Tuesday, 30 August 2016

On Superheroes, Mindreading and BPD

I have just completed a week in which I transformed myself into a superhero. The hardest part was to come up with my 'superpower' - in the end I opted for the title 'SuperConfused' with my super power being the ability to sow confusion wherever I went. It was quite a wheeze! In case you're wondering, it wasn't an experimental therapy option being trialled near me, it was in pursuit of entertaining 30 odd (sometimes in both meanings of the word) children aged 5-11 for a week of the summer holidays. Yes, I know volunteering is a funny old world!


I'm a reflective soul. Some may call it navel gazing, but occasionally, it yields positive fruit. This time my reflection led me to the realisation that I have been living a double life as myself and my alter ego, the Amazing Mind Reading Woman. This came out most clearly during an overseas holiday in the company of my family and some friends in July.

I have written a previous blog about some aspects of this alongside the phenomenon known as 'Apparent Competence': http://bpdlifeinthemoment.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/caught-between-two-minds-problem-of.html

Mind Reading as a feature of the symptoms of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) will be familiar to anyone living with or seeking to support someone who is emotionally sensitive. There are a number of aspects to this superpower of mine.


1) I know exactly what everyone is thinking about me. Especially when I am feeling stressed and/or emotionally vulnerable this 'superpower' is at its most potent. You see, I know that everyone around me is judging me and at times, loathing me, because that is what I am feeling and thinking about myself, and, my reasoning (confused by the power of emotional waves crashing over me) is that in that moment everyone around me can see right into my rotten core. It is a feeling of emotional and mental nakedness and can appear like paranoia, but in that moment I can have such belief in my mind reading 'abilities' that reassurances will seem to be 'flannel' and so much nonsense, as no one can possibly not recognise what I recognise about myself in those moments. Of course you have to be thinking that. If you struggle to understand the power of this 'ability' think about the number of times you have attributed motives and emotions to inanimate objects as well as total strangers: 'That lamp-post deliberately jumped out of nowhere and hit me smack in the face.' Or 'That driver in the fast lane thinks he's so much better than me, I'll show him.' Ok, so much nonsense which can be easily reasoned away. What if that level of conviction about the ability to see into others motives and thoughts is coupled with the most powerful of negative emotions?

How do we make sense of the world?

It is my understanding that we begin with our physical senses, sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell. We build up an understanding of the world around us through these physical experiences. So far, so simple. Through time we build up a bank of sights, smells, tastes, sounds as our experiences widen. What if we couple these experiences with emotions. For example, sights (a beach), tastes (ice cream, chips) coupled with a feeling (happiness) means that I can evoke a visual memory of happiness just by walking by a chip shop. What if our sense of what we perceive around us is affected by negative emotions? It follows that our emotions lead and overwhelm our physical senses of what is going on in the present moment, so whilst others around us may be oblivious to our internal meltdown, we are living the equivalent emotional response of a disaster movie. While most people may experience the same stressful situation as me, both their immediate response and the length of time it takes to recover from the feelings of anxiety and stress will not be as powerful nor last as long. So, within a couple of hours of missing a flight all my travel companions can be asleep, while I remain wide awake while adrenaline courses round my body, reignited by catastrophising thoughts and heightened emotions. Paranoia about the different experiences between me and my friends, triggers my mind reading tendencies which may continue for several days as I perceive judgement and disapproval - an echo of my own thoughts about myself.

2) All the Bad things in the World are centred on Me One of the paradoxes of low self esteem is that I can convince myself that everything bad that happens is because of something I have thought or done. How's that for a superpower? This sometimes links into my ability to read minds in that I assume everyone will be blaming me. I have apologised for a stormy day before now. Either this is faulty thinking deeply affected by overwhelming feelings of unwarranted guilt, or I am suffering from some as yet undiagnosed form of megalomania!

3) If YOU cared for Me/Were any Good at YOUR Job, you would be able to read my mind! This is the part of my superhero persona which, I think, provokes fear and loathing in others. I will sit at home, or in your office, A&E, wherever, in abject distress and expect you to work out a) how far down I am feeling b) if you should intervene c) how you can help me. Most of the time I am so overwhelmed with distress that all I want to happen is for it to stop. This I know is daunting to anyone dealing with me in these moments. How much of a risk am I to myself/others/you? For me, that answer is, just help me feel safe until the feelings pass.

I've written before of how challenging my behaviour could become in the past with mental health professionals who I had a habit of 'testing'. This resulted in me presenting as functioning on all evident levels, but expecting those trying to help me to be able to read what was going on, under the surface. 'Failure' would result in me going away and pressing self destruct in some more 'obvious' way. Deeply unfair, and likely to perpetuate the feeling of being manipulated by me. For me, those who managed to get past this stage were those who were able to take time to listen, who were allowed to assess me over a period of time and, above all, those who were honest about their limits. 'No one can change your past hurts.', 'I can't stop you feeling this bad about life', 'life sucks'. Reality and honesty have been the best tools used in helping me build therapeutic relationships.

In friendships and relationships I am challenging to love to say the least. My silence can be a gauntlet thrown down to challenge you to demonstrate a) how much patience you have b) how much you really love me, especially when I am not communicating c) Whether all the failed and failing relationships of the past, are really in the past, or if I can push you to reject me too. As with the professionals who have had to work with me, I can expect you to be able to read my mind. In the end, sticking to boundaries and being consistently straight and practical is better than joining me in my emotional morass.

Thankfully, I have not lost any friends for a number of years, either I've changed or people are more accepting of me. Another, thing that has changed is that I no longer tolerate 'bad' friendships or relationships which are not good for me or my emotional health. I don't have to invest in damaging relationships for fear they will be the only people who could care for me.... recognising that any level of abusive behaviour, does not constitute love. Actions do speak louder than words where this is concerned!

How do I get myself out of the Mind Reading loop?

1) Stop the physical symptoms of anxiety/anger. There are a number of techniques which have helped. The one tool I carry with me all the time is my breathing. If I can slow myself down by practising mindful breathing, this helps me regain control of my emotional responses. Another technique which is more of an immediate shock to bring my heartrate down is to plunge the whole of my face (right to the edge of my ears) into freezing cold water. If there isn't the means to do this, it helps to carry a freeze pack in my handbag which when held to my eyes for up to two minutes (or as long as I can stand it), has the same immediate effect.

2) Use my Senses to focus on my immediate surroundings. It helps to maybe suck a sweet and focus on the sensations, taste etc.

3) Identify the feelings. If I can name them, I have a number of DBT strategies I can use to manage them, until they subside.

4) If I have a relationship of trust, check out the reality of my beliefs about what others are thinking.

The times when I find myself mind reading have lessened over the past few years. However, life has unexpected twists and turns and sudden changes/crises may result in me assuming the superhero in me must be right about what is going on in your head. Every now and then I need to be remember that superheroes are for comic books and that I am not the Centre of the Universe, nor am I the Carbuncle of the Cosmos around which everyone and everything revolves - which means I am not personally responsible for tornadoes in Oklahoma, or the dodgy schedules of international airlines!

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