When I was about 5 years old, my family took a road trip to California with my cousins, aunt, and uncle. We went to visit my godparents and their youngest daughter. One day we went swimming and at the bottom of the pool, my cousin Andrea found a mood ring and I was immediately fascinated. A ring that can tell you what your mood is?! As a youngster, I thought this ring was practically magic and that it could “read my mind” and tell me how I was really feeling. Eventually, my cousin gave me the ring and it sits in one of my jewelry boxes, closed away as an old-but-good memory.
18 years later I don’t need a ring to tell me how I feel, although sometimes I wish it were that easy to just be one mood and have it easily identifiable by a color on a ring. If there were a mood ring that could accurately depict my moods, it would hardly ever be a single color. In fact I think it would be rather confusing (or perhaps illuminating) to anyone who saw it, because they would see an amalgamation of colors and swirls that constantly changed and often without rhyme or reason.
The past few weeks have been filled with a plethora of life lessons for me, many of which I really didn’t (and for full disclosure I still don’t) want to deal with. However, I guess it’s better that I learn these tougher lessons now and get them out of the way right? Right!
So what has the universe thrown my way? To start with, there is the ever-present question of identity and who I really am and want to be. Those with BPD (and furthermore anyone with low self-esteem or an unstable sense of self) can understand the allure of being chameleonic because it allows you to be what everyone else wants…at least at first. Once you get tired of the facade it becomes necessary to “shed the skin” and become someone new. It’s easier for many of us to try on new masks and guises in the hopes that someone else will fall in love with who we pretend to be (and who we think we want to be in many cases) and that love will rescue us from the seemingly bottomless depths of despair that we often feel when in the company of only ourselves.
A large stick as a substitute for a lightening bolt
Has anyone caught what happened in the last paragraph? How I began talking about identity and ended up talking about love? It wasn’t unintentional, because for many of us this is how it is. Identity and love are often blended because somewhere along the lines we have learned that love is the validation of identity. With a lack of love and relationships, one’s identity can disappear into the fog and this is a very treacherous place to be. One of the hardest things is to learn to love yourself for who you really are, and to let love and the right relationship come to you. Easier said than done, eh? (P.S. When did I become Canadian? )
In my last post I wrote about the impact of the dissolution of my last relationship and how difficult it is to regain a sense of identity when someone who was a big part of your life (or let’s be honest, if you have BPD it feels like they ARE your life) is no longer there anymore. I also talked about my oscillation between various extreme moods and it’s something I’ve had a request to write about so I thought I’d address that today.
This is actually something that I find very difficult (read: shameful) to talk about. Why? First of all, I hate the characterization that women often get as being “moody”. I think it’s completely unfair to argue that women are the ONLY ones with mood swings when in fact, if you are carbon based and capable of feeling emotions, you’re going to have mood swings at some point no matter what sex you are. Secondly, I also think that when someone is referred to as “moody” or “emotional” there is also the unspoken but implied idea that they are also generally irrational and incapable of acting without emotion and that this is more often than not an undesirable trait.
Here, I must interject a word about Dialectical Behavior Therapy and the benefit it brings to discussing these matters. In DBT, there are 3 states of mind that are referred to: Emotion Mind, Rational Mind, and Wise Mind. Emotion and Rational (sometimes called Reasonable) mind are pretty self-explanatory. Wise Mind is the overlap between the two and the most desirable state of mind because it incorporates both emotion and reason. In our society, reason and logic are often preferred, when in fact the combination of those two minds yields answers that are in our best interest.
But why is it so difficult to make wise mind decisions and feel good about them? I suspect that it’s because we are so conditioned to having our needs and wants immediately satisfied, and we’d rather have something right away than waiting for what is right later on.
Lately I’ve been trying to explain to family and friends what it is like to undergo severe mood and emotional shifts and feel like an innocent bystander to it all. They all respond similarly (and frustratingly): “Just try harder!”, ”Don’t think that way!”, “There’s nothing wrong with you!”, and my favorite, “If you act like you don’t have a problem, then you won’t.” I know that these are for the most part, well-intentioned pieces of advice, but they are also unintentionally invalidating and very frustrating, causing me to react either inwardly or outwardly with more mood swings.
What I have learned recently is that the best way for me to handle sudden changes in mood is to quickly identify what I need in the moment and what the most effective way to handle the situation is. That too is easier said than done, but I find that tapping into my gut feeling about what will make me feel better is more often than not the best thing for me to do. For example, when I get angry, I immediately go take a hot shower. Something about water is very calming to me and the heat seems to extract the anger from me, at least for a few minutes while I can decide what the safest thing for me to do next is.
When I’m sad, I immediately call up my best friend in London on Skype and she’s able to almost immediately pacify me. Within a few minutes I’m laughing about something. I also turn to my “good memory” pages in my journal when I periodically jot down positive, uplifting memories that can boost my mood at least a little bit. The sadness/depression mood swing is probably the hardest for me to deal with because it’s the one I seem to feel the most often. Every day it seems that I go between loving life and feeling utterly overwhelmed and wanting things to end, but much to my surprise, I’ve managed to stay safe and out of any hospitals and treatment centers. That is actually quite an accomplishment for me, but I’m not out of the woods yet. October is historically my most difficult month of the year and this year will bring some special challenges. I’m still struggling with my eating disorder more than I would like to be, but I’m reaching out to friends and family more than I ever have in order to keep me on track.
If you are struggling right now, know that you are most definitely not alone! Take life minute by minute if you have to and remember that your past mistakes do not define you. Every day you have the chance to create a life you want and create happiness for yourself. I’ll be here to write about it