How University kicked my ass (and other things)

It feels like forever since I last thought about notjustdepression.com, and I’m really pleased to say that I DON’T feel guilty about it.

The decision to go back to university was not an easy one, and it really hasn’t been easy. Lately, a lot of people have been reminding me that I didn’t exactly pick the ‘easiest’ subject to work toward a degree in, but I’m definitely not regretting or second guessing my decision. Law has been fascinating. This year my modules are Legal Systems and Skills, Constitutional & Administrative Law, Contract Law and Tort Law.

It’s a pretty good feeling to be able to say in full confidence that I’m actually interested by all the topics (although there are days when some of the stuff feels like I’m being taught how to suck eggs. Here’s looking at all the lectures about being an ‘adult’.) My friends have been inundated with facts and interesting cases and the occasional (frequent) frustrating reminder about whatever thing I’ve learnt that week.

Coping with University Life has NOT been easy though. I never thought it would be, and I knew that there would come a point when things fell apart and they did, but you know what? I got through it!

About four weeks ago I started coming down with something. At first, I really had no idea. I knew that I was drained. My mental health took a rapid dive and I started struggling to get out of bed (even on days when I’d slept for HOURS and didn’t have lectures until later in the day). I realised about two days later that it probably had something to do with the cough I developed, the cough which evolved into a cold which made me feel gross, and achy and tired and uninterested. It took a lot of effort to come out of the other side, and with two deadlines on the horizon I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope, actually.

So, I thought about it rationally. Yes, it was important to attend all my lectures and seminars and get the work done for them – but if there was a toss up between seminar work and ASSIGNMENT work, there was a clear winner to be noticed here. Although I’m not proud of the (almost) two weeks that I spent either procrastinating or playing Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 – I am proud of the fact that I managed to suck it all up, take a deep breath, prioritise and get my assignments handed in ON TIME.

Right now, as of this minute, right here where I’m sat I feel good. Yes, that’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that I now have FOUR WEEKS of freedom, but I feel ready to tackle the problems I faced in my first term head on. This was always going to be a new experience, and a difficult one – but it was important right from the start to make sure that I appreciated that. There’s a big difference between knowing that things will be hard, and making allowances TO YOURSELF for that. I’m glad that I was able to be kind to me, and I’m grateful for the awesome people around me for helping with that.

I had friends (and my Dad!) on the other end of the phone to remind me that I can do this. Thank you to the friends who had to listen to me rant about the work load without reminding me that ‘Duh, you’re doing a Law degree, what did you expect?’ Frankly, I was telling myself that a lot anyway. I recognise that I have an awesome support network around me. (So thank you!!!)

This term has taught me a lot of things, and I know that there’s plenty more I need to work on for myself to be able to make the next 5 terms easier, and get the best out of myself and this degree. I’ve already made a pact with the Wellbeing Centre that I will drop in on them more often – and I hope that by doing that it might help me overcome this notion I have that other people need ‘the time/the help/the support’ more than I do.

 

Advertisements

Challenging Personality

One thing that has never failed to really upset me – is when people challenge a part of my personality.

It’s difficult enough when you’re growing up to work out just who you are, and when people challenge the tidbits of your personality that you feel sure about it’s incredibly frustrating, and demoralising.

I find that having a personality disorder sometimes means that parts of my personality are twisted and re-shaped. I know that it takes a lot to wind me up, but there are days when on top of all the outside influences that I cannot control, I’m prone to making steps to wind myself up.

I believe that I have a lot of patience with children, and having spent a lot of time working in a school for children with all kinds of special needs, a lot of people believe that must be true. This is something that I challenge every time I think about it. My therapist asked me to make a list of things I like about myself, which at the time felt like a mammoth task. For every one item on the list, I could think of about three reasons why it didn’t belong on there.

Second guessing myself is something I’ve been doing subconsciously for as long as I can remember. I was the kid in class who would only put their hand up if they KNEW the answer 100%. I had to be right, because to be wrong would be a reflection of who I am. I wanted to be the child who could ask questions and give answers without feeling the heavy weight of failure not in the eyes of my peers or my teacher – but me.

I don’t like to be wrong. One of the only times you can get me to shut up is when I’m challenged by an opposing opinion that I do not know enough about. I’m keen to learn, but pride keeps me from asking the questions to help do just that – which I’m not proud about. I believe in bettering myself, and will keep trying to find the strength to do things when it feels like my entire body is frozen to the spot but it’s only a reflection of the fear I feel.

One of the hardest questions I’ve been asked at a job interview is the age-old “How would your friends describe you?” I used to think that the never ending yo-yoing of my personality was down to being a Gemini, and whenever horoscopes come up there always seems to be a debate at hand, but for a long time I ‘believed’ in my star sign and gravitated toward people who also accepted this view of personalities.

It’s a great example actually, of how things used to seem. On the topic of horoscopes and star signs I was incredibly flexible. Remembering the ‘list’ of people in my head that I could admit to ‘being a Gemini’ around and the people with whom it would result in some kind of severance of our friendship because of.

I’m *pretty sure* that being a Gemini and having Borderline is a coincidence, I have a lot of traits from both of these things and I identify completely with both of them as labels, but they don’t define me.

No one can be defined by any single label, it’s just not possible. Even bread has a bazillion different forms and I don’t think any two bread loaves are the same! (It’s not even anecdotal evidence, so sue me. Anyway.)

In my mind, I believe I’m the only one who can truly challenge my personality. There have been plenty of times when someone has told me something about myself, whether it be positive or negative (and from whose perspective! “was that a compliment?” springs to mind), but when all is said and done it’s only me who can decide whether to believe in them or not. Which is both a good and bad thing at the same time, isn’t it? No amount of someone telling me that I need to stop being so loud is going to make me stop being loud, but equally no amount of people telling me that I’m a caring person is going to make me believe that it’s true.

Bettering myself is how I’ve coped with the world, and myself. I’ve been able to reflect on the things I have said and done, and looking back I know there are a lot of things that have changed because of that self-awareness. (The self-awareness that was only made aware to me by other people mentioning it.)

We *are* most often, only going to listen to the comments that we want to hear. The ones that don’t mess with the status-quo or threaten to destabilise our entire mental picture of ourselves, but it’s certainly important sometimes to consider the things we don’t quite understand about ourselves.

My personality is mine, and knowing that I have a weird ability to shape it is probably one of the more positive things about being a person with Borderline. Not that it’s possible to wake up tomorrow with a completely new, hip outlook on life, it will take time as it always does but knowing that it is completely possible is pleasing to me.

Splitting

It hurts. We know it’s not just us that it’s hurting too – but it happens for reasons that more often than not, we don’t even understand.

For an impossibly long time, I realised that here and there I’d been developing personal vendettas against people in my friends groups. I began to detest them, and grow agitated by the slightest thing that they would say and do.

Some of these people had never meant anything more to me than someone with whom I was acquainted, usually due to mutual friends. Of course, there was always the potential for more to come of our friendships – but instead of fostering those friendships, for whatever reason, subconsciously I chose to keep them at a distance.

I can be cold, judgmental and harsh about their every single move, detail and decision.

Being the introspective, self-aware thing that I believe I am – over time I’ve put this down to some very complex and difficult concepts. I once managed to convince myself that the reason I so despised these people was because there was some part of them that I saw as ‘negative’, but worse than that – I believed it was a reflection of who I was. That one personality trait we shared, that I found to be so ugly was too difficult to come to terms with so I chose to hate that person, rather than try to come to terms with it.

The other conclusion, was that the person whom I directed so much of my frustrations on actually deserved those feelings because of some kind of negative attitude. I cannot count the number of times when I’ve felt frustrated about someone’s situation – and equally felt powerless to offer them any support or guidance because, and isn’t that the nature of people, they are their own person and can do what they want with their lives.

Sometimes, I feel like I care too much. I know that I have a lot of love to give, and I love a lot of people – and I’m working on the acceptance that I am a compassionate, caring person.

Splitting is difficult. Equally so when it directly challenges my belief that I am the person I want to believe I am.

I have days when I know that every little thing someone does is going to make me mad, and I feel completely powerless to stop it. Things frustrate me, sometimes the smallest things and for whatever reason ‘letting go’ of those things is impossible, or at least it feels that way. I constantly strive to make sure I will see the day when I am able to take control of those feelings and turn them on their head. This disorder might have directed my life for this long but I am determined to prove that there are ways to accomplish what sound impossible.

Christmas & ‘The Holidays’.

I cannot remember the last time that I was this excited about the run up to Christmas. I cannot wait to spend time with friends and family, and feel so excited about the prospect of doing festive things and looking forward to the future and being so thankful to everyone in my life.

Before now, my relationship with this time of year has been difficult at best. Complex relationships, friendships and the relationship I’ve had with my feelings about them have clouded my view of this time of year.

There are the kind of challenges that everyone faces – what am I going to BUY for this person, or that person. How can I possibly buy/afford/find the perfect present that will adequately express how much I value this person?

Occasionally, I found that I managed to find something that seemed to tick all the boxes. Usually it was during a spending spree in resulted in a lot of impulsive decisions and probably a few choice purchases for myself. Come the following morning, I’d feel a heavy sort of guilt about it. Not only do NONE of those presents feel ‘right’ any more, but I’d lessened the value of them by spending money on myself in the same breath. (Usually money I ‘don’t have’ and therefore shouldn’t have spent on me.) To make matters worse, I would usually dig myself into a hole of belief that because I couldn’t find the perfect present, I therefore could not possibly value that person as much as I should. Which started a spiral of negativity.

I have no idea what has changed this year – all I know, and all I am going to take away from this feeling is that is just has changed. I want to put up Christmas decorations, and I want to spend good quality time with my family and friends. The people I love, because I love them, and I know that I can show that by being with them and around them!

For a while, even just a few days ago I had bad feelings about the run up to this time of year, but this evening I’ve spent the last 2 hours listening to some uplifting podcasts on mental health thanks to a link from a friend and sat writing my Christmas Cards. I have a lot of friends who live abroad and it dawned on me earlier today that in three weeks today, it’ll all be over. (At least the Christmas part.) It’s definitely put me in a festive mood, and brightened my outlook on a lot of things drastically.

Knowing that I can’t afford to perhaps buy the things I WANT to buy for people is not as depressing a feeling anymore. I’ve decided that I am going to do what I CAN do, and the rest will work itself out. Positivity is always productive, and I want to keep on this little train line and choo choo my way all the way through the next four weeks.

 

Medication

You know, I just really needed somewhere to get my thoughts out.

This Tuesday, I had a far more successful appointment with my Psychiatrist. The first is another story entirely that I don’t feel comfortable going through just yet.

The psychiatrist and I talked about a lot of things, and there were a fair few of them that really surprised me. I thought it was a little strange that he asked me what age my parents were, and whether or not they were married, and what they did for work. Weirder still, he was very intent on getting a thorough history of where I’d been on my travels the previous year.

I talked a lot, and as is the case for me a lot of the time at the moment – I questioned the diagnosis of BPD. It’s silly, really. In one breath I feel like I relate to the diagnosis completely and utterly. Thinking about the relief it gave me, and the clarity that it provided when I looked back on the rest of my life meant that to me it just made sense and from that moment on I felt suddenly incredibly empowered to keep moving forward.

Thankfully, the psych was kind enough to take a moment to let me know that if the diagnosis had done all this for me, and still explained so many of my behaviours then I probably needed to accept it. I do. I wish I did all the time, but there are moments when I’m reading about other people who also have BPD, and listening to other people’s stories that I feel like somehow I am cheating them out of their diagnosis. Like there has to be something else that I should be identifying with.

That thought alone is enough to make me angry with myself. Everyone’s story is their own personal timeline. I tell myself, and others quite often that even identical twins have different thoughts, feelings, wants, needs and issues. This is the same for everyone.

Also, during my meeting – we discussed the other thing.

Depression is something I know I’ve also suffered with, and I’m beginning to wonder whether the onset of it was something completely removed from BPD. My memories of childhood don’t stretch back far enough to determine whether borderline has affected my life far before my teenage years, but I could certainly say that I displayed plenty of traits I recognised now well before I was depressed.

By the end of the session, I’d not only had my fears sated, and my concerns discussed – but there was something else hanging between us that I almost didn’t want to have to hear.

Going back on medication is a decision I promised myself I wouldn’t make lightly, and I don’t think for one minute that either myself, or the psychiatrist would even think about it if it didn’t make sense.

It’s scary though. For so many reasons and some of them not as obvious as the others.

I’m worried about my ‘self’. The person I have learned to accept in the last year is more often than not, peppy and upbeat. I get excited about the most ridiculous things and act so often like I know there are other people watching but I just don’t care. I’m happy not caring, and I’m concerned that I’ll lose that part of me I’ve grown to accept and love.

I’m scared of the vivid dreams I haven’t had since last October. I’m scared of appetite changes, sleeping pattern shifts. I’m scared of suicidal thoughts and depressive thinking. I’m scared that they will make me feel sick, and worse – I’m afraid that I’ll stop being able to feel.

To me, feelings and emotions play such a huge role in my every day life. I love life. I smile at buildings, for no reason other than I’m happy.

Knowing that there is another side to me sometimes doesn’t feel like it’s enough to justify potentially changing this attitude.

“Depressed Ollie” is not pleasant. For me, or for anyone else around me. I dislike her, and I know that sometimes that’s not the best attitude to have when you’re trying to overcome living with a part of yourself but I cannot help but question whether some of the things that I have become used to are simply down to the fact that I am depressed. Will going on medication change me so drastically that suddenly I’ll be able to accomplish the things that have felt too difficult or scary?

Will I find the strength, without those underlying thoughts and feelings, to do things I don’t feel capable of yet?

Has this last year been an exercise in ‘mastering’ my understanding of my life with Borderline, and now I need to work on Depression as a whole… other thing that impact so much of what I do, and try to do.

Personality is such an unbalanced concept for me at the moment anyway, and there’s a defeatist part of myself that wants to lean back and let it happen. After all, my traits and habits and thoughts seem to change depending on the weather anyway. Why shouldn’t I just throw caution to the wind and try this? Give it a go, what’s the worst that can happen?

I have a feeling that I’ll go ahead with this decision. It felt right on Tuesday morning, and I know in my heart that things aren’t ‘right’. It still doesn’t stop me from feeling uneasy about it.

The Importance of Recording

One of the most useful things that I do now, is to keep a record of my daily ‘accomplishments’.

Right back in the beginning it was something that I attempted, but found that it was demotivating when all I did – day in, day out was sit and watch Netflix or play video games. Since then I’ve been able to learn to forgive myself, be kind to myself and show the same patience I’m capable of offering complete strangers.

Now, it feels like my most valuable tool.

For a long time I focused on working through a Bullet Journal to record and motivate myself on a day-to-day basis, and although I absolutely adore the concept and the work and fun that goes into keeping a journal like this, I found that a very different approach was important to help me to put together the foundations for my recovery.

A Bullet Journal actually created a wall between myself and my goals. When I would start a day with a beautifully thought out spread and only one goal to mark off I found it difficult to be attached to it, and equally difficult to go through the process of writing that same, single task over and over for days on end.

Giving up just wasn’t an option, so I chose instead to re-think my approach to keeping a daily account of my life.

My therapist was the first person to suggest that I keep a log of my daily activities. On a simple A4 gridded sheet of paper, with two boxes for morning, afternoon and evening I vaguely accounted for the ‘major’ things that I did every day. At first, they were incredibly basic. I ate food, I watched TV, I played video games. I met with a friend, I went for a walk.

It was the first time I’d recorded my day-to-day life as retroactively, and there were a few days when I completely forgot to write about what I’d done and therefore entire days were forgotten. I’m pretty sure that usually there was nothing significant about the things that I’d done, until I walked back into therapy and re-counted my week. Little things that seemed important when I’d done them, and then insignificant when I came to write down the last few days of activity were forgotten.

That important phone call that I’d been putting off for months to the bank, that form I filled out, the brief discussion I’d had with a friend or family member. Each and every single one of these things were important to my overall recovery from a very dark place that I’d managed to put myself in.

I kept these diaries for four weeks until I decided that enough was enough. My Bullet Journal had fallen to the way-side and turned into something like a book of lists (Books I owned and wanted to read, Holiday Destinations for the future, DVDs I owned, movies I’d watched) and I knew that whilst I was using those relatively small A4 sheets to log my weekly comings and goings it wasn’t going to satisfy me.

As a lover of notebooks and stationery, it wasn’t difficult to rifle through my ’empty notebooks’ drawer and find something to use to start logging my days, and even better that I’d found the perfect use for a notebook. (One of the reasons I have so many is that they’re all in there waiting for the perfect purpose. Sorry, notebooks.)

img_0816

So it began.

Almost 2 weeks later, I’m still swearing by it. Claiming that this act, and this act alone is the one reason that I’ve managed to pull myself up out of the funk I’d fallen into is a huge stretch of any imagination, but I feel very strongly that it has contributed to my continued improving mental health and will keep doing so much!

I write the time my alarm went off, and the time I actually got out of bed. Writing it down makes it a fact, and gives you a solid thing to refer back to. I find that when I am struggling the most I lose all sense of time and feeling and life. It’s easy for me to forget how I felt only a few hours ago, when I’m so preoccupied with the current moment, and the thoughts that are in my head at that time and in that place. So I feel it’s very important (for me) to be able to refer back to previous days, not to make negative comparisons or to judge the ‘value’ of the things I’ve done in the present day but to be able to look back and see, from hard factual evidence that ‘things’ over all are better now than they’ve ever been.

Thinking too hard about the shape of my life exactly a year ago would only promote a desire to reach out and take ownership of how I felt back then, in a time when my recovery was in it’s very early stages, and I feel very strongly that it would be detrimental to my health, but if I’d kept the same log I have now I might be able to recognise instantly the stark contrast in my mental health. Of course, it’s arguable – that if I’d kept a log back then, like I do now that perhaps my life would be very different but I also believe very strongly that it’s taken all of these incredibly small steps over the span of a year to get here at all and without them it just wouldn’t be possible.

We can’t fast forward progress, and we can’t force it. There are clear steps in any recovery that have to happen before you can continue on your way. That’s why we call them steps. It’s quite easy to visualise for example, the steps that might lead up to the second floor of your home and to accept the reality of the fact that before you can get to the tenth step, you have to make it up all the ones before that first.