Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Ya Get Me?

I love the English language. I toy with it, play with it, take words and mess with them, a bit like a trick footballer playing with a ball. Sometimes it's a bit random - especially when a word enters my head and I need to hear what it sounds like out loud. I especially love it when I discover some new 'in' word or phrase.

Recently I've been fascinated by people saying, 'ya get me?' after almost everything they say. I guess it is a way of making sure that your listeners are, in fact, listening. On another level though, it's also a way of checking out you are being understood. That started me thinking, maybe I need to start using it especially when talking about my mental health.

For most people with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) there is a sense of unease, a lack of belonging that is all pervasive. I had grown up with a sense of not being able to connect with the world and, more especially, with the people around me. I had a sense of otherness, of being an alien in a world that failed to notice how much I was struggling to belong. My nickname as a child was 'Moonman'- says it all really. I also did not communicate with adults, seeking to communicate through one childhood friend in particular, until the school in their wisdom removed him from me and forced me to try to speak to teachers and others at school. I was six before I was really able to do that.

This sense of alienation is a hallmark of BPD, a condition which creates a gulf between me and those around me, and which no one, but me is aware of. The only way I found to describe it when trying to help GPs and others understand, before my diagnosis, was a sense that I was 'locked inside my own heading screaming'. When I was most distressed I kept repeating 'I am not made for this world. The problem for me was that in my day to day life no one could see my distress, or if they did, they didn't understand its causes.

Lack of stable identity, caused by an inability to make emotional sense of the world around me is a symptom of BPD which goes to the core of the social theories of its causes. If we learn about our place in the world through the responses from those around us, then the invalidating home and family environment becomes a twisted mirror in which a distorted image of the self is formed. So, paradoxically the relationships which are most problematic to me are those which value me - they just clash with the internalised invalidated image and so are often rejected as untrustworthy. If the internal monologue of self criticism and self hatred meets with evidence to the contrary the resulting dissonance can be unbearable.

I am more comfortable with the feelings of failure and disconnection with the relationships around me, than I am with affirming, loving relationships. If my fundamental belief about myself is that I not worthy of life affirming love, then it is hardly surprising that I allow myself to become involved with destructive and abusive relationships. They are where I believe I belong.

As I work on my recovery I am trying to learn to find validation in small things at first. However, one of the ways that I still struggle to make people 'get me' is that I do probably need more affirmation in work and social situations than most people. The twisted mirror image of myself is still in the process of being untwisted. Slowly, I am trusting myself to develop new relationships. Trust takes time.

Being an alien, in a strange planet it is often easier to spend most of my time alone. This was one of my major coping mechanisms in the past. I deliberately retreated from intimate relationships because I just couldn't make sense of them, nor could my boyfriends make sense of the contradictions in me. On the one hand I craved affection, but on the other I behaved constantly in ways which would drive a wedge between us. The role of alien was so much more comfortable to me, then, than the sense of belonging to and with someone. There were times when I could happily go for weeks on end without any meaningful contact with anyone. It was safe, unchallenging and didn't cause any jarring or contradiction to my internalised view of myself. What I didn't realise for years, was that this was reinforcing the sense of isolation I was trying to combat.

Where am I today? I am trying to find new ways of connecting with the world around me. I am having to learn that patterns of invalidation established from early childhood will take time to change. I am trying out new ways of relating to friends, without retreating into becoming a recluse in order to protect myself from kindness and affection. The structure offered by the DBT Inter Personal Effectiveness Module helps me to find my place in most relationship situations. In the past I would swing wildly between shutting myself off and exposing myself too early in relationships usually sharing way too much about my struggles and my past history. I am consciously holding back when I need to in order to build trust on both sides of relationships.

So do 'ya get me?' The reality is that there are many times when I don't get myself. I am working on rebuilding my sense of self, without the overlaid turmoil of out of control emotions and moods, and the non stop internal self condemnatory commentary. All of which is a new experience for me, not all of it comfortable or pleasant. Slowly, but surely I am untwisting the mirror image.

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