Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I'm sorry, what now?

"During the course of her admission, it became clear to the clinical treatment team that she was suffering from a Borderline Personality Disorder, (BPD).  Her presentation was quite unusual, probably due to the fact that she has numerous protective factors, including a remarkably high intelligence.  As a result, the phenomenology of her BPD presents in a rather unique way.  Nicolle experiences frequent periods of emotional dysregulation, frequently triggered by situations which she interprets as abandonment, loss or rejection.  Her behaviours associated with desperate attempts to escape this experience have in the past included: binge eating, sex, drugs and alcohol, tasks which were totally consuming including her previous career, and anger bordering on rage".

Well that just about sums me up doesn't it?

I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  Damn it.  Because Bi Polar wasn't enough?  

Most people suffer from BPD in some form or another.  If there has been any trauma at all in a person's life, most likely there is some BPD at play.  For example; a person of adoption can disassociate from love, not trusting it, as they feel a deep sense of being unloved/unlovable, having been "given away".  A woman who has been raped will most likely disassociate during sex.  And most definitely these women will find themselves responding unusually to certain scents, hair colour, even the race of a man based solely on their negative experience in the past.  Children of divorce believe in their hearts that parents, people who are supposed to love them, leave.  An abused woman will have a hyper vigilant reaction to perceived threats to her safety.  She will either fight disproportionately or flight at the perception of the threat, before it is even present.  These are all forms of Borderline Personality Disorder.  They can be small, minuscule changes you have made to adapt to your current environment or large changes to disassociate from the same.  In almost all cases, we never know we have BPD, we just know what we don't like or what makes us insecure, makes us feel threatened.  We don't realize we have re-conditioned ourselves to protect ourselves from pain.  Our brain will do anything not to experience pain.  And once it has, the brain will do whatever it can to avoid the same type of pain again.

This had been mentioned to me before and I didn’t really listen to it.  It freaked me out a bit to hear those words.  No one wants to hear they are THAT crazy ( we can say "crazy" having been in a Mental Institution, we (the patients) decided that in there).  Automatically a person thinks that there are multiple personalities at play.  But like I said, it’s not actually that.  You don't call out "Nicolle" and I turn a blank face because at the moment my name is "Sybil".  Borderline means a person that has personality traits they’ve created to deal with stress, trauma, pain etc.  I learned a lot more about this during my two month stay and it’s definitely me.  It all makes sense now.  Even some of the highs and lows and matching them to circumstance, the environment I was in at the time, makes more sense in some cases than even the Bi Polar does.  I developed traits over time, defences, reactions and behaviours that happen automatically.  They are how I behave when events trigger feelings related to my childhood.  I don't even realize it sometimes.  That I am back there, as a child.  I simply have automatic thoughts based on a warped core belief system I developed as a broken child.  Then I behave accordingly.  They are typically damaging behaviours, unhealthy. 

To see this in action, all you have to do is hurt my feelings.  Do something that might make me think I am less than important, and then sit back and watch me explode in rage, sometimes an almost uncontrollable rage.  It’s not a normal reaction to the current situation but in fact my reaction to my past.  Therefore most of the time the current situation is almost forgotten and my reaction totally out of proportion to the now.  It's because I am not there, not present in the now at all.  This controls me, a lot.  If I feel insecure, I feel rage or shut off completely.  I feel nothing.  I am cold, ice cold.  My husband says it’s like I am turned right off, that I feel nothing.  And in fact that’s true.  When I feel exposed I can turn off so much that I don’t care about anything.  And other times, if I feel vulnerable to potential pain, I can become bigger than life, very aggressive.    There’s a million more of these traits but the result of this hospital stay was, I am now aware of all this. 

Borderline Personality Disorder is totally curable.  I can actually be cured from BPD, I just have to do a lot of work.  I have to stop and think about my reaction and whether it’s “normal”, proportionate or not.  Is my reaction related to the current issue or the past?  Is it based on my warped core belief system, or healthy? 

It was something to really see this at play in the hospital when a few patients came in with anger management, aggression, issues.  I felt threatened, even though nothing was directed at me.  I became very manic, and very aggressive.  I had serious game but it was very angry game.  In a class on problem solving I said, “punch them in the face” as my response to how to solve a problem.  I felt very out of control with my responses but they just kept coming, like I said before, uncontrollably.  Don’t get me wrong, the class was in hysterics but I was out of control.  Then, within an hour of the class, I got called into an emergency appointment with the doctor, my nurse, and the occupational therapist asking if I was okay.  I realized that I was feeling really vulnerable due to the expensive therapy into my childhood and these new patients.  Both left me feeling exposed so I was being aggressive in response.   Like a dog showing its hackles, I got bigger than life in response to potential harm.  I was in threatened physically as a child, I felt scared as a child.  Damned if I was going to be scared as an adult.  HELLS TO THE NO!

I have been referred to multiple (no pun intended) Doctors that specialize in BPD and a therapy called Dialectual Behaviour Therapy.  It’s basically having to rewire your brain from its auto pilot.  We, or I, auto pilot to the past. I need to turn this off and be present.  To have more current and realistic behaviours based on the now.  I did some CBT in the hospital (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and I really enjoyed it.  I liked the teachings but even more, I really learned a lot about myself and my auto thinking.  My auto thinking is very self deprecating, very self loathing, and very much based on my childhood where I deemed myself unlovable.  When my father left abruptly and my Mom then checked out mentally I determined not only was it my fault but that I was unlovable therefore this is what happened(s) to me.  Because of who I am, people leave.  My own parents didn't know how to love me, didn’t appreciate me, or value me.  And of course if THEY don’t, then why should I?  So I have a lot of work left to do.  But I am working on it now.  I have been since about weekend 4 of 8 in the hospital.  I quickly realized my auto thinking and feelings are warped and need work.  Work I can and am willing to do.

BPD comes from trauma and as much as we’d like to deny it or say, “get on with it”, “get over it”, a person has to go back and look at their childhood and see where their being may have been altered.  Where normal patterns of growth and development might have been adjusted incorrectly, not appropriately.  Did you know that from the ages of 12-18 a person does more brain development and growth than in all the other years combined that they are alive?  When I was 12 my father left suddenly and abruptly, and was gone for years.  He was my best friend.  I lost my protector, and hero.  And then my Mom neglected and abused me in his absence.  It’s just a fact.  I don't need to emotionally reinvest in that time, it is what it is.  It happened, I cannot change it, accept it I must.  As much as my father appears now when needed, (as he inevitably always does), it will never fix the damaged little girl inside me.  Only I CAN do that.  I have to reassure her and fix her.  Then add to that the mess I lived in with my Mom, the anger, neglect and abuse that was our relationship, and I basically turned off as a child.  I did what I needed to do to survive but I have never stopped “surviving” versus living.  Don’t get me wrong, I have had happy times.  Times where I let go of the past and live in the moment but it doesn't take much to push me back to my old ways.

Even at the high point in my career on Bay Street (Canada's version of Wall Street) I was only "surviving" in that environment.  That high pressure, chaotic environment where everything was unknown fed my need to survive the most.  It was kill or be killed on that trading floor so I shone in there.   I got bigger than life.  Problem solving is my forte, add that to the chaos and if I could fix things then I must have value.  Then they never valued me enough, not financially, not equally, and not with appreciation.  They valued me as much as I valued myself.  It was the perfect toxic relationship for me.  I was feeding my worst insecurities until I exploded.  Suddenly amidst an argument with a co-worker I flashed to a fight with my Mother when I was kid living alone with her.  I started having flashes all the time.  In the shower, on the subway, in my sleep (or lack there of).  I could no longer tolerate stress, the problem solving, the lack of appreciation, it ate away at me until I exploded.  Imploded is more like it.  I will have to be forever cautious going forward that I am doing something that feeds my secure self not my ego or superficial worth. 

Because BPD is almost always brought on by trauma.  We need to define "trauma".  Trauma is stress like situations that are not normal everyday situations. Not normal stressors.  Not the "every day".  Accidents, crime, deaths, abuse of any kind, are all traumas.  Think of the people and families left behind after 9/11.  They all suffer from trauma.  Extreme trauma.  Many of them probably can barely make it through September 11th every year.  A lot of time people who deem their lives at some point so laden with stress block their memories.  Sometimes they filter and block only the bad.  Sometimes the good goes with the bad.  I do not have solid memories of my entire childhood and many years after.  That time period was of such high stress my brain stopped working properly for memory storage.  My brain doesn’t know exactly when to store something so in emotional situations, it barely stores anything.  I can remember an entire book I read but if you insert any emotional response in me I remember NOTHING.  Honest to shit, I remember almost nothing at my Mother's house but weird flashes of bad stuff.  Really bad stuff.  Not how a kid should grow up.  Insert “survival” techniques here.   

Now add in the fact I have a really high intelligence.  My brain barely, if ever, slows down.  I have a practical photographic memory for things I’ve read (things of an unemotional nature).  I remember client phone numbers and accounts from 1989.  I have empathy that’s unrivaled.  I cannot walk past someone in pain and not only help them, but I feel their pain.  I am extremely hyper vigilant.  So much so that I see and hear everything around me.  I am hyper sensitive to all.  Let's summarize shall we.  I am very smart.  My brain is always firing, thinking of a response or comment to all the things I hear.  My hearing is so great that I cannot bring in normal clocks around the house and the clicking sound of the hands will compete with all other sounds.  I can remember anything I have read or written, unless I had an emotional response to it, then it's completely blank.  I feel everyones pain around me and want to help, obsessively so.  I do not miss anything.  I see and hear everything.  If you ask me what someone was wearing from a day ago I can tell you, unless, I felt an emotional pull, then there's nothing.  If that person needed me or was in pain, I will feel it all.  I just might not remember it.  Doesn't that sound fun?  The doctor at the hospital was surprised I made it this long without more serious self harm.

Whew, that was a mouthful.  I am tired now.  I think this writing deserves a nap, don't you? 
So how about you?  Got any abnormal reactions and behaviours to normal situations that seem out of proportion?  Come on, the line up begins right behind me.  I will make cookies. 




Sunday, November 16, 2014

How did I end up here?

As I sat in my room, (which can only be described as a university dorm room that made babies with a hospital room), tears ran down my face and I kept asking myself, "How did I end up here?"  It was my first of many days in the private mental health facility I stayed at this year from July through to September.  I had checked myself in?  How did this happen?  How did I go from fully functioning to so mentally ill and fragile I needed a full time hospital to take care of me?  What happened?  I can tell you now that mental illness can creep up on a person.  It doesn't have to be present in your teens.  It doesn't have to debilitate you at first, or ever for long periods of time.  And sometimes, you just get overwhelmed and realize it's caught up to you.  You are there.  You are mentally ill.  I always knew there was something different about how I thought and felt about things. How I reacted to things was definitely "different".  It just didn't take the wind out of my sails until my mid 30s.  There is no shame.  Like cancer, like diabetes, like any other disease, it can take time to catch up to you and make you sick. 
The facility we found had been on our radar, my husband and I, since before the 2014 year even began.  We knew what was coming, and that it wasn't going to be good.  And it wasn't.  I finally fell into what can only be described as full on despair in May 2014.  I held on until June.  I couldn't do it anymore, I was out of strength.  I attempted suicide in June of 2014, the second my husband's back was turned.  His back was rarely turned that Spring/Summer as he saw what was happening right before his eyes.  He will never forgive himself for those few hours he took away from my side.  I gave him that burden to bear.  He has forgiven me, he has not forgotten.  I have forgiven myself, I have not forgotten.  That is a place I will never go to again.  I will be in hospital if I feel that sense of despair again.  I will not take that chance again.  I was lucky.  We both knew at that time that I had to get into this mental health facility, and fast.  The waiting list, 6 months long.  I was at month 5 when I tried to kill myself.  Month 6 was a few weeks later when they called.  They had a bed for me.
Upon arrival at 9am on that Friday morning, they showed my husband and me to my room.  A room no bigger than my walk in closet at home.  There were two beds in this tiny room.  Beautiful windows from side to side looking over the grounds but I was to have a private room.  I don't do well in tight spaces with other people.  The first of my temper tantrums began.  Tears pouring down my face I turned to my husband, and said "I am not fucking staying in this room, I am supposed to have my own fucking room, I want to go home, NOW".  He turned to the nurse and interpreted that as, "she was to have a private room, and this one appears to be a double".  The nurse advised us that a bed had opened up, it was semi private and the second a private opened, I would get it.  It shouldn't be more than 2 weeks she said.  My husband hugged me tight and begged me to stay.  I had to.  If for no one else, for him.  I had to stay.  He asked the nurse if another room, one a little bigger was available.  He could tell I felt claustrophobic in that room.  I was pale, and clammy.  I was obviously stressing. 
They took me to another room where a woman I had seen practically shaking in her own skin at admissions was unpacking.  I quietly introduced myself, left my things behind and walked my husband down to the car.  I begged him to let me go home, he begged me to stay.  I did what he asked.  I knew it was for the best.  I knew what I had put him through.  I walked slowly back to my room and began to unpack.  Once done unpacking, I crawled into bed and let the tears fall silently.  I didn't want my roommate to see them.  I was strong.  I didn't want to share.  Besides, she was a mess.  Exaggeratingly breathing in, breathing out, jumping and gasping at every sound.  The last thing she needed was me blubbering on.  I didn't leave my room much that day.  I can't recall eating.  I slept on and off, and I cried. 
My first full day was a Saturday.  I was awoken by the nurses at 645am.  Standard practise they said when I asked.  I hadn't slept much that night as they check in every room every few hours with a flashlight.  That takes some getting used to. This first room didn't have a bathroom so upon waking off I went to get changed in the stall of the ward's public women's bathroom.  The bathroom made me feel like I was at camp, or back in high school.  I didn't much fancy either the first time around.  I brushed my teeth and hair and slowly made my way to the cafeteria for breakfast.  The cafeteria was buzzing, buzzing too much for my over active mind.  I almost turned and left without food that first morning.  There were just too many faces, too many voices, far too many people looking at me.  I stayed.  Lined up, got my food, and sat alone next to a post to block me from other people.  The food was average, it was obvious they tried.  I guess feeding 300 people in the hour and a half they allowed, wasn't easy.
After breakfast, I wandered.  I wandered the loooong long hallways finding everything I would need to know about.  I saw where the Rehab center was, the other psychiatric ward (the high risk lock down ward), the mood and anxiety program, and the eating disorder clinic.  I walked the beautiful grounds, taking in the beauty in hopes it would help me accept where I was.  I checked out the cafĂ© and store, the gym, the rec centre, and even the old bowling alley.  I walked for hours.  I needed to be away from that room.  That hospital like room I never thought I would find myself staying in.  And for 60 days no less.  You see on arrival I thought the program was 30 days.  Little did I know the standard program runs 60 days?  That broke my heart.  I couldn't imagine leaving my husband, my dog, my rabbits, my home....for two months.  I couldn't imagine being stuck in this place, no matter the beauty outside.  My husband knew all along.  He had called for the full information long before that day, he just knew I couldn't handle it until I was already there, being forced to face the truth of where I was at mentally.  The good news was finding out I could leave every weekend and every evening so long as the doctor approved.  I decided there and then to be well behaved and be approved!
We were allowed to keep our cell phones on this unit, thank god.  Most of the others, you were not.  But on two of the units, ours included, they wanted you to stay in touch with the real world, the reality outside of those walls.  I texted my husband that first day, "please tell me how long I have to stay here, how long before you know I gave it my best?”  "Two weeks" he replied.  I had hoped for one week.  I could do two weeks.  This is like University without the alcohol I thought to myself, I can do this.  I can learn for two weeks and leave.  That phone was my life line for the first two weeks or so.  I texted my husband every half an hour. 
Those first few days I was on auto pilot.  I did what they said, went where I was supposed to go but I seethed with resentment.  I resented my husband for wanting me there.  I resented myself for ending up there.  I resented all of the staff because I was sure I wasn't sick enough to be there.  And I resented every patient I came across because they just reminded me, I was sick, I had an illness.  I slept, ate, slept, ate.  My husband came to see me that first Sunday, basically a day after my arrival.  He brought the dog.  I sat on the grass with them and I sobbed.  I wanted to go home, but I knew I had to stay.  I missed them both so much already.  My husband cried.  He wanted me home, but he knew I had to stay.
I can honestly say those two weeks were some of the hardest days of my life.  They weren't awe inspiring yet.  They didn't teach me amazing things.  For the first two weeks you get a schedule, easy classes like horticulture and art therapy.  The time is spent just getting used to waking up at a certain time, going to bed at a certain time.  You get on a simple schedule.  You could only get whatever medication you were on during specific times.  And each time you did get your medication you were required to share with your primary or secondary nurse how you were feeling, what was truly going on inside.  As my primary nurse said my second day, "fine, okay, good, and alright tell me nothing and aren't acceptable answers when I ask you how you are".  Jesus fuck lady, I just got here!  I am having a hard enough time having to line up to take my crazy pills with all these crazy people indicating that I am crazy.  Ease the fuck up.  You might be surprised to know that I said none of it.  I said "I am sad" and walked away. 
I didn't stay in hiding for long.  Come on, you all had to see that coming.  By Monday I was saying hello to other patients quietly.  I was curling up on the stinky old couch in the lounge with a book when I didn't have classes.  I had a meal or two at a table with my roommate.  The other meals I spent head down, reading my book.  I guess I was hiding in those pages now that I look back.  Hiding inside a fairy tale story, my face hidden behind the paper.  But I might have looked up and even smiled once or twice at people.  I started to meet people in the lounge and in the classes.  I was finding my groove a little I guess. 

By the end of the week one I found myself talking frequently with two girls who'd arrived around the same time as me.  By the following week we were playing basketball in the gym together.  I was moved into a semi private room with no roommate.  And the week after that I brought my softball stuff and we were out playing ball with other patients on the diamond on the grounds.  By week four......well obviously by now I was there to see the program through.  I had my own private room by then with its own bathroom.  It was comfy.  It was mine.  I was loving french toast Wednesdays and pancake Friday's with ma' girls, now a gang of 5 of us.  I could no longer believe so much time had passed.  I was knee deep in the hard classes and I wasn't even close to being ready to go home? 
What the hell?  How did I end up here?

P.S.  More about my story, my time on the "inside", will follow. 

And Homewood Health Centre is the facility.  I couldn't recommend more.  If you are ready and prepared to do the work, it will work for you.


Monday, November 3, 2014

"Hi"...a simple "Hello" can say so much.

As many people are aware, I suffer from Bi Polar disorder.  Due to a medication misbalance and general disease mismanagement, I found myself in need of some intensive care.  I checked myself into a treatment facility in July and stayed into September of this year.  (See Homewood Health Centre).  I spent 60 days focused on myself and my illness.  It was the most beneficial 60 days of my life.  Over the next few months I am going to share with you some of the things I learned on the "inside".  

I found myself very intrigued when, in one of the classes offered at Homewood, the social worker/therapist posed the following scenario and asked what our gut reactions would be:

You are wandering down the hallway at school, or work, perhaps the grocery store.  You see someone you know and you say "Hi" to them as they pass you.
They do not respond.
Do you:
a) Think they must not have heard me.
b) Think they are an asshole and rude (my words not the therapist's).
c) Think they must not like you.

This says a ton about you as a person, and your core belief system at play.  If, you answer this quick and with pure honesty. 

My first reaction was, "Asshole, jackass, mutha' trucka', rude.....", and then quickly turned into, "Why don't they like me?"

When I was honest I got to the root of it.  My initial response was to defend myself, get angry, blame them for bad behaviour.  If I sat in it long enough it turned to a place of self loathing.   Self loathing is hard to admit and sit in, so again, my initial reaction was to defend myself from that pain.

There were very few of us, struggling with mental illness (amazingly), that could honestly say, a) They must not have heard me.  In fact, only one did, in a class of 20.

Most went directly to c) They must not like me. 

I, am an angry, defensive person by nature because I don't handle real pain, hurt, well.  I don't like myself much (I am working on that every day), so for someone to re-affirm that in my mind is unforgivable. 

Take a second and think about this.  Answer it quickly and honestly and you will know in a manner of seconds if you have a solid foundation of self worth, hello a), or if you need a little tune up to your self esteem, b) and c).

I'd be interested to hear what happens, if you feel like sharing that is.  Obviously I am open to the whole sharing thing. 

FYI - 9 times out of 10, they didn't hear you.  There's always one asshole in the bunch.  LOL