Banish the Winter Blues!

As we hurtle towards the dark nights and impending frosts you might start to feel as though you are slowing down too! A lack of sunlight affects our internal body clocks and our serotonin levels start to drop, which can leave us struggling with energy levels, mood, sleep and motivation. Whilst these kind of feelings seem to affect most of us to a certain degree, for around 10% of the population this may be medically diagnosed as something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short).

SAD is basically considered a sub-type of depression and like all mental health issues should be taken seriously. As difficult as it might seem when all you want to do is hibernate, the benefits of maintaining regular social contact, keeping active, eating well and trying to get as much sunlight as you can are all powerful tools in keeping the winter blues at bay.

For more information on SAD and tips to keep well, please visit http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/dealing-with-winter-blues-sad.aspx

Borderline ‘Personality Disorder’

Thanks to Hollywood and general negative press, individuals with BPD tend to get a pretty rough time. A quick Google search on dating someone with BPD brought up these nuggets of wisdom:

“Ultimately no matter how attractive she is, dealing with this type of crazy is not worth it.”

 “I would never date a girl with BPD,
they’re way too clingy and needy.” 

“Walk (RUN) away!”

According to the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), someone with BPD is said to have ‘significant impairments in personality functioning’ including instability of goals and aspirations, compromised empathy for others, problems with intimacy, anxiety, depression, takes excessive risks and is persistently antagonistic and hostile.

In both my personal and professional life I have encountered many incredible people dealing with this diagnosis, many of whom feel as though they have been labelled as having a ‘bad’ personality.

One particular individual I know could be considered highly-functioning and works within the field of psychotherapy. She uses her tools of intuition, insight and sensitivity to support others, and has a tremendous capacity for compassion because she can directly relate to complex and powerful emotions. From this perspective, I would deeply argue that people with BPD lack empathy.

It is however true that people with BPD are exquisitely sensitive which goes some way to explaining why certain accompanying behaviours may manifest as negative characteristics. Imagine that you had burns all over your skin. The slightest gust of wind or drop of rain would hurt you. And in a world full of people with ‘thick skins’ you might begin to think that you were impaired in some way. You’re battling with old emotional wounds and have a core belief that you will be rejected or abandoned by those you get close to, so frightened in fact that it feels safer to push them away in order that you feel less vulnerable.

Sophie* (32) tells us how it feels in her relationship with Jamie*.

“I hate the way it makes me feel about myself, like I’m a bad person. Although I work really hard to remember that people aren’t all good or all bad, my mind feels like it’s breaking when I try to find the middle ground. I love Jamie so much – he’s amazing, kind and so supportive. But it could be a little thing, not kissing me before going to work as an example. Rationally, I know it isn’t the end of the world – and he might have been in a rush, or stressed or whatever, but the feeling – the gut response which is separate to my intellect – can suddenly change my perception of him.

The inner feeling grows into anger, and all I can see are his lesser strengths until the positive traits he has completely vanish. So when I’m in this place, I feel like we’re not right for each other, that he is this or that, and lose sight of the wonderful and amazing man he is.

It can drag me down into depressive episodes, because the negative feelings are so strong and seemingly real. Then he can do something, perhaps look at me in a certain way – which pierces and breaks the spell – then I’m back in the room and everything is fine again.”

What Sophie is referring to is the BPD phenomenon known as splitting. In her case, we discussed how the trigger of Jamie not kissing her was being internalised at a chain-reaction emotional level. When we react to something, the processing can be so quick that we don’t really understand why we’ve responded in such a way until much later. Sophie was able to explore her interpretative chain reaction.

He doesn’t want to kiss me >
There’s no intimacy or connection >
He must have gone off me>
He doesn’t find me attractive>
I feel angry at him >
The relationship is doomed >
We’re not right for each other anyway >
We’re so different >
I can’t stand these attributes of his >
I don’t like him and don’t want to be with him.

Now let’s break this down a bit further and try to understand this.

Stage 1: activating trigger perceived as a rejection/ abandonment
He doesn’t want to kiss me

Stage 2: false negative assumptions made
There’s no intimacy or connection > He must have gone off me > He doesn’t find me attractive (projection of poor self-image onto another)

Stage 3: emotional reaction
I feel angry at him

Stage 4: reconstructing thought processes to protect against perceived abandonment
The relationship is doomed > We’re not right for each other anyway > We’re so different

Stage 5: new perception reached
I can’t stand these attributes of his > I don’t like him and don’t want to be with him

In breaking down these stages, we can see that Sophie’s processing and subsequent vilifying of Jamie is all based around a fear of loss. The mind constructs a new version of reality to replace the old view (I love Jamie and want to be with him) in order to protect her from feelings of pain and vulnerability. For many borderline sufferers, there is often a sixth stage which involves acting out on feelings (causing a row, getting into a fight, turning to self-harm/ drugs/ alcohol).

She explains:

“When I try to re-balance the thoughts and feelings, it’s just so hard to get back. To put it into perspective, imagine if I asked you to hate the person you loved the most. You’d find it impossible. That’s why you can’t just ‘think’ your way back.
The feelings seem to just generate negative thoughts and convinces me they are the truth. If I’m feeling depressed or numb, my mind can trick me into believing he is the source of my bad feelings.”

People with BPD can learn to catch these triggers and neutralise them before they snowball out of control but it’s a challenging process and takes hard work and dedication. One of the things I recommend is that people learn to communicate openly with their partners, in real time if they can. And whilst it might feel tough to start a type of conversation such as: Jamie, when you didn’t kiss me then, it made me feel that you don’t love me – the results can be profound in terms of deepening the connection and reaching a higher level of understanding.

The other key area for overcoming BPD is to learn to sit with the negative feelings without acting out. For someone with BPD, stage 6 can feel almost compulsive – to get relief from the bad feeling – but in reality this doesn’t actually help. Sitting with the emotional pain and distress can feel overwhelming but paradoxically this is where emotional growth and resilience comes from.

So for the ill-informed out there who view people with BPD as stroppy, irrational and ‘crazy’ perhaps try to exercise a little compassion and understanding as to what drives people’s behaviour. Behind every angry outburst lies a deeper pain or a need for protection.

 

* Names have been changed to protect identities

 

The Anxiety Monster 

Written by an anonymous source with full permission, this is a personal real life account of how it feels to have anxiety.

******

“Blimey, you’ve had a lot to deal with over the last year!” said Long Lost Friend. I only mentioned I’d been single for nine months. And there was no request for tiny violins to be played either; just a factual business update. And then it hit me. Maybe such things ARE a lot to deal with? Do other people get bogged down with such minutia of life??

I did not mention to him that in the last three years my mother died after being discovered (said the paramedics) in the worst case of alcoholic squalor they’d ever seen (she’d gone green), or that my Nana also died, or that I bought my first house, changed jobs, split with long term partner who had serious psychological problems, sympathetically tolerated a barrage of emotional and physical abuse from said partner, broke four ribs, sustained a head injury, pulverised my forearm and fractured my collarbone (the latter because said ex strangled me half to death).

But I feel fine.
It’s just stuff.
We all have stuff.

Bits of emotional fluff that threaten to clog your machine if you don’t keep on top of it. Fortunately I’m made of rubbery stuff and bounce back harder than Alan Partridge.

As I see it, we are here to watch and learn and grow. If we do not pay attention in life’s great class, we will fall on our backsides and get ink splodges on our faces. As things stand, my schooling hasn’t been all that straightforward. In the collection of experiences gathered thus far, little me nursed her alcoholic single parent through several nervous breakdowns (aged 8 and 11) was on her own four days out of seven (aged 14), constantly yelled at (aged forever) and overheard a late night conversation in which Mum proclaimed she didn’t want me because I was “too much.” Harrumph.

After she threw an empty wine bottle at me for refusing to tell her boyfriend I loved him (I most certainly did not), other peoples sofas rather than my own actual bed seemed a much more attractive prospect. Saying that, I still felt a bit peeved when she finally left me (aged 16) for an alcoholic wife beater with a few bob in the bank. Just as well. I wasn’t overly keen on reading the Daily Violence, having my home set on fire by psychopathic step-father, or stealing cars at 3am to drive her to safety. Nope, it seemed that the waters were far less choppy sailing on my own thank you very much.

But for years I wasn’t alone. There was fun and people and sex and poverty and drink and drugs and drama and desperation and distraction. I had a little axe to grind on anyones head who’d get in my way. But beyond the pissed off, alone, rejected little girl there was always a hopeful, feisty, ‘let me show YOU’ warrior underneath the surface. I always felt like an observer amongst the chaos- a scientist studying the unfolding human madness as it blasts across the screen.

But like many combat soldiers who return to Civvy Street, grown up me is now totally fuckin knackered. She is hyper-aware, riddled with anxiety and experiences internal electric shocks whenever she hears a pin drop. On the plus she has reflexes of a cat and is world champion at Whack the Mole. Most people cannot react any faster that 0.12 of a second. Slow bastards I say. She can listen to five conversations at once the way Bowie watched all those tellies in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Skillz.

Her alertness, awareness, intuition and sensitivity are second to none but she rarely finds peace. Why would she? Her entire central nervous system was constructed in the midst of a war. People like us can’t just ‘chill’ anymore than you can see less of the colour green if asked. Nor can we ‘stop overthinking,’ because it’s our razor sharp faculties that kept us alive at one time. Literally.

This is our programme.

We find it hard to BE with others because we’re hard wired to equate others with danger. Even the ones we love and trust. And that bothers us. For those who are unapologetically self reliant, they will struggle to be vulnerable. They will welcome solitude with open arms because it’s the only time they can ever safely take a breath. A nice day out with friends will result in several days isolation until the Big Ben reverberations finally die down in the pit of your stomach.

Ok, so I’ve proven to MYSELF that I can achieve anything in the face of adversity, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the existential feeling. The feeling that I – like many of you- experience every day: that we’re performing seals, terrified of judgement, or failure, or not knowing.

Because to be judged or fail or fuck up has meant certain death.

No amount of rest, clean living, meditation, spirituality, positivity, peace or love can offset inbuilt psychological warfare. It is what it is. The little children raised by wild dogs will never fully be human. Their little synapses never learned to fire the way normal children’s do. They will always be different- ‘cognitively impaired’ perhaps- yet emotionally rich and raw in a way you might never understand.

“Oh come, come now!” some might say. “Face the fear and do it anyway!” Face what, mate? Life? I do. Daily. So much for your exposure therapy. My over-excitable sympathetic nervous system laughs at the concept of ‘mind over matter.’ You can soothe, but not prevent your adrenal glands from kicking in willy-nilly. They does what they does. Sure, you don’t have to ride the wave but you still feel it crash over you a gazillion times a day. I just smile. And laugh. No one sees my tidal wave.

And for the record, I do not ‘suffer’ or ‘battle’ with anxiety. I tolerate the fucker in the way a dog entertains tapeworm.

I haven’t got the answers. No one has. You could take pills to numb your frazzled nerves, but to be honest I’d prefer to see and hear the ocean rather than close my eyes and shove sand in my ears. That’s a personal preference- I know some people who are too afraid to even look out to sea, and that’s OK. It really, really is.

So when someone you know complains of being tired all the time EVEN THOUGH they live under a duvet 24/7, please go easy on them.

They probably just need a fuckin rest.