Toxic People and Empathy

I have this friend that I think most people would agree is toxic. Every interaction with her is a drain on my spirit. She takes and doesn’t give; she makes hurtful comments and frames them as jokes. Our conversations consist of her complaining about her problems, her judgments of others, and nagging me about the way I handle my health issues. She tries to make me feel guilty for not spending more time with her and attempts to put the weight of her loneliness on me.

When I’ve vented about this online before, people respond with a simple, “Cut her out of your life. You don’t need toxic people around you.” But I can’t. It’s just not that simple.

I think BPD has a lot to do with this. Those of us with BPD have a reputation for lacking empathy, but I don’t think that reputation is deserved. I am sure there are borderlines with low empathy, but there are people who don’t have BPD who are surprisingly indifferent to the suffering of others. Reading the comment section of pretty much any YouTube video or news article will show that. I just don’t believe that poor empathy exists more in the BPD population than it does in the general population.

Anyway, for me (and lots of others, I’m sure) I think my intense emotions and acute pain have made me more sensitive to the suffering of others. I don’t mean that in a self-congratulatory way at all. It just happened that way for me naturally, not because I’m virtuous or something. When someone else is having a shitty time my brain automatically reminds me what that feels like, and I can’t help caring about that person’s pain.

I’m not saying it works like that for me 100% of the time. I have had times when my stuff is so bad that I just can’t handle other people’s problems. I’m unable to pull myself out of my pain enough to connect to theirs. I have to be really overwhelmed to reach that point, though.

I’m saying all this to make it clear why it’s so hard for me to take care of myself first, and why it’s so difficult to cut off this toxic friend. We met in group therapy about 5 years ago. She has anxiety and depression, plus physical health problems. She has always been tiring to be around, and she has always asked a lot of me without giving much in return. But for the past year interacting with her has been a complete chore. She used to make me laugh and occasionally uplift me. Now I dread being around her or even responding to her texts. But every time I want to ignore her I remember what it’s like to feel like no one cares, and I think about how alone she is (she doesn’t have many other friends because she alienates people). And I just keep letting her drain my soul.

Advertisements

Uneasiness

I’m really just writing this right now because I feel anxious and uneasy. I had coffee today, which is unusual for me. I love coffee but rarely drink it because wellbutrin plus too much caffeine makes me agitated.

Also, my mom has here for the past three weeks and has to go home tomorrow. She is my best friend and my favorite person (tied with my husband). Life has been so much better with her here. The constant body pain is easier to deal with when I have her company. Plus she’s been doing a lot of the things I normally do, like cleaning the litter boxes and washing dishes, which saves me energy and keeps my pain level down. Even small things like her getting up to grab me a drink helps when everything aches. She has been buying groceries and gas, too. Even if she didn’t do any of those things, I’m happier overall when I’m around her.

I wish very badly that she could stay longer, but she misses my step-dad. Plus she has chickens, a garden, and other things that he can’t take care of forever without her there. Anyway, I hate saying goodbye to her soooo much. I always get a sense of dread and impending doom the day before we part ways.

It’s been almost nine hours since the one cup of coffee I had so I bet at this point my anxiety is just about Mom leaving. I had a cup of Sleepytime tea and tried knitting for a bit. Now we’re watching Mary Poppins.

I’m annoyed with myself because I’m cognizant of the fact that I’m going to feel weird until several hours after she’s gone, but I am still fighting and resisting the emotions.

It’s Not Pretty

It’s not pretty. She’s not pretty. She’s not a thin, wistful girl with large tragic eyes. There’s no staring into space while smoking a cigarette and drinking Diet Coke. She’s overweight and plain. Her facial expression matches whatever situation she’s in and does not reveal how she feels. Her apartment is a disgusting mess. She doesn’t manage to still be beautiful with messy hair and circles under her eyes. Her hair is greasy and her pajamas ill-fitting. There’s no getting sent to inpatient where she has a crush (who likes her back) and leaves filled with promise and hope. There is being sent home from the ER after a few hours because she doesn’t have a specific plan for suicide, so it doesn’t matter than she can’t function. She fakes her way through work and eventually gets fired for calling off too much. She eats cereal from the box that she bought from Walgreens at 3 am since she hates leaving the house when it’s light outside. There are cuts on her thighs and sores on her scalp from compulsive picking. She doesn’t turn her misery into haunting music or captivating artwork. She can’t finish a book, watches TV without following the plot. No one notices; no one reaches out. Her friends don’t rally around her. No one wants to rescue her. It’s not a girl looking fragile and crying while indie acoustic plays in the background. It’s her slamming a cabinet door on her arm over and over after looking at photos of her cat that ran away just wishing she could cry. It is slow and heavy and terrible. It’s not like a movie. It’s not glamorous. And it’s not pretty.

Health Mystery

This post is going to be about health stuff, including some mild reproductive system stuff, so if that might be upsetting to you, you probably don’t want to read this.

I’ve gone through phases of sleeping poorly for most of my adult life. It’s milder than true insomnia and seems to be caused by physical discomfort. I lie down and can’t find a comfortable position. My legs or shoulders or neck or arms (or all of the above) are too tense or achy or stupid-feeling for me to fall asleep. This’ll go on for a couple of weeks and then I’m back to sleeping normally for a month or two.

I’ve believed I was more tired than average for the past seven years or so, too. Depression can cause fatigue, as can chronic migraines and sinus problems which I also have. I always blamed my lack of energy on those things, and I figured I was probably a little lazy, too.

This March I had a headache every single day of the month. I feel like I had a migraine that showed up and didn’t fully retreat until April. It receded a bit some days, but on a scale of 1-10, I rated my head pain 6 or higher 21 days out of 31 in March. I was tired and sad and discouraged. Being in constant pain does that.

The first week of this month (April) my headache finally let up completely, but I still felt worn out and listless. Getting out of bed for work was a huge struggle. Every day felt like a fight I wasn’t equipped for. I just didn’t have any energy. For the most part I’m very good about practicing good sleep hygiene (no caffeine close to bed, no naps during the day, put my phone away before getting into bed, etc) and made an effort to eat well. I tried exercising, but even short walks just made it worse.

One day I woke up feeling like I’d rolled down an asphalt hill and was fed up. I called out of work and made an appointment with my primary care provider. She listened to everything I had to say and took me seriously, which was great. She heard a heart murmur that wasn’t there before, so she said she wanted to order an EKG and an echocardiogram. She also asked me to come back when I hadn’t eaten to have blood drawn.

The next day I threw up on the way to work. Since I hadn’t eaten anything yet, I went to the doctor’s office and got the blood drawn. That day and the rest of the weekend, I basically just read and slept. I didn’t even feel like playing Skyrim, which I’ve been extremely into lately. My boyfriend started working on this year’s garden without me, which was a bummer, but I just didn’t have it in me.

A week ago today (April 13th) I had a follow-up appointment with my gynecologist I’d scheduled months ago. In late December and early January I’d noticed blood on the toilet paper when I wiped several times. There was never enough blood for it to actually leak onto my underwear, just an occasional streak on the toilet paper. It bugged me enough to schedule an exam, so I had one in January. Then in February I skipped my period. My March one came on schedule. The occasional blood still showed up.

I filled my gynecologist in on the other symptoms I’ve been experiencing lately: crushing fatigue, aching muscles, slight dizziness, stiffness, increased light sensitivity, constipation and diarrhea, and the new heart murmur. She did a well woman exam and a nurse drew blood to test for anemia and check my thyroid function. I also gave a urine sample, which they told me had a small amount of blood in it. The gynecologist scheduled an ultrasound for April 25.

Friday I called my primary care provider’s office and the only test result they had was B12, which was normal. My echocardiogram and EKG still hadn’t been scheduled. I was super frustrated, but I didn’t really know what to do. I grew up not going to the doctor for anything, and I’m not an assertive person, so I figured I just had to wait around for stuff to get done.

Sunday I got an email from my gynecologist. There is a patient portal that sends emails when lab tests come back. Everything was normal: my pap smear, my thyroid test, my CBC (complete blood count), the urine culture (there was no UTI). I was relieved that the pap smear was normal, but I burst into tears when I saw that it said “no signs of anemia.” I’d been sure anemia was my problem. It fit my symptoms so well, and I’ve been anemic in the past. It would have been such a sensible explanation with a tidy solution.

I cried for about 20 minutes, thinking I was making all this up, that I’d be stuck feeling this way forever because they’d never find a reason since there is no reason other than my being a lazy crybaby who wants attention. I couldn’t imagine how I’d get through life being this tired and sore and weak.

Later I texted my mom and she told me that I couldn’t just create a heart murmur and blood in my pee with my imagination. That made me feel a lot better. The next day I called my nurse practitioner’s office and made another appointment.

My friend M went with me to take notes and ask questions. I am having trouble focusing lately too and it really helped to have her there. She made sure nothing was forgotten. My nurse practitioner was great again. She listened patiently and was thorough. She explained the mix up with the blood tests and the delay in getting the echocardiogram. She did a 10 second EKG, which was normal, but is also referring me to a cardiologist. Blood was drawn to test a bunch of stuff, including ferratin level, lamictal level, and whatever it is they look at to aid in diagnosing lupus and another autoimmune disease.

She gave me an order for a chest X-ray so my friend took me to the hospital for that right away. They called today and said it was normal, which is great. Tomorrow afternoon I can call and see if any of the other lab tests are back yet.

So that’s where things are now. I haven’t been able to work. My job is physically and mentally demanding (I do therapy with toddlers). Even if I could force myself to push through the pain and fatigue, it’s pretty apparent that I am sick, especially because I’m getting out of breath easily. I don’t want families seeing me this way.

I am vacillating between thinking I’ve dreamed all this up and that it’s going to be humiliating when they tell me that I’m a delusional hypochondriac drama queen and worrying that something serious and life-changing is wrong with me. I’m also afraid that this is the beginning of a years long quest for a real diagnosis, that I’ll have to go from doctor to doctor before someone with the expertise to do something about it actually takes me seriously.

Uhhhhh…..I guess we’ll see.

Standing Up is Hard to Do

I really, really suck at standing up for myself. I am not assertive. I’ve been this way as long as I can remember.I don’t understand why. My parents did not have poor boundaries with me or others. My brothers and I told each other to back off when we were annoyed with each other. But when it comes to anyone else, I’ve pretty much always lacked the ability to say no.

When I was eleven, I loved the Baby-sitters Club. The week Abby’s Book showed up in the bookstore, my mom bought it for me, along with another one I was really excited about. I took them to my brother’s Little League game the next night to read. A girl whose brother was on the opposing team sat with me and told me how much she loved the Baby-sitters Club. At the end of the game she asked me if she could have the books, and I said yes. I didn’t want to, of course. But I had no idea how to say no. I felt like I couldn’t, even though I knew it wasn’t polite for her to just ask for someone else’s stuff.

My mom found out a few days later and told me that she understood that I was trying to be nice, but from that point on there was a rule against giving away presents. I loved rules that made it easy for me to say no to things I didn’t want to do anyway.

I’ve done countless things because I was too chicken to say no, from entering an unfinished class project into a school science fair (and then having to listen to several teachers tell me I should’ve given more effort) to working other people’s double shifts when they were hungover to letting a guy put his hands in my pants in 9th grade.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to fix this problem. I talked at length about it with a counselor at health services in college. I read Your Perfect Right by Robert Alberti & Michael Emmons. I’ve rehearsed assertive statements on my best friend and various therapists. I try to “know my rights” and what will make me feel taken advantage of. When I don’t want to do something or am unhappy with a situation, I come up with alternative suggestions or practice respectfully declining in my mind. But when it comes time to actually say the words (or text/email/etc) the words, I chicken out, unless I can come up with a reasonable excuse.

Trying to stand up for myself doesn’t just make me uncomfortable. Thinking about it makes me panic. It feels like something TERRIBLE will happen if I do it. People will say stuff like, “Just tell her you can’t. Say you’re busy or too tired, because you are.” And I’ll just think, “HOW???” Finding the words isn’t the problem. It feels like I am physically incapable of doing it. Every time I get close, tears fill my eyes and I get choked up. If someone asks me to do something over text and I make up an excuse, I end up feeling anxious and crappy. So a lot of times I do things I don’t want just to avoid feeling bad even when I could give an excuse/reason.

I’m guessing that this stems from a fear of other people being displeased with me. I also am uncomfortable with the people I love being unhappy, even if it’s not directed at/because of me. So I do what other people want (and what I perceive that they want) as much as possible because I am happier when they are happy.

Obviously, though, it’s more complicated than that. If I were completely satisfied doing what other people want, then assertiveness wouldn’t be an issue. I wouldn’t need to stand up for myself because I’d be perfectly fine doing others’ bidding all the time. But I’m not happy doing that. I want to do my own stuff sometimes.

 

I don’t think there’s a quick fix for this issue. I can go through the checklists on articles about assertiveness all I want. I still fall apart when the time comes. I think it’s going to be a complex process; I have to learn to be okay with people I care about possibly being displeased with me. I also have to get used to being assertive and see that it won’t cause the world to end.

If anyone has suggestions or can relate, feel free to comment.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Molly McHugh (bipolar 1 survivor)!!

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a blog post on Molly McHugh’s website www.bipolar1survivor.com. Molly has lived with Bipolar 1 for many years and writes about her experiences as well as alternative treatments, scientific studies related to bipolar disorder, and tips for dealing with the disorder.

Molly interviewed me to highlight some of the differences between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. I’m quite excited that I had the opportunity. Here is a link to the post on her blog.

http://www.bipolar1survivor.com/borderline-personality-disorder-explained-bpd-talks/

Make sure you check out the other information on her website, especially if you deal with bipolar disorder.

Confession: Emotional Eating

It’s been a while since I wrote. I’ve been going through that “do i really have anything significant to say” thing again. There are already so many good  blogs out there. Most of the time I feel like anything I have to say someone else has already said better.

Also, the thing I’m struggling with the most lately is pretty embarrassing. It’s harder for me to talk about than mood swings or self-injury or doing a crap job of taking care of myself.

Buuuut since being honest about mental health and BPD and myself in general is part of my whole thing, I’m going to make myself do it.

The issue I’m ashamed of is my unhealthy relationship with food. I know lots of people prefer junk food to healthy food, and I know that healthy eating isn’t something that comes easily for anyone. It takes some level of effort for everybody. It’s more than that in my case.

I haven’t been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve got some disordered eating habits. I am an emotional eater–and not like, “Oh I ate half a gallon of ice cream after a horrible break up.” More like eating is a daily response to stress, sadness, and frustration. I’m pretty secretive about eating and will go to considerable effort to hide what I consider unacceptable eating from other people, even my boyfriend. I have certain foods I consider safe and others that are not okay, for whatever reason.

I don’t binge or purge, and I don’t restrict very often. Because of that, I generally feel like my eating problems are a matter of not having any self-discipline or willpower. I’m clearly not in the emotional hell that people with eating disorders experience, so it must just be that I’m a self-indulgent glutton. Other times I think it might be more complicated than that because I will eat normally and healthily until I get stressed/emotionally distressed and then my eating habits will fall apart.

So really I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a piece of crap with no self-control. Maybe I’ve got disordered eating because of emotional problems that food has become tied to. Either way it’s something I’m struggling with a LOT that I am going to have to work out. I hope to be posting about it in the future as I try to make sense of it and change my actions.