Weaknesses Equal Strengths

In the past, I have had a problem with “black and white” thinking.  If something was good, it was good.  If something was bad, it was bad.  Opposites had two entirely different bins.  Because they were opposites, how could they possibly be one in the same?  How could they possibly share properties?  Wasn’t that the very definition of opposite?

One person was really responsible for setting this idea into motion.  I was coming up on my orange belt test, and I found that I was suddenly having difficulty executing basic techniques.  I had practiced these same techniques over months with much progress.  It seemed as if I became leaden and weighted.  I became extremely frustrated and distracted, making practice much more difficult.

My instructor asked, “Are you nervous?”

I hadn’t even considered it.  Anxiety had become automatic for me.  I took a moment and replied, “Yes.”

“Good,” she said.  I was taken aback.  How was anxiety a positive thing?  It was hindering me, and preventing me from progressing.  I thought that it might even be my doom, by causing me to fail my test.  She suggested, “Turn your mind off and focus that abundant energy into your techniques.  You don’t need to think about it anymore.  It’s all stored into your muscle memory.”

I took a moment to compose myself.  I threw all of that energy into firing off techniques.  Suddenly, I unweighted and pivoted with ease.  The forms were coming back together and my strength and agility were returning to me.  It seemed that by translating that nervous energy into a physical outlet, I had actually gained a significant asset.

There are two sides to every coin.  The point is, the two sides share a coin.  The coin itself allows the two sides to share properties, butt up against each other.  While one represents something, and the other side seems to be opposite, they are really one in the same.  All we have to do is flip the coin.

In my last article, “I Am the Best Me”, I touched upon gaining a different perspective on our own weaknesses.  Many of us are painfully aware of our own “flaws”.  They are probably something that has become a primary focus at one point or another.  , In the search for answers and solutions, we’ve invested an abundance of time and energy into putting them under the microscope and dissecting them.  There is a certain idea that if we deconstruct them, then we may be able to reassemble them into a strength.  It pushes us to put an exhausting, but fruitless effort into transforming an aspect of ourselves that is just simply a part of our nature.

There are the obvious things we can’t change.  I’m 5’1” and 28 years old.  There is no hope that I will ever grow taller.  I can wobble around in heels all day, but it doesn’t adequately compensate for my natural size.  I have a naturally larger frame, so I can’t ever realistically expect to be thin like the models.  My feet are awkwardly large for a woman of my size.  Knowing that I can’t be anything different is a little discouraging in a certain light.

But, experience has taught me that those perceived flaws are actually advantages.  In martial arts, I can use certain physical qualities to my advantage.  Many taller people are long range fighters, due to their long limbs.  By moving in close, I can jam up their attacks and land quite a few blows.  A wider frame provides a natural opportunity for a greater muscle mass.  In combination with larger feet, I can have a stronger stance, making it more difficult for me to get knocked down.  And being small in general gives me speed and agility that other opponents may not have.

When we examine the more intangible things, such as character traits and personality, it’s a little less obvious.  This is especially so when we’re incorporating symptoms of disorder into the mix.  I’ve spent a lot of time splitting hairs between the two, in the attempt to discern what I could “fix” and what I couldn’t.  Although it initially provided relief by eliminating the idea that I was “irreparably damaged”, that microanalysis eventually ended up doing me more harm than providing benefits.  It sought to put everything under the microscope under a lens of negativity.

Personality from disorder isn’t a cut and dry as we initially perceive.  In time, I discovered that my personality and disorder had a complex relationship.  They shared many things, but there was one thing they both had in common.  My personality and disorder were both directly influenced by my value system.  It made me realize that they are really rooted in the same entity, my core self.

Perceived Flaws Translated Strength
Stubborn Willful
Anxious High Energy
Indecisive Flexible
Moody Sensitive
Worrisome Cautious
Temperamental Passionate
Aggressive Forceful
Dramatic Expressive
Withdrawn Reserved
Inconsistent Complex

That’s just to name a few.

When we redefine our weaknesses as strengths, we can begin to see how they benefit us.  All of these traits have developed my creative nature.  That creativity isn’t just applicable to writing and other artistic outlets.  It benefits my problem solving skills and personal relationships.  By understanding our true natures, we can start to redefine ourselves.  This aids in identifying personal dysfunctions as something beneficially functional.  This is the root of the development of adaptive strategies.

So, drag out the thesaurus and tell me – what are your strengths?

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BPD and Me

A post by Angel, concerning Avoidant Personality Disorder, had me thinking again about the possibility of me having Borderline Personality Disorder.  This is a suspicion that has plagued me throughout the course of my treatment within the last year or so.  Instead of going straight to the Borderline Screenings, I went to a personality disorder screening to see the possibilities of what I may be dealing with.

Disorder Rating
Paranoid Personality Disorder: High
Schizoid Personality Disorder: Low
Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Moderate
Antisocial Personality Disorder: Low
Borderline Personality Disorder: Very High
Histrionic Personality Disorder: High
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: High
Avoidant Personality Disorder: High
Dependent Personality Disorder: High
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: High
Take the Personality Disorder Test
Personality Disorder Info

I really never imagined that I would be symptomatic of multiple disorders in Axis II.  Since BPD still remained the highest, I decided to take a specific screening.

Results of Your
Borderline Personality Test

You scored a total of 43.
Severe Borderline Personality Disorder Likely
You answered this self-report test in a way that’s consistent with people who have been diagnosed with severe Borderline Personality Disorder. This suggests that these concerns may be an issue for you as well, and something that you should seek out further assistance with this issue from a trained mental health professional immediately. Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by a pattern of unstable and intense relationships, as well as frantic efforts to avoid abandonment — even if it’s not real.

I thought about the entire year and the instability of my own marriage – the most solid thing I can think of.  I had all of these paranoid delusions that my husband was cheating on me, although in the back of my mind, I knew it was not a possibility.  I sabotaged myself at work with the line of thinking that everyone was against me.  I started severing ties with coworkers and hiding in my classroom.  I had always thought that was characteristic of bipolar psychosis, but now, I’m not so sure.

Using the same site that Angel used, I discovered something kind of shocking:

You may be at risk for developing BPD if:

  • you have a family member who has BPD
  • you felt emotionally unstable or emotionally vulnerable as a child
  • people in your household were impulsive when you were a child
  • you were emotionally abused as a child

And all of those were true.  My mother does not have a confirmed case of Borderline Personality Disorder, but it seems she is symptomatic.  When she was a very young child, she was put into foster care.  She has absolutely no memory of this, and none of her family members will detail what happened.  My mother married her first husband on a whim, because his draft number came up to go to Vietnam.  She had an extremely turbulent relationships with him, and he mostly left her alone all of the time.  That’s how she met and fell in love with my father.

Their marriage isn’t much better.  In private, she has gone on and on about my father’s faults.  They have had a rocky relationships, where I recall them throwing around the word “divorce” probably far more often than they should have.  She binge drinks and sometimes takes too much medication.  Medication that isn’t even hers to begin with.  She is as impulsive as she can be in her restrictive environment and goes through so much emotional turbulence.  But, she will never leave my father, no matter what.

I was an emotionally unstable child, and I wasn’t the one to immediately notice.  My preschool teacher had mentioned to my mother that I needed to “toughen up”.  That one little phrase was enough to spark years of tough love and general emotional abuse and neglect.  It gave them a free pass to call it “good parenting”.  As a result, I developed this need for achievement as a means of recognition.  I was designed to people please.  Regardless, another comment came from a teacher stating, “Doesn’t take constructive criticism”.  And the idea that criticism was encouraged compounded what I was already going through.

Impulsiveness!  My father used to just go drive off in his car without telling my mother where he was going.  He’d be gone for hours, and she’d be a wreck.  One time, he went through the house waving a gun, terrorizing us with suicidal gestures.  Honestly, I can never get that scene out of my head as hard as I could ever try.  My parents have both run their credit into the dirt over impulsive shopping sprees.

Now, here’s where things get tricky.  Friends and family in the past have suggested that I may be suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder.  An ex used those weaknesses against me.  So the presentation is convoluted because my actions are purposefully deceiving.

frantic efforts to avoid real or perceived abandonment

I self-sabotage in this area.  When I perceive abandonment, I start to shut that person out of my life.  I have this funny idealization that person will perceive my own emotional abandonment and come running back.  It’s what my parents and my ex did to me, and I seemed to have picked it up.

I’ll also become more sexual and start having defensive sex or performing certain sexual acts to peak someone’s interest and entice them into staying with me.

I also have this habit of changing everything about myself to appease my partner.  This is an effort to avoid abandonment.  And it’s one that’s been preyed on before.

pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships, characterized by alternating between idealization and devaluation (“love-hate” relationships)

People that are close to me are also subjected to this regularly.  Honestly, this is a major reason why I don’t let people get too close to me.  At first, I idealize someone and pick out the best of their characteristics.  Then, I start to idealize how the relationship with them will go.  Soon, I will become disillusioned at the first sign of trouble.  And it is at that point that I begin to demonize someone.  Everything about them is bad, and I have ever right to be suspicious at their deceptive behavior.  Except, it wasn’t deceptive.  I perceived them to be something that they weren’t and assigned them to the task of living up to my unrealistic expectations.

extreme, persistently unstable self-image and sense of self

I’d like to paraphrase the way I perceive myself.  I have lived a dozen lives, and each time, with every death, I’ve risen like the phoenix out of the ashes.  In my life, I have been a dozen different people and will be dozens more, each with their own birth, life, and death, only to start once more.

I take one aspect of my life and characterize myself through it.  I’ve been a baker, a mother, a wild child, a caretaker, a housewife, a teacher, a crazy woman, a bipolar woman, etc.  And for some reason, I can’t seem to integrate all of those periods of my life into the same entity.  They are just all separate from one another, as if I were living so many different characters in the same skin.

impulsive behavior in at least two areas (such as spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)

It is well known that I have a substance abuse problem with alcohol. But, here are a few facts that are the most difficult things for me to admit. I am guilty of day drinking every now and again. It is never when I’m alone with my child, for the record.  I am also guilty of taking too many benzodiazepines to escape reality from time to time.  Yes, I abuse my medication every now and again.  But, it’s not a dependence kind of thing.  I don’t find that it’s necessary, until I get into a frenzy of hysteria that produces so much distress that it’s unbearable.  The drugs quiet my mind.

And the other one is very difficult to admit as well, and I’m not sure if I can spell it out in detail.  I have a difficult relationship with food, dieting, and exercise.  I am guilty of binge eating.  I am also guilty of purging if I am distressed.  Especially if it’s about my weight.

And lastly, I recently made a confession of my sexual exploits in my youth in Promiscuously Yours, in the series The Friday Confessional.  I had multiple reasons for cheating on my ex, which is something I wouldn’t normally do.  I have a better moral compass than that.  Sometimes, I was so distressed that I just wanted to feel some kind of love.  Sometimes, I was trying to prove to myself that I was something special.  And other times, I did it out of spite.  Any which way you look at it, I did it in highly emotional moments.  And I always regretted it later.

recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or recurring acts of self-mutilation (such as cutting or burning oneself)

My cutting has been well documented in the past.  Unless I make a mindful effort not to self-harm, I will engage in the behavior.  I’ve written posts about the whys and wherefores in Why Self-Injurious Behavior?.  It’s complicated.

unstable mood caused by brief but intense episodes of depression, irritability, or anxiety

The mood episodes aren’t brief, so it leads me to believe that I may have a co-morbid diagnosis instead of a misdiagnosis.  However, I’ve always said this, and people have disagreed with me.  The only two constants for me and my disorder are reactivity and irritability.  I was under the impression that everyone with bipolar disorder is reactive and generally irritable most of the time.  Apparently, I was wrong.

I always have this underlying anxiety.  It’s made worse by social interaction, certain phobias I’ve developed, and worst of all, having to make decisions on my own.  It’s difficult for me to take care of my personal affairs, because I am always waiting on another person’s approval.  I get anxious when I make a decision by myself, because I often second guess myself.  I am constantly seeking reassurance about my decisions and guidance from others.

chronic feelings of emptiness

This one is complicated.  I don’t often feel empty.  I often feel lonely or distant.  Sometimes, I feel invisible, rejected, or ignored.  Most of the time, I actually feel too full.  I’m too full of emotion, noise, and stimuli.  I often have several voices and personas that follow me and make commentary on my life.  It’s too much.  But when medicine gets rid of them, though I am relieved by the lack of conflict, I am lonelier.  It feels like a piece of me is absent.

inappropriate and intense anger, or difficulty controlling anger displayed through temper outbursts, physical fights, and/or sarcasm

I recently wrote a post called, “I Want My Yellow Dress” using the analogy of a little girl in a movie in the most epic temper tantrum ever known to describe my own inner child.  My anger is often out of proportion for a given situation.  I have a bad temper, and I know it.  It’s something I’ve tried to deny for a long time.

In Love the Way You Lie, I described a mutually abusive relationship.  It was the only time in my life I have ever lashed out physically, but the point is that I did.  Whether a person could classify that as self-defense is questionable.  There were times I did it because I wanted to inflict pain on him.  I felt like he needed to know my own pain.

stress-related paranoia that passes fairly quickly and/or severe dissociative symptoms— feeling disconnected from one’s self, as if one is an observer of one’s own actions

I’ve written scores of blog posts and theories about this.  I am prone to paranoia, and I experience it rather frequently.  With my recent medication change, I can say that I usually only go through it once weekly.  Prior to the medication change, it was much more frequent than that.

The dissociative symptoms have been documented in Conscious, Subconscious, and Extraconscious, where I described a theory of multiple personas rather than full blown personalities residing in a place between the conscious and subconscious mind.  It’s complicated to get into, but it’s worth a read honestly.  It would give you a better idea of what I’m talking about in terms of dissociative symptoms.

When I’m doing something out of character, I often feel like I’m not the one who is doing it.  I feel like I’m trapped inside myself, or even completely outside of my own body, as a helpless observer.  When everything is said and done, sometimes I don’t quite remember the details of what happened.

It’s something I’m going to have to talk to my doctor about, because as I get older, it seems to get worse, rather than better.  Sure, I am not self-injuring in the sense that I’m not cutting.  But, I am still engaging in impulsive behaviors, and I can’t tolerate distress or disappointment.  My anger is out of control most of the time.  And that’s not when I feel too doped up to do anything.  Sometimes, I have symptoms regardless of the medication.  When I relapse, it’s usually very bad, and feels like it’s worse than the one prior.  I don’t just have a blip of an episode, but a full blown, complicated one.

Control, or Lack Thereof : 30 Days of Truth

Day 12 : Something you never get compliments on.

One of my more recent posts eluded to a crisis in my life.  I haven’t revealed it yet, because in all truth, I am rather ashamed of some of the realities of my life.  In personal writing lately, a rambling piece entitled “Write it Out, Right it Out“, I went on say:

I’ve always been caught in my own world of the mindf***, you know? And when I’m drunk, I am more susceptible to mindf***ery. I don’t like it. I start to lose grasp on my reality, and sometimes it disappears completely – my grasp, that is.

I have made references to my alcoholism in the past, but never with much detail or emphasis.  I neglected to mention that alcoholism is a real part of my present, mainly because I didn’t consider recreational drinking to fall under that category.  I was sorely mistaken.  I wrote to a friend:

Somewhere along the way, I stopped taking substance abuse seriously, like it wasn’t a fact in my life. I’m going to guess that mania had a little to do with it. Like I was above it all because I had gotten away with it.

And another in the same piece, “Write it Out, Right it Out”:

I don’t think I actually believed myself when I have described the seriousness of my alcoholism in my past. Or maybe I thought that it was somehow different, because this is a different situation. Or maybe I thought I was just too young and immature to handle myself.

The fact of the matter is this.  I have been suffering from terrible alcoholism from the age of 19.  At the age of 17, I took up drinking as a recreational activity.  When life events sent me into a tailspin, I spent the last six months of my 18th year in a state of perpetual intoxication.  By the time I was 19, alcohol was a regular fixture in my life, and was a part of every recreational activity.  Finally, it progressed the point of functional alcoholism by the time I was 21.  I described it to a friend as:

Except, I know that there was two years that I spent drunk every single night. I made excuses, like friends and parties, but I would drink by myself. I remember there were nights I’d drink until 4am, and have my boss call me at 6:30am to ask where the hell I was.

During the two years, I had a solid schedule. Wake up at 2pm, leave for work at 2:30pm, work three to nine, drink and eat nine thirty to four or six in the morning, and do it again. I had even devised strategies to avoid vicious hangovers and physical withdrawal. Occasionally, I would venture out with a bottle in my purse, just in case there wasn’t any alcohol where I was going.

Since my son was born, there have only been a handful of what I consider to be benders, which were periods of time where I would invent a reason to have friends over for drinks.  I never intended on getting wasted, and I usually didn’t.  But, there were occasions.  Some relatively benign, ending with me waking up with a vicious hangover and swearing off alcohol entirely for awhile.  Others, they ended disastrously with an altercation, and I would find myself resolving the situation by dumping all of the booze down the drain, with a certain satisfaction at my self-restraint and determination.

Here’s the truth.  I never get complimented on my resolve.  Because, everyone knows that I will always go back to the same old, same old.  No matter how much I appear to change.

I am not always forthcoming about my weaknesses, especially the ones that spark shame.  I am embarrassed by my lack of self-control, especially in matters that are extremely frowned upon.  There are a lot of bad character traits that I can identify, and openly and honestly admit to.  However, lack of self-control is not one of them.  I’ve never considered myself as impulsive, and people often view it as immature and juvenile.  I have always considered myself to be mature and responsible, with certain exceptions, like during college, because impulsive actions and lack of restraint were commonplace, and socially accepted.

Many can argue that impulsivity is not necessarily a character trait of mine, rather, a feature of Bipolar Disorder.  Maybe that is true, because there really was a brief period in my childhood that I recall being very responsible, consistent, and mindful.  And yet, there are still incidents that I recall as being not well thought out before execution.  A condition of childhood?  Maybe.  Facet of personality or symptom of psychological disorder, it stands as probably the weakest trait I have.