Today, I am coming out of a week or so of extreme confusion. What has allowed me to come out of it is to find the words to describe it, and begin the process of identifying myself in the DSM, identifying my own personalized symptoms of unrest and ill health.
This is a process that the traditional mental health system, in my experience here, seems to continually attempt to skip. Identifying symptoms is simply referring to the criteria for diagnosis and making a diagnosis, then skipping immediately to the actions of recovery that one must inevitably take on their own, such as self-care, structure, routine and balance of play and productivity — “self-reliance”, “self-soothing”, and “mood regulation”.
What is being skipped is what I will call “authentic identification” with the aspects of ill health referred to for diagnosis (below), as well as identifying also authentically, how I have come to this state of illness.
How has/does this illness manifest in me, how has/does it affect my life / ability to live well, how do i know if I am living well, and what are the aspects I most need to work on?
Authenticating my symptoms
When I read the DSM-V’s criteria for diagnosis, some items are easy for me to identify with, such as chronic emptiness, fear of abandonment, suicidality and disturbances in identity; but honestly, the others needed to qualify me as having BPD have felt like a bit of a stretch, or that I was over-dramatizing and exagerating my experience of them in order to fit myself into the illness (because without the illness, there is nothing to blame, and I must really be a totally and hopelessly fucked up person who doesn’t qualify for help. I must be a whiny baby who just wants attention, but doesn’t really need it).
BOREDOM (leads to impulsivity, mania, compulsive escape and denial)
One of the things that a lot of the literature on BPD talks about is boredom; but, how is that a “symptom”? Of course, we all feel bored. If you are bored, you do something to entertain yourself right? Duh. But I’m starting to see that this aspect as a criteria of illness is not referring to the common experience of boredom. I’m encountering boredom because my life does not have a clear focus, or structure, to it that is acceptable or valid to the mainstream society or to the traditional mental health profession; and what I’m starting to see is that this boredom drives me to my version of a manic state, which encapsulates the other DSM criteria of impulsivity.
My version of mania is a constant state of mental and emotional arousal — always something on the go, ideas brewing, people to call, places to go. This is a state of chaos — procrastinating everything, meeting deadlines and appointments at the last minute, or being late, forgetting to eat, and losing things daily, like keys, wallet, etc; floating in nowhere land, drifting aimlessly from one distraction to the next, getting farther and farther away from the moment, my need for escape intensifying by the day. All the while that this has been developing, there was a strong sense of denial in me — a lie that I became increasingly desperate to believe, that all this activity was a sign of my recovery and my growing ability to return to “normal” life.
Before naming these symptoms and realizing that i have actually not been well, what I was aware of was a state of extreme confusion, and the feeling that there were too many things on my brain to do, which felt like having my hair in braids that are too tight, only it was my brain that was being braided. I was not talking to fellow recovery friends because of this confusion — not knowing how I was really doing, simply escaping into tasks and deadlines of productivity, and being completely blind-sighted by the question, “How are you doing?”
I am learning that what is needed to return myself to balance is to slow down, simplify, pull-back in my external responsibilities and socializing, write, and revise my daily goals to the simple act of living — sleeping, eating, resting at home, and CoDA step work.
What has come out of putting words to these symptoms is that I have written a “diary card”, which I will post separately here. Comin’ up …