Tag Archives: Sadness

What My Mental Illness Feels Like #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 29 in the #Write31Days challenge on mental health. Phew, we’re almost done. I truly find it a challenge and unfortunately don’t find it particularly rewarding.

Today, I’ll give you a glimpse into my unquiet mind by describing what it feels like tohave my mental illness. I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by self-regulation difficulties. It also overlaps with other disorders.

Once, years before I had been diagnosed with any mental illness at all, I read a description on a Dutch site of the “borderline feeling”. It described a starting point at which you are feeling fine, or at least appearing as though you are fine. Then, a minor annoyance occurs. You start feeling frustrated, angry, infuriated. Then you feel sad, depressed, depserate. Fear and then panic also comes in. Finally, all feelings tumble over each other and create a big emotional whirlwind. That’s what the experience of BPD is like.

I can illustrate this with an example. This afternoon, I was feeling slightly on edge because it was time to make afternoon coffee and no-one was available to assist me. Then, when I noticed the nurses were flipping through some seemingly unrelated photos at the nurse’s station, I completely lost it. They had told me they were busy and now they were just chattering! I can’t even remember how the situation progressed, but within minutes I was banging my head, screaming and then ran off. When I came back to the unit (I had the sense of rationality to find my way back myself), I accused the nurses of faking being busy and ignoring me. They had truly ignored me (or been oblivious to me at least) when i stood at the nurse’s station and I still cannot be sure what thing was keeping them so busy. That being said, I couldn’t politely ask them whether they truly didn’t have time to help me make coffee.

We had a group discussion, in which I was again relatively calm. Then we had dinner, after which I went on the computer for a bit. I still was feeling slightly on edge but not over the edge. I wanted to talk to the nurse, so made use of my daily talk time to discuss my tension. However, I couldn’t get it out clearly what I was feeling and why. At that point, all emotions started coming together and I became angry and depressed and fearful at the same time. I went outside, accompanied by the nurse, to blow off some steam.

Usually, this feeling I had in the evining for me is triggered by some flashbacks or relivings of past “trauma”. I put that between scare quotes because the events I am reliving can be relatively minor. However, they can cause distress nonetheless.

During such episodes I also often feel dissociated. I used to completely regress into a child mode, but now I just feel as though I’m small and start speaking or babbling incoherently but don’t fully act like a child.

When an episode is severe, I may resort to self-destructive behaviors such as binge eating or self-injury. Usually, these behaviors temporarily relieve the tension but obviously they aren’t the solution. I often relapse soon after I engaged in destructive behaviors. With PRN tranquilizers, especially benzodiazepines, the same used to be true: they temporarily calmed me down, but when they wore off, I was increasingly agitated. Research shows that borderlines often become more agitated and may become aggressive when given benzodiazepines, because benzodiazepines reduce their anxiety and thereby their impulse inhibition. I do not personally experience this.

Blue

Blue is another favorite color of mine besides green, which I discussed on sunday. Blue, in my experience, can signify many things. It is thought of as a cool color and we often say we feel “blue” when we feel sad. However, the skies are usually a bright color of blue in summertime, too.

If I have to select a color that signifies my personality, it’d be blue. My Myers-Briggs personality type is INTJ bordering on INFJ. The letter T in my synetsthetic experience is a dark shade of blue. What distinguishes INTJs from the INFJ personality type is INTJs’ cooler personality. Again, blue is thought of as a cool color.

Interestingly, when I was in college, I had this competency management book that described various personality types. I just looked it up and saw that introverted thinkers are described as the “blue” type.

People exhibiting the “blue” behavior pattern (or conformity) in work-related situations, according to the book, have perfectionism as their basic emotional state. They have high discipline, are detail-oriented, good observers and painfully conscientious. They need solid, fact-based arguments before they swallow an opinion. They are also obsessed with rules and regulations. They don’t do well with emotions and definitely don’t show them.

I do not currently score high on any of the behavior patterns described in the book, mostly because I cannot hold down a job so don’t have any work-related competencies. However, when I was still in school, I’d be painfully detail-oriented and rigid. I actually had to be taught that I could get away with not doing my homework every now and again. Though it would be a little exaggerated to say my parents taught me to flake out of doing homework, they did truly teach me that I couldn’t remind the teachers of upcoming tests.

In many ways, as you can see, I’m a blue personality. The same holds true if I have to describe my personality as a state of weather. Though sometimes it’s a thunderstorm, most of the time it is a blue sky with some clouds. That is, I am usually slightly depressed but not so seriously that it’s a problem. I have my sunny days and my stormy days, but my basic affective state is a lighter shade of blue.

This post was again inspired by a writing prompt from 397 Journal Writing Prompts & Ideas by Scott Green. The prompt was to describe one color that would signify your life.

Feelings and Autism #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day six of the A to Z Challenge, in which I focus on autism. Sorry for being a bit late – I have been quite tired lately again.

As I said yesterday, today I will focus on autistic people’s experience and expression of feelings. It is a common yet tragic myth that autistic people do not have feelings at all. Autistics, especially the ones who are very much in their own world or who seem very self-absorbed, are often thought of as not having emotions. The truth is, everyone experiences emotions, we just experience them different from non-autistic people.

An example is the fact that I did not feel particularly sad at any of my grandparents’ funerals. However, I did not have a particularly strong bond with any of them so did not naturally feel sad, and I indeed wasn’t aware of the social requirement of displaying emotion. By the time my maternal grandma died in 2007, I had rationally learned the appropriate emotional response, but none of my family members showed it so I felt a little confused.

I also sometimes will focus on a detail in a situation and respond emotionally to that. For example, when a fellow patient in the psychiatric hospital told us that he had been diagnosed with incurable cancer, I did rationally feel sad for him. However, I ended up laughing out loud when someone used a funny nickname for a nurse. This emotional tesponse to a detail in a situation rather than to the big picture, may be one reason autistic people are accused of lacking empathy.

I for one have very strong feelings, but I do not always identify them correctly. Until I was in my late teens, I used “good” and “bad” only when talking about how I felt. Even now, I mostly register primary emotions – anger, sadness, joy and fear -, and even confuse sadness and anger sometimes.

Some autistic people, like myself, feel very intense emotions. In some, these emotions might spiral out of control so that fear becomes panic and anger becomes rage. This is particularly true of autistic people with a condition called multiple complex developmental disorder. People with this condition also often have thought disorders. For example, they might make illogical leaps in thinking. I do not have this diagnosis, but it is very similar to the combination of autism and borderline personality disorder, which is my diagnosis. For this reason, I will illustrate this problem with a recent example from my own life.

At my husband’s grandfather’s funeral, I did not display much emotion as I didn’t feel particularly attached to the deceased. I must say here that, in the days prior to the funeral, I had turned my phone off for an unrelated reason. In the night following the funeral, the emotions of the funeral caught up with me and I began to think that my father had died and I hadn’t heard my mother’s call about it because my phone had been turned off. At first, this was just a scenario playing in my head, but I rapidly grew very upset at this scenario and had to take some emergency tranquilizer. I also became very angry, which shows the confusion between anger and sadness I mentioned earlier.

In short, autistic people do have emotions, some very intense ones. They however may have trouble identifying their own emotions and expressing them appropriately.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Anger

As you may’ve noticed, I like to pick my topics for my blog posts in the “mental health” category from recovery or awareness challenges. I don’t usually finish the challenge or answer the questions exactly as they’re asked, but I like to get them to zap me out of writer’s block. One such challenge is the “31 days of BPD” challenge. It asks 31 questions – one for each day – about life with borderline personality disorder. The first one asks you to describe why you were last very angry.

Now the thing about anger in my case is that I don’t usually remember why I get angry, or even what happened. Another thing is that I tend to get angry over the slightest things but then get to make my anger about lots of big and only partly related issues.

For example, a litle over a month ago, I got angry because the staff were decorating the unit for Christmas. I don’t even remember what exactly preceded my blow-up. I ended up running off the ward, wandering, and eventually taking some of my cltohes off so that I froze. When security got me back to the ward, I went into seclusion (voluntarily). I was determined I wasn’t going to go back to my ward. I was angry at the staff on my ward in general for there not being enough support for me or structure to guide me through the day. I eventually even said I wanted to be discharged if my only options were to stay in seclusion or go back to my ward (which indeed were my only options). Eventually, I did go back to my ward.

When I’m angry, I don’t really pick fights or become particularly angry at a specific person. Even when I do direct my anger at someone in particular, I usually don’t mean to single them out for my rage. I don’t ever become physically aggressive towands people, but I do usually shout obscenities and may direct my aggression towards objects.

For me, anger is usually accompanied by a fight-or-flight response. I usually flee in anger indeed, as was the case with the rage over the Christmas decorating I experienced last month. It seems in a way anger for me is close to other emotions, such as anxiety.

It is also closely related to sadness. I usually can’t cry unless I’ve been angry first. Often, also, when I’ve been depressed for a while, it tends to turn into irritability and may even turn into rage. The same occasionally happens with excitement, where I get so excited it turns into rage. In fact, any strong emotion in my case can turn into anger. It’s probably because, with BPD, my emotions tend to shift so rapidly. Maybe even anger is the only “bad” emotion I know.

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Empathy and Expressing Emotions

In chapter three of the book Look Me in the Eye, John Elder Robison talks about empathy and the expression of emotion. He describes a situation in which an acquaintance informs him tht someone he doesn’t know has died. He smiles, being glad that he and his own family wouldn’t die in the same way and are safe for now. The acquintance responds furiously, because why would he smile at someone else’s death? Robison is regularly accused of psychopathy for similar lack of empathy. Then again, he has strong emotional reactions to soomething happening to his own family.

I can relate to what Robison describes, only to an even greater extent. He describes the thoughts he has when there’s a plane crash in Uzbekistan, as rational empathy: he’s aware that it’s sad that people are killed and knows that the victims’ families are grieving, but it doesn’t affect him personally. On the other hand, when his father had been in an accident, he was anxious and nervous and did care on a deeper emotional level. Then again, when his mother’s car was on fire, he immediately went to fix it.

These are three different kinds of responses: rational empathy with no emotional reaction, emotional empathy as in feeling personally touched, and emotional empathy with the urge to fix someone’s problems.

I for one don’t often experience a strong emotional response when something “big” happens. When my maternal grandfather had a brain bleed in 1995, I was worried because I’d had one myself. I didn’t realize that his brain bleed was very different, and I didn’t particularly feel any emotion when he died five days later. I did feel the need to care for my mother, who ran towards me for comfort at the funeral. This lack of actual emotional empathy was amplified when my maternal grandmother, to whom I had no emoitonal connection, died in 2007. I was in an emotional crisis two days before her death and called my parents, stammering only “I, I.” My father was extremely pissed, saying: “It isn’t about you. Your grandmother is dying don’t you know!” A few months later, I remember talking to my mother and, when she referred to “grandma”, asking which one./P>

In this sense, I’m more self-centered, possibly even selfish, than Robison. I honestly have never had an emotional response to someone dying. That is, I do sometimes feel touched when I realize people have passed away, but this seems unrelated to the events of their deaths. An online acquaintance died sometime in 2013, and I still have moments where my inner children are sad that they can’t talk to hers anymore. Then again, the emotional response is not strong.

It isn’t, in my opinion, a psychopathic tendency that drives me not to be touched by people’s deaths. I do feel sadness when other people are sad, even if it’s for a relatively minor reason. Rather, it seems to be that I’m captured by details more than by the bigger picture of someone having died. For example, when a fellow patient told us that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in late 2007, I smiled at the funny spin on a nurse’s name he made rather than reacting emotionally to his diagnosis.

The intersection of autism and borderline personality disorder, which is essentially an attachment disorder, is interesting here. It is probably an autistic tendency to be captured more by the details of an event than the bigger picture, as in the laughing at a pun when being informed someone has cancer. Then again, I do have strange attachments sometimes. I should technically care more about my grandma’s death than about an online friend kicking me off her mailing list, but the reaction was reversed. Is this selfishness? It could be, but then again, I too have strong emotional reactions to other people’s sadness, sometimes if they’re people I hardly know.

Empty

I’ve been feeling kind of empty lately. It’s as though, since my diagnosis was changed from a dissociative disorder to BPD, my alters (if they existed) have gone into hiding, and I’m not sure what’s left of me. I’ve been feeling a bit depressed for about two months, and, while I am currently experiencing a few days of more (hyper)activity, my mood is not better. I also feel a deep s adness within me, but I cannot reach it except by going through anger first. This is not unusual fo rme, but often I can at least feel that I’m sad, while now, I merely know. We were talking in therapy yesterday about the needs a growing child needs to have met, and I was talking about what I felt I’d lacked in some of these areas, without really feeling much of anything. Ultimately we ended up talking about social skills. That topic may need addressing too, but really, I felt like I couldn’t access or process my feelings.