You know when you have an argument with someone and then makeup and you’re friends again? When someone disappoints you but you suck it up and move on? When you do something wrong but tell yourself you’ll do better next time? That’s life right, living in the gray? Not so much for me. You see, I have Borderline Personality Disorder and what this means is that I live the majority of my life in black and white. Everything is all or nothing. Grey makes absolutely no sense to me, I don’t understand it, can’t really comprehend it at all. Living life in black and white can be really hard sometimes. So many things that people take for granted make no sense for me. For me it either is or it isn’t. You are either my friend or you are not, you like me or you don’t, I am good at something or I am not. There is no middle ground, no sometimes and no room for changing your mind. What seems normal for most people in the world confuses me greatly and because of this all or nothing way of thinking I don’t have much chance of even beginning to understand or change my own behaviors.
Because of this, I have pushed people away and even cut people out of my life. I know you can’t really diagnose young children with mental health issues easily but my mom likes to tell a funny story that so clearly shows the way I think. When I was in grade 1 or 2 I was taking part in a school athletics day, one of the events was the 100m sprint. I was doing well and coming first when another little girl overtook me. Apparently, I stopped running right there, walked off the side of the track and sat down. I was no longer coming first so in my mind what was the point of still competing. Even now, many years later, this thought process still makes sense to me, I am still like this to this day.
Not being able to find the grey means I can’t really live there. Decisions are easy for me because in my mind you do or you don’t. There is no in-between to make the decision harder. A really simple example is when we order pizza, my friend starts to get more and more anxious as we go through the pizza varieties and can’t make up her mind. For me, it’s ‘yes, I like that one or no, I don’t like that one; yes, I feel like chicken or no, I don’t like vegetables’ things are very clear cut in my mind. I often give up or stop trying when I think or realize I cannot be the best or I don’t like how it is going to turn out. Not because I am a brat (although sometimes I suppose I can be) but more because I don’t see the point of persisting in something that I am not going to win at. If I am losing a game, I want to finish it quickly because there is no chance for me to recover and get back in the game. I am not a sore loser, I acknowledge you have won and no longer see the need to pretend to compete anymore.
Right now I am still recovering and sorting myself out after my most recent Bipolar episode but in reality, I just want to give up. I tried so hard and have done everything I can do to manage my mental health yet still I have no control over anything and can’t always stop an episode from hitting so what’s the point right? I struggle to understand why I have to keep trying when I am never going to win at this game. I feel unmotivated for almost everything in life, I am struggling to concentrate on the simplest things and I am moody, very, very moody right now. This is not the person I want to be but because of my illness, I don’t have a say in it. I take my medication every day, I go see my counselor, I share with my friends and I make sure that I am eating, exercising, and sleeping right but all of this doesn’t seem to make any difference. Bipolar takes me on an up and down ride and the Borderline exacerbates everything with it’s black and white thinking. I am never going to win. Statements like these are normal, with lots of finalities, because for me that’s the end. With this mindset of finality, it is really difficult to pick myself up again after a Bipolar/Borderline episode.
Thank goodness that I have been in recovery from addiction for the last 13 years. Recovery has taught me to never give up even in my darkest moments and to focus on doing the next right thing. That’s me at the moment, living in 5-minute blocks and just doing the next right thing. What else can I do? If I don’t I will give up, I will stop trying and I would probably ruin my life by doing something stupid. So, you are probably asking how I keep a recovery mindset when everything else screams to think in the illness mindset. It comes down to the story of the wolves, have you heard it? Here’s the short version: An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside me,” he says to his grandson. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Simply put, the more I feed my recovery wolf the stronger it becomes and the more I am inclined to listen to it. The more I feed my illness wolf the stronger it will become. So, I fill my life with recovery things even when I don’t want to go. I attend NA meetings and mental health support groups, I take my medication, I reach out to my friends and I meet with my sponsor. All of these things feed the recovery wolf and help me keep doing the next right thing. The next right thing is currently keeping me as an alive, productive member of society. It reminds me of what I have achieved in life despite being mentally ill. It reminds me of what I have and what I will lose if I give up. When I stop feeding my recovery I will start to lose myself again. I will give in to the Depression and Borderline. I will give in to hopelessness and despondency. Right now, life is hard but I think I am winning the daily battle against my illness. In this matter I cannot let the black and white thinking take over, I cannot give in to the all or nothing way I live the rest of my life. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard and every day I struggle to get up and do the next right thing but I have to. I know I have to because sometime, maybe in a month, maybe in a year, my moods will settle down and life will become manageable and bright again.
Right now (to steal a line from a close friend) I live for the pockets of sanity, the 5-minute moments where the light shines in and the shadow lifts, even if only for that moment. I know I can be a difficult person, I know many people don’t understand me just as I don’t understand them but I have been blessed with a handful of friends who continue to stick around no matter what I put them through. If any of those people are reading this I say thank you for everything, I would not have survived without you in my life. If you have those people around you be grateful or maybe go out and be that person for someone else. As I said last week, we all need a tribe and I have found mine.