Tolerating Being Alone When You Have BPD

I can recall with great detail the distress I used to experience when I needed to spend time alone.  Most of the time, even an hour was difficult, let alone an entire day or evening.  I didn't understand at the time, but there was a lot going on that contributed to my inability to tolerate others going away, and of course, it was complex.

In the thick of my experience with borderline personality disorder symptoms, I was contending with some very specific inner experiences that contributed to the intolerance:

  • a history of being abandoned by the people I counted on and loved and therefore a fear that this behavior would be repeated by others
  • an absence of a sense of self
If you can relate to any of the above issues, read on...

So first we have the history of abandonment and rejection that became a part of how I navigated the world.  I was living in fear that people I loved, if I allowed them to do things on their own or to spend time away from me, would stop loving me and would leave me.  They'd "see the light," I was sure, and not come back.  This terrified me, and of course it was a distorted, extreme thought based on past, very painful experiences.  I sat there and imagined how horrible it would feel if they left me.

The one and ONLY way I overcame this aspect of suffering was to actually experience, in increasing amounts of time, separation from loved ones.  I needed to see that they would come back.  In order to do that, I needed to give them the opportunity to go somewhere first. This was so difficult.  At first I cried myself sick due to anxiety and distress.  Nowadays, although it's still difficult to part with loved ones, very short-term absences such as them going to work or being away for half a day are totally manageable.  Them going away for longer periods of time is more challenging, but I handle it much more in stride. A few tears, then I am able to pull myself together and get on with things until they return.  No more going into crisis and crying myself sick.  I realized it did nothing to change the situation and only left me with more unnecessary suffering to react in this way.  I learned to respond rather than react.

Secondly is the piece about identity.  Although it wasn't clear to me at the time, I behaved much like a chameleon. I morphed my mood, behavior, and personality, in fact, to those around me.  With no one around me, I experienced a scary, empty feeling -- almost as if I didn't exist.  It wasn't until I learned Dialectical Behavior Therapy that I began to discover who I was aside from anyone else.  As I grew in that confidence, this helped substantially with being able to tolerate being alone.

How about you?  Is this an issue for you or was it at some time?

How are you/did you cope effectively?

My hope is that by reading this experience, you will be encouraged that you, too, can overcome the issue of being on your own.  Perhaps, like me, you'll even begin to enjoy some time all to yourself.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

In kindness,

Why Are We So Affected By Robin Williams' Death?

This is going to be a very difficult post.  Life sometimes is difficult. I like to put it as: it's not all rainbows and unicorns.  The good news is, that we can reach out, get the help we need, and build our resiliency. While there is much pain in the world, there is also much beauty, much healing, and much overcoming.  Keeping that in mind, I will share my experience with a recent event about which you are almost certainly aware.

Last Monday night, one of my best friends and I sat down to watch The Bird Cage.  We were looking for a comedy on Netflix, and it recommended this movie.  We hadn't seen a movie with Robin Williams in a while, and were laughing our butts off.  At about 9:30 pm and half-way through the movie, we decided that we needed to do some other things and that we'd finish watching the movie the next night. We still haven't returned to the film. We're just not ready.


Little did we know that just a few hours later and only a short drive away from us, Robin Williams would take his own life.

I heard the news during a DBT class that I was teaching online. One of my students said, "Sorry, I  just got distracted because I heard the news about Robin Williams."  Another student said, "I think that was a hoax."  The first student replied, "I don't think so. I'm so sad."

At this point, I drew the conclusion that Robin had died, but to keep the class safe, keep myself emotionally regulated, and to foster an environment that would hopefully help my students to do the same, I said, "Wait -- what news -- no, you know what?  I know we have a lot competing for our attention when we're taking an online class.  Let's focus on our studies and those of us who want to know what happened can look after class."  My students agreed.

Of course, the first thing I did after class, even though I am an emotionally sensitive person and KNOW BETTER (yet always seem to do this), I turned on CNN.  That's when I learned the news was true. Robin was dead.  I was so sad. And, I felt weirded out, since I had started watching The Bird Cage the night before and was thinking to myself, "Wow, he's inspiring. He's struggled with mental illness his whole life.  What an awesome, loving, person he is. So funny, too."

If that wasn't bad enough, the next morning our local sheriff's office had a press conference on the nature of Robin's passing. I will only tell you, in case you haven't heard it, and I hope you don't, that it was VERY graphic.  It was like an auditory train wreck.  As much as I knew it wasn't good for me to hear, I kept listening.   I then cried and sobbed at how sad I was for him and his family.  I was ANGRY at the press for allowing the broadcasting of such details about how he was found, etc.  I felt angry because, to me, it was very un-dignifying to this man who should be remembered for all he gave to this world and not for how he was found after committing suicide.

It was very difficult to hold and process that day, and to be honest, I still feel affected by it and am not 100% emotionally regulated since it happened.    I reached out to my therapist and also talked about it in DBT group under the scope of Mindfulness practice.  I talked about how I am working hard to consciously redirect my thoughts to other things when the distress associated with Robin's passing becomes too much to bear.  My doctor said this was an excellent use of Mindfulness skills, and she urged me to consider, when I'm feeling stronger, to consider exploring WHY his death has affected me so much.  I couldn't fully understand why I  -- and so many of us -- have been having such a strong reaction, and why some among us think we're weird for grieving over someone who was not a close relative or someone we even knew.

She suggested that Carl Jung's complex theory can help explain it.  She said that within us are chemicals, physical structures of cells moving about, neurons sending information all over our bodies by neurochemical reaction, and our nervous system is reacting -- all in response to what we take in in our environment.  Hearing about Robin Williams can be triggering for us for so many reasons.  I can relate to many mentioned in this Huffington Post article by Lindsay Holmes, Why do we grieve celebrities?

We feel like we were connected with celebrities. We "grew up with them." In Robin's case, he brought us joy, laughter, and he was incredible actor who brought characters to life like few others could.   For me, he was practically a neighbor.  His death reminded me of my own mortality and that of those I love.  It reminded me of the scary fact that sometimes people feel so desperate that they think death and suicide are the only answers.  Writing that makes me cry.  For a man so gentle, so kind, so wonderful, who although it turns out he was facing financial and health issues, had access to some of the very best care, still ended up taking his life.  He knew we would find out.  He felt so much pain that this concern didn't stop him.   All of this is quite scary to me. This is all very, very difficult stuff for anyone to process.  We MUST reach out for the help of qualified professionals who can help us work through our grief, whether or not our grief makes sense to us or anyone else around us.  As Dr. Linehan always says, there is "cause" for the emotions we experience, even if we can't readily identify them. Therefore, our experience is valid. It deserves to be honored by looking at it and processing it through in a safe space.   (This is actually the first time I'm processing through it, and I plan to talk about it later today in a therapy appointment.)

There is very little control we have when things like this happen.  I did what I could do.  I started this post in memoriam of him on Facebook, which many from around the world have found, "liked," and commented on.  I invite you to do the same.

I'm processing through my own stuff, and I'm sure many of you are doing the same. If you're having thoughts of hurting yourself or need help working through processing Robin's suicide and you're in the United States, you can call 1-800-273-8255.  Please do reach out for help.   When I called them in the past to help a suicidal friend, they said they are there for loved ones and those affected by suicide in any way -- so you can get the support you need.  If you're outside of the United States and know of such numbers or websites in your country, please reply to this post with your country and that information.
We will get through this.  Rest in Peace, dear Robin, you are already so dearly missed.
Thanks for reading.

More Soon.
In kindness,

UPDATE:  Check out this wonderful post from Dr. Robert Fischer of Optimum Performance Institute on this issue from a compassionate clinical perspective.

How to Not Be Controlled By Your Mood (Using Mindfulness)

In most treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and other issues involving emotion dysregulation, you are very likely to encounter the subject of mindfulness and how implementing it into your life can help reduce your suffering and overall symptoms.  The word "mindfulness" is often thrown around, though, so most people see it as an elusive mystery, attainable only to monks far removed from society or other religious people only.  I'm happy to tell you that this isn't true.  Mindfulness is available to everyone, including you, and you can begin as soon as you've completed reading this post.

Mindfulness is something that has helped me manage during the worst points of my BPD symptoms, and it continues to help me with the BPD traits from which I still suffer, PTSD symptoms, anxiety, and, beyond it being a way for me to help manage problematic experiences, I've integrated it into my life so that it's a daily practice of truly being here in the now, enjoying each moment as much as possible.  Now, I'm no guru, and I won't pretend to be.  I'm not mindful 100% of the time.  But you know what?  No human being is -- not even those monks removed from society. You get to start right where you are.

So, what is mindfulness?   According to Dr. Marsha Linehan, who created Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a set of skills to which I attribute my recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder , says that mindfulness "is not a place you get to. It is the practice and the process."

She has also said that in her research as to why suffering causes some people to become stronger while it has the power to destroy others is one key ingredient: Radical Acceptance, a major concept in Mindfulness. It means to fully, totally embrace reality as it is in this moment and is sometimes referred to as Reality Acceptance. 

Keep in mind that acceptance is not the same thing as approval.  So, if you're going through a tragedy in your life right now, Radical Accepting it doesn't mean that you like, approve of, or want the tragedy in your life.  It only means that you are looking at life in a realistic way, acknowledging that the tragedy is occurring in this moment. Rather than deny it, suppress it, avoid it, etc., you are simply saying "this is happening right now."  This reality acceptance is the starting point for processing through the pain and for making changes in your life as needed.

How do we go from where we are now to being more in the Radical Acceptance state of mind?  Dr. Linehan says that the only bridge from willfulness, tantrums, and non-acceptance in our lives to Radical Acceptance is practice through Mindfulness.

Here's an example:  In BPD, we often have urges... urges to engage in impulsive behaviors that, while they may feel like they bring relief in the moment, are ultimately self-destructive and harmful.   With mindfulness, instead of instantly going from the urge/impulse to acting on it, we insert a pause, on purpose.  We notice the impulse like a scientist observing something.  We acknowledge that the impulse has arisen within us, and then we acknowledge that we have power in this moment to choose.   Yes, it is possible, though mindful awareness, to observe an urge without acting on it.

We also do not need to be controlled by our moods.  Let's say you've set out to complete an important tasks, such as a university assignment or work project.  You become bored.  There have been times in my life where that was all it took: I felt bored, had the urge to quit, and I did... only to regret it after the fact.  Can you relate?

With mindful awareness, though, you can notice the boredom arise, and tell yourself, "Even though I am bored, I can stay in integrity and complete my commitment and finish this project," and then you do it.  You're left with a much higher sense of self-respect when you follow through on things even if you "don't feel like it."

Mindfulness, that pause you proactively take when you become aware of whatever is going on in your conscious thought process (thoughts, body sensations, impulses, emotions, feelings), allows you to understand yourself better and to make healthier, more recovery focused choices most of the time.

So, today, as you go through your day, notice your experience.  If a feeling, especially an intense one, rises up in you, instead of immediately acting on whatever impulse or urge the emotion is triggering, try proactively inserting that mindful pause.   Notice your thoughts. Notice the feeling. Notice what's going on in your body.  Acknowledge it all.  Then acknowledge that you have the power to choose, and for your well-being, may you at that point choose wisely.

Thank you for reading.

More soon.

In kindness,

Click to learn how DBT skills like Mindfulness helped me overcome Borderline Personality Disorder.

Distraction vs. Avoidance

For those of us who deal with intense emotions, whether due to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), BPD traits, or other reasons, we know how important it is to take a mindful, skillful break from our suffering through the use of conscious distraction.

I call it conscious distraction, because in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), we use Distraction as a Distress Tolerance skill -- not to avoid, suppress, or deny that we are having an intense emotional experience, but as a way to temporarily handle the time during which we have no control over whatever is causing our distress. 

For example, let's say you have to undergo a number of medical tests. During those days of waiting, there is nothing you can do to speed up the results.  You don't want to be suffering in high emotional pain for three days, especially when it won't make any positive difference in terms of your waiting. That's where these skills come in.

We might do things like engage in a hobby or something we like to do (as you can see, I set myself up to play with nail polishes and to create a collage/vision board).  We might watch a TV program, surf the net, call a friend, or go for a walk.

If you're like me though, I need to watch it, because something like watching TV or going online can quickly turn into "how did eight hours just pass by?", and then I'm left stressed with the fact that I have chores around the house and other things undone. I then need to hustle to get them done, which causes stress.

The main thing about using Distraction as a distress tolerance tool is to use it skillfully and mindfully.  We must strike a balance. One way to do this is to set a timer.  I use the Google Timer to remind me once 20, 30,  60 or any amount of minutes are up to keep me on track. The trick is, like an alarm clock, to not keep hitting reset/snooze :-D .

Just type "timer" or "google timer" into Google,
and the timer widget works directly from your browser.

What types of skillful distraction do you engage in?  Do you find your distraction sometimes turns into avoidance? What can you do to proactively prevent this or to cope effectively if you notice it happening?

Thanks for reading.

More soon.

In kindness,


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