The Dark Spiral Dance

“I’ve been thinking too much (Help me)”

Twenty One Pilots – Ride

I’m a bad friend. Wait, maybe I should phrase that in a way that is nonjudgmental. I feel like I’m a bad friend. I’m what you would call an absent friend. I’m there, behind the scenes. I’m not on the front lines, going out every day for coffee with others. I’m not out at the club or the house parties, drinking and smoking. I’m at home, in my bubble of safety. I’m safe in my bubble. I’m the friend you text when you need to vent, when you need to get it out and you don’t want people knowing what you’re going through. I’m the friend who texts you to make sure you got home safe. I’m the friend that reaches out to others who are struggling, depressed, or suicidal. I’m the friend who checks up on you, and wishes you a happy day. I’m also the same friend who cancels plans last minute, ad nauseum. I’m the friend who is absent from the baby showers, bridal showers, and birthday parties. This is the part where I feel like a bad friend comes in, and it messes with me.

I don’t want to miss out on all the milestones in my friends’ lives, in fact it’s quite the opposite. I want to be there and cheer you on in life, and celebrate with you. I want to be there for you throughout your highs and lows, and plateaus. So what is stopping me? Myself. I am the barrier. I get so stuck in my own head, overthinking and over feeling everything to the point where I make myself sick. Some call it anxiety, I call it The Dark Spiral. You don’t want to be a dark spiral dancer, it’s not fun. It starts with doing a menial task and these nagging thoughts, like reminders, flood your brain. Then the overthinking and over-analyzing begins, and takes over, leading to over feeling. Then it spirals downwards, leading to catastrophizing and full blown panic. At least with me, anyways.

I could be getting ready to head out and I can’t find an outfit that fits me just right, or I can’t apply my makeup evenly. Maybe I’m lagging behind and have yet to shower and get ready. It doesn’t matter, the dark spiral beckons me. It calls to me. I’ll become flustered and upset for being so silly, and admonish myself. That, right there. That’s like a trigger for the dark spiral. You get into that negative mindset, and it has this massive snowball effect on your outlook. I’ll continue getting ready, and these intrusive thoughts attack me with such ferocity that it will reduce me to tears. “What’s the point in going, nobody there likes you anyways.” “You’ll just sit by yourself and not talk to anyone.” “Loner.” “They won’t even notice you’re there.” These thoughts eat away at my confidence, and deflates my self esteem. I begin to question myself, wondering if my thoughts are in fact intuition. I start thinking back, trying to remember every single interaction I’ve had with friends and acquaintances. Of course, the embarrassing and mortifying memories take front and center. I’m gripped with so many emotions from past recollections, it’s dizzying. Down I go, into the dark spiral. It doesn’t stop there. Oh no, it goes further. Panic sets in, I can feel myself slipping into the darkness but I don’t know how to stop it. I continue ruminating on past interactions and get togethers, compiling a mental check list of the reasons why I am a bad friend and bad person in general. I’m no longer productive and getting ready, I’m reduced to tears, and hyperventilating. I’m my own worst enemy.

It doesn’t have to be like that, though. I can fight this. What exactly am I up against? Cognitive distortions. They’re patterns of thinking and believing things that are inaccurate or false, and have a potential to cause psychological damage. What I described in the dark spiral are various types of cognitive distortions. Polarized thinking, overgeneralization, mental filter, mind reading, catastrophizing, all are forms of cognitive distortions. Let me explain.

  • Polarized thinking: also known as black and white thinking, this distortion manifests as thinking in extremes, all good or all bad. I did this and this, so I must be a horrible friend. I don’t see in shades of grey, but in black or white.
  • Overgeneralization: basically you take one instance and overgeneralize it to an overall pattern. I cancelled plans on a friend, so I think I’m a horrible friend. This kind of thinking can lead to overly negative thoughts about yourself and your environment, based on only one or two experiences.
  • Mental filter: similar to overgeneralization, however with the mental filter you focus on a single negative and exclude all of the positive. I didn’t attend a birthday party, I’m a horrible friend, even though I’ve been there for my friend through distressing times. All the good is erased and replaced with a simple negative. This mental filter can foster a negative outlook of everything around you, by focusing only on the negative.
  • Mind reading: a form of “jumping to conclusions”, this cognitive distortion manifests as the inaccurate belief that one knows what another person is thinking. Seeing people around me whisper, I’ll jump to the conclusion that they must be talking about me. We may have an idea of what people are thinking or feeling, but with this distortion we assume that we know what they’re thinking.
  • Fortune telling: another form of “jumping to conclusions”, this distortion is when you predict or make assumptions based on little to no evidence and holding onto it as truth. “If I go out, I’m going to make an ass of myself in front of everyone.”
  • Catastrophizing: this distortion is stealthy, it skews your perception in a way that involves either the minimization or exaggeration of importance or meaning of things. I made a mistake, that mistake must mean I’m a failure in life. On the flip side, where minimization occurs, you could do something really nice for a friend and discredit yourself because it was something menial.
  • Personalization: this distortion is a little self explanatory, it’s when you take everything personally, or when you blame yourself for something, for no logical reason. My friend is having a bad day, it must have been something I said or did.

So, how does one avoid the dark spiral dance? I’m not sure, to be honest. I don’t know if there is a way to avoid it, but perhaps be aware of it and on the lookout for it. My husband is my biggest support, he catches me when I start to go down that path of thinking. “You’re starting the dark spiral, babe.” You know what I do when he tells me that? I reassure myself. I am a good person. I am a good friend. Everyone has good days and bad days. Nobody is perfect. It’s ok to cancel plans. It’s ok if you’re running late, better late than never. Those kind of thoughts keep me from the edge of the dark spiral. Being aware of the cognitive distortions, and being mindful of my thoughts, help me avoid the dark spiral dance.

Am I a bad friend? Probably not. Will I ever stop the dark spiral dance? Also probably not. But hey, I now know where the thoughts come from, and knowing is half the battle.

The Borderline Battle

I’m stable but I’m struggling, if that makes any sense. My bipolar disorder is stable, but now my borderline personality disorder is raging. I’m battling with myself constantly, trying to stay level but it’s getting harder to do so. At the moment, I am level. I feel logical and rational, but that won’t last for long. One part of my BPD will rear its ugly little head, and say “Oh hey, I heard you thought you were fine. Let me reassure you that you aren’t, because I’m here.” There are nine symptoms of BPD, and lately I’ve been experiencing all of the symptoms. I’m going to try to explain these nine symptoms, and how they manifest within me.

  1. Fear of Abandonment. Real or imagined, people with BPD have a fear of abandonment and will make frantic efforts to avoid it. I have this intense fear that my husband will leave me, even though he reassures me on a daily basis that he isn’t going anywhere. Why can’t I accept what he says? I don’t have an answer for that. I believe him, so why does my brain keep insisting that one day he will get fed up with me and decide to leave? It’s an irrational thought and I know that, but I can’t stop being afraid of him leaving. I’ve been with my husband over 10 years now, and they’ve been the best 10 years of my life. You’d think I would feel secure in my relationship by now. I’m not, though and it sucks because my insecurities cause a ripple effect in my relationship, which makes it unstable at times. And that brings me to the next symptom…
  2. Unstable Relationships. My relationship with my husband is relatively stable. Our relationship seems perfect, we rarely ever fight. My friendships are pretty stable as well. I have a history of rocky relationships, both platonic and romantic. Lately my BPD has been acting up, and it is causing arguments between me and my husband. I’ll split (switching between idealization and devaluation) on myself or him, my moods will flip, and I’ll start fights. For no good reason. I can only imagine what he’s thinking and feeling when this happens, it must be like an emotional whiplash. Not just for him, but also for me. I usually end up splitting on myself, because I feel I am a bad person for starting an argument and taking it out on my husband. Splitting is a common occurrence with me, and I’m not alone as it’s fairly common in people with BPD. I’ll explain more about splitting later.
  3. Unclear or Shifting Self Image. I’ve struggled with knowing who I am for most of my life. My sense of self has typically been unstable. For the most part, I think of myself as a loving, supportive, good person. However, I tend to experience splitting on myself and all it takes is making a simple mistake for me to split and all of a sudden I hate myself. I will think that I’m a horrible person who doesn’t deserve love. I don’t have a clear picture of my career goals, some days I don’t know who I am or what I want to do with my life. I’m a stay at home mom, and I struggle with it sometimes. I feel like I should have an education and career by my age and I don’t, and it gets to me. I’ll mentally beat myself up over being a housewife and stay at home mom, and it just makes the splitting worse. How do I deal with splitting? I do something impulsive.
  4. Impulsive, Self Destructive Behaviours. Oh boy, where do I begin… I tend to engage in behaviours that are both sensation seeking and harmful, especially when I’m upset or feeling any emotion strongly. I spend money we can’t afford to spend, I have binge eating problems, I text people impulsively. I don’t drink or do drugs, I don’t gamble, I don’t engage in promiscuous sex, I don’t drive recklessly, though many people with BPD tend to struggle with these things on a regular basis. Sometimes I impulsively harm myself, which I’ll get to in just a moment. My impulsiveness has gotten me into trouble more than a few times. There are consequences to my impulsive, self destructive ways. Maxed out credit cards, overdraft and NSF fees, weight gain, self esteem issues, the list goes on. I don’t have many self destructive behaviours but the ones I do have wreak havoc on my life.
  5. Self-harm, Suicidal Behaviour. Deliberate self-harm and suicidal behaviour are common in people with BPD, and I am certainly no exception. I am a survivor of two suicide attempts. Cutting is one form of self harm, and it’s an addiction of mine. I’ve relapsed numerous times over the years, I managed to go 6 years without cutting once. Currently, I’m working towards 10 months clean from cutting. I still get urges to cut, especially when I’m feeling numb, empty, or stressed. Burning is another form of self-harm, though I don’t engage in it. I have been plagued by intrusive suicidal thoughts in the past, and I go through periods of having a preoccupation with suicide and death. I’ve planned my suicide more than once, as a teenager I honestly believed I wouldn’t live past the age of 23. I have a tattoo on my forearm, a semi colon with “This Too Shall Pass” written underneath. It gives me inner strength, and reminds me that no matter how bad life gets, the bad times don’t last forever. Good times will come. They often come sooner than later, as the good and bad times are dictated by my moods.
  6. Extreme Emotional Swings. Volatile mood swings are common with BPD. I can be elated one minute and raging the next, it doesn’t take much to trigger the mood swings. It could be a joke or an innocent remark that triggers my moods to flip and send me into a tailspin. Trying to manage my mood swings is like trying to drive down a twisting and winding road while blindfolded. Though these mood swings are quite intense, they tend to pass fairly quickly. Unlike bipolar disorder, these mood swings last maybe a few minutes or hours. I experience these rapid shifts in mood multiple times in a day, it’s exhausting sometimes. One of the emotions I struggle to manage is my anger.
  7. Explosive Anger. Most people with BPD struggle with having a short temper and inappropriate, intense anger. While my temper is pretty mild, my anger is intense and it isn’t pretty. It takes a lot for my fuse to get lit but once it is, I have trouble controlling myself. I don’t think before talking, I shoot from the hip so to speak. I have a sharp tongue, and I’m also hurtfully blunt. I become severely sarcastic, and snappy. Some people yell, others throw things. Anger isn’t always directed outwards, though. My anger tends to be directed inwards, at myself. I’ll have intrusive thoughts and get extremely angry with myself for having those thoughts. I’ll get upset with myself for procrastinating, or for having fibromyalgia pain which I can’t control. I do have the occasional angry outburst, and it scares me when it does happen. I feel cornered and out of control, it’s a horrible thing to experience. Often times when I experience explosive anger, a switch inside of me flips and all of a sudden I feel nothing, just like an empty shell.
  8. Chronic Feelings of Emptiness. Many people with BPD report feeling empty inside, like there is a void or hole inside them. Some people report feeling frequently bored or numb. I go through periods where I feel empty, like I’m nothing. When I experience drastic mood swings, the aftermath is usually feeling numb. Some people try to fill the void with drugs, alcohol, food, or sex. For me, it’s food. I LOVE FOOD. I binge eat. When I feel empty, I eat as if filling my stomach will make me feel whole again. I’ve really struggled with feeling numb and empty inside since my Mother passed away last October. I tend to dissociate when I feel empty or numb, I think it’s my brain’s way of protecting me.
  9. Paranoia And Dissociation. I’ve read that paranoia is quite common in people with BPD, though I don’t have much experience with it myself. I have lots of experience with dissociation, on the other hand. I space out often, to be honest. I feel out of touch with reality, like I’m not real and what is happening isn’t really happening. It happened when my Mother died, I was dissociating throughout my time in the hospital. I dissociate whenever rape is brought up in conversation, or domestic violence. Sometimes I feel as though I’m outside of my body, it’s really hard to describe the feeling. Whenever I get a piercing, or attend a doctor’s appointment where a physical exam will be happening, I hyper-focus on something in the room and it helps me cope with whatever is happening. I didn’t know this until recently but this is also dissociating, and a self defense mechanism.

Whenever I fight with my husband, I try to remind myself that it isn’t me vs. him, it’s me and him vs. the problem. But then I start to think that I’M the problem, which leads to splitting. SplittingĀ means having difficulty holding opposing thoughts. I’m unable to weigh out the positive and negative attributes of a person or event, I don’t recognize that both good and bad traits can exist at the same time. It’s black and white thinking, all or nothing. Kinda like the Sith in Star Wars. You’re either with me or against me. You put a person, even yourself, on such a high pedestal (idealization). They can do no wrong, everything they say and do is admirable. Then the legs get kicked out and they fall into devaluation, where they’re wrong and bad, and looked at with disdain. Splitting sounds horrible, but it’s actually a way of coping, like a self defense mechanism that people with BPD use as a means to prevent being hurt, or avoiding rejection. I’ll push you away before you can do it to me, sort of thing.

My borderline has been quite active lately, and it is exhausting to manage. I’m a very sensitive person, and normally I can take a joke or teasing. Lately, I’ve been taking everything as a personal attack, which isn’t like me at all. I feel like I’m losing control of myself and I don’t like it. Typically I relate to only 2 or 3 BPD characteristics at a time but this past year I’ve experienced all 9 symptoms, sometimes in the same day or week.

Living with borderline can be nightmarish, because it’s like a never ending cycle of self destruction. All of my symptoms have an overlap, they all work together, against me. My moods will flip, I’ll get intense anger that spirals out of control, I’ll feel ashamed and guilt ridden from losing control, I’ll dissociate and reach for a knife then struggle with myself because I want to cut but don’t want to relapse, and then the emptiness takes over. One symptom triggers another, and so on. When I do relapse, I become terrified that my husband will leave me because I’m crazy and too much for him to handle. I’ll feel ashamed and guilty for giving in, for being weak when I should have been strong. I regret cutting myself every time, it feels great in the moment but that’s short lived. I can’t relapse again. I won’t, I refuse to give in to my addictions.

I need to be strong and fight my BPD, not only for my own sake but for my family’s sake as well. I can’t let my disorder control me. I have three kids, and they’re watching me. They will think that what they’re growing up with is normal, and I have to be mindful of that. I don’t want my kids growing up and having to recover from their childhood. They deserve a mother who is stable, and my husband deserves a stable wife. I’m trying my best to give them that. I’m trying my best for me too, because I deserve stability. I don’t like feeling this way, when my BPD gets the best of me.

Around 80% of people with BPD report a history of suicide attempts. 8-10% of people with BPD die by suicide. I refuse to become part of the latter statistic. I am literally fighting for my life. I want to live. I need to protect myself, from myself. I need to fight on in the never-ending borderline battle.