by  Viewpoint, a charity in Hertfordshire, that is involved with helping people with mental health, or drug and alcohol problems and I was refreshed to hear a trainee counsellor say that practising mindfulness does not work so well for people with trauma-based mental health problems.

BPD sufferers are very ‘good at’ overthinking, overreacting, over-worrying, so it would be a reasonable assumption that to teach us to “pay more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing”  (NHS.uk)

However, there is a flip side to every coin, and the flip side here is that sometimes we borderlines’ are very good at living in the present moment – too good, in fact.

It is often difficult for those with BPD to hold on to the knowledge that somebody loves them unless they are physically present to ‘prove’ it. Failing that, they need to be phoning or texting us – or at the very least responding (preferably immediately) to our texts or phone calls.

If my wife is late home from work I have a hard time to convince myself it’s not personal, and that she does indeed still love me! Of course she’d rather be at home than at work (I hope!) but in that moment, more often than not, I initially feel abandoned which then turns into anger. I am getting better at challenging this automatic assumption and, as with many borderlines, the moment she arrives home I feel un-abandoned and all is well!

When I did my first ever ‘talk’ at Viewpoint I got a fantastic response – far better than I could have hoped for. I got some incredible feedback the following day too, via email, and I was buzzing – for about 19 hours. After which time, the emails ceased and the feedback (both verbal and written) was not ‘there’ anymore. It had been there, but it was no more.

I wasn’t worried about the past, or the future. I was paying absolute attention to the present moment and in that present moment it was almost impossible to keep believing that the feedback I had got was still real and applicable. What if they don’t mean it anymore – if I asked them today for feedback would they still say the same?

The same can be applied to relationships: yes, they loved me yesterday, but how can I be certain they love me still today?

Perhaps because our own emotions are volatile and transient we assume it is the same for everyone. Our black and white thinking (often referred to as ‘splitting’) means we can hate and love the same person within seconds. It is possible that we project this onto others, because we ourselves find it hard to hold onto, and believe in something, that isn’t constantly tangible.

I am getting better at talking to myself firmly when, for example, my wife is going to be late home from work; sometimes it takes longer than others to believe that I have not been abandoned by her, that she still loves me and she isn’t out to get me.

In the same way I have to argue with my default setting that discounts evidence if it is not current  (and therefore is no longer applicable).

There are times when I may well benefit from being in the present moment rather than worrying about the past or the future although mind, but there are also times where I would relish the ability to hold on to positive things from the past and carry them with me into the future and, more importantly to really believe them in the now.

My talk was awesome. It really was!

 

The Waiting Game

The Waiting Game

 

It starts off exciting,

For the first second or two –

An adventure

On the horizon

Something great,

Something new.

 

I don’t mind hanging on

For a minute or so –

I can plan

For the future

Until I can’t,

Until I let go.

 

I am patient enough

In the very beginning –

I will play

For a short while

But I’m definitely

Not winning.

 

 

That’s all for today!

Somewhere like Hogwarts

Somewhere like Hogwarts

Take me back,

Not to what I knew

Where hands hurt

And love hurt

And home hurt

And Life hurt

But back

To somewhere like Hogwarts:

A place that is safe

Full of friends

Full of love

Full of magic

Full of life

That doesn’t hurt

Somewhere

I’m allowed not to care

Too much, just yet,

About growing up

And growing old

And growing out of myself.

Take me back

Not to what I knew

But back

To somewhere

Exactly like Hogwarts.

This is my latest offering, unedited and unfiltered. We were supposed to be moving house on Monday 13th November. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s now off for at least another week.

Meanwhile, instead of the extra space we promised our precious dogs, we have less space as the walls are lined with boxes. We have no internet, our mail is redirected to our new property, and even our corkscrew is packed in a box somewhere.

I am down to my very last nerve. I know I am ‘blessed’, ‘lucky’, fortunate – however you look at it – things could be much, much worse I know: I have a wonderful, supportive, patient wife, fantastic friends and family, two beautiful dogs and a roof over my head. But still I am down to the very dregs of my resources, and coping strategies are wearing thin.

I am hanging in there, but only just – wherever ‘there’ is. It’s not Hogwarts that’s all I know!

World Mental Health Day

As someone who writes about mental health, and someone who suffers from mental illness, days like today feel both highly significant and decidedly daunting.

I like to think of myself as an advocate of positive Mental Health, and yet I feel a  sense of duty rather than passion to recognise World Mental Health Day. On days like today I feel as though my voice is the smallest, most insignificant of whispers amongst a chorus of experts, professionals and people who actually have something interesting, and something new to say.

So todays challenge for me is to continue writing this blog – not regardless of the voices – but because of the voices that tell me I really shouldn’t bother.  Maybe I do have nothing new, or exciting to bring to the World Mental Health table. But I do have myself: the journey that I am on; the lessons that I am learning; the small battles that I am winning; the fact that I am still standing.

I don’t have to be clever today. I don’t need to stand out from the crowd in order to be heard. I  need to be a part of the crowd – of the chorus. I need to add my voice, however small, to all the other voices that are challenging and encouraging people around the world to talk about Mental Health. I need to join them, with my tuppence-worth, to work towards normalising talking about Mental Health.

I did not survive being mentally ill by staying silent about it. It takes a lot of guts to speak out, to get help and to engage in treatment.  Imagine if our mental wellbeing was as common a topic as the weather, here in the UK.  I wonder how many mental illnesses could be prevented or treated much sooner, if only we could all  invest in our mental health and wellbeing without fear or shame.

Against all odds, I am still here and fighting strong, and that is my offering for World Mental Health Day. In a nutshell: hope. Always hope.

 

National Poetry Day: Freedom

 

“National Poetry Day is an annual celebration that inspires people throughout the UK to enjoy, discover and share poems.”

nationalpoetryday.co.uk

 

My Definition of Free

Freedom is fullness,

Wholeness inside,

A life lived in truth

With nothing to hide.

Love freely given

No matter the cost,

Risks freely taken

No opportunity lost.

Freedom is waiting

For destiny’s call

A life lived in hope

Of the greatest gift of all.

 

I wrote this poem many years ago, when the concept of freedom was to me like a fairytale is to a small child: a nice make-believe story. One can always dream, I thought, but one should never be so foolish as to expect the dreams to come true.

For years I lived trapped within the confines of my mind. It was dark and disconsolate existence, and one which I truly resented. The notion of ever being free from this way of thinking, feeling, being was laughable. And yet here I am, learning how it is to feel full and whole, and learning that the fairytale can still be real even when things go wrong.

Life is not either good or bad – it is both, sometimes at once, sometimes in equal measures but not always. For me, a whole lot of freedom has come from truly understanding this – that a bad life does not necessarily preclude a good one (if indeed this distinction can me made at all?).

Poetry has undoubtedly been an integral part of my healing as it has always felt safe to me: the ability to express myself without necessarily exposing myself, and in some of my darkest moments, I have been able to articulate what I could not give voice to in any other way. I dare say that the smallest, most creative part of me, always knew that there was a freedom worth holding on for, and worth fighting for.

Whatever your particular dream of freedom may be, don’t stop believing and don’t stop fighting. And write a poem just because you can.  You can! 

Ps: As it is National Poetry Day I think it would be rude not to mention that there are several poems in my book, A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder – A Journey into Borderline Personality Disorder (and out the other side)  just in case you were looking to read some more!

 

World Suicide Prevention Day

Nice Try

You’re trying hard to kill me,

And although I’m on your side

I’ll fight you if you get too close

In case I change my mind.

And your efforts to destroy me

Whilst valiant, are mad,

For how could you annihilate

A life I have not had?

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts: reach out – talk, write, draw, scribble, scream, call the Samaritans. Do anything other than take action on your urges.

If someone you love is suicidal, or you suspect they may be: talk to them, sit with them, walk with them, seek help with (or for) them, love them, believe in them.

Suicidal feelings don’t last forever. I promise you this. Life can get better, but only if you hang in there and are prepared to work with those who want to work with, and help, you.

The Samaritans have saved me more than once. They have been there in some of my darkest hours, and I am alive today because they were there when I needed them.

I had friends and family who cared but I was afraid to burden them with the terrifying darkness I was inhabiting. I have since learned that they would have come with me to the very core of darkness if they could have been by my side when I needed the most.

I have wanted to die more times than I can count but never once has that desire had anything to do with attention. Nor even, on many occasions, with dying per se: it has only ever been to do with stopping the internal, unbearable, intolerable anguish of being.

Never once did I think I was being selfish: I truly believed that ending my life was the kindest, most selfless act I could offer to those to whom I was convinced I was nothing but a burden. I thought everyone I knew would be happier and freer without the burden that was me.

In no way am I trying to justify or condone suicide – I am simply trying to explain to those who are struggling: that things can change, life can improve, and you will not feel like ‘this forever’, and for those who have lost someone to Suicide: there was nothing – nothing – more you could have done for them.

That all said, I have no other ideas as to how to prevent suicide. It’s a big ask. But if you reach out, talk about your feelings, believe that people care, and hope that things can change for the better, I don’t know – surely that’s worth a try..?

The suspense is killing me

waiting |ˈweɪtɪŋ|

noun [mass noun]

1 the action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or event: years of waiting.

 

One of the aspects of borderline that I have yet to find an effective way to cope with is waiting.  I am absolutely hopeless whenever I have to wait for anything (hardly surprising when I consider how impulse driven we can be),  and despite my normal aptitude for multi-tasking I am virtually incapable of doing or thinking about anything outside of waiting for what ever it is I am waiting for.

My wife and I are, for the third time in two years, trying to sell our house. Knowing what to expect does not – I repeat does not – make it any easier whatsoever. The first time we tried to sell, we had just missed the buy-to-let boom that was hoovering up all the one-beds. The second time was shortly after Brexit and the market was pretty much dead. Viewings were few and far between, but for each one, in true borderline style, I shed blood sweat and tears (figuratively speaking) ensuring that our home was immaculate: I moved things from the corridor so people didn’t feel the space was tight; I hid our trinkets and kitsch so it didn’t seem cluttered; I hid the dog beds, dog bowls, dog toys, the dogs, so there wasn’t a trace of anything dog; I polished windows, mirrors, and glasses; I turned on cosy and atmospheric lights and I burned a butterscotch candle till just before I left the house as the next best thing to homemade bread wafting throughout the kitchen. You name it, I did it until our house was almost unrecognisable. All in the name of our pristine home being The One that the viewer could not live without.

And then I waited. The same painstaking kind of waiting I had done when waiting for the agent to call to say they had a viewer. Even though I sit by the phone, or carry the phone around with me, I still pick it up at regular intervals to check it didn’t ring and I somehow missed it. And even though I can see I haven’t missed a call, I still check the answer phone every now and then just in case. I consider distraction techniques; wash up, walk the dogs (again), have a shower – no, no shower because I won’t be able to hear the phone, do some writing. I consider them, briefly, and then go back to waiting. Worrying. Waiting. Checking. Panicking. Checking. Wondering what I need to do differently, additionally, next time. Waiting.

With this third attempt to sell, we have had two viewings in just over a week – the market has shifted, slightly, unlike my ability to be patient whilst getting on with all the other things I need to be getting on with. As each minute and hour passes I feel increasingly frustrated, disappointed, angry and resentful, and overriding all of these is an accumulative desperation.

It is a hard thing to describe, and it is an even harder thing to live with, although it doesn’t feel like I live at all when I am waiting for something. Rather, all life is suspended while I wait: I see life going on around me but I cannot participate – I am far too busy, too preoccupied, indispensable.  There is absolutely no space in my brain or my life, for anything that is not directly related to what I am waiting for.

The good news is, I do have brief moments of respite when my brain can stand down. Mainly because I know what time the Estate Agent opens and closes. So when I wake in the morning, I have until 8am (usually just before) where I don’t need to wait because there is nobody in the office yet. Likewise, around 7.30pm I begin to accept that I can stand down in anticipation of them closing at 8pm. Although this respite is not what it used to be (the office hours used to be 9am-6pm and sadly I recently discovered that the Estate Agents are also open 9-4 on Saturdays and Sundays), it is a breathing space none the less and I can relax, my brain can switch off, and I can do things other than wait.

This trait is, quite literally, debilitating. Twice this last week I have been close to self-harming out of sheer desperation and frustration. I have conversations with myself. I tell myself all the things anyone else would tell me but it makes little difference. If anything, it adds to my sense of failure because I see the logic but cannot apply it in this instant. There is little that can help me when I am in the throes of waiting.

My wife and I have discussed this excruciating disposition of mine and she, quite reasonably, suggested I just don’t expect any viewings to come to anything: We might not actually sell at all; If we haven’t heard anything by now, we’re probably not going to.  All things logical and rational and undeniably true, yet I can not make myself stop waiting, obsessing, for the phone to ring. I know, cognitively, that the phone will ring – or it will not. I know that if I don’t hear the phone ring, a message will be left. I know that I should get on with everything else I should be getting on with. I know that if we do get a buyer it is only the beginning of a long, long line of waiting. I know all of this, but I don’t know how to turn off the switch in my brain that puts life on hold because we have a thing to wait for.

I know the rationale behind all of the reasoning my wife presents me with whenever I ask her why we haven’t yet got a buyer. I don’t really need to hear it again. What I need is to vent that small vapour of steam; to ask my question, rhetorically (because of course she has no idea why we don’t have a buyer yet), and for her to simply acknowledge that I am waiting, and that I feel as though the waiting killing me. I don’t need her to fix me or make things better – it would be nice, but I know there is nothing whilst I am in ‘waiting’ mode that can make anything better other than, in this case, an offer on the house! I just need her to know that I’m struggling, that I’m trying to keep my head above water, my feet on the ground, and I’m finding it almost impossible to do much else. I need to be able to tell her how it is for me, inside my head, without being told what I know already, or without feeling stupid or wrong. That’s all I need.

I need it to not be a dirty great secret that I am embarrassed to admit because actually, I do feel stupid, and I do feel wrong. I feel ridiculous by how paralysed I become and how dysfunctional this trait makes me. I feel ashamed when my wife comes home from work and I’ve barely managed to complete the washing up from the morning. I feel useless because I cannot combat this, and I cannot avoid the trap because waiting is an integral part of life.

I need to be honest, and I need to be heard. That’s all I need. Until I find a cure, then I need the cure. Oh, and a buyer for the house – I need that too.

One small step; one giant leap!

IMG_8485This time last week I was still flying high from the joyous celebrations of my book’s official launch. I’m glad to say that although I have come down (a little), I have not come crashing down – rather; I am still gliding back to reality and normality (my version of it) gently and calmly.

At the launch in Oxford Waterstones I was joined by friends, family, professionals and publishers – all of whom have, in some way, played a part in me being where – and who – I am today. It was as much a celebration of these relationships as it was the publication of my book. These are the people who have believed in me when I could not believe in myself, who had hope for me when I was (in every sense) hopeless, who have taken me for who I am – no questions asked, and who have loved me when I was at my worst and surely was unlovable. They have been my strength when I have been weakness personified, my light when I was suffocating in the dark, my reason when there was no other reason to keep fighting. And these were the people I wanted to celebrate alongside and to thank for their part in my journey.

The morning after the launch I woke early, still buzzing and reeling with excitement, and still there was the niggling threat of gloom hovering over me and trying to find a way to dampen my spirits: the party was over; the unlikely gathering of an eclectic mix of wonderful people had been dispersed and I would never again experience the unique sense of pride, confidence and joy that I had at the book launch. IMG_8529

So often for me an extreme high is followed by an unrelenting low. It is as though a good day gives me a taste for something that I never quite fully experience, and merely tasting it leaves me dissatisfied and hungry for something that seems close enough, but actually entirely out of reach.  A day where I feel ‘special’ is invariably followed by a day where I am back to being a nobody – about as unspecial as they come, and I feel foolish for believing any different.

The book launch was in some ways no different than any other high, with the risk of of crashing back down to earth a real possibility. Usually the memory of the night would have disappeared already like sand through my fingers, in typical borderline fashion (if it’s not happening now it might as well have never happened, kind of thing). But on this occasion, the unique sense of pride, confidence and joy is precisely what is keeping the gloom and despondency at bay, and the memory is, so far, alive and well.

For me it is a huge accomplishment that I am able to look back on such a great night without feeling like I have somehow been cheated of the fullness of what it was meant to be. It was, for me, a complete experience and against all odds I have managed to maintain a balanced perspective from then till now.

For me it is proof that colour can exist within the black and white thinking that is so inherent in BPD. It is something in between the all-or-nothing that my world generally consists of. It is a first for me that I have drifted softly down to earth after such a big high, and I have not crashed.

One small step; one giant leap for a borderliner! IMG_8569

It’s all. Or it’s nothing

Dream Big

They tell me to dream big,

To reach for the stars

Believe in yourself –

They say you’ll go far.

 

Well, my big dreams are the biggest

The closest star is also the farthest

I do not believe, but for a moment I did,

I was foolish to think I could do this…

If it hasn’t happened yet

Clearly it never will.

It is nothing

If it is not monumental.

I have failed

If I did not succeed overnight.

If nothing is said

There is nothing to like.

And it honestly always is

This black and white.

 

They tell me to dream big,

To reach for the stars

Without understanding

I will take that one step

too far.

 

So here’s the deal: I wrote a book (I believe I have mentioned this a few times) and I found a publisher (even more noteworthy I think). I was beyond excited. I have always wanted to ‘be a writer’ and finding a publisher felt like validation – I progressed from merely writing to actually being a writer. I joked with my wife that we would have to celebrate every single step along the publishing process. Joking aside, when my book was assigned an ISBN number – we cracked open the bubbly. The first proofs were sent through – it would be rude not to celebrate. My book appeared on Amazon, available for pre-order, my book was sent to the printers, my copies arrived in the post – all causes for celebration, and so I was true to my word after all; many a true word is spoken in jest!

For each milestone along this new road, I climbed a little higher up the ladder of happy, giddy, gleeful, exhilaration. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments of doubt and worry but on the whole I was floating in an unsustainable bubble of euphoria. You see where this is going yet?

I had no idea what to expect, either from the publishing process itself, or from the ‘aftermath’ of having been published. I have never done this before, and I didn’t have a clue. But I do have Borderline, and when I hope for something, I do so with every fiber of my being. I don’t do much in half measures.

What goes up, soaring to giddy heights with great speed and gusto, must at some point come crashing back down with heartless and indecent force. As I said, I didn’t know what to expect, and I don’t know what I did expect, but I expected a little more than what I got!

The day after the publication date I was still riding strong on my proud-cloud. Still disbelieving but euphoric that could have achieved what I had. I went into town with Dawn, buzzing with anticipation and exuberance, eager to see my book – finally – in a book shop. After all, isn’t that where books go? Isn’t that what book shops are for? Not necessarily! My book was nowhere to be seen. Dawn asked at the desk where we might find the book, assuming we were looking in the wrong place, but not only was the book was not in stock, it was not on order either. After repeating this conversation in the second bookshop, I found a quiet corner and broke down.  I sobbed uncontrollably, feeling utterly devastated, humiliated and betrayed: It felt personal. SO fucking personal. And I felt like the worlds biggest idiot. Such a damn bloody fool.

What did I think was going to happen? I have no idea, but I expected something. I certainly was not prepared for nothing.

I felt stupid beyond words. I felt like my face was pushed back in the dirt where I belonged – how did I ever think I had the right to shine? For days I was inconsolable. One minute I had been riding high, the next I was falling so fast and such a long way down I was more scared of the ferocity of my emotions than I had been for a long while. I felt as though I had let Dawn down: I had contributed nothing to our home, and now my book has done nothing but suck my life and soul into its empty voracious belly, and I felt utterly unworthy of her love as a result.

People have asked me, in jest, what it is like to be a published author. For the record, so far, it is pretty much the same as not being one, only much more disappointing.

I am not writing this to illicit pity – far from it. I am writing this to encourage people, myself included, that there is always hope. With regards to my book I am completely in the dark. All of the fears, suspicions and paranoias that I feared would assail me this side of The Big Day have indeed done so, and they have done it with aplomb. Bar the odd feedback (for which I am incredibly grateful – don’t get me wrong!) I have heard nothing so far. I have no idea what people think about my book, and just as importantly (I think) about me. If I thought the waiting game had been bad before the publication date, it was nothing compared to this side.

And yet, I have navigated my way through these treacherous waters and no matter how foolish I may feel about my book, I can hold my head high and say that I managed my BPD these last few weeks, and I managed it reasonably well! I talk about management, rather than recovery throughout my book and this is a case in point: I still have all the irrational, illogical thoughts along with all the wild, intense, extreme and often terrifying feelings and urges, but I have learned to manage them.  I have not come through this episode entirely unscathed, but I have come through it, and I am stronger for it.

When I could finally put into words what I was actually feeling, the relief was palpable. For me, if I haven’t sold a thousand copies, I may as well not have sold a single one. If I haven’t had any feedback it is because there is nothing nice to say – or nobody read my book (because I haven’t sold a single copy!) It took me several days of wading through the sludge of these feelings before I was able to articulate them to myself as well as to others, but I found my words and I found my voice. And it took some time, but eventually I found my feet again.

PS: In the continuing absence of any substantial feedback regarding my book I am trying with all my might to Zen my way through – if nothing ever comes of the book, pre-publication surely was one hell of a ride!

FullSizeRender
The Interesting Thoughts of Edward Monkton

Today is The Day!

banbury roadThis is probably the most unprepared and unedited blog I will ever write! I’m busy busy busy today, celebrating the publication of my book, which is finally out – today!

I also had a radio interview to get through this morning on the Kat Orman show, at BBC Radio Oxford. Yikes doesn’t even begin to cover it!

This was the view from the BBC Oxford reception, where I was sitting shaking, waiting. The house with the ladder is where I lived during some of the lowest and darkest times of my life. Having walked to the studio in an anxiety induced stupor, I was quite shocked and moved when I looked out the window and realised exactly where I was!

I can’t count how many epic screw-ups took place in the pokey box room I was holed up in, how many times I pushed my body, my self and my closest friends to their absolute limits.

It felt quite monumental to be sitting opposite a building which holds so many dark and disturbing memories, whilst revelling in the unfolding of a new and wonderful adventure. I was close to tears as I travelled into Summertown today for my interview. My nerves were jangling, my heart was pounding and even without the ridiculous heat I would have been sweating just as many buckets as I was. Not for the first time, and surely not for the last, I asked myself what was I thinking? I must have been crazy to think I could do this (!) and yet, there I was, nerves and all, pushing through. Then I looked up and saw this house and realised that I am living, breathing proof that there is, always, hope.

I am in such a different place than I was 10 years ago, and I can categorically say that 10 years ago I did not believe such a place existed – definitely not for me! And yet here I am, more pleased than ever that I didn’t give up all those times when giving up was all I wanted to do. I am proud of myself, proud of my book, and proud of my beloved friends and family who told me, 10 years ago, that one day I would look back and feel so differently about being alive. That day has come.

I do not say this lightly: if I can do it, then anyone can! I’ve crossed the road – very literally, and in every other sense – and, when I look at where I came from, right now, all I can think is ‘wow’. Just wow!

I’m off to celebrate now!