What Recovery Means to Me

Yesterday, one of the daily word prompts here on WP was Recovery. I didn’t see it till it was already time for me to go to bed, so I’m writing about this word today. Today, I am sharing with you what recovery from my mental health conditions means to me.

First, there are a few things recovery doesn’t mean to me. Recovery isn’t the same as being happy all the time – that’d be an unrealistic goal. It also isn’t the same as independence. I don’t intend on ever living independently again and there are few things with respect to life skills I’d really still want to learn.

Recovery does mean no longer being scared when I’m able to do something independently. Currently, I constantly expect people to overestimate my abilities, so when I can do something independently, I think people will expect me to do it all the time.

Similarly, recovery means no longer being afraid of my feelings, both good and bad. Affect phobia is a thing, you know? I currently tend to dissociate from my feelings a lot. I also often counter joy or sadness with anger, because that’s the easiest emotion for me to express.

Recovery means having a relatively stable sense of self. I don’t necessarily want to integrate all alternate parts of my personality, although it’s okay if it happens spontaneously. We do want to achieve cooperation among ourselves. This also means being able to accept the seemingly opposite sides of me.

Recovery means, as a result of the above, no longer needing to rely on negative coping strategies such as self-harm, rage or impulsive behavior. I will no doubt still have times when I indulge into an unhealthy habit such as overeating or buying stuff I don’t need. That’s okay, since I don’t think total self-control is a realistic goal. I just don’t want to use these as coping skills when feeling overwhelmed, and I no longer want to engage in self-harm at all.

Lastly, recovery means no longer expecting people to abandon me if they know the real me. Currently, I have such a negative self-image that I believe any positive aspects of me are a façade and at the core I’m so wicked no-one should want to be associated with me. Overcoming this is probably the hardest thing to achieve, as expectation of abandonment is such an ingrained thought pattern. I really hope to someday stop seeing myself as one giant manipulator though.

In addition to the word prompt, I am linking up with #LifeThisWeek and #SeniSal.

Working On Us Prompt: Coping With Crisis

Today, I’m once again joining in with Beckie’s Working On Us Prompt. This week, the topic is to write a narrative of what works for you when facing a panic or anxiety attack, manic episode or other crisis. I don’t get panic or anxiety attacks much or mania at all, so I’m going to describe what works for me when I’m in an emotionally dysregulated crisis.

Like I’ve said before, I have BPD (traits). These are also known as emotion regulation issues. I also experience complex PTSD symptoms. Both can cause me to suffer emotional outbursts. In addition, I can get severely overloaded due to my autism. This can cause me meltdowns, which in some ways are similar to BPD outbursts. In fact, I’m not 100% sure my BPD diagnosis is correct given that autistics, particularly women, are often misdiagnosed as BPD.

Anyway, I usually notice an outburst coming on when I experience an increase in sensory reactivity. I also often start to experience a decrease in my language abilities. I start to stutter or can only make humming noises and repeat the same phrases. My staff at day activities say that when in this state, my communication abilities resemble those of a toddler. It is interesting, in that we have only one toddler alter. When I can’t do something to calm down, I may progress to a full-blown state of meltdown, in which I become angry and sometimes aggressive or self-injurious.

What helps me when I’m in such a state, is to physicaly remove myself from the situation. This is hard though, as often it feels as though everything that happens around me is important. Usually, my staff help me by clarifying what’s important and what is not.

Of course, now that I still live independently, I don’t always have a staff member available to help me sort through a crisis or make suggestions on how I can cope. I, however, have a phone number of a psych hospital I can call in a state when I’m close to a crisis. They can’t do much but listen to me and try to offer advice, but it’s definitely been helpful in some situations. The mental health team that treats me also has a staff available on the phone for crisis intervention during office hours.

Sometimes, when I’m in a really bad crisis, I take my PRN lorazepam. However, I have some experience with it being overused on me in the psych hospital. Like, whenever I’d react to a sound in an irritated tone of voice, staff would tell me to take a lorazepam rather than helping me to figure out what was causing me overload. This has really gotten me weary of PRN medication.

Emotion Regulation Issues: Dealing with BPD Traits #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day five in the #AtoZChallenge. When thinking of a topic for the letter E post, I was thinking of how popular yesterday’s post on depression had been and how it had helped destigmatize mental health. I thought of doing today’s post on another mental health topic. Emotion regulation disorder is the term sometimes used here in the Netherlands to describe a condition that’s still formally called borderline personality disorder. As BPD is neither borderline (bordering on what?) nor a personality disorder (in that there is very effective treatment for it), I think this is appropriate. Besides, emotion regulation disorder is a lot less stigmatizing of a word.

My husband asked me, after hearing what my first four posts had been about, whether I’d be making my letter E post about something positive. I said “No”, as mental illness isn’t generally seen as a positive thing. Indeed, I’m still feeling pretty depressed and this may be why I chose this topic. However, the stigma associated with mental illness can still be worse than the illness itself. If I can help remove a bit of that with this post, I’m happy.

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2013. I didn’t like it. This diagnosis replaced two other conditions I’m pretty sure I do have as well, namely dissociative identity disorder (DID) and PTSD. I was told that BPD is a trauma-based condition too and that dissociation really runs on a spectrum from BPD to DID. This is true, but I still wasn’t happy about the diagnosis. I had a lot of internalized stigma about it. This wasn’t helped by my therapist, who pretty much assumed my BPD was causing me to make up the DID. Well, I’m not making it up.

My husband didn’t believe I could possibly have BPD. After all, borderlines are known for unstable relationships and he had been my first boyfriend. Then again, there are nine different criteria to BPD and one only has to meet five of them to qualify for a diagnosis. Symptoms I most definitely do have include an unstable self-image, dissociation and stress-related paranoia, fear of abandonment and self-harming and suicidal tendencies. I can also have bad anger issues and react impulsively. In fact, the only criterion I’m pretty sure of I don’t meet, is the one about unstable relationships. People who do meet this criterion, often engage in what is called “splitting” within the BPD community. They alternate heavily between idealizing and devaluing their favorite person (who can be a partner, but can also be a family member or even a therapist).

In 2016, my diagnosis was downgraded from full-fledged BPD to just BPD traits. I’m pretty sure I’d still meet the full criteria, though not as strongly as before maybe. It is common for BPD symptoms to lessen as a sufferer gets older.

I prefer to refer to my BPD traits as emotion regulation issues, like I said. Not only does this sound less stigmatizing, but it feels more true to what I experience. I do experience, after all, very strong emotional outbursts. These can be of anger, but more recently also sadness or fear. I also find it hard to distinguish emotions and tend to express every strong emotion as anger.

Like I said, BPD, unlike other personality disorders, is treatable. The most evidence-based treatment is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT combines cognitive behavioral strategies with mindfulness. I tried it last year, but was finding it hard to pay attention in therapy and carry over what I learned from the manual into real life. I do however still try to apply the skills.