Fighting yourself in the pursuit of love

At my core I have a deeply engrained self-loathing. My own analysis concludes that when my sister was adopted when I was only 2 years old, I must have subconsciously concluded that it was because I wasn’t good enough. I also developed a jealousy towards my sister, as she did towards me. This is a common issue between siblings, so I guess it is not surprising between adopted siblings either. She was a novelty in those days, and attracted a lot of attention, although in our village there were several other adopted children, and a few years later we moved to a street with right next to us two Indian families with in total 5 children.

But besides us both developing jealousy towards each other, I think subconsciously I must have wondered about the reason why my parents adopted a child from so far away. My theory is that along the way I developed the idea that I must have been not good enough. When they undertook the trip to India to collect my sister, I was brought to my mother’s eldest sister, who had a daughter a few years older than me. I still remember some details about that. But off course this can be seen as an abandonment, even if it was just for a month or so, especially that when they returned suddenly there was this dark skinned girl to compete for my parents attention. This must have been a big shock for me.

Then the abuse towards my sister started. What message does that send to me, her older sister? First of all, that is a lot of attention directed towards her. Yes, it’s negative attention, but attention nonetheless. Second, it made me feel unsafe, and that I could not trust them to defend my sister and me, to provide care. Neither of them ever choose our side, stopped the abuse and neglect. Nor did any other family member, neighbour, childminder or school teacher. So I learned to distrust adults, and hate myself.

Then I was talking a lot, probably in an attempt for attention, and with a raised voice, which must have been very annoying. So I was repeatedly told to shut up, for years and years on a daily basis. I didn’t fit in anywhere, I felt different, and I wanted to be a boy. I didn’t like playing with girls, so I tried playing with boys. But they didn’t want to play with me, because I was a girl. This then resulted in me always being on the periphery of groups and just feeling awkward and alone. I felt I wasn’t listened to and to add to it, my father often laughed at me on moments that were particularly important for me to be heard.

During my teens and adulthood I have always sought to reinforce this feeling of hate inside me. I choose partners and ‘friends’ who were not interested in me, were emotionally unavailable, abusive and manipulative. By doing that I was never confronted with having to show my vulnerability. And if someone did take an interest I would skilfully avoid. But now, this is harming my own children because I struggle to show them love, physical touch and emotional support. How can I if I have this self-hatred? When my daughter tells me she loves me, I struggle to say it back, because I feel this rejection inside me. ‘You wouldn’t love me if you knew the inside me’. That is the kind of thoughts I have. I have no social life, no close friends and no family nearby. I have to change that.

I guess somehow I have to start loving me, really loving myself. But how do I go about that if my natural tendency is to reinforce this message of hate? Well, I have a few ideas. First of all, I have to set boundaries and stick to them. This is very difficult. Because I constantly make excuses as to why this person doesn’t need to abide by them. Say I get to know someone. One of my boundaries should be to never go to someone’s house the first time I meet them. Always meet in a public place and make sure my son knows where I am and what time I will be back. Or, set boundaries when and until when somebody can call me. Cause if I stick to those ‘self-love’ rules I will look after myself and my health and safety. But instead I often ignore all that, and allow myself to get into situations I can’t get myself out of or to be used. Because I give in to the promise or even just the anticipation of attention, physical or otherwise, which to me look like love, but I know isn’t. And then, I get abused, raped, manipulated, ignored or dumped and that, off course proves I am worthless, stupid, ugly etc.

‘Borderline’ | Graphite and ink on paper | Gif | 12/2020

When sometimes somebody comes along and actually is gentle, loving, caring and sensitive I feel extremely uncomfortable, awkward and I just want to run. Which I always do. Leaving people heartbroken, angry and upset. And I am alone again.

Now being alone feels so comfortable and great. I made myself believe it is better this way, because I am safe, my children are safe and nobody gets hurt. Which off course is a lie, because as long as I live like this my daughter gets hurt by me not meeting her emotional needs, and I have an enormous hole in my life of deep, black emptiness. So yes, I now realise I have to work on it, because I realise it. Ignorance is bliss, but sadly I am never ignorant.

Then there is the issue of the fact that every human needs other human contact. And I am still human. So all this time I have yearned for emotional comfort, safety and closeness. It’s called love. But I have never really felt it, truly. So I fight it, because deep inside I hate myself, but at the same time I want it. I need it. That is what Borderline Personality Disorder, or Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder is. Push and pull. Pull somebody close and push them away, sometimes in one sentence, in one moment. I bet you can see how hard it is to be in a relationship with somebody like me.

Isolation

Being and feeling isolated is a common theme for anyone who is a little different from the norm. Especially people with mental health issues or from the LGBTQ+ community can experience this. As I tick both those boxes and I also am a single parent and a student studying from home it is extra difficult to connect and interact with other adults.

As a child experiencing and witnessing domestic violence I also felt extremely alone. But not just alone, I felt alienated, expelled and rejected from society. I could never find a safe and comfortable place anywhere where I felt included and accepted. I didn’t have friends, not real friends anyway. I was bullied. No wonder I felt suicidal and desperate to be accepted the way I was. I was desperate for touch, for love, for friendship, for comfort but off course because of that I was vulnerable. Predators were out looking for adolescents like me, even as an adult. So I got raped and abused again and again until I decided a few years ago, no more.

I isolated myself, and deliberately retracted from social interaction out of pure self preservation. I was so afraid of being abused again, and also that I would lash out and hurt another person that I just worked, slept and ate and that was pretty much all. But even that didn’t fully protect me. I was also worried for my children, I wanted most of all to protect them from any further harm. To me, the only way was not to get into another relationship and not having friends. But this meant that I got completely stuck in more than one sense. I found that I couldn’t keep a job, I kept getting into trouble in one way or another and got sacked. I worked extremely long hours, 45 hours a week plus, and the jobs I did were always precarious through agencies. This meant that I hardly had time with my children, only about 2 hours a day, and they suffered emotionally. My chronic backpain got gradually worse and worse, my mental health was in decline. The situation got untenable.

But how to get out of it? How to improve? How to change? What to change? I had and still have not much of an idea. I stopped working, simply because I couldn’t carry on physically and mentally. I started looking for help. I got help from my daughter’s school, and from social services. Then I asked my GP and mental health team to re-assess me. They gave me different and additional medication and put me in a ‘skills group’. This got the ball rolling. I started to look after my physical health. I started to think. I started to talk. And now, I am on my way although I still don’t know exactly how I can get better. I still have no real friends that I talk to. I don’t talk about what I find difficult, when I struggle, when I really don’t feel well.

I am sorry if you read this and consider yourself my friend. I am not intentionally rude or out to upset you. But the problem is, I don’t know what a real friend is. I think a real friend is someone you can be vulnerable with, who you tell difficult stuff to, and who offers you safety and comfort. Someone who shows you respect, and who you show respect to. And that is the problem. I don’t allow myself to engage with someone in that way, because I feel I can’t risk it. I struggle to communicate my boundaries, and to stick to my boundaries. I am basically too nice. I make excuses why I shouldn’t stick to my boundaries, probably because it feels like I demand too much of someone, and I am not worth it.

‘Isolation’ pencil on paper, Mayola 2020

I think that is what lies at the basis of this; the overwhelming feeling of worthlessness. I know that to overcome that, I have to set boundaries and stick to them, because only then you will get self respect and value. A friendship can not be real without value. And a friendship only has value when both participants respect each other’s boundaries, and give as much as they take.

People with EUPD (Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder, formerly known as Borderline Personality Disorder) keep others at arms length whilst demanding them to stay close. So I have a strong feeling of wanting to be near someone, even to the point of being needy, and at the same time keeping that person at arms length and pushing them away. That can be extremely distressing for both parties. It is impossible. Still, I think there is hope. I think I can improve, with practise and careful management.

One thing which would be very good is by aiming for a L.A.T. relationship (Living Apart Together). And then also an important ingredient is patience, taking it slow, one step at a time. I think what I described before, setting boundaries and sticking to them is probably one of the first things to do. It is also extremely difficult. Because if I really like someone, I so desperately want to go all in, but I really shouldn’t. I know this won’t end well. Another symptom of EUPD is being impulsive and engaging in risky behaviour like promiscuous sexual contacts. And all this behaviour whilst absolutely starved from intimate social contact is a recipe for disaster.

But the biggest problem I feel is that I am irresistibly attracted to unhealthy people, and even toxic people. No. 1 is alcoholics. I can’t allow myself to engage with any of those, but how do I get attracted to other people? I honestly don’t know. If they are not alcoholics, they are either addicted to something else or have similar experiences as I have eg. abuse, neglect and abandonment, or have been adopted like my sister. In short, they have been traumatised somehow. But maybe I should just accept that as an inevitable factor and try to work towards engaging healthily with those people. I am hoping that my study (Criminology & Psychology) will help get answers to these issues, as well as my weekly sessions with a councillor. If you read this and you have suggestions for me, please get in touch!

Borderline

After decades of chaos and self destruction, failed careers, sickness and substance abuse I finally got diagnosed in 2006. My diagnosis was Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder (formerly known as Borderline Personality Disorder) and Dysthymic Disorder.

EUPD is characterised by 9 features. If you experience 1-5 you have EUPD traits, if you have 7 or more you are likely to experience the full disorder. If you experience any of these symptoms please ask your GP to refer you to your local mental health team to get a proper diagnosis.

The following nine features are taken from Wikipedia:

Overall, the most distinguishing symptoms of BPD are marked sensitivity to minor rejection or criticism;[13] alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation, along with varying moods and difficulty regulating strong emotional reactions. Dangerous and impulsive behaviour are also correlated with the disorder.

Other symptoms may include feeling unsure of one’s personal identity, morals, and values; having paranoid thoughts when feeling stressed; depersonalization; and, in moderate to severe cases, stress-induced breaks with reality or psychotic episodes.

The above text was taken from the Wikipedia page about Borderline which you can visit here.

My second diagnosis is Dysthymic Disorder which is a mood disorder. It is also called Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) which manifests itself in the same symptoms as Depression but longer lasting. You can read more about it here.

It was a relief to me to finally know why my life was so chaotic and that there is a name to it. It felt like I got at least recognition and that there was something I could do to try and make my life a little more bearable. But as I was about to find out, there was a long way to go and it was bloody hard work!

The next 2 and a half years I spend doing therapy with the aim to get my day-to-day life back to a relatively ‘normal’ (I hate that word!) way. I mean at the start I couldn’t look after my son who was only 4, which meant he lived with my parents for 6 months. If you have read my second post you can imagine how hard that was! But I really didn’t have a choice, I barely could keep myself alive, let alone a young boy.

The dozen different faces of me

I learned a lot in that time, about myself and how to steer my mind away from the dark. But I think the best thing was that I recognised then that I had a disability. And that meant I needed to stick to a few very strict rules if I wanted to get healthier and more resilient. The rules I have set over the years for myself are:

  • No drugs or alcohol
  • No repeated late nights of reduced or no sleep
  • A routine
  • Exercise
  • No romantic relationships
  • No team work, care jobs or customer facing roles
  • Limited responsibility (don’t take on too much)
  • Say no
  • For big decisions, take your time and speak to trusted friend first
  • Take medication religiously

Since then I have refined those rules, and sometimes tighten them up a bit. In the last 2 years I have found my mental health deteriorate again, together with my chronic back pain. It got so bad that I got sacked from my job (I was a lorry mounted crane operator) and a few months later stopped working altogether because I could hardly get out of bed.

I got a MRI scan but except two worn discs in my spine they couldn’t see why I had such excruciating pain. So my conclusion is that it probably goes hand in hand with my mental health deteriorating and the stress of working 45 hours a week. After about a year of unemployment my back pain did subside somewhat, but I will always suffer when put under pressure and the lower back pain is chronic anyway.

Simultaneous offloading doing the job I loved

Whilst going through this process of searching I decided it was time I really started looking at all the underlying issues. So I got help. I thought I just try all angles and started with my GP. I asked for a referral to the mental health team who started me on a skills group, once a week. I did that, and it just got me thinking and gave me a new perspective also because of the input of the other group members. I have to add that this process took about a year before I actually got help, because at first they didn’t take me seriously, and there was a huge waiting list.

Then I looked for more psychological help to deal with the trauma and I am now getting 1 hr sessions (by phone) with a psychologist from a charity who deals with sexual abuse victims. Yes, a charity. I think this is outrageous, all mental health services should come under the NHS and should be properly funded in line with the demand.

Another point I want to make is that I have often been offered i-talk by my GP. This is in my opinion a way to fob people off, reduce costs and make them believe they should be helping themselves by practising well-being techniques and not clog up the proper mental health services. On their FAQ page though, you will find a line that says:

“If you have been diagnosed with a severe and enduring mental health condition such as bipolar, schizophrenia or personality disorder, speak to your GP about your support options. IAPT services like i-talk are unable to treat patients with these conditions”.

So to end I want to say, if you suffer, demand help and if you don’t feel able to ask a friend, a family member or loved one to do the talking and be by your side when you see your GP and mental health team.

By Gif – 17/10/2020