Three A.M. Catastrophizing & BPD

I recently read a fascinating blog post called ‘Why do we wake around 3am and dwell on our fears and shortcomings?

The author, Greg Murray, mentions ‘barbed-wire thinking,’ meaning thoughts you get caught up in. He describes why your thinking at 3 a.m. tends to be so problematic. This section really grabbed my attention: “we also lack other resources in the middle of the night – social connections, cultural assets, all the coping skills of an adult are unavailable at this time. With none of our human skills and capital, we are left alone in the dark with our thoughts.”

As I mulled this over, it occurred to me that this is an accurate and succinct description of how my mind has been for most of my life. I started to wonder if borderline personality disorder might be rooted in a lack of these ‘adult supports,’ at least in my case.

Much of my therapy has involved learning to put these supports into place in my thinking processes. In my imagination I picture someone who has seen houses being built and knows that there are 2x4s, shingles, and plywood involved but has never learned how those things are put together. Left on their own, this person might throw together a shack to keep off the worst of the weather but would be mystified by the fact that other people consistently have dry places to sleep, when they’re always too cold, too hot, damp, or bedeviled by insects.

In this metaphor, my therapy is something like this person getting coaching in how to build sturdy corners, how to hammer nails in straight, or how squares and plumb bobs are used. I had most of the ingredients I needed to have a well-built house (functioning mind) but growing up I never learned the techniques.

I also think that this may be a way for people to have some insight into what it’s like living with BPD; or at least, my experience of it. I imagine that most adults have experienced that 3 a.m. worry-fest, where problems seem overwhelming, where no light of hope can reach. If you know what that’s like, try to imagine that being your daily experience for decades. Never waking up from it. Never knowing the relief of getting to think ‘oh, that was just a bad night’s sleep.’

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