Living in a world between normality and insanity


Living in the black and white


2018-03-24 14.11.22

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. 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.



Becoming vulnerable

okThis weekend I went away with a group of people from my tribe to the wonderful town of Betty’s Bay. We left midday on Friday and blasted tunes from the radio all the way there. Arriving in a, slightly cold, but clear sunny afternoon at the campsite we had a good look at all the available rooms and finally chose the one we thought best for us. On the wall, we put up a sign that said ‘This is a snoring room” and hoped that was enough warning for others. I love that I feel safe enough with this group of people (some of who I had never even met) to state that so boldly. We quickly picked up a few more people who were happy to put up with the snoring and they joined us in our room.

By 6pm most people had arrived and supper was being prepared. A massive fire was built and the hall started warming up with the heat from the fire and the personalities from my co-retreaters. Warm greetings were given to all, tight hugs and smiles from those I hadn’t seen in a while and tentative hugs and introductions for those I had never met. Little did I realise that this group of people would become so important to me in a very short space of time. The weekend was officially started with a big welcome and the laying out of the house rules. People volunteered themselves quickly for different service and we jumped into an amazing supper of various burgers. I found a seat with my plate of food and started chatting to those around me (some I knew, some I didn’t) and afterward my team was on cleaning duty where we laughed and did service together, without realising it new friendships had started forming and old ones were rekindled.

It was then time for the first meeting of the weekend and without knowing it, time to start getting vulnerable. The topic was ‘Living in the Now’ and a good man was the main speaker, afterwards, others shared back. The next thing I knew I was opening my mouth, introducing myself and sharing. Not sharing words of wisdom or surface level thoughts like I sometimes do but really sharing. I spoke about how irritable I have been and that a winning day for me is if I don’t strangle someone. I spoke about how hard the days have been as I have tried to recover from my latest Bipolar episode. I spoke about how unmotivated I currently am and therefore just ignore the world. Everything poured out as I shared how important living in the now is for me during this time. How sometimes,  I can only focus on the next five minutes and how I have to tell myself to do the next right thing in that moment.

I shared and I shared and I shared. As I realised what exactly I had shared my first thought was horror, followed by immense relief and then joy as I saw people listening, nodding their heads in understanding and looking at me with empathy in their eyes instead of judgment. Once again I was reminded why I chose these people as my tribe. They knew what I was experiencing and would hold nothing against me, they would love and support me regardless of what came out of my mouth. Here I could be free but only if I let myself. I went to bed shortly after feeling exhausted but for the first time in weeks, I was relaxed.

Saturday morning started bright and early and I felt rested, at peace for the first time in a while, not irritable, not anxious and not restless. We played a game called ‘All my friends’ and I won’t explain the whole game but the purpose is for people to realise and understand that they are not alone. We have all done things that we are ashamed of or feel guilty for but in this game, you get to see that you are not the only one. Out of the 50 situations that were given not once was someone left standing alone, others always joined them in the middle, sharing their feelings of guilt, shame, fear or remorse. A passing comment from someone was, “never has sharing my secrets and exposing the shame been so much fun.’ How very true. Wounds were opened for people and insights into resentments, fears, and shame were had by all. There was no time after the game to slink off on your own and isolate though as we soon got a ‘burning issues’ meeting going for everyone to share what had come up for them in the game. Tears and toilet paper rolled around the room. People got up to hug others, hand tissues out and silent encouragement was given in the form of hand on someone’s back or leg next to you.

I looked around me and saw what support really looked like, what love looked like and what empathy looked like. It was amazing, I felt amazing, the people around me were amazing. We were a large group of people spanning 50 years in age, over 100 kilometers in distance, from all different backgrounds and cultures, with different identities and struggles. But we were a tribe, we ARE a tribe, we are MY tribe. I know this, have known this in the past and should know it but still, I was keeping my fears inside for so long and putting on a brave face for the world, my family and my friends. Why? Because that’s what I think people expect, it’s what I expect, it’s the pressure I put on myself all the time.

After 3 hours of noble silence and just being with ourselves quietly, we broke into gender groups and us girls sat around the fire while the boys went into the eating hall (I don’t know what happened in there meeting but here is how ours went). It started with that first beautiful, amazing, brave women opening her mouth and talking to us, being honest and vulnerable with her feelings, thoughts, and insecurities. Well, the dam walls broke and something so special and amazing happened at that moment. As we went around the circle and I listened to each of these phenomenal ladies talk I was entranced. I was present, in the moment and aware of their feelings and my own. I had no idea what I was going to say when it was my turn but I didn’t worry because I knew I was safe with my tribe. Halfway through, the snacks came out as we laughed, cried and just sat with and comforted each other.

Finally, the circle turned to me, one of the last women to speak. I had been listening for over 2 hours and it occurred to me that I could also be vulnerable, I could also be honest and I could also receive love and acceptance in this group. I once again opened my mouth, just like on Friday night, and the words again came tumbling out with no pre-thought at all. I spoke about my childhood, I spoke about not feeling beautiful, I spoke about giving up on love and I spoke about me. My fears, my anxieties, my loneliness, and my hurt. Words kept coming out with no thought to what I was saying, without fear of judgment. In that moment I was seen, I was heard, I was loved. And this is the amazing beauty of choosing to be vulnerable with the right people, of opening yourself up. I could have been rejected, judged, laughed at but because of the brave women who spoke before me, I knew I was with safe people, people who had trusted me and it was time to trust them back.

I have struggled to be vulnerable my whole life, to open up and share what is going on in my mind. I have always seen it as a weakness or assumed that people would use my words against me. There are very few people I express everything to but here, on this weekend I was reminded that in my tribe I don’t have to hide things. I don’t have to put on a mask and lie. I don’t have to fear judgment. Here I can just be me, broken, fragile me.

I have had these moments before and I am sure I will have them in the future. I need them often because I forget. I forget that I too am a beautiful, brave amazing woman and when I try to remind myself I don’t believe it. This weekend I was reminded by others over and over again. To each person that shared this weekend with me, that shared their guilt, fears, and anxieties and listened to mine I thank you. The weekend continued this way as we played games together, ate together, had deep conversations and continues sharing with each other.


Sunday ended the weekend with a JFT meeting in the beautiful outdoors, hiking up the moment (which I declined), a ‘Letting go’ ceremony and hugs, hugs and more hugs as we said goodbye. Tears were shed again and numbers exchanged. Photos posted on the group and memories etched in us forever. I will never forget this crazy tribe I find myself a part of and I will always be grateful for the love you all showed me this weekend.



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Managing day to day

Over the last four weeks, I have been taking part in a process group looking at depression. This group came to an end on Monday night and the last part of processing that we did was write a letter from a ‘future self’ to our ‘present self’. I went about writing my letter in my usual ‘have to get it perfect’ way and ended up writing some actual (what I think) are useful tips to deal with my mental illnesses on a daily basis. I thought I would share all of these with you. Before laying them out I do need to state that knowing them and applying them are two different things and so while in my head I know all of these tricks are useful, I also completely understand and relate to when we are unable to put them into action.

Anyway, here are my top five useful hints in dealing with mental illness on a day-to-day basis:


1. Believe in something bigger – This is probably one of the most helpful things in going about long term management of my mental health. Believing in something bigger than myself (whatever you may want to call that) allows me to have some kind of hope in life. Too many times I lose hope and often life is not worth living. When I started believing in a higher power I found that even though times often got dark I didn’t always become hopeless as much. I found an ability to persevere in the blackest of moments. Hope has become such an integral part of never giving up for me. I seem to struggle the worst when my spirituality is at it’s lowest.

2. Be grateful – Whenever I start to feel low or find myself slipping down the depression hole I try to be grateful. Gratitude reminds me of the things I have in life, what I have achieved, the people who love me, etc. This is important because so often I really do want to give up and say goodbye or fall into the mindset of life is not worth living. Writing a gratitude list when I feel my mood spiral sometimes provides an instant shift. I have found that just writing a list doesn’t always work though and the next thing to do is take action. Gratitude doesn’t just have to be a thought, it can also be behaviour. When I act on my gratitude, the darkness just doesn’t seem as dark and the hole not as deep.

3. Keep talking – My first instinct when the world becomes overwhelming or my anxiety takes over is to shut up and shut out. What I mean is I stop interacting on any deep level with people around me. When these feelings rise up I remind myself to keep talking. Get an appointment with my therapist, phone my sponsor or a good friend, find a support group to attend. Keep reaching out, because I have realised that the more I keep talking the quicker the feelings pass and my world semi returns to normal again. Don’t ever stop talking as this is often the only lifeline we have for people to support us.

4. Hit the reset button when needed  – Once I am in my head it is almost impossible to break free unless I reset. This is actually easier than it sounds and the best part is you can reset as many times as you need to. Sometimes, I will come home from work or from being out completely overwhelmed and on the verge of panic. I stop thinking clearly and begin slipping into depression or, I feel myself getting more hyper, I stop eating properly, don’t want to sleep and my brain is racing. Whatever it is, the moment I realise my brain is overworking I hit the reset button. Sometimes, it’s getting into bed early and sleeping until the next day. Sometimes, it’s hanging out with close friends who will distract me and sometimes it’s just reading a book or watching a series but I have to reset so that I can start thinking clearly again.

5. NEVER GIVE UP – this is the hardest thing to do and I don’t blame anybody who has but in this battle against mental illness it is also the most important. We all deserve to live, we all deserve to find peace and healing, we all deserve to be loved. Live for the moments where things are fine, where your emotions are not running wild and you feel content, even if it is only for 5 minutes. We are in this together and cannot give up on ourselves or each other.

These are just my thoughts and some basics that help me live with the different mental health issues that I have. It’s not easy and it’s not simple but we can fight mental illness together. Let’s share our tips with each other, let’s encourage each other and build each other up. So few people understand what we are going through but I want you all to know that I understand, I see and I feel what so many of us experience. Know that we are strong enough, brave enough, worth enough to win this daily battle.

Let’s do this together, just for today.


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Never recovered

“Relapse, prevent trigger intent, now drown 
High strung, say X amount of words 
You’re solar, bipolar, panic disorder 
Seems harder and harder and harder 
Still, you try to control it”
X-amount of words by Blue October

My body tensed, teeth grinding and fists clenched. I want to hit something, I want to break something, anything to escape what I am feeling, anything to transfer the rage inside of me. Rage, anger, agitation, all at the most intense level I have ever experienced. Everything is too loud, too bright, too close. Please get me out of here, get me out of my head, my body, this world.

“I am feeling irritated’ I tell my friend calmly as I slowly breathe through my nostrils. My exterior does not match my interior, unsurprisingly this is actually normal. My exterior rarely matches my interior but I have been faking it for so long I fool even myself. For the last 6 years, I have been relatively stable, no spikes in my mood, no major depressions. Just little bumps as I go about managing my life and my anxiety on a day to day basis. Life itself is hard work but I don’t let it get me down and I don’t really dwell on it much. I do what I need to do and move on, I ignore – possibly deny – that I even have a mental disorder. I mean, I know I have one, and I know that I have to do certain things to manage it but I thought (told myself) that I had it covered. Come on, after 6 years without any real episodes you would tell yourself the same thing, wouldn’t you? Basically, I believed that I managed my mental health so well that I was essentially recovered.

This is possibly the biggest mistake that I could have made, that anyone with a mental disorder could make. We don’t recover, ever, we simply learn to manage life around it. We learn to accept that we will be taking medication every day, we learn to change our environment and put things in place that alert us to spikes and dips in our moods. We push a lot of people away and we isolate ourselves much of the time. We work in jobs that have flexibility as much as possible and we try to minimise our stresses where we can. I learned to work around my mood and personality disorders so well that I essentially forgot I had them. I had become so adept at managing my anxiety and hiding my quirks that people who had only been in my life for less than 5 years mostly didn’t even know that I had mental health issues. This isn’t a bad thing and it worked well generally except when it didn’t. I was definitely not recovered.

My little episode got me booked into a psychiatric hospital and my meds got changed and changed and changed until we found a combination that worked. Eventually, I landed up spending the full 21 days at the hospital to monitor the medication, balance out my moods and to my surprise work on some emotional issues, Much was brought to light and it landed up being hugely beneficial for me. I learnt many new things about myself and gained new insights into my coping mechanisms. I also realised that I will never be recovered or normal or mentally stable like people who don’t have mental disorders. I also learnt to be okay with that, I learnt to be okay with being different. This didn’t mean that I wasn’t frustrated, annoyed and even self-pitying at times but I did learn to be okay with having a mental disorder, again. I thought I was okay with everything but really I wasn’t I was only ignoring it and pretending to be okay.

I am not normal (and don’t get into the debate with what is normal with me) and that’s okay. My life looks different and I act different and I need to do some things differently to others. This is hard but it is not insurmountable. I can live my life the way I need to live my life. With things in place that help me manage the disorders on a day to day basis. What I can’t do is forget, I can’t ignore and I can’t deny that I have a problem. This problem is not my fault, it is in my brain. I have to live with it the best way I know how to and sometimes that won’t work for other people and that’s also okay but I can’t forget. People will accept it or not, they might understand and they might not and they may leave or they may not. Whatever happens, I realise that this is my life and all I need to do is the best I can. This means that some days I will be rude to you because I simply do not know how to interact with others, it might mean that on this day I don’t want to talk to anybody and it might mean that there will be times that I am simply not coping with life but I have to remember that it’s okay. It’s okay to be frustrated, it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to not be like others.

I write this because I want others out there like me to know that it’s okay. I want others to know that sometimes we have to get additional help like going to a hospital. It’s okay to have to take medication every day and not interact with the world like the rest of civilization. It’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to have good days. I write this because I want people who are not like me to begin to understand that we can’t always be and act like you, I want you to understand that what you see on the outside is not always representing what is happening on the inside and ask that you be patient with me, love me and support me. I have a mental health problem and I will never be recovered and I am okay with that. I hope you can also be.


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Fine but not fine?

maxresdefaultSpent lots of time up in my head today, both spacing out and thinking about what was said in my session and later with my sponsor. Wondering why I was craving so much last night, not just craving but the vivid images that filled my head. Feeling the blade press through the skin and watching the blood seep through the gap. Playing with it as it spirals and leaves tracks of red down my arm. Even now in the late afternoon the image is so real and tangible. I find myself leaving reality and fantasizing about it. Fantasy is all I have though, I can never go back down that road but oh how I want to right now.
This morning I spoke of being disconnected, out of sorts. I realize as I look through the day that yes, I could say disconnected which is a truth in a way, it is more dissociated than anything else. I sit in conversations and feel unreal as though everything is happening around me but not to me. I spend moments just staring off into the distance when I should be focusing on the conversations around me but I don’t feel a part of it. I don’t feel a part of anything at the moment. I think back to the images in my head and wonder why they remain more real than the life around me. Release stands out, pain stands out but denial stands out above everything. Avoidance of what might really be going on, fear of what I maybe don’t want to face. I can’t touch it though and through the day it feels like reality is slipping further and further away.
I don’t feel negative and thoughts like being unworthy or not good enough nip at the edges of consciousness but haven’t seemed to have broken through yet. I still feel generally satisfied with my life and where I am placed in it but I can’t seem to merge the emptiness with being satisfied and I am left confused. I do all the right things, work a solid program but still I am reaching for something and I can’t seem to grasp what it is. As I write this all I have eaten is a small cinnabon which is not nearly enough for the day. I realise that I have not been taking care of myself, not nurturing myself and if I’m honest I don’t care. So at the end of the day I can no longer deny that I am not in a low space but where does it come from.
I immediately want to blame a circumstance but off the top of my head, I tell myself that I am happy, that there is nothing wrong with my life. Is it true, I want it to be but I have just stepped out of financial security, leaving a job. Can this affect so much though? It sounds weird but I don’t want it to be my mood, that means looking at medication and puts me out of control but the more I think about all the symptoms the more I come to think that it might just be my mood. Living with BiPolar sucks, being Borderline sucks even more. I call myself stupid because by now I should know healthy coping mechanisms yet still I slip into melancholy and dreams of slicing my arms up.
The dreams have expanded now. I sit and have a smoke and hold the cigarette as close to my hand as I can without burning it. Playing with temptation but I can’t seem to stop myself. What if I go to far, what would happen if I let the cigarette touch the skin, kept it there until a blister forms? I can’t though, I would shatter so much, I can’t. Is it sad that the thing stopping me is not that it’s unhealthy but rather what others would say, what I would lose. It’s insane and once again I find myself not caring.
Writing this rambling is the first thing that I’ve connected to all day, the first thing I have felt involved in. I don’t want to stop in case I start to feel empty inside again, in case I slip off into the nothingness that has been hovering all day.