Emotionally Sensitive in an "Always On" World

Emotionally sensitive people can find it especially difficult to cope with society's "always on," always doing something, always multitasking expectations. Even droves of averagely sensitive people have found themselves burned out and turning to self medicating or prescription drugs to literally take the edge off of life and numb the overwhelm.  This can't be the solution. There's got to be a more effective way to take care of ourselves.
 
Self-Care is a huge component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), the set of skills and concepts that helped me overcome the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder and no longer meet the symptoms (see my 30 minute video Both Sides of The Borderline.) 
 
Self-Care is sprinkled throughout the four modules of DBT: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness, and there's a reason for it.
 
The more vulnerable we feel due to feeling worn out or exhausted physically and/or mentally, the less prepared we are to effectively cope with our emotions. We become, in essence, "emotionally vulnerable." One of the main goals of the emotionally sensitive person and for those coping with Borderline Personality Disorder is to be able to cope effectively with both everyday emotions and the more intense feelings.
 
Unfortunately, the way most of us become aware that we are in need of a break is when we are becoming symptomatic physically (muscle tension, headaches, trouble sleeping or over sleeping are possible examples) or mentally (feeling irritable, resentful, wanting to isolate are possible examples).
 
So what stands in the way of ongoing self-care "maintenance" or intervention for most people? Self-Judgment. Common self-judgments around this include:
 
  •  I don't deserve a break.
  • No one around me is taking one - why should I?
  • This would be self-indulgence.
  • What will people think if I take a rest?
  • What if I let go and become lazy and lose my momentum?

It's time to release these judgments and replace them with more compassionate thoughts, such as:

  • Yes, I'm busy like most people, but I do deserve a break.
  • I see others around me being unwilling to stop and make this time for themselves, and I also see the emotional and physical toll it takes on them as well. I am choosing to pause and take care of myself instead.
  • Self-care is necessary.
  • It doesn't matter what others think of my choice to slow down and take care of myself. This is my body, my mind, my spirit, and I am responsible for my own health and well-being.
  • I will not lose my momentum but will rather allow my body much needed rest and will restore and rejuvenate as a result of my willingness to slow down for a little while.  The world will keep spinning, and I won't fall off.

Consider this week what messages stand in the way of you allowing yourself some much deserved rest and self-care.  Ask yourself: Is it really worth the impact on my mental and physical health? What can I do this week to take care of ME and let go of the messages that doing so is selfish?

I look forward to your shares.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.



Boundaries: Should You Tell Someone That You Have BPD?



One of the most common questions I am asked by my readers is "Should I tell ______________ that I have Borderline Personality Disorder?"  The blank is usually filled in with things like: my new boyfriend/girlfriend, my boss, my co-workers, and the like.

Disclosing your mental health diagnosis is a very personal decision, and each and every time you are faced with it, the circumstances are incredibly unique, from the relationship you have with the other person to the potential benefits and troubles that could come from the disclosure.

When it comes to new relationships, I err on the side of practicing strong boundaries.  This is not something that I had the ability to do in the past.   I felt that I had very little control over how much I told people -- even people I'd just met at a bus stop. (I literally remember telling one woman so much about me by the time our bus arrived that I felt sick with regret.)  I also remember my DBT therapist recommending that, especially in the context of a new potential partner, it's important that the nature of disclosure grow as the relationship does and that it be reciprocal.

For example, if your new date just told you that he or she really loves romantic comedies, replying with "Me too -- oh, and I have Borderline Personality Disorder" is obviously inappropriate.  But, if you get to a point where you are both discussing more emotionally deep topics, and it feels like disclosing would be helpful to the building of the relationship and for your new partner to understand where you are coming from, then it may be something to consider.  At some point, in the natural course of developing a deep relationship, I believe that something like this will begin to reveal itself and will come for discussion at some point naturally, in due time.   You must decide, for yourself, what feels comfortable, right, and safe.  No one else can know this or make this decision for you.

When it comes to the workplace, most of us aren't out there doing mental health advocacy work where our diagnosis is part of our credentials. For example, I have come across people like Sue Sibbald in the UK who has advocated for her own care with regards to BPD to the point where it gained the attention of local community services, and she eventually carved out a full-time job for herself revolving around BPD and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy).  In this situation, the disclosure was natural, appropriate, and came before acquiring the job.  My situation is similar, in that this blog has led to an online health education company called DBT Path, where I co-facilitate online Dialectical Behavior Therapy groups with licensed therapist Alicia Paz. (DBT is what helped me overcome BPD.)

For most people, this is not the case. Many of us work in offices, in professional careers, wait tables, tutor children.  In these situations, what would be the value of disclosing that you have BPD?  More than once I disclosed to an employer that I was mentally ill (before I knew my BPD diagnosis -- I already had the aresenal of  PTSD, OCD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder to disclose), and in my own personal experience, in every case, I regretted it.

In nearly every instance, I ended up revealing my mental health issues in a moment of panic and insecurity, and I believe it setup situations where I was judged or treated differently due to my disclosure.  I realize that this is not the case for everyone.  I've also spoken with a number of people who have said that sharing with their boss or co-workers that they have mental illness has created a closer bond and fostered a sense of truly being cared about in the workplace.  So, just like disclosing your diagnosis in personal relationships, the choice of whether to disclose in the workplace is also highly individual and personal.  There is much to consider, and only you can make the choice as to what is right for you in the long run.


How have you handled this in the past?  How might you handle disclosure of your mental health issues in the future?


Here are some books I've found helpful with this issue:

Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin: How to Recognize and Set Healthy Boundaries

Mindfulness for Borderline Personality Disorder: Relieve Your Suffering Using the Core Skill of Dialectical Behavior Therapy


DBT Studies that can be helpful:

Online DBT Emotion Regulation Course
Online DBT Distress Tolerance Course


Thank you for reading.
More soon.


In kindness,
Debbie

7 Signs That You Might Be An Emotionally Sensitive Person


 You might be an emotionally sensitive person if...
  1. You cry at Cheerios commercials
  2. You sometimes literally seem to feel what others feel
  3. You have an especially hard time coping with criticism.
  4. You've been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar Disorder.
  5. You have a hard time sorting out and identifying what you're actually feeling.
  6. You feel emotionally triggered when you hear or witness stories about things that happen to vulnerable people or animals.
  7. You often experience mood swings or unstable emotions/emotion dysregulation.
For over a decade, I suffered with the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.  I was often misdiagnosed as being Bipolar Rapid Cycling as well as other diagnoses connected with emotional instability.

When I finally received the correct diagnosis of BPD, I was referred to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which ultimately helped me to finally get my life on track.

Being an emotionally sensitive person is not a "bad" thing. And, although I no longer meet the criteria for a BPD diagnosis, I do meet some of the criteria and need to practice DBT Skills to help me feel well -- essentially, these skills help me to cope more effectively when I'm feeling dysregulated emotionally.

For example, I implement Emotion Regulation skills, such as:

  • Observing and Describing What I'm Feeling:
    Discerning WHAT I am feeling so I can identify and describe the emotion that needs attention.  This is something I did not know how to do before DBT. I would become completely overwhelmed with how I was feeling and would often feel that I was experiencing dozens of emotions at ones. Emotion Regulation skills have helped me to learn how to better discern how I am feeling. Being mindful of what we are feeling in any given moment is the first step to coping with not feeling well emotionally.
  • Opposite to Emotion Action:
    There are things we can do to shift from one emotion to another when our current emotion is not serving us in a productive way.
  • Letting go of Painful Emotions: Many emotionally sensitive people feel that they must "punish" themselves by extending their experience of painful emotions. The reasons behind this are complicated, of course, but we can learn how to have more compassion for our ourselves and, in the process, reduce our suffering by letting go of painful emotions that no longer serve us.

  • Riding the Wave of Emotions:One of the most helpful skills I've learned is to ride the emotional waves -- another way of acknowledging that "this too shall pass." No feeling, mood, or state of mind is permanent. It is all transient. Even if you feel miserable at 8 am, this doesn't mean you'll still feel this way at 4 pm (or even an hour later, really).  Learning to ride the wave allows us to wait until the intensity has passed rather than reacting and acting impulsively and in sabotaging ways. 


If you want to learn more about Emotion Regulation skills, check out this online, worldwide DBT class that I am co-facilitating with a licensed therapist at DBT Path, where we'll dig deeply into these concepts and more:

Emotion Regulation Online DBT Class 

It gets better!

More Soon.

In kindness,
Debbie 
 

Obsessive Love and BPD - When It's Difficult To Let Go And Move On



What causes someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD traits to fall into (or back into) what some describe as "obsessive love," especially when it comes to having difficulty letting go of a past lover?

I asked myself this very same question.  Although I am in recovery from BPD, meaning I no longer meet the criteria for the diagnosis, I do still meet some of the criteria/symptoms.  I wanted to understand how I could still get so stuck on a relationship from the past, seemingly unable (or unwilling) to let the person and relationship go from my heart and mind, even though the other person (through his silence and lack of response), was making it painfully obvious that he was not interested in reconnecting with me.

I wondered if my inability to let him go was part of human nature, so I sought out opinions that would support this. "Oh, lots of people look for past loves -- especially now with Facebook and all" is one thing I heard that helped me feel like my desires were less pathological and more "human."

I wondered if my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), which is in remission, might be sneaking out it's ugly head in the form of intrusive, repetitive, distressing thoughts. (It turns out, this was part of the problem.  As I was making a transition on a low dosage of one SSRI to another to manage OCD symptoms, I did experience this aspect).

I wondered if any of the remaining "borderline traits" that I still suffer from could be, in part, responsible.  It turns out that one of them in particular makes total sense.  I'll get to that in a moment.

First, I will tell you that one thing I found helpful in reducing the intensity of my preoccupation with getting this person's attention was my own version of an "Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind" experiment that I underwent in the form of clinical hypnosis. I wrote about that experience in this post.  While I didn't try to erase memories of the relationship, I did have the opportunity to have a very realistic encounter with my past love while in hypnosis - an opportunity that allowed me to have the chance to say what I desperately wanted to say to him face to face - even if only in my own mind and heart.

So back to the BPD trait I think is contributing largely to my inability to let go of the memory of the relationship I once had with a man who I thought was my soul mate: it is known as Black or White thinking.

In clinical terms: "A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes between idealization and devaluation (also known as 'splitting')" (from about.com).

Here's something I never realized before. When my mind would wonder to fond memories of my European love that I met in my early twenties (he was nearly forty), I would tend to remember all of the "good" things about him and the relationship.  For example, I believed he was my soul mate. I remember how we gazed into each others eyes and how loved I felt in his embrace.  I remembered how kind he was to me and how good it felt to be so desired in someone's eyes. I remember us working together in the same office....carving pumpkins together at Halloween outside of the company building, the beautiful diamond pendant necklace he gave me for Christmas, and all of our fun dates. I remember all the poetry and songs I wrote him and how he could listen to me sing and play guitar...the look in his eyes.

On the other hand, my mind was blocking out or seriously minimizing all of the "negative" aspects of the relationship, and there were many, as painful as that is and was to acknowledge, admit, and look at.  I was not yet diagnosed with BPD and was highly emotionally unstable at the time.  The both of us were already in relationships. While I told my partner of the time about the situation and left to see my new love exclusively, my new love did not do the same.  He continued living with his partner, not revealing our affair. 

In getting caught up in the nostalgia, I somehow conveniently "forgot" what it felt like to be "the other woman," from feeling like I wasn't good enough, as if I were in a constant competition (feeding into fears of abandonment, big time), and never mind the intense guilt I had with regards to his partner. In fact -- that's another memory -- calling her, revealing the situation, and apologizing.  She actually gave her blessing on us being together, saying she knew he hadn't been in love with her for years and wanting him to be happy.  Knowing this - that he received this reaction from her and still chose to not leave her and to not be with me - made his ultimate rejection of me all the more painful and difficult to bear.

What an awkward and painful situation all around for four people in total.  It's funny how when my mind would go to reaching out to this person, I remembered the affection, the attention, the hopes and dreams of us truly being soul mates and somehow creating a life together, and not all of the other things I mentioned. Or how, when I felt suicidal (as I often did at that time in my life), he refused to come to the hospital to pick me up because it was "too much for him."  He broke up with me because of my emotional instability (and probably other reasons, based on the complicated situation).

I became really disappointed in myself for allowing memories of him to fuel my urge to seek him out.  We didn't have Facebook back then when he and I were together.  I beat myself up over it. What if he's still with his partner?   Won't he think I'm crazy for reaching out after all these years?  When his response to my numerous attempts for connection went unanswered, I felt overwhelming shame, sadness, and great disappointment.

(some comic relief)



I don't know exactly what I expected to happen, but I know what I hoped for.  I hoped that he would be single and available.  I hoped that he would respond to me with warmth, telling me that he, too, had thought of me all of this time and was so happy to be connected again.  I dreamed that he would agree to meet up with me. In my big-term fantasy, we would fall in love again and have another chance at what went so sour years ago.  I have compassion for the part of me who wanted all of this. 

So, what can you do if you discover you've also been caught up in black or white thinking that has you clinging to the past, and something feels a bit off?

Please have compassion for yourself as I eventually learned to do with myself.  You are only human. Everyone wants to feel loved. Most people want an intimate love who they feel very connected with and may even consider a "soul mate."  Look at other emotional vulnerabilities in your life right now.  Are you feeling lonely, rejected, or otherwise sad or anxious or alone?  These can all contribute to us idealizing a past relationship or love while conveniently forgetting, ignoring, and pushing away the other aspects of the relationship - often the ones that led to it coming to an end.

We can't convince others that we've changed, that they should give us a chance, or that they should love us.  I'm being less hard on myself for reaching out.  I know my intentions and heart were in the right place. Now I must use Radical Acceptance to work through the fact that I have no control over the outcome and that life goes on, even if not the way we dreamed it to be.  That being said, new dreams are born every day.  We can love again.


More Soon.

In kindness,
Debbie


The author of this letter has since RECOVERED from Borderline Personality Disorder and no longer meets the criteria for a BPD diagnosis. There is HOPE for you. Recovery happened through a commitment to DBT. Debbie now teaches the DBT skills that helped change her life over at DBT Path (http://www.emotionallysensitive.com) where you can take online Dialectical Behavior Therapy Classes from anywhere in the world. You *can* overcome this disorder! Visit DBT Path to learn more.


Motherhood and BPD:How I Saved Myself & My Family (Guest Post by Wil)




Please welcome Wil of Write Into The Light with her first guest post at Healing From BPD.

What it used to Be Like

I bee lined down the hall into the bathroom, and shut and locked the door behind me before falling to my knees.  Covering my face with my hands, I sobbed.  Outside, my two and six year old girls banged on the door.  “Moooommy!  Moooommmyyy!”   I thought, “Oh, my God!  Why can’t they just leave me alone?”

I dialed a friend’s number and when she answered I cried, “I can’t do this.  I can’t be a mom.  I don’t know what I am doing.  It’s too much.  I can’t do this!”  She calmly asked me what was wrong.  I babbled through snot and tears, “One won’t eat her dinner, the other one always needs her diaper changed, they are fighting over toys, the Disney channel is driving me insane, and of course my husband is working all night again!”  I was spiraling out of emotional control…over every day, typical motherhood stuff.

That was six years ago – four years before I would be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD.)  On many occasions, my husband would have to come home from work to calm me down during times like this.  Feelings of inadequacy, fear of harming my children or myself, anger, self-pity, gripping anxiety, immobilizing depression and loneliness were my constant companions.
The unpredictability of the children’s behaviors and moods, and my inability to set boundaries and provide structure in my own life, let alone theirs, only heightened my anxiety.  I was permanently in fight or flight mode – instincts gone haywire.  I was filled with self-doubt and self-hatred.  I felt like a caged animal ready to chew off its own foot to escape the chains shackling it to the cold and filthy floor.

Then I learned (in Dialectic Behavioral Therapy - DBT) that this chaotic environment, in which I felt like a prisoner, was imitative of my own childhood home.  Sure, I wasn’t walking around drunk all of the time like my parents, but the moodiness, anger, and self-absorption that consumed me were not much different than theirs.  Also like them, I had no real sense of how to be a parent.
Everyday interactions with my children baffled me and left me reeling in emotional binges filled with terror like when I was a child.  I felt as if I lived in a carnival fun house filled with mirrors that distorted my view of the entire world while everyone else had regular old mirrors to look at.  In hindsight, this was closer to the truth than I realized at the time.

The Turning Point

I was already being treated for alcoholism and bipolar and anxiety disorders when my psychiatrist suggested that I might have BPD as well.  My first response was, “Great, another fricking diagnosis!”  What I didn’t know, however, is that being diagnosed with BPD would be the best thing to ever happen to me and for my mental health recovery.  For if I was never diagnosed with BPD, I may have never sought out DBT, which did for me in one year what years and years of individual and group therapies based on other psychological theories could never begin to do.

What it is Like Now

In DBT I learned how to be mindful of and radically accept my limitations as a highly emotionally sensitive person and mother.  For example, this past spring I was beating myself up over not being emotionally balanced enough to take my children to church on Easter.  The old me would have ignored my high anxiety levels and begrudgingly gotten them ready while screaming at them to, “Hurry up. Do this. Don’t do that!”

Then I would have suffered through the service feeling like a martyr while becoming angrier by the minute.  Or I would have had a panic attack and then drove us all back home in a dangerous state of mind.  Then I would have spent the rest of the day in bed, completely abandoning the kids to the television and their own devices.  And let’s not forget the verbal hell my husband would have received for having to go to work, thereby leaving me to deal with the children alone, and on a holiday at that!

Instead I sat back and observed my thoughts and feelings as if I was watching another person go through them.  I acknowledged the guilt and anxiety rather than fighting them.  I also consciously did not make them who I was, but chose to view them as an experience of something separate within me.  I chose to believe that deep down all was ok – that I was ok – no matter what thoughts and feelings occurred in my mind.  I also made special care not to judge my thoughts and feelings as good or bad.  The just were there or they were not…period.

Later that morning, I found an Easter service streaming live online, and my girls and I worshiped along with them from the comforts of our family room.  It was a blessed day in which I owed no apologies at the end, neither to my kids or my husband, and most importantly, to myself.

What is it like for you as a mother with bpd?  Or if you are the child of a mother with bpd, what is that like?  What are some positive aspects of being a highly emotionally sensitive mother?


Wil is a mental health writer and mother with BPD.  She is also the founder and editor of Turtle Way, an online literary art journal for those with mental illness.  She blogs at Write into the Light.  Find her on Facebook and Twitter.  

If you'd like to learn more about Dialectical Behavior Therapy and the DBT skills that helped Wil changed her life, please visit DBT Path.

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