Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

--- [first published on Alma's own Blog] ---
Some of my own misery has come from comparing the problems of my life with those of others. Even if I am right in my comparison with some, objectively, most of us in the Western World are comfortably off when it comes to the provision of the basic essentials for living. However, I don't think that most of us are so oblivious to this fact that material safety affects our mental and emotional well being to such an extent that it is a factor in our experience of depression. I believe that our expectation is that everyone else around us in the world is living in relative happiness because they have learned some secret, or have some inner resilience, from which we have been excluded. Perhaps, that is an easier rationale to live with than accepting that life just plain sucks!

As someone who has suffered all my life with complex mental health issues, who has suffered 'breakdowns' and bleak periods of hopelessness brought on by clinical depression and my battles with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), I find myself excluded from some modern Christian teaching. You will have come across them, perhaps under the title 'name and claim it' or 'health, wealth and prosperity'. Some of these teachings tell me that my ongoing battles with emotional and mental distress and trauma are an affront to God because it is a sign of my spiritual weakness. They tell me that if I lack anything, God has promised that if I ask anything in His name it will be mine...really? Is that all that the Bible says...? Anything, that I want, as long I ask in Jesus or in God's name? What of God's providence, sovereignty and purposes for us in this world. It begs the question what is the destiny God has for me that most glorifies Him? Is it to be healed on demand, or is it for me to become more Christ-like in my dealings with life and all its twists and turns?

I embrace the knowledge that God does wonderfully supply all my NEEDS. There it is that magic word, 'enough'. In Matthew 6: 25-34 Christ tells us not to worry about tomorrow because 'today has enough troubles of its own.' Nowhere in the Bible do I see anything that assures me that I will live a problem free life. In fact I see the opposite, what I see in the Bible is the confirmation that my own suffering is a fairly accurate reflection of what life is like - once again, life sucks.

So, if I am thinking that I am being hard done by, just because I am struggling with life, maybe it's time for me to change my thinking.

Here are some principles:

--- Be kind to yourself – If you are struggling against a mental illness remember that healing takes time. It probably took some time for you to become ill and it will take time for medication etc. to work in improving things. Work within the limits of what you can realistically do. DO NOT JUDGE YOURSELF HARSHLY! (Even Jesus needed to rest – ‘But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ Luke 5:15-17) The Garden of Gethsemane is an amazingly instructional picture of Jesus as man struggling with emotional and mental pain of being human. He was in such distress that he sweated blood. At this point I don't find a saviour who condemns me for suffering mental and emotional torment, but one who has been there in the literal and metaphorical darkness and who seeks to walk with me each step through.

--- Life hurts - there will be times when it is hard going and you find yourself drained by just getting up in the morning. That’s ok it’s called being human. In Psalms David says (more than once!) ‘Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’ Psalm 42:4-6 Accepting that it’s part of the human experience to feel this bad at times, hopefully will help lift some guilt.

---  Know that everyone has their limits and you can begin to accept that you are the same as everyone else. You may be tempted to give others a break when you demand far more of yourself. Sometimes good enough is good enough! Don't expect of yourself more than you would expect of a friend in the same circumstances.

--- Focus on the positive. Sounds obvious but is hard to do especially when you are struggling to concentrate. Don’t make a chore of it. Get creative – use positive verses/statements listen to cheesy pop music (really – I’m learning to love my inner Nolan Sister!!) have a long bath (banish children and others from the bathroom or the bathroom door!) Even if only for a short moment at a time focus all your attention on the good thing!

--- Stop the Panic – Remember to breathe, Learn to listen to your breathing and slow it down. Give yourself space to acknowledge your emotional and mental distress, it's ok to feel hurt.

--- Live in the Moment – ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift from God which is why it’s called the present’. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow which means he has lived them all with us. We cannot change the past or the future, try to focus on the here and now. Jesus focused on this in the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? ...” (Matthew 6:24-34). In other words, if you can't do anything to change it, accept your limits and be content to use your energy to solve the problems and overcome the hurdles you can, in each moment that you live.

--- Stay Grounded in the Present - When you find yourself grieving about things which have happened or worrying about things which haven’t happened – use your breathing or focus on something around you such as sounds, children, animals, a picture – anything of interest, to bring you back to the here and now.

In our church we have had a series about Money. This morning we focused on the following prayer, from a man called Agur:
“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God." (Proverbs 30: 7-9)

In relation to money this is the wisest of prayers, but I find that the prayer for God to provide 'enough' applies also to my emotional and physical well being. If I am not tied to matching the life and lifestyle of others around me, then I become truly free to live my life as God has designed it to be. For every one of us there is a purpose for our gifts and talents, for our experiences and sufferings. In our modern world, within the church too, we have stopped seeing suffering and pain as part and parcel of the human lot. As many humans as I have encountered in all my days, I have never met one who has not had their share of struggles and problems. We deny the reality of the power of Jesus' Cross, when we try to sanitise the lives we live in this world. In the past trouble and strife was expected and seen as essential spiritual tools towards maturity and sanctification (ie becoming more Christ like).

One woman in the group said to me that when she first started coming to our church, she used to think that the couples and families around her had it all together in a way that she felt her own family didn't. And now, after a couple of weeks she realised 'you're all in as big a mess as me'. The difference is that God will work his purposes out, and his main purpose for us is to help us become more like Jesus in the way we respond to all of life.
Alma Johnson, 19/08/2014
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