Guilt and Shame

Those living with BPD commonly experience guilt and shame.


Many of my negative thoughts are centered around guilt. Did I wrong someone or hurt their feelings? Have I disappointed, someone? Did I say something I shouldn’t have?


Outbursts triggered by intense emotions can result in me doing or saying things I immediately regret. I feel ashamed, and if I allow it, this emotion will consume me. Thoughts of my wrongdoing replaying in my head, over and over.


From an early age, guilt and shame distorted my perception of myself. Eventually, I learned to work through this.


One factor in my healing process has been learning how to combat and ultimately change these negative thoughts.


I can’t ignore the fact that I do and say things I regret, that would limit my progress. I also can’t blame myself for the symptoms of my mental illness. So focusing on these thoughts is essential to my recovery.


I have more control when I feel healthy, and my stress level is low. I feel my best when I get enough sleep, rise early, and eat well. I am patient and kind with myself. Instead of focusing on guilt and shame, I am moving forward.


My mind still tells me horrible things about myself, but I feel in control. If I say something I regret in response to my emotions, I feel extreme guilt. If I hold onto that guilt, it turns to shame. To fight back, I need to process these emotions and not hold onto them.


I no longer need to hold onto this guilt and shame; I am allowing myself to let it go.


Vulnerability

At first, I thought to be vulnerable meant sharing the awful and miserable parts of life. The ones that we often refrained from sharing. I believed that by sharing these stories, I was the most vulnerable I could be.


But that’s not how vulnerability works.


We are vulnerable when we share our emotions. Stigma has conditioned us to believe we should keep our feelings hidden, and those who choose to talk about their emotions are looking for sympathy or attention.


We are vulnerable when we talk about our hopes and dreams. When we share goals and desires we have not yet accomplished, we are putting ourselves out there and being real.


We are vulnerable when we share our work.


I feel most vulnerable when I share the thoughts I hold and the content I have created. I am aware that others may not understand or disagree with what I create, but regardless, I am putting myself out there.


While vulnerability can be opening up about a dark time or situation, it is not limited to.


Vulnerability is sharing your authentic self with the world, knowing that not everyone will be accepting of what you have to say.

Intention

If you follow my Instagram, you know that I’m not one for big New Years’ resolutions. I find that most are instructed and unrealistic. While I could make one attainable goal, I don’t want to be held down by one big thing. I also find that the added stress results in little to no positive change.


This year I thought I would try something different. Instead of a goal, I am creating a mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase to set your choices and life.


My mantra for the year is Intention.


Since beginning to work from home, I find myself wasting a lot of time as a reaction or response from an emotion. I feel overwhelmed, and I distract. Helpful, but I want to do something more meaningful. I rationalize this downtime by reminding myself that I need to rest and keep stress down, but resting should only go so far.


Instead of telling myself to buckle down and get tasks done, which would only add anxiety and shame, I am using my mantra to make my choices more intentional.


By intention, I mean mindfulness and purpose. When I feel stressed and overwhelmed, I know from DBT skills that I need to stat mindful and self soothe. While watching TV is very relaxing, it does not keep me aware. Now, when I am feeling overwhelmed, I want to be intentional about how I cope. Music helps me relax and soothes me. To stay intentional, I may use my record player and focus on the lyrics. Taking it all in, being present in life. Or perhaps ill play some music and write. Allowing the thoughts and emotions flow through me. Afterward, I will feel less stressed and more relaxed, but the difference is my actions were intentional and productive.


What is your goal or mantra this year? Why did you choose it? What changes do you want 2020 to hold?

Christmas Spirit

I feel this external pressure to be happy and cheerful during the holiday season.


I get caught up with the holiday bustle, and I forget to slow down.


I want to be present when I’m with my family, but I also need to take time for myself and remember that it’s okay if I don’t always feel positive.


Even though it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean that my mental illness goes on holiday. Because of this, I need to set boundaries with myself. Taking breaks, going on walks, and most importantly, trying to keep a schedule.


Last year I was hard on myself. I wasn’t feeling particularly cheerful, and that made me feel selfish and ungrateful. This year, I am removing the pressure and expectation. How I feel is how I feel, and I can be grateful and full of joy even if I’m having a stressful day.

Difficult Conversations

I remember the conversation. I hadn’t planned on having it and I did not fully understand my thoughts and goals, but I knew it needed to come out. “I don’t think I want to go back to school.”


When I began, the words spilled out. I explained how on-edge, irritable, and depressed I constantly felt. I worried about my safety and future. How could I enjoy life and take care of myself if my future career is taking 110% of my energy?


Tyler was immediately supportive. He suggested alternative careers and options for me.


That wasn’t what I wanted either. I realized it wasn’t about a specific career, I was taking on too much. I just needed a job.


I don’t think I processed my thoughts before having this conversation, but I don’t think it mattered. When I said what I needed to say, a weight was lifted off of me.


Life is all about having these difficult conversations. Putting yourself and your thoughts out there, being vulnerable, it’s awfully uncomfortable. Although, these moments and those conversations are periods of growth and development.


When we push our feelings down and don’t have the difficult conversations, we become stuck. In situations, jobs, relationships, and life.


We owe it to ourselves and our happiness to have difficult conversations. I know from experience how uncomfortable being stuck feels.

Allow Joy

There was a point where I didn’t want to accept moments of happiness because I feared my illness wouldn’t be accepted by others. I feared that if I expressed these moments, my depression would be overlooked and forgotten. That I would be forgotten. I feared that these brief moments would be mistaken for my entire reality. I didn’t understand that I could feel happiness without necessarily being happy.


It wasn’t until someone suggested that I could call it something other than ‘happy.’


This small suggestion shifted my perception. I can be unhappy and experience joy. I can be happy and experience joy. I can be however I am and still experience joy, but only if I allow it.


Currently, I am at a place in my life where I can say that I am happy. Yet, this does not mean I am always happy. This means that I am now able to allow joy in my life without effort.


Happiness is not an end goal, but if often mistaken for one. By acknowledging moments of joy, instead of happiness, this end goal perception is diverted.


So I will leave you with this. Be happy, be unhappy, be angry, excited, and sad, but remember to allow and acknowledge joy. Because without joy, life has no meaning.

You Should Be Happy

I remember going to a psychiatrist appointment, maybe two years ago, when she asked me if a student could sit-in on the session with us. As a student myself, I understood how valuable hands-on learning is, so I agreed. The student, an older woman likely in her 50s, greeted me as I walked in. We exchanged hellos and commented on the weather. I could feel and see her examining me- well dressed, clean, and tense maybe what she saw. I looked put together, I knew that. I hid behind my name brands and job in mental healthcare. I wanted to appear like I had my life together, and I wasn’t crazy.


The student asked me about my education, job, and personal relationships. Then she looked me dead in the eyes and said: “Wow, with your Kate Spade bag and getting accepted into graduate school, you should be so happy.”


I looked at her, stunned by both her ignorance and bluntness, and replied: “Yeah, I should be.”


My psychiatrist quickly tried to descale the tense situation: “Well, that is why she is here today.”


The problem with the student’s comment has to do with one word: should. I believe she meant to say something along the lines of you have wonderful things in your life, and I can see how depression must be impacting your mental health. Instead, the comment sent a different message. By saying I ‘should’ be happy, it implies that the reason I am unhappy has to do with me and not something out of my control. The comment suggested that I am ungrateful for the wonderful things in my life because I ‘should’ be happy, but I wasn’t.


I was not hurt by the comment, but I was surprised. I was surprised because even in the mental healthcare field, there is still a skewed perception of mental disorders. Even someone studying to prescribe medication FOR mental disorders is lacking basic knowledge about mental health. This is a bright red fluorescent sign that mental health education is severely lacking. How we are taught to talk about mental health as a society is flawed, and change needs to occur.


This was a very minor experience for me. I was not hurt or set-off, and I quickly forget about the comment after I left. Yet, I still remember that comment like it was yesterday. it stuck in my mind so clearly that I am able to write about it today.


I want to reflect on this moment not only because it is a sign of how mental healthcare needs to change, but also because I know I will be told something along the lines of this again. Next time, I want to be prepared. If I were in that situation again, this is what I would say: “Just because I am in extreme pain and suffering does not mean that I am simply unhappy with my life. I want to be able to love and appreciate what I have, but I can’t. This does not mean that I am ungrateful or an unhappy person in general. This means that I have a severe mental illness and I am struggling right now. Which is exactly why I am in this office today. So no, I shouldn’t be happy. I SHOULD be exactly as I am right now, regardless of how it makes you feel.”

 


 

 

Setting Boundaries

I just turned down a job. It paid really well, was only for a few hours, and it was doing something I love. I said no without a second thought.


I know my limits, and I understand that my current schedule and mood is enough for me to manage. Could I use the extra money? Absolutely. However, my mental health and personal wellbeing are much more important to me than money.


This is what setting healthy boundaries looks like. I am using self-awareness and reflection to understand where I am and what my limits are. I understood that my plate was full. I didn’t have the energy or mental stability to “just add one more thing.” Although, a year ago that is exactly what I would have done. I was driven by money and success. I believed that doing this gave me worth and purpose. What I didn’t understand was that my life already had purpose and I was already worthy, just by being me.


I am a recovering people pleaser. I believed that I needed to meet other’s requests in order for them to accept and value me. It turns out that the people I want in my life are the ones who can accept ‘no.’ The people I was trying to please, were already pleased. They want what is best for you, so if you have to tell them no, that’s okay. They will recognize your self awareness and healthy boundaries.


I was influenced by social media. I thought I had to be doing something everyday, and if I didn’t document my life, how would people remember my existence? I saw others “living their best lives” and I felt horrible about myself. The problem was with me, not them. I was believing my negative thoughts and what they were telling me about myself. I accepted that I was boring, unwanted, and that everyone else in the world was doing better than me.


It has taken a lot of self reflection and mental work to get to this point. I guess I had to realize both my worth and my limits. I had to recognize and accept – I mean fully and truly accept- my own worth. I now understand that taking on more than I can handle is not a reflection of who I am. My level of importance does not change because my schedule is packed.


Learning how to say no gave me the freedom to heal. I am consciously choosing how I spend my time. I am observing my thoughts without accepting them as truths. I am setting myself up for success by saying ‘no.’

 

 

How to Support Someone Struggling

Support is essential for someone suffering from a mental illness. However, it is important that you are making sure you’re caring for yourself before caring for another. I believe that it is also crucial that you have a general understanding of the illness as well. Questions can always be brought to the individual about how they’re doing and in what ways they need support, but specific questions about mental health or their diagnosis may be better answered by professions or reading educational texts. For me, this means asking my family members to read ‘Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder’ by Shari. Y Manning. This book has allowed my loved ones to gain a better understanding of what it is like to be me and the best ways that they can help.


The easiest and sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is be there. Remember to stay calm and keep your own emotions in check. Stick to one topic at a time. If you want to talk about their mental health, ease into it. ask appropriate questions, but don’t pry. This is where having done research becomes helpful. You will have some background knowledge of how they may be struggling. By having this information prior, you may have a better understanding of what they are saying, without requiring them to say very much.


When discussing mental health, inactivity, or change of behavior lately, use “I” statements – “I have been thinking of you.” instead of “you have not been reaching out or as involved.” Remember to talk about positive aspects of their life, separate from their mental health. “I really enjoyed when we did this, would you want to do that again sometime?” “I am looking forward to this mutual gathering we have coming up, I am so glad you will be there.”


Avoid comparing the individual’s experience with another’s. Your intention may be to normalize their experience. “I know my neighbor has depression too, it is so common now.” This can come off as invalidating and lessens the individual’s experience.


When in a social situation and you are with someone may struggle with that, there are additional ways you can support them. Help make sure the individual doesn’t find themselves alone or withdrawn in a group or crowd. Talk about safe topics you know they are comfortable discussing. Allow them to be present without always interacting. They may want to listen and observe, but it is important that you are still checking in to make sure all is well. Lastly, give them the ability to leave the situation or take a break if necessary.


There are some important things to keep in mind when supporting someone. First, make sure you know where your intentions are at. Are you reaching out because you need something or for their best interest and to help them. Be mindful of this and understand that it is important to process your own thoughts and emotions before trying to help others with theirs. Secondly, be consistent. Try to be aware of how often you’re reaching out. If life gets busy and you become more distant and busy with life, no worries. However, letting the individual know that it has nothing to do with them is crucial. Lastly, take care of your own mental health. you will not be able to effectively help others unless you are also caring for yourself.


Supporting someone with a mental illness comes down to one thing – validation. Validate their pain and experience. This does not mean agreeing with skewed perceptions or negative thoughts, but instead simply acknowledging their existence and how difficult it must be to manage that. Remember, your support saves lives.

Authenticity

Aspects of ourselves that we once viewed as weaknesses can become our greatest strengths. For a very long time, I hid my true self. It can be frightening being authentic and vulnerable. By putting ourselves out there, we are showing the world who we really are, but we are also opening ourselves up to criticism. However, there is another side to this. By showing our authentic selves we are allowing the possibility for deeper and more authentic relationships. Others will love these aspects of ourselves because they are what sets us apart and makes us unique.


I am extremely emotional and these emotions are intense. I am also very sensitive and reactive to my environment and personal interactions. I once believed this made me lesser than others. I felt like a child because everything upset me and I couldn’t control my emotions like those around me. now, I recognize what strengths I have because of these strong emotions.


I am empathic. It comes naturally and s always present. I care deeply about others and their emotions. I can empathize with others because I have felt these strong emotions, every day.  I can feel the room and pick up on these emotions as well. I feel with people, and their emotions become my emotions.


I thought these were flaws, but now I view them as strengths.


I want the same for you. Embrace what you once viewed as a flaw. Be unapologetically authentic. This self is exactly who you’re supposed to be. Others want to get to know that person, so be that person. Be you.