Category: Walking this Borderland Series

Walking this Borderland #13: Tangled!

(For an explanation of the intention of this series please click HERE. )

In learning to sit with different emotional states, I’ve discovered that tactile, sensory experiences are important for me. I find warmth, softness, different textures, tastes and so on soothing and a major way of soothing and coping with anxiety and distress. Creativity and surrounding myself with an environment that feels safe and contains pleasant sensory experiences is a necessary part of staying stable and well for me. 

It’s not surprising then that I find certain objects are good for aiding self-soothing. One habit I fall into when I’m anxious, upset or emotionally uncomfortable is scratching and pulling at the skin on my arms, hands and sometimes face. Often, until it starts to bleed this is an unconscious thing, though it can also be something I’m aware of but irresistibly compelled to do in response to psychotic thoughts about evil inside me or mental images of having to cut things out of me.

Meet my new toy – it’s a Tangle.

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The Tangle is a bendy, twisty, small plastic form, made of lots of smaller sections connected together so it can be stretched out, bunched up, wrapped round and twisted into different shapes between your fingers. It has a smooth, pleasing texture. It’s very light and little, easily fitting in your pocket or bag. I’ve started carrying this with me and in times I’m likely to start scratching – when I’m waiting for something or when I’m nervous, for example – I hold the Tangle and fiddle with it. So far it has worked well to reduce the unconscious scratching.

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I’m sure no end of other objects would also serve this purpose and I also use a special pebble and a tiny stuffed animal toy for similar purposes.

Now, on the subject of Tangled, here’s another kind of “Tangled” – one of my goddaughter’s favorite Disney songs (from the movie of that name) which I have to admit is quite uplifting, for all it may be cheesy. We all need a bit of happiness sometimes and this scene is quite magical.

Ginny xxx

“At last I’ve seen the light” from Disney’s musical “Tangled” sung by  Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi.

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Walking this Borderland #12: 5 4 3 2 1 steps

A family member gave a women’s wellbeing workshop recently. I wasn’t able to go but I helped her look over some of her materials. Many of the daily challenges she suggested to improve our wellbeing incorporated elements of mindfulness  (in a loose sense at least – I’m not yet very knowledgeable about mindfulness so you may correct me). For example, becoming aware of our emotions, or being curious about our environment, perhaps taking a little time to be present in each moment and noticing new things in places that are familiar to us which we might often pass on “autopilot”, such as the beauty of a tree coming into bloom on our route to work.

I came across The 5 3 1 Technique to improve your daily wellbeing, of which you can easily find various versions online, for example here *. All credit for the idea behind this post goes to that technique. I do not know who first invented it and I’ve seen a couple of different versions.

Inspired by this, I developed my own version, which I’m going to try to practice daily. I’ve called mine simply “5 4 3 2 1” (this being more memorable than 5 3 1, perhaps?!):

FIVE – the original 531 technique suggests 5 minutes of meditation at the start of each day. I think starting each day with meditation or prayer is a great idea but it can be really difficult if you have never done it before or if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed. I find it helps to give the time more structure, for example, finding 5 things or people you are thankful for and thinking about them for a minute or so each. Or you could write a list of 5 things that happened in the previous day that you enjoyed or are thankful for. I’m Catholic and another way I sometimes do this is to pray a decade of the rosary really slowly. On each bead, I say the prayer in gratitude for a particular person or event, trying to be open to let the thankfulness fill my heart. This can be a good way to calm down when I’m feeling very anxious or a good way to pray when I’m struggling to be still.

FOUR – find 4 ways to connect to the outside world. For instance. … Go for a walk. Write a letter to someone. Pray for someone. In your work or chores, find a tiny way to do something with a little more concentration than normal, or with a little more care than normal. The simplest task done with love and attention has value and grounds you in the present moment, turning your thoughts and energy outwards rather than inwards to anxiety and fears.

THREE – notice 3 things in the world around you that are different or beautiful. It could be something new you’ve learnt, a conversation that made you think, something beautiful in nature, a sensory experience like a soothing scent or touch, and so on.

TWO – look in the mirror and tell yourself 2 good things about yourself. For example: you are beautiful; you are loved; today you are going to help people; you deserve to take care of yourself… (wow, for me at least it’s incredibly hard to come up with these things for myself 😉 !)

ONE – do one small act of kindness for another person. This need not be a big action. It could be simply smiling at them, allowing them to go before you in a queue, or asking them about their day and really listening. Just something to make them feel valued.

All these steps are intended to be small things which all work towards grounding us in the present moment and increasing our sense of wellbeing. I’m giving it a go. ..

Ginny xxx

*I have not followed up all the links on the mindfulness site myself so am not advocating their contents / saying that the techniques or information there will be useful for everyone. I just intended it as a description of the original 531 Technique.

Walking this Borderland #11: ice and lemon?

[Warning: the last 2 paragraphs under the *** contain discussion of self harm]

I know I’ve banged on about this technique elsewhere  in this blog but I just realised it may be a useful tip to add to the collection of coping strategies I’m trying to build up  in this Borderland series. Also, last week I learnt another similar very effective tip which I’d like to share. Thank you for bearing with me through the first two paragraphs if you’ve read my previous posts mentioning this topic.

In Borderline, regulation of emotions is difficult. States of emotional arousal shift quickly. Emotions and the intensity with which they are experienced can change rapidly and yet quickly become all consuming. The instability doesn’t make the emotions less real. Emotions may rise more quickly than they do in people without Borderline PD and stay at the higher level for longer. Equally, those of us with Borderline may suddenly enter emotionally numb or cut off states.

Both extremes can be dangerous, in my experience. Both can quickly tip into dangerous impulsivity, recklessbehaviour and decisions, self harm, suicidal intentions, explosive emotions and higher and higher states of distress. In either state we can’t explore our feelings and thoughts or other people’s feelings and intentions. Most coping strategies or systems of value that keep us strong, or protective factors like caring about other people, or religious faith or other beliefs that give us hope, become inaccessible in these states.

We need something that changes or emotional state so that we are able to reach again for these strengths and beliefs and strategies. One thing that can do this is giving the body a (non harmful) shock or surprise. We can only experience a certain number of sensations at once. A sudden strong physical sensation can serve enough to slightly bring our emotions away from the extreme. Once our emotions are coming away from the extreme, and only then, can we access other thought processes and coping strategies such as self soothing or the rescue box.

My top two ways to create this shift are as follows:

  • Lemon juice: lemon juice is a sharp sour taste. Take a couple of mouthfuls of neat lemon juice. You can even keep a small container of lemon juice in your bag when you’re out (easily available in supermarkets, eg the plastic “Jif” lemons).
  • Instant ice packs: I just discovered these! A really helpful nurse have me one when I was getting panicky in hospital last week after my op. I find this more effective and more practical than holding ice cubes, which is another alternative. Instant ice packs are really small and light, containing little crystals which activate to become cold when you squeeze and shake the packet. The tactile aspect is another helpful distraction too. I’m going to try to get some more. They appear to be available online from about 50p each, though I haven’t tried and tested any sources yet.

It sounds crazy, but the sudden ice and lemon shock does work. (Note to self, don’t follow the ice and lemon with the gin every time 😉 ! Remember to stick to Cola. Joke. No offence intended.)

Other potential ways of achieving the same effect include chewing small pieces of chilli (not too much and make sure you aren’t allergic first!), putting mustard on your tongue, or putting your head under a cold shower. The lemon and the ice are just the ones that work best for me and that I find most practical. I can use them even when I’m out or away from home.

This isn’t intended to be a long term solution but a short term way to keep safe and regain some stability. After you’ve used one of these techniques, you may then find you’re in a position to use other coping strategies once your level of distress is reduced (self soothing or mentalisation, for instance).

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Incidentally, I wonder if there’s ever a link between why these techniques work and the drive to self harm. I say this with caution because it’s a sensitive and painful thing and what drives someone to self harm will be different for each person. For me, sometimes there’s pain, loss, need, anger, or self hate, or needing to hurt myself so I don’t hurt anyone else, or needing the physical pain to numb and quiet the noise in my head and voices, or to know what the physical pain will almost faithfully be as it stills some of the much more unbearable mental pain for just a little while. For the next person it’ll be different.

One CPN I talked to describes the ice pack and lemon type techniques as safe self-harm. It’s a shock, a not pleasant, over powering physical sensation. Personally I don’t see it as similar to self harm or at all a way of self harming safely. Nor do I think it has in itself directly reduced my self harming. I don’t think it’s yet something I could do to avoid self harming once I’m at the point I’m about to self harm, although perhaps it does stop me reaching that point in the first place. However I think perhaps I see some of the point the nurse was making, in that the ice or lemon shock serves to still and control the emotion a little bit. Maybe part of why I started to self harm was needing to control unbearable emotion.

Anyhow.  When life gives you lemons, as the saying goes. …

Ginny xxx

 

Walking this Borderland #10 – bat naps and counting sheep: the struggle of sleep

 

[NCIS produced and written by Donald Bellisario and Don McGill; all rights belong to CBS / Channel 5 and the respective artists. With thanks to Dream-A for the clip (Season 8).]

Sleep is one of the first things that I find becomes difficult when I’m going downhill. Just when I’m thinking about going to bed, my psychotic symptoms usually get up. My auditory hallucinations and sometimes the visual ones will be worse when I’m alone at night. The re-experiencing of traumatic memories definitely is worse. For long periods at a time, because of historic abusive experiences and fears, I’m too scared to sleep in my bed and then if I try but have to get up, I can become terrified to open the door to go out of the room as well. I’m locked into a flashback of a terror I had as a child that I’d find my mother dead outside my room, because of a threat she made. To escape it I’ve been back to sleeping on the sofa again for weeks.

Anyway, I’m going off topic a bit. At the moment to try to get back into a proper routine of relaxation and proper sleep, I’m trying the following three tips for a better night:

First, I’ve moved things around in my room (for example, putting the bed in a slightly different place) so as to create a change of environment and make it as different as possible from the one associated with my fears and flashbacks.

Second, I have found a relaxing CD which I am playing specifically before sleep time and only before sleep time, so as to make the association between that music and those words, and relaxing for sleep.

Third, I’m going back to trying a technique one of the nurses told me at the hospital, which is a modified version of counting the proverbial sheep. When you are in bed, close your eyes, and then close them a little bit tighter – not scrunching up your eyes, but just pressing the eyelids closed a little harder than you would if you were just blinking, maybe. Then count very slowly back from 100, concentrating on each number. Or, try imagining a colour which you enjoy looking at, and hold a cloud of that colour in your mind. Focus on it but try to prevent it taking on any particular shape or form. Though the latter sounds strange I found it to be curiously effective as relaxation for a few minutes, together with some music, even if I did not fall asleep!

Right, here’s to “bat naps”, and eventually a night in bed.

Ginny xxx

Walking this Borderland #9: My rescue box

Eee, it’s been a long time since I’ve added to this Series.

My CPN and I talked about the following idea today. I’ve been meaning to put this together for a while.

All the other ideas / coping techniques I’ve written about so far in this Borderland series are things I’ve tried or do use currently myself. This post is a bit different because this idea is new to me and I’m going to be trying it out for the first time, so I can’t yet say how helpful I’ve found it. (Updates will follow and I’d love to hear from you if you use something like this!)

I’m going to make a “rescue box”. I’m not quite sure if that’s what I want to call it but for now, it’s what I’ve named it. Apparently some people call it a suicide box because it’s a box full of things to turn to when you’re feeling absolutely at your worst. I didn’t want to call it that because it emphasises the terrible feelings more than the good I’m trying to climb towards.

The basic idea is to make up a box filled with things that help you to cope in times of extreme distress. This works well, I’m told, if like me, you find sensory or tactile things helpful and grounding. As I think I’ve mentioned earlier in this series, in personality disorder when emotions are overwhelming, introducing other, soothing sensations can help bring the emotions down. You can also put things in the box that remind you of good times or reasons that you do keep going every day, or anything that triggers positive memories and thoughts in the hope that in the long run making more and more positive memories makes these stronger than bad memories or obsessional thoughts.

I’m new to this. I’ve been trying to think of things I could put in my box. Here are a few things I came up with:

  • A special smooth pebble that I collected on the beach one good day, which I find very soothing and grounding to touch. It also reminds me of the sea. Walking along the coastline and watching the sea always assures me of the presence of creation and love far greater than ourselves.
  • A small stuffed animal – yes I may be an adult (perhaps 😉 ) but I still find soft toys comforting.
  • A particular book that never fails to encourage me (more on that in another post).
  • Photos of my godchildren whom I love very much; seeing them always brings me joy.
  • A list of people I care about whom I can pray for or do something nice for – maybe write a letter or a card. This reminds me I’m not alone and helps me focus outwards on other people rather than my own problems.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far. I’ll post some pictures as I make up the box.

I have the feeling that the hard thing is going to be remembering it is there and being able to use it when I really need to. I can have coping strategies but being able to turn to them rather than a destructive “coping mechanism” is the hardest thing.

Do you use a box like this or anything similar? How do you remember to use it in the hardest times? Does it help when you’re distressed as well as when you’re feeling okay?

Ginny xxx

Walking this Borderland #8: when it costs to smile

I don’t think that the saying “it doesn’t cost anything to smile” is true. It can cost a very great deal to get up, step outside, meet anyone’s gaze, smile, speak, even keep breathing, when you are crippled with anxiety, voices in your head, emotional pain, traumatic flashbacks and hurt or sadness that hits you any time, anywhere.

I believe in still trying. Through this cost, keep on trying to smile. Through the awful feelings, trying to do one little kind thing for another person and one little kind thing for ourselves. We may not succeed but the will is there. Only we ourselves and God may know the huge cost. Yet good will surely still come of the action, however small. We have taken an action opposite to our illness, opposite to the inclination of our anxiety and hurt, choosing goodness and strength.

This is a small victory and a small step forward in hope.

I emphasise that I do not mean we should try to push away what we are feeling, deny it or tell ourselves we mustn’t feel it or aren’t allowed to. Far from it. We should do quite the opposite. But every little action done in love – for others and ourselves – is a choice for good. When we are suffering very much and when it costs very much to smile, then every smile and every action is worth all the more because it is necessarily done with greater effort and greater love.

What makes you feel loved?  How do you love?

Ginny xx

Walking this Borderland #7: Pigs in the clouds

Walking this Borderland #7: Pigs in the clouds

It’s very easily impossible to believe “this too shall pass”.

In BPD, that can feel like the most hurtful thing to be told, in the midst of utter pain. Even if the pain was triggered by a very small thing, at the time, it is not minor – it is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back or the rope you were holding onto so so tight because everything else had been snatched from you, then this too disintegrates.

But the fact that is at once cruel and possibly hopeful, is that every time you go through that utter pain, and still continue, it is proved that “this too shall pass”.

On Friday afternoon this week I was about to end it because for the n’th time it was more than I could stand, more betrayals than I could bear, pain only for pain, the original source now lost amid the impossibility of existing beyond that moment. I was evil rubbish and the world was laughing at my hurt. It was time to overdose and walk in front of a train and end it. And perhaps I was going to hurt someone. My memory blacked out.

Somehow, on Saturday morning I was at my friend’s and she was cooking breakfast. She made “eggs in clouds” for a treat (look at the picture – literally a little egg yolk in a little savoury souflee cloud).  There’s chopped bacon in the soufflee cloud so we thought perhaps it should be “pigs in clouds” instead. We talked about everything, minutiae and serious: baby showers, Harry Potter, Alan Rickman, jogging, marriage, how to stay in love and what to do when something nobody else cares very much about is unbearable to you, a mutual friend who may be in a bad home situation, sunshine, work…

So you see, it turns out pigs do fly, and this too did pass. It seems ridiculous that both these scenarios were real and followed each other by less than one day. But both were real. The change, although I do not know what brought it about, was real.

Perhaps it’s worth keeping a short note of the times that pigs did fly, that the darkness did end, what you did to change things, if you can remember – but if you can’t, even just record the fact that you did change things. That although that night you thought you could not go on one more moment, the next day you took a few steps out of your house, maybe walked down to the bottom of the road and back. That through the terrible flashbacks, you held on, and now you are back in today’s reality.

Both are real. Neither are permanent, both shall pass, but both are real. Note it down, however small it seems. Then the next time when the darkness starts to come, you can look back and be encouraged.

 

Walking this Borderland #6: Shine

Walking this Borderland #6: Shine

Stars can’t shine without darkness.

To everyone who is alone, hurting, fighting, crying, tonight –

Don’t give up. If you can’t say, one day more, say, just one hour more.

When all you can see is that everywhere is darkness and you are breaking and cannot believe that it will pass, if all you can do is breathe, then that is how you can go on.

In this darkness, you will be the stars, and this struggle you give your strength and your heart to will make you shine the brighter.

Ginny xxx

Walking this Borderland – You’re not going THAT way

Walking this Borderland – You’re not going THAT way

Don’t look back.

You’re not going that way.

I don’t think we should never look back. Sometimes it can be helpful to look back, analytically, or in gratitude, or recognising how things have changed or how far we have come.

Yet, I like this quotation because it reminds me that, no matter how terrible things have been and are, we try to have courage to face each day hope-fully, and to trust that even if we don’t know where we are going, each day we struggle is a day we are going on, and that God promises us “plans for prosperity and not disaster; plans to give you a future and a hope.”

Ginny xx

Walking this Borderland #4 : 5 more minutes

 

please read the Introduction to Walking this Borderland before this or any other post in this Series. Thank you.

 

When I feel the compulsion to do something to hurt myself I find it very hard to resist and do something else to cope with the feeling or the desperate need to obey the voices in my head telling me to punish myself.

On the occasions I have a little bit of control, I sometimes say to myself,  “Wait 5 minutes. You can do it, but not yet – just wait 5 minutes. ” If I can force myself to wait 5 minutes then when I do harm myself, then sometimes a little of the initial force of feeling has passed and I do it less viciously.  I’m hoping eventually I’ll be able to wait longer, little by little,  and then eventually sometimes not to self-harm.

I got the idea when I worked with people with eating disorders. One technique that may help people who struggle with purging after eating, is as a first step to delay a few minutes after eating before purging rather than doing it straight away. Then you can try to make the gap longer and longer and in this time, with support of a therapist or carer, try techniques for acknowledging and coping with the awful feelings and thoughts that are contributing to the compulsion to purge.

I’m new to doing this technique to delay self-harming. I think it’s working a little bit.

Ginny xx