Part Four: the Holey Trinity of Relieving, Reinforcing and Restarting
So this whole mental illness thing is clearly still a monkey with a vice-like grip. At the worst of times, it is uncontrollable, expertly trapezing through the triangles of my arms. Other times it is like when the sun comes up after a long shift; what bar staff describe using the euphemism of ‘recovery’. These are the hours between 5am and noon, generally. The anxiety settles, sometimes tolerably. It’s akin to trying to fit adult legs into a child’s safety swing. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but also pretty difficult to fall out of. This latter state is generally what it means when I say ‘yeah, I’m okay.’ And you know all this time that the first beer or swig of whiskey will feel like oxygen. You know that through acting like Alice, obeying the command ‘drink me’ your limbs would be able to slip out of that child’s plaything. It’s important, as a functioning alcoholic, to forget that you are always holding your breath.
To be honest, I don’t really know what to do with all this. However, I reckon learning the difference between personal boundaries and your mental restrictions is a helpful step. The two might sound the same but it comes down (again) to personal agency. Fighting to maintain it in the face of becoming overwhelmed. Boundaries are an exercise in agency; they are self-defined and sometimes a luxury. Restrictions work more like walls of an equilateral abyss. They are externally imposed; the labels you don’t want. Maybe good for grazing a shoulder on as you tumble down, but mostly just defining the space in which you are lost.
I am at my psychiatrist’s office again. He is late from visiting an in-patient but we get started and I notice the folder of notes about me is growing rapidly. It’s not like my GP’s referral. I want it to fuck off. It feels like the shrink is trying to trip me up every time he checks a statement against scrawls from last session. What have I just contradicted? I know that everyone experiences reality differently. This doesn’t stop me from hating that mine is so divergent.
We discuss how the new meds have been going; most of the side effects — hot flushes, being agitated, general insomnia — have died down. This part of the discussion I expected, along with a referral to yet another psychologist. But instead this doctor wants our sessions to be ongoing. I ask if he’s able to prescribe me stronger Valium and he says upping the dosage will only have a short-term benefit. He’s right, but it’s clear this isn’t going to work. I notice that the room is a funny shape, one that irks me. I ask if he thinks I have BPD, and he says ‘probably’. I am glad to have a flask of whiskey in my bag for when this is over. I make another appointment I know I won’t keep.
I meet my friend at the pub. She’s been close for many years, one of the longest suffering allies in this adventure of trying to get everything less wrong. We talk about whether the new diagnosis is a white flag, the medical profession’s way of saying ‘we don’t get it either’. We talk about all the women we know who deal with similar stuff, the disproportionate amount who are filling Valium scripts like me. The disproportionate number of ladies diagnosed with BPD. We feel that it is probably partially a gendered thing — there’s more than enough legit stress and sadness caused by the patriarchy to go around. However where this ends and anxiety and depression begin is still unclear.
These days I am working on getting the boundaries past blueprint stage. But the instructions are in Swedish and not half as fun as a Sunday sesh spent with mates on backyard couches or in nearby parks. At the same time there are — there has simply got to be — more ways of being in the world than my limited dance moves would have me believe. Ways to keep the ‘functional’ in alcoholic and hold onto enough personal agency, despite those labyrinthine Helping Hands. As far as I can tell, triangles are definitely still the strongest shape, as well as the strongest cycle. The ‘holey’ trinity of mental illness > coping mechanism/escapism > ‘recovery’ (repeat ad nauseam) holds strong. It goes:
- Step one: relieve the pain in maladjusted ways aligned with your character.
- Next step: the coping mechanism is reinforced; the addiction is maintained.
- One step too far: overdoing it — become overwhelmed.
- Then restart the process. Sometimes everyone comes out unscathed — more often, not.
What I think it comes down to is to own the label if it works for you. Ditch it like a bad dance partner if not. I may not be able to boogie like a lotta you, but rationally I want to believe there is a space on the dancefloor for girls — for people — like me, with bruised chests, scarred wrists and thighs, and poisoned throats. With a triangular framework that wants to be restrictive. To share a personal mantra: frustration might just motivate you; uncertainty can be freeing; negativity, correctly wielded, is a constructive force.