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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A look into the past … Part 2

Please read the intro of part 1 to see the history here.

This piece of writing describes 1 of the many battles I have had in my head while struggling to overcome mental illness, addiction and self harm.

I post it with the hope that it will help people to understand what their loved ones might be going though or if you are the one struggling to remind you that you are not alone.

WARNING: Slightly graphic and may be triggering.

Vivid Images, written 29 June 2016

Spent 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.


A Higher Power who is God

I was sitting talking to an addict about spirituality and how it fits into recovery. The 12 steps speak about a “Higher Power”. Steps 1-3 are about admitting the unmanageability of our lives, our inability to change without something greater than ourselves and then handing over our power to this greater power, our “Higher Power”. For me this “HIGHER POWER” is God, not just god as a general term but as in GOD (the “I AM”) creator God, saviour God, holy God. The God that, despite my general out of control behaviour, my natural inclination to sin and reject him still loved me anyway, just as I was – ALL MESSED UP.

Addicts (and humans in general), do so many things, that in recovery seem unforgivable – to ourselves and others. As we realise the severity of damages we have caused we struggle to love ourselves let alone expect others to love us. When I think about my higher power I doubt he can, or would want to, love me either. For in reality I am completely unworthy of his love. I think about how I continuously sin and reject him, lie, hurt others and myself and wonder if he is still around. I have abused the grace the he so freely offers me.

The conversation centred around this for awhile until it dawned on me that this is exactly what grace is. The very action of God’s grace is his grace. I am no better or worse in his eyes than I was 5, 10, 15 years ago. I am still a sinful person, I still hurt God with my actions. I will never be perfect enough to no longer need his grace. It is this that makes his grace so exceptional. It was round about here when I realised that it is not about me at all, it’s actually all about God. This leads us back to the beginning of the conversation with a much clearer picture of the first 3 steps. I cannot do this by myself, I need my higher power. I need my God, his grace, his strength and his love. The amazing thing is that I do not deserve any of this but he made it possible, made it available to me by sacrificing his son, his perfect son, in my place, giving me righteousness that is not truly mine. This is grace, this is my HIGHER POWER. He really is higher than me and is a power that provides hope.

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Sharing is Caring

The other week I shared in a rehab clinic and again at an NA meeting. I was reminded that I get super anxious about talking to large crowds of people so much so that I want to throw up. But I shared anyway and it was good for me – facing up to fears and all that. The thing about sharing though is that you are sharing about your own life experiences and thoughts so no –one can really say you are wrong. They might disagree with you or think differently but my share was still just that, my share.

It’s kind of scary sharing though because you have to be honest (well I suppose you could lie but that wouldn’t really help me or anyone else). Before I could get honest with those I was sharing to I had to get honest with myself and what I believed. I suppose some of the fear comes in with what people might take from my share. Like what if someone hears the wrong message or it hinders someone’s recovery in some way. I had to put that out of my mind though and hand over control that the right people would hear the right message.

I spent a couple of days before sharing looking at the topic and how those things have changed for me and how I came about reaching the space where I am at now. It’s an interesting process trying to figure out how I got here because the thoughts and actions didn’t just change overnight, it was a process. I didn’t share for long, only like 10 minutes, not because there wasn’t lots to say but more because I just wanted to keep it simple and stay away from my “glory” days experiences. Anyway it was good for my process to share and I hope it encouraged others. If you get the chance to share go for it – the outcome is worth it.

Durban Convention 2013