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The Good Days – Part 1: All Aboard

Hey,

So, obviously, it’s not like life always sucks. We’re not miserable ALL the time. Actually, most people on the outside would probably consider me an upbeat, optimistic, and funny human. Usually, when I’m with others, that’s the behavioural framework within which I operate to try and make myself and those around me feel good. Building positive interactions and whatnot. A lot of the time, because of the amnesia phenomenon of my borderline (which reading about has provided SO MUCH CLARITY on the fucked-up nature of my thought processes), I actually do feel pretty good.

Also, I’m not talking about that mania that sometimes occurs on the upswing of these cycles, when I’m so hyper that I’m bouncing off the walls, making strange sounds, yelling, running from place to place at the speed of light, and my ADHD makes me spew every inappropriate and “funny” thought that comes into my head. Sometimes I just feel good. Calm. No anguish to be found. But sometimes, when I’m in the middle of some sort of internal crisis, these periods of calm feel quite unsettling when I start to think about it. For some of you, this might feel unintuitive. A few days ago, when I was meditating on one of these anguish-free periods, I finally came up with a metaphor (shocking, I know) for what has been causing me so much bone-crushing despair for years.

I’ve often thought of life in terms of water. All of us being on different boats and whatnot. Different weather and seasons of life that impact us to varying degrees depending on the strength and builds of our boats. In my case, I often feel like I’ve been completely knocked off my boat, and I’m just drowning in an ocean of feedback loops. Drowning. There are literal times when it is difficult to breathe, and I can’t see straight, and it feels like I’m being hit by all sides. This effect can come from any one or a combination of my acronyms. And then, when I’m in the “eye of the storm,” having a good period while still technically in the throes of a crisis, it’s like coming up for air. I don’t mean that in a good way. Sure, being able to breathe is great, but it’s those moments of desperation, gasping breaths, looking around, trying to get a grip as things continue to roil around you. Still not really having your bearings, but at least you can breathe, sort of, even as you’re coughing up whatever it is you were drowning in. You’re still wet and cold, and trying to tread water and stay above the waves, looking for a life boat, or your own boat, or a raft, or just something to cling to. But if you don’t find something, you very quickly lose steam and can’t keep treading water, and back down you go.

For a long time, I never recognized these eye-of-the-hurricane moments for what they were, and these would result in three scenarios.

Number 1: I would emerge from the depths, gasping for a bit, then realize I can breathe a bit easier, get out of bed and eat and whatnot. Maybe even have fun at a social gathering, and not be trapped in anguish. And I would believe that finally, I was “cured” or I had found the right combination of self-control and routine to finally “beat it” and live like a normal person. Now, some of you might be thinking, “why can’t you, then?” and it’s precisely because I was still in the ocean. Because I thought I was cured, I would use up my treading water energy on taking on more things, swimming from boat to boat (various activities, social functions, visiting friends, work), trying to catch up on everything that I couldn’t do while I was under. This mad scramble comes from the horrible guilt of being behind. And before I knew it, that little bit of stored energy would be gone, and I would sink right down to rock bottom faster than before, and end up in a worse position than whatever I’d just emerged from. Instead of using that small burst of energy to search for and get back onto my boat and really be safe, I would be convinced I didn’t really need it, that I was strong enough to swim in the FUCKING OCEAN on my own strength. Like, shit, just writing about that makes me laugh a little. Why would I beat myself up so much for not being Aquaman? But of course, that’s what you and I do. It’s very hard not to, because it seems like everyone else is able to achieve this feet with no problem.

So, that’s the state of mind that I’m currently at and trying to emerge from, but that’s led to Scenario 2: Eventually I started to see these breathers as a sham. Which is just swinging in the opposite direction, right past the truth again. This is where that hopelessness and despair comes in, and that defeatist fatalism that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of my own destruction. This has been the issue for the past year or so. I’d emerge, finally able to breathe, and just kind of sigh and shake my head. “This is just a fluke. It’s not going to last. You’re damaged beyond repair, so don’t get too excited.”

I would be like someone preparing for their own funeral. When I went to an event or visited with friends, it was with the mentality that I should enjoy while it lasts, because soon I’ll be under again. Everything has a bittersweet, dismal quality to it. I do what I can, slowly losing steam, slowly going back under the surface until finally, I sink once again, accepting the darkness with a sigh, not really sure or even caring when I’ll be back able to come back up again, if ever. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t – it doesn’t really matter. But once again, I don’t use that respite to find my lifeboat or get back into it. Not because I don’t think I need it, but because I feel like there’s no point – all that will happen is I’ll end up overboard with the next storm and have to repeat the process again. No point expending energy for the search or the excruciating climb back on deck. Because I’m just tired. Sick and tired of the cycle. Tired of hoping that this might be the time I make it, only to be bitterly disappointed with yet another backward slide.

I don’t know what demons you’re facing, whether seemingly insurmountable or mere inconveniences that make you falter from time to time. Either way, you’ve probably experienced some sort of cycle like this. For those of you for whom the fight seems impossible, maybe this resonates as strongly as it does for me.

I’m trying to think of it in a different way. Scenario 3. The medium point between frantic optimism and dismal defeat. I think in DBT they call this acceptance – just taking whatever comes. Despite hating what got me here, I’m in a very fortunate position to be able to do this, at least a little. I’m not quite in the position I was last year, with basically no commitments, no people, and nothing to do. I do have a few things tying me to this world, which can be both annoying but necessary. But I’m in a much better position to manage my schedule one day at a time. Listen to my body and mind to determine when I should try to push myself and when to rest, and when to leave when things are too much. I’m working on building my network of safe people and trying to explore and grow relationships without testing or manipulating.

During those times when I get a breather, I’m trying to learn to take pause. When I come up for air from whatever episode I’ve been having, I want to take time to really catch my breath without any expectation of doing anything else. Just until the world seems right-side up again. I’m trying to accept that I probably won’t actually feel like hot garbage forever, once an episode passes. Sometimes it will take a few hours or maybe days or weeks, depending on the severity of the spiral, but there will come a point when I do want to start living again. Engaging with Jesus, my community and my projects. Then I’ll have to carefully decide what to do.

The first thing will be to find and get back in my boat. No matter what, I think that’s going to be the basis for success, even if I do end up going back overboard, I’m going to need to grab that ladder and go back on, every time What this looks like is trying to restart at least some of the routines that I’ve let slide, and checking in with the people in my closest circle who might have been trying to reach me. Maybe I try to get out of bed, maybe try to put on some clothes. Eat a little, open the door to my room or even a window to let in some fresh air. It might sound strange, but some of you might empathize with the times when I can’t even manage to do those things. Last week things got so bad that even taking more than a shallow breath, stretching out a leg or turning over in bed was difficult, and something of a baby step toward feeling better if I was able to do it. I’m sorry if you’re someone who can identify with this, because it completely sucks.

So I will start small when I surface, not yet dealing with whatever wreckage might have been left in the wake of the storm. Just getting to a place where I can stand, and signal to those who say they care about me that I’m not dead yet, even if it’s just reacting to a message. Taking life a few minutes at a time, and probably taking lots of rest between each small step.

This is where the frustration sets in, and where a lot of that self-loathing reaches a fever pitch and can drive me to frenzied multitasking. At least when I’m under the waves, I spend most of the time trying to numb out and exist in the black, formless haze. But emerging from the haze means really starting to see myself, and to be honest, I have learned to hate the view. It’s easy to go let go of the ladder and sink back down again. Or desperately try to pile on to numb out in a different way and not feel like a waste of space. Climbing the ladder is a very precarious process.

So once I’m back on board and feel a little more stable, that’s when I start to build up more of the routine to look a bit more like a “normal” functioning human being. I kind of think of Terminators reforming themselves after they’ve been blown to smithereens – one layer at a time, bones, muscles, skin, healing damage at each level (I’ve never actually seen the movies so maybe I’m thinking of something else, but you probably know what I’m thinking of.)

Possibly, I’ll go out somewhere, like to church or to see a friend, maybe cook something or tidy up my space. Doing laundry. All the while staying plugged constantly into some sort of media that helps me numb out and keep the waves at bay while still going through the motions. Maybe I check some emails from my outer circle and reach out to the middle people of my circle, those who care but aren’t really worried when they don’t hear from me for extended periods (which, honestly, my inner circle is so used to my shit that they aren’t always that worried about me either, but that’s more on me than on them). I might even be able to give my projects some attention, like my novels or my ministry. Maybe I start to journal again. The engine slowly starts spluttering back to life, and I have to work even harder to avoiding running before I’ve even got my sea legs again.

Then comes the hardest part of all.

Thanks for Stopping by!

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13

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