I’m sorry for not sending you anything for the past month. I didn’t forget. I was taking a much needed impromptu mental health break.
I have no memoir for you today. I’ve been nursing a broken heart these past few days. D+1 my heart felt like it’s been sanded by a 40-grit sandpaper (the most abrasive sandpaper used to rounding woods). I felt raw, like my heart has this many little cuts with trickling blood. Even a small gust of wind could feel like salt on the open wounds. Yesterday, I felt like a strong grip was squeezing the hell out of my silly heart, and I’m just waiting for it to burst blood everyfuckingwhere. Today, as I’m writing this, I feel like my heart’s being submerged in mild acid; cool but stings. It’s a physical sensation that I thought everybody feels when they get a broken heart, but apparently not. Thus, I feel like it’s a good opportunity to talk about how someone with thin emotional skin like me experience the world (read The Diagnosis for further reference).
My friend, who was also diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) like me, describes it as emotional hemophilia. Once you bleed, you cannot stop bleeding. My amygdala is supposedly bigger than the average person, and that’s why I feel emotions so strongly to the point of discomfort. Then it’s a whole spiraling down from there. Initially you’re busy dealing with the emotions you feel from a triggering interaction, then you go meta as you become busy dealing with the emotions that won’t stop flooding out of you. It’s a whole mess. Many people self-medicate or self-harm to numb this avalanche of feelings. The whole point of psychotherapy is to teach you how to build tolerance for these feelings. After that, you must keep training. It’s a lot like going to the gym. You must keep exercising or you will lose your gains. Stepping out of the house feels like bracing myself for battles every day, but it’s getting relatively easier as you’ve built more tolerance.
I don’t know if “tolerance” is the right word for it, because it sounds like you must endure the pain. But pain is pain. It’s telling you something is wrong. I’d rather call it “management of pain”. For example, when I have my heart broken, I often feel like being punched in the chest, and the pain travels to my whole body through the nervous system. This can happen multiple times in a day, continuing for days, especially when I remember about what I’ve lost. Hearing this physical experience has always been a point of interest to my therapist, because to him it sounds like I’m nearing a panic attack. And, apparently a panic attack can last up to a week; and it can take up to a month for its complete disappearance. So, this is tip #1 from me: when you have your heart hurt, get some rest for at least a month.
Next, when you’re hit by a tsunami of emotions, you don’t always know what hits you. It could be water. Roof shingles. Bodies. You’re drowning and overwhelmed, you just want it to stop. But you can’t push away water the same way you push something as solid as limbs. Different matter requires different handling, but first you must know what the matter is.
Naming emotions could be difficult for me, because emotions made me physically uncomfortable and my priorities easily became how to numb the hurt. Sometimes the way your body reacts also complicate things further. Like when you’re so angry you cry; which leads you to confusion in figuring out your feelings. Are you angry or sad?
Mainly there are three negative emotions that may get overwhelming very fast: anger, sadness, and anxiety. For the life of me, I couldn’t differentiate those emotions until my therapist gave me a simple definition to measure the three.
Anger is dissatisfaction with the present; sadness is dissatisfaction with the past; and anxiety is dissatisfaction with the future.
I also learned that there are physical telltales to these emotions. I feel like my body temp rises when I’m angry. My limbs feel lighter and more powerful too, like I can punch and break things easily. Sadness makes me feel the opposite. My body temp lowers and everything feels heavier. I just want to lie down and never get up again. Anxiety feels a little bit like anger, except my body feels cold, and all the extra energy I get is telling me to run away and never come back. Ever since I learned this, my world has become a little bit less complicated.
Now that we can name the monsters, we can find ways to tame them. The key thing to remember is, you need to let your emotions out. There’s always the option of bottling up your emotions, of course. But we need to remember that as three dimensional beings, we can only contain so much. We need to make room for other stuff, otherwise we’ll explode louder than a Molotov cocktail, projecting sharp debris and hurting people we care about. Psychotherapy gives you the tools to express these overwhelming emotions without hurting yourself or others.
These are things I do to regulate my big emotions. Consider it as tip #2. I regulate anger by screaming into my pillows. I scream and scream and scream until I have no anger left in me. I regulate sadness by bawling my eyes out. I have a playlist of sad songs and films for this purpose. Pro tip, you can still cry even though there are no tears involved. Just make the ugliest crying face you can muster out of you. It feels silly, you may want to do it in privacy, but it’s very effective. Because your body remembers. It’s like muscle memory for crying. So even though there are no tears falling down your face, your body still counts it as crying. Lastly, anxiety regulation. I do breathing exercise or meditation for it. On days when I’m super anxious and meditation is not enough, I just watch horrors or other scary stuff to get the anxiety out of me.
More pro tips, when you feel empty, like nothing is interesting, everything just feels flat, that means you’re sad. It may not feel like it, but your body is telling you that you’re sad. Crying it out may help. Distracting yourself to feel something else won’t help much either, because emotions are not replaceable. That’s not how it works. You cannot replace sadness with joy. You have to process the emotion out.
You can do other stuff of course. Emotion regulation exercise that fits your preference and personality better. Some people do sports, others punch pillows, some people even clean the house. The point of these regulations is to get the overwhelming emotions quickly out of you, before you have the chance to hurt anyone, including yourself. And yes, emotion regulation is exhausting. Sometimes that’s the point. You get so drained, you don’t have any energy left to wreak havoc. When your emotions return to baseline, that’s when you get enough peace and neutrality to think your problems through. That’s when you can make your best decisions. More tip: when your emotions get so overwhelming you can’t function, treat it like a physical illness. Stop working. Get some rest. You really need it.
Let them out. Emotions, even the painful ones, serve you up to a point. However, when you’ve passed that point, let them out. Gently. Wish them a safe journey until they eventually make their way back to you for a visit. They will be back. Like everything that constantly tries to find balance, emotions work the same way. They work in peaks and valleys. When I get really excited, good mood all around, it’s an emotional high that will start working its way down after it reaches peak. Down, down, down, all the way to its equivalent valley. Yes, this is the part where I get sad and depressed. So you can imagine my mood swings 🙂 But knowing how emotions work to balance itself helps tremendously. This way, I can protect myself during emotional peaks, and prepare for upcoming valleys. Practically, this usually means I manage my workload and deadlines to make room for emotion regulation so I won’t get too tired.
Emotion regulation takes some practice. I know I still have a lot of learning to do. I don’t always get it right. Sometimes my emotions still explode at unfortunate times. But be kind to yourself. You’re trying your best.
Also, it’s not always bad. If I can feel that much about negative emotions, imagine how good I can feel about positive ones. I often feel like flying. Much like a broken heart can punch me in the chest, kisses and hugs give me similar jolt to the heart, except it feels like being defibbed, electricity jumpstarting my heart to beat again. Everything feels great, nothing can go wrong, we will be together forever. So yeah, if you haven’t noticed, positive emotions can be just as dangerous as the negative ones. You risk getting carried away. You overcommit and overpromise. And, once the dust settles, you realize that you don’t really want it that much. It was just exciting for the moment. Euphoria is fun and all, but if you go too far, you get in the territory of manic. So excited, you can feel anxiety creeping on you from behind, whispering that something will go wrong soon.
But again, it’s not all bad. We’ve established bottling up negative emotions will only make you feel it longer until it eventually explodes, but this also applies to positive emotions. The quickest way to lose excitement is to sing and dance about it. But if you just sit still, smiling your way through it, you can feel the warmth and joy spreading through your body, a giggle always on the edge of getting out of you. That’s where the all the nice and fuzzy feelings come from, my friends. 💛
So, no, it’s not always bad. Being a bundle of nerves means I have a lot of emotional resources, for myself but also for the people around me. Having a well of emotions I can easily tap into also helps me a lot in crafting my art. As a person, I have a lot of empathy to offer, and I can see why this can easily become a pain point for people with BPD. As human beings, we just want to be loved in return. But the love we Borderlines give tends to be in abundance, and not everyone can match such energy. Sometimes it feels a little bit unfair. But it’s not anyone’s fault. We’re just built differently. Boundaries will help you a lot here. We’re responsible over our own feelings. The least we can do is be kind and civil to each other.
So, yes, I feel a lot. This broken heart feels like it’s killing me. But I’m giving it time to pass. Being a Borderline truly has made me suffer, but it has also given me indescribable joy. And that is how I experience the world.