Happiness has always been a complex idea for me. It’s always seemed like a fantasy or facade, something that was fleeting or a mirage of premature hope. I know that sounds pretty morbid, but the relieving part is that I’m learning that this very real fear and distrust of happiness is something very strongly linked to people who suffer from BPD and other depressive conditions.
I was listening to a BPD podcast this morning called “Beyond the Borderline” that had a couple episodes on feelings of despair and suicidal inclinations in response to good things happening, and also the distrusting of feelings of happiness because of hyper-mania. These are both things I have lived with but had not completely understood or been able to identify until I was diagnosed with BPD and looked for further information related to the illness to help me understand what my condition actually is and get some kind of hope from knowing that I’m not alone in my emotional suffering.
I have always had a very hard time dealing with feelings of joy and happiness because of my habitual bout with hyper-mania. Hyper-mania is not genuine happiness; it’s an artificial exaggerated good mood that I will occasionally wake up with. It almost feels like a body high from some serotonin-inducing drug. I’ll wake up and be inexplicably giddy, excited, extroverted, hyper-motivated, and all-around bubbly. In the past, I’ve received positive reinforcement for this behavior because I’m fun, I seem happy, I’m more involved socially and am overall more approachable. The problem is, all of the manic energy increases and builds up as the day progresses, and what comes up, must come down. By the end of the day, I’m a ticking time bomb of stimulation, ready to be set off by any small trigger that can break my frail handle on this artificial joy. Days like these often end in episodes of rage after the mania has been set off, which then leads to intense remorse to self-hatred and spiraling depression, then to suicidal thoughts or inclinations of self-harm. This has been the pattern, for years, and it has conditioned me to fear happiness even though I long for it. It’s trained me to believe that a person as defected as myself doesn’t deserve to be happy.
But there’s hope.
Being diagnosed has been the best thing that has happened to me. Besides leading me to seek therapy through DBT group therapy paired with medication, it has allowed my brain to truly process the symptoms I have, even though I have little to no control over them. I learned how to be direct in my communication style a long time ago, unfortunately, out of necessity because of the manipulation and gas-lighting I experienced in my first relationship. But that wasn’t enough, because even though I knew how to be direct with communicating my thoughts and feelings, my feelings were not direct. I have a very difficult time understanding how I feel, and emotions are intense but fleeting, so I can feel one extreme emotion for 5 minutes and then it can completely disappear as if it never existed. This makes it extremely difficult to explain my emotions to someone when I am in panic or crisis, because I don’t even know what’s going on. Sometimes I’ll try to explain and I get it wrong, or the feeling goes away and turns into something else. This makes relationships and close friendships very difficult because I can come off as a liar or manipulative because what I feel and say can change on the drop of a dime and its hard for “normal” people to understand that it really is like that in my head; I don’t do it on purpose and I wish could just consistently feel one thing at a time. I often write in my poetry about feeling like multiple people in one body trying to tear themselves apart from each other, so I feel like I’m being torn apart from the inside and the pain feels very real. This always happens when I’m pressured to validate my feelings to others, prove my right to have them, or heed their demands for immediate explanation. Trying to explain feels like taking a knife to my insides and trying to cut each emotion loose, but being unable to. It only leaves me in deep feelings of shame, despair, remorse, and self-loathing.
I’m happy to say that in the past 6 months, I have only had a couple crisis episodes, and none have been as bad as listed above. What made the difference? I no longer try to understand my feelings, I try to describe them. I describe them through journal entries, poetry and art. They don’t need to make sense; they exist as they are and they always will, so I’m learning to live with them. I’m learning to navigate my life by learning to cope with pain instead of pretending it’s not there or needing to prove to anyone that it’s there. This is not easy, and I owe a lot of my recovery to my close friends, my family, my boyfriend, some new friends that have inspired me, my therapy group, and my medication. Environment is so important for healing, and even then, not every day is a victory. I am truly grateful that on the days that I lose, that I have people close to me that allow me to be what I am, validate who I am, and love me for how I am.