Trigger warnings: Discussion of suicidal thinking and splitting.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I only got my diagnosis (DX) late last year, so I’m still learning about what Borderline Personality Disorder is. I’m very much aware that a person is not their diagnosis. I treat my DX as a chance to learn ways to deal with issues that have plagued me throughout my adulthood (at the very least). This post is about my coming to understand splitting as a concept for the first time.
A ‘diagnosis’ in psychiatry simply represents a cluster of symptoms, which are manifestations of internal conflicts and dis-ease.
Here’s a little context before I tell you the story of my bad weekend. I’ve been studying a martial art for the last four years. It’s the first formal physical training I’ve ever had. I am the classic klutz; the kid who got picked last in gym class; the guy who bumps into things and accidentally stabs himself with tools. I never played any sports. The upshot of it is that I’m only now (in my 50s) learning how to actually live in my body rather than ignore it, as I have my whole life. It also means that my progress has been very slow. I sometimes seem to be trying to undermine my own practice, and have been on the verge of quitting several times.
Separately, I’ve been dealing with a bad case of plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the tissues in the foot. It’s very painful, and has been getting worse for months. I finally went to a doctor, and he has put me in an immobilization boot for four weeks to give my foot a chance to heal. This means that I won’t be able to train in my art for at least a month. Previously, whenever I’ve had to take a break from training, that’s when my subconscious has started telling me stories about what a loser I am, how I’m just kidding myself that I can learn aikido (at all, much less in my late 50s), and that my fellow students are just putting up with me. That they’d be happier if I was gone. That my sensei is barely tolerating me. If you also have a diagnosis of BPD or another similar personality disorder, you probably recognize this sort of thought pattern. It’s insidious.
The last bit of background is that during my last class before I was forced off the mat by my injured foot, my sensei [B] overheard me talking with another student. The other student had referenced a comedy that he felt was related to our discussion, and I mentioned that I never watched comedies.
My sensei said “you may not watch comedies, but you’re in a lot of them.” As you can imagine, I latched onto this comment and brooded on it.
This is where my story starts in earnest. Last Sunday morning I was driving home from an appointment and started to think about Sensei’s comment. Within minutes, I went from having a pleasant drive home on a sunny morning to being in a pit of self hatred and self-pity. I was certain that his comment meant that he disdained me and wanted me gone. I became convinced that my only option was to quit the dojo.
I got home and tried to distract myself by doing some chores. I was in the basement when I saw a length of rope. My first thought was how it would be such a relief to use it to end myself. I had a clear image of my body hanging under the deck. This was my first thought of suicide in 40 years, and it startled me. Thankfully, it was just an abstract thought, and I didn’t feel any particular urge to do anything about it. I paused and consciously committed myself to not making any decisions about anything for the rest of the day. I didn’t think that I could trust myself. No, that’s not right. I knew that I couldn’t trust myself. I thought about trying to call my therapist, but I didn’t want to alarm her, and I didn’t feel that I was in any real danger, so I didn’t make the call.
My journal entry that evening reads:
Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019
I hate my brain sometimes.
Today I hated my brain.
My brain has been telling me that my aikido teacher doesn’t want me to be part of the dojo.
It has served up various possible examples of times that he has seemed to mock me. Last week, he overheard me say to [A] that I don’t watch comedies, and he said that while I might not watch comedies, I was in a lot of them. I took this to mean that he sees me as absurd or stupid.
I don’t need [B] to be my friend, but I don’t want him to be putting up with me.
I spent the rest of the day watching TV shows on Netflix (one of my go-to avoidance behaviors).
The next day, I was really distracted and had a hard time focusing on my work. Every time I thought about aikido, I was engulfed in a feeling of despair. I deliberately tried to use some of the DBT skills I’ve been reading about. The best I could come up with was the thought that if I wanted to keep learning aikido, I’d just have to live with the humiliation of training with people who didn’t want me there.
Tuesday continued the same pattern.
My next journal entry reads:
Tuesday, February 26
Being somewhere I’m not wanted is one of the most humiliating things.
I hate to think that I’m just being tolerated or humored.
Ask Cyrene if I might be experiencing more bad stuff just because the lid is off my emotions since starting therapy.
My thoughts on Sunday were scary, but I want her (Cyrene) to know that I don’t think I’m in any danger.
Suicidal ideation. Something that I don’t think I’ve had since the late 70s.
Learning to sit with good & bad feelings without being sucked into them, or identifying with those thoughts & feelings, is a very important skill to learn & practice.
Finally Thursday came, and I got to go to therapy. I told Cyrene this whole story, including reading her my journal entries.
We discussed everything for a while, and then she quietly asked me if I could consider that I might not have thought about other interpretations of what my sensei had said. I was at a loss. I had no idea what she was getting at. She pointed out that he might just have been trying to make a small joke, just kidding around or teasing me for being too stuffy about not watching comedies. She asked me how I see comedies, and I described to her how I feel that most of them revolve around humiliating people. She suggested that that wasn’t necessarily how other people see them. That my teacher may not actually have been trying to humiliate me.
As I finally got what she was saying, I realized that I may have been entirely misinterpreting the situation. I felt as if a great weight was lifting.
Cyrene pointed out that there really is no way to know exactly what [B] meant, but that’s nearly always the case when we’re dealing with other people. Making a very important decision based on an off-hand comment that I may very well have misunderstood suddenly seemed obviously irrational.
I was still unhappy, but I no longer felt that black mood.
As I sat with the implications of what I’d almost done (quitting aikido), I started thinking about all of the times over the years where I’d cut off contact with friends and entire areas of my life in similar situations.
There’s no way to go back to those times and fix anything, but I’m trying to be as compassionate with myself as I can be, and treat this as a chance to build a new level of self-awareness, in hopes of avoiding rash decisions in the future.
I ended that therapy session weeping with sorrow over mistakes I’ve made, and I suspect that I have a lot more weeping ahead of me on this road, but I believe that this week may have been an important milestone in my therapy.