Things have been.. erm… how shall we put it… completely fucking shit. A truly horrendous week followed by a less-horrendous week that, depending how things progress, will become either an even more horrendous indeterminate period of time or the thing we might call, for want of a better expression, normal life.
I have been a desperate mess. Some things I can weather with reasonable fortitude; one particular thing I cannot. When my heart is sore or breaking, I pretty much go to pieces. But, thanks to the kindness and support of some wonderful people, fewer pieces than might otherwise have exploded themselves all over south-east London.
In recent years I have been trying to get better at asking for help when I need it. Instead of sealing myself off and struggling alone hoping that someone would psychically divine that I’m having a hard time and come and show me that they care, reaching out for support. That abandonment thing, the thing where I feel utterly shit and worthless and powerless and want to limit the amount of crazy I inflict on people so I cut off and push people away in the stupid hope that they will see through the hedgehog exterior and give me love anyway. That they will literally or metaphorically hold me regardless of the spines so that I can uncoil in the safe parameters of their care and expose that vulnerable belly without fear.
Then I went the other way, turning myself inside out so that I was nothing but soft belly. SEE MY VULNERABILITY. Protect it for me. Care for me. I cannot do it myself. I don’t want the responsibility of it any more. Take it from me. That didn’t go especially well either. Understandably so. Who wants that kind of burden? It isn’t fair or right to ask that. Unfortunately I still have a tendency to do this in romantic relationships, and I’m sure at other times as well, but I have been trying to get a handle on it. I have been trying to take more responsibility for myself.
I was pretty pissed off at the universe for a while. I went through a phase where every time I turned to someone for help they wouldn’t or couldn’t give it to me. I felt totally abandoned, and some of those people were people I had given support when they were going through hard times. It felt unfair. And I felt like ‘hey, Universe, I’m trying to learn a lesson here! I’m trying to reach out more and every time I do there’s no-one there! Where is my positive reinforcement?’ It’s difficult, because feeling shit, and feeling abandoned, is tricky enough already and sometimes the perceived rejection of asking for help and having the request declined is too much to cope with. It’s a gamble – ask and receive and it helps; ask and be denied and it makes everything so much worse. It’s evidence. See! I told you I was worthless and unloved! Look: proof!
I know I was a drain and a burden on the few people who were there to prop me up during that time. And I recognise that intense vulnerability to the point of wanting other people to deal with my shit, to relieve me of it at least temporarily, is simply a terrifying thing. And, as I said, not something that should be asked of anyone. I thought I was being taught that I needed to struggle alone, and for that time I did. I needed to learn that I could do it, that when no-one was there for me I could be there for myself, and I’m glad I was given the opportunity to know that because it is empowering. It’s not desirable or preferable to be the only person there for yourself because as much as anything that’s kind of what relationships are about – connecting, sharing, supporting, etc. There are different levels of that depending on the relationship of course, and different people provide different kinds of support, but there’s only so far you can go with someone if you don’t let them see your vulnerability and give them the opportunity to be there for you. But it is useful to know that at base I have some kind of foundation, some kind of strength, and I don’t fear the vulnerability as much as I used to because of that. I don’t enjoy it, because who does – it’s intensely uncomfortable, it can be utterly excruciating – but I accept that it is there along with everything else, that it is there for everyone, and it hasn’t broken me yet.
I’m trying to work on tempering the intensity with which I reveal myself to people. I’m trying to work on being less intense in general, actually, because it’s bloody exhausting and stressful. I don’t want to fundamentally change myself. I will always be deeply emotional (and according to the uncharacteristically good Wikipedia page for Borderline Personality Disorder emotions fire for 20% longer in people with the disorder, which might go some way to explaining it). I might not always display most of the frightening array of other features of the ‘disorder’ but for the time being, especially in close romantic relationships, I do, and controlling them is a work in progress. But, and I think I inherited this from my father, I will always have a certain intensity. The aim here is not to deny or squash that, but to learn how to reduce its effect both on myself and other people. To learn where to take it, and where to try to cap it. I don’t enjoy being this uptight maelstrom. As Wikipedia points out, there are some very positive traits that come along with the kinds of symptoms exhibited by BPD, on account of every negative having a positive flipside (am I stubborn or determined, am I a ball of unbridled emotion or am I passionate, am I unstable or am I sensitive? Etc. etc. Of course I am both depending on circumstance and wellness, and we all manifest both positive and negative features of our traits). However, it causes problems. And one of my biggest sticking points is that when it comes to knowing myself from the inside, to probing myself, to being self-aware, I excel like triple A-star pass with flying colours. But when it comes to knowing how I appear to other people, how I come across, what my effect is, how I’m perceived, what other people’s experiences of me are, I have no fucking idea. I have no concept of myself as being a person who has an external presence. I remember once starting to talk in a group of people and stopping mid-sentence because everyone had gone quiet and turned their attention to me, asking ‘why is everyone looking at me?’ And someone said, ‘er… because you’re talking’. And I was like, oh. Right. Yeah. I suppose that makes sense. But it was kind of a revelation that anything I did had any kind of effect, that people paid any attention to it. I spent so much time feeling like I was just watching the world, wanting to just watch the world, that it came as something of a shock to realise that other people expected me to be a participant.
Anyway. As usual I’ve gone a roundabout way to my point. Which is that for what feels like the first time, I sought support and I found it. And I am profoundly thankful to the people who were there, willing and able to offer it. Who listened to me, but not only listened while I was there, checked in with me via text, called me, let me know they were still there and that they cared. Who brought me biscuits to tempt me into eating. Who let me cry at them. Who gave their perspectives without being didactic. Who sympathised, empathised, or did neither but tried to understand.
Isabel, Becky, Clare, Jamie, Hannah, Lidi, Rose, Matt, Sean, Gretel, Sarah, Arri… I thank you deeply. I won’t thank my dad, although we did have one conversation, because just one of the many lines of support he offered was ‘well, the thing is, women are fundamentally irrational and they cause problems in relationships because men can’t understand that’. (Edit to add: Zimpenfish and MarilynMonroe70 from Twitter. I don’t know their real names, but somehow that makes it even more lovely… kindness is everywhere if you’re ready to receive it.)
Thanks also to Layla for highlighting the intensity issue, although at the time of emotional crisis it wasn’t something I could take on board. Some of that was useful. And thanks to Spencer, for illustrating how the intensity is problematic in a real-life situation and enabling me to see that it is not just a problem for other people but for myself also. I don’t want to take the intensity dial off my emotional hifi all together, but it could do with a bit of oiling so it isn’t always stuck on the highest possible setting. It doesn’t need to be removed entirely, but it needs to be more in my control.
But anyway. I’m getting sidetracked again. In essence: thank you.