frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
I have a very vivid memory from only a few years ago which feels like a very good way to describe how jarring and immediate these feelings can be. A very good friend of mine was due to turn up at my home, this person had been there for me, and seen me in one of my darkest moments only recently. For the very first time in my life – I had let someone in. I let them in, and it was scary and so new and very unlike anything I’d done before. I dissociated like crazy the whole time, but as I came out of the other end of this ‘moment’ I realised how much better I felt having gone through a wave of personal torment with someone else at my side – perhaps in particular, this person.
Their arrival at my home was nothing new, and nothing out of the ordinary. We had plans as a group of friends – and I had spent much of the morning preparing myself mentally and physically for the rest of the day.
I remember hearing the knock at the door, I remember bouncing out of my room – and I remember wanting to stop as I was half-way down the stairs. Suddenly I was hit with the sense that I did not want to greet my friend. I remember opening the door, but I don’t remember clearly the way I greeted them, beside the fact that I was cold. I was unable to hug them meaningfully, unable to engage fully in conversation and I recall leaving them on their own in the living room until other people showed up to be hospitable.
The intense disinterest and frustration I found in so many moments I shared with that person was consistent over several months, and until I was diagnosed it was a mystery to me ‘what happened’. At the time, I could not correlate the meaningful support I had been given with the twisted way that I began to respond to them. Even then I spent a lot of time trying to ‘work myself out’ and this was a particularly difficult situation to think myself a way ‘out of’ without coming to the conclusion that actually, honestly, I was not the person I believed I was. I was cruel, and hateful, and quite frankly a bitch. Honestly, I think this made my behaviour toward that person worse, because being with them brought out this evil side of me that I was not prepared or happy to face. It couldn’t be true, and I had no crutch against that belief.
Two of the most difficult relationships because of this symptom are the ones that I now value the most. Our parents are sent to try us, and we to test them – I think. There are a million quotes about parenting, and for a long time I felt like I was going through a ‘typical’ teenage phase of hating my parents. Except for the fact that it never seemed to end.
Trusting that the two people who brought me into the world would ‘want’ me has always been a ridiculous notion to grasp and to have acceptance of. For every parent who is there for their child come rain or shine, there is a parent who chooses to put their own needs first – for whatever reason. I knew that logically there was nothing stopping either one of my parents from disowning me, and over the many years with this disorder I know I have tried, time and time again to push those boundaries and find out whether they might break under the pressure.
Keeping anyone at arm’s length is an easy way to avoid what is essentially rejection. If I do not show excitement at the prospect of something, I cannot feel dismay when that thing never materialises. For me, it was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There were many times when my apparent disinterest in an activity or event communicated the idea that I did not want to go, and it would always be a double-edged sword for my Dad when it happened. Either I would realise after the event that I had not been invited to participate because of my ‘disinterest’, and be fuming with him, or he would simply choose not to do said—thing, and I would equally be in a state about it.
People talk about ‘Quiet Borderlines’ as those who internalise their anger. These things moments would become ‘moments’ that I would take in and absorb as something I had done to myself and therefore something that I had personally done to whoever it was I’d ‘wronged’. In the case of my Dad, it was my fault for showing disinterest and not only had I upset myself in the process, but I had ultimately upset him too. On reflection ‘upset’ is probably a very loose term, because the agony I forced myself to feel on his behalf was often comparable to a situation in which I had changed his life forever – not something simple as was the reality, like having missed out on the opportunity to spend time with him on the golf course, or by going out for something to eat, or spend time with family.
In all the vague memories I have, when opportunities have arisen to spend time with family or friends I know that there hasn’t been a single time when I had been angrily opposed to the notion. On reflection, I honestly believe that I wanted to participate fully in every opportunity – but I just didn’t have the strength to invest my feelings in it. I didn’t have the strength to deal with the uncertainty of what might, or might not happen. I have always had a volatile sense of self, and outbursts of anger when that ‘self’ I might have been sure of in whatever moment was thrown into question were hiding around every corner – especially so with family. In the end, the risk of hurting them and as a result hurting myself in the process was too great, and it was much better to safely reject them before any ‘real’ damage could be done.
It’s these decision that create a kind of spiral of self-doubt and continued efforts to avoid potential rejection or abandonment. As with so many spirals – once you’re on the helter skelter it’s pretty difficult to get off it again.
The things I have written about are typical of a ‘me’ that was unaware of an underlying disorder – and as always, I feel like it’s important to take some time to reflect on the impact of knowing what you’re up against, and how you can take steps to reduce the control these thoughts have on you.
Some people think that behaviours which you have had for a very long time, which feel ingrained or a part of you are impossible to change. I believe very strongly that there is very little about a person which cannot change given the right circumstances.
Like everyone else on the planet, I am constantly able to learn. I learn from my relationships, and reading, and occasionally from random conversations with complete strangers. I also like to challenge myself, at least emotionally and mentally – and perhaps that’s a part of my personal relationship with my ‘self’, but I constantly strive to be a better ‘me’ who understands things with more clarity.
It takes effort to let people in. Allowing someone to see a part of you that you fear will turn them away from you, or leave you vulnerable to being hurt isn’t easy for anyone. I know that recently I’ve adopted a kind of belief that if I have nothing to hide, then it is the fault of whoever chooses not to like a part of me if they disagree with that part of me. Equally, I am learning to agree to disagree. I am accepting that I can just be ‘me’, and I am finding out who ‘me’ actually is every day.
It is important to be cautious, and to be aware of the people who may or may not be befriending, and equally it seems important to let people in and allow them to see who you are for you. Trying to work out what kind of distance you’re supposed to keep people is the hard part. I have come to accept what kind of person I am when it comes to people though, and it’s a slow process – but I’m learning to love who I am, accept who I am, and become better IF I NEED TO.