Gambling Itch turns into Gambling Fever

I’ve probably mentioned that every 90 days, I have to leave Costa Rica per immigration regulations because I’m not a resident of the country. Regulations mandate that I must stay outside the country for 72 hours. More often then not, I end up going to Panama City, Panama. It’s only an one hour flight and the hotels are generally on par with above average USA accommodations. The trip is costly, but worth it in order to follow Costa Rican law and get out of my apartment/neighborhood for a couple days. There’s only one downside: many of the hotels in Panama City are located adjacent to casinos, which always gives me a gambling itch.

I haven’t placed a real money wager since March of 2004. I say “real money”, because I’ve played online poker, roulette, and blackjack for play money points, which don’t count as gambling unless you’re strict about abstinence from ANY kind of gambling. To clarify further, these play money points casino games didn’t cost anything to use, had no rewards, nor any sort of raffle/lottery/drawing associated with accumulating a lot of play money points. In other words, the only thing I waste playing these games is time, which is helpful for taking a break from my life once in awhile. It also relieves any occasional gambling itch I have by re-enforcing the fact that trying to win at these games is futile in the long run (while I’ll agree with any serious gamblers reading this post that major short-term wins are possible).

Before my most recent Panama trip, I exacerbated my gambling itch with mind games. You’d think after 7 years without placing a bet the addictive aspects of gambling would be gone. Truth is, they are never gone, just either under control or out of control. I told myself that if I could start with 1000 points and multiply my money fivefold – for a total of 5000 points – that I could consider gambling for real in Panama because it somehow indicated a better level of self-control than I used to have. So, I went to my favorite online casino site and played blackjack for a couple hours, and I did, in fact, turn 1000 points into just over 5000 points. This “qualifying” mind game was meant to give me permission to break 7 years of not gambling.

While flying to Panama City, all I could think about on the plane was getting to my hotel, unpacking my credit cards, and heading over to the closest casino (conveniently 5 minutes away). I kept picturing myself walking in, plunking down $500 bucks, and then walking out a couple hours later with $2000 or more. This sequence of thoughts repeated itself after I got off the plane, continued as I went through immigration and customs, and pushed on during my cab ride from the airport to my hotel.

This fantasy drove my gambling itch into gambling fever like I haven’t experienced in years. My mind further justified breaking 7 years of abstinence from gambling with thoughts like “You deserve to have fun”, “Why not socialize for a couple hours?”, and “You need the extra cash, so why not give it a chance?”. That voice that usually stamps out these irrational thoughts was markedly smaller, a mere whisper compared to these pro-gambling mental shouts.

Like clockwork, the minute I arrived in my hotel room, I started breaking out my credit cards and cash, getting ready to gamble. I stuffed my passport in my pocket just in case the casino would request ID for cash advances, which they almost always do unless they know you as a regular customer. I headed down the elevator, out the hotel, and right into the middle of the casino, checking out the blackjack tables.

I nearly pulled up a chair and whipped out my money, but for whatever reason, this didn’t happen. For a few minutes, I watched a guy buy $500 worth of chips, and proceed to lose it within 10 minutes at the blackjack table. He was betting between $50 and $150 a hand, and did win a couple times. Unfortunately for him, however, the dealer was eventually victorious (as usual). She drew a 4 card 21 a couple times, with a few 20s thrown in for good measure. The guy could do little against these cards, with his only recourse being to wait out the run of bad luck with smaller bets, and then return to larger bets when the cards were more favorable. He didn’t reduce his bets, but instead kept them big, hoping to double up. That made his first $500 disappear fast.

After finally losing to a dealer natural 21 (blackjack), the gambler went to his wallet and brought out another $500, changing it for $25 and $100 chips. He was clearly chasing his losses, hoping to make back the first $500 and maybe a little more to justify his trip to the casino for the evening.

Once I saw him burn through this second cash infusion, I slowly, begrudgingly, left the casino and returned to my hotel room. It seemed like the dealers were all pulling perfect and near perfect hands, destroying the gamblers at their respective tables. I knew that if I sat down and played, I’d be opening myself up to substantial losses, in part because when I lose a lot of money, I tend to “chase” it with larger buy-ins, until I’m literally broke or my credit card company shuts me down (yes, it happened several years ago on multiple occasions).

Leaving the casino, I still wanted to gamble desperately, but decided it would be better to sequester myself inside my hotel room behind the TV. I sat on the bed and watched 3 hours of TV and also bought a movie to see, before going to bed late at night like I always do. A $9.99 movie purchase made more sense than a potential $500 casino loss. For the remainder of my trip, I did the same thing: eat my meals, use the internet cafe in the mornings, and then hide in my room at night, to evade the powerful gambling devil that has never quite disappeared.

I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, what a waste of trip…You’re in Panama City for 3 days and all you did was watch TV in your room and go downstairs for meals? You could do that anywhere, why not do some touristy stuff?” That’s a fair criticism. To be fair to myself, though, I was traveling alone and have done most of the local tourist destinations before. Traveling alone in Central America can be hazardous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Although I’d like to think I have some street smarts after 7 years in Latin America, you never know what can happen if you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s far better to adventurous with a couple friends.

Flying solo ultimately made the casino the most likely leisure activity: it was close to my hotel, had strong security, and I’m usually much more social and happy when I’m gambling. That’s why my mind was trying to push me towards playing cards.

In the end, I never did actually gamble, and maintained my 7+ years of freedom from problem gambling. The trip was uneventful and boring, but at least I didn’t put myself at risk financially, or more importantly, put my sanity on the line for a few hours of pointless gambling. It took a lot of mental energy to keep myself away from the casino. True, my trip was nothing overly memorable in terms of sites and sounds, but more of a psychological boost to my anti-gambling will power.

It’s hard to say no to something you love to do, especially when the chance of winning money is involved. I chose to abstain during those few days in Panama, knowing that I would hate myself later on for trading 7 years of being wager free for a couple hours of blackjack that probably would have bankrupted me on the spot.

Whatever your addiction is, take care of it, and don’t let it control your life, or more importantly, control your mind.

Does eHarmony.com work for people with mental illness?

A few months ago, I decided to join eHarmony.com for the second time. I had previously signed up over 3 years ago, but was “rejected due to no compatible matches being available”. They further stated, “…this[rejection] happens to about 20% of applicants…”. Luckily I was let in this time, for better or for worse. To my surprise, I’ve been matched 812 times so far, which I found very encouraging. I’m further emboldened by the fact that I answered the entire eHarmony.com questionnaire truthfully, including questions that probed into my state of mind and daily activities.

I wonder, however, if eHarmony.com would actually work for people with mental illness like me. Did my non-Borderline Personality part of my psyche somehow “fool” the eHarmony.com process, lining up 812 unsuspecting women who think I’m normal? Is the science behind eHarmony.com advanced enough to detect people with depression/mental illness after interpreting the questionnaire; or do they only focus on Meyer-Briggs style personality profiles?

As I stated above, I made sure to answer EVERY question honestly, including one that asked whether or not I feel “…sometimes depressed”. Then, after filling out my profile and including a few basic pictures, I also did the “Premium Personality” test, just to be fair to any women who actually might want to get to know me. The results weren’t surprising: I’m introverted, take care of myself most of the time ahead of others, can be passionate or judging, not very social, only have a handful of friends, etc. Overall, I’d say this assessment painted the picture of a narcissistic person, not a BPD person.

I suppose if I had to choose, I’d rather be narcissistic than BPD, but I really hate the “narcissistic” label. I feel like it implies I spend half my day looking at myself in the mirror, could care less about other people, and put my own needs ahead of everyone else’s. In reality, this characterization isn’t that accurate. It’s true that I’m definitely self involved, but not the point that I’m so selfish that I exclude the feelings and needs of others entirely. I’d like to think of myself as someone who is dependable and helpful, not off-putting and callously uninterested in others.

As eHarmony.com stated in their profile results, I believe that “If everyone took care of themselves, the world would be a much better place”. This is rather ironic. On one hand I am plenty capable of taking care of my daily needs and can meet all my financial obligations. On the other, I “can’t take care of myself” when it comes to my BPD: I need psychological counseling, medication, and an environment that validates me except when I’m out of line.

Does all that mumbo-jumbo get explained by eHarmony to my matches, or do the women have to risk being hurt and give me a try?

To be sure, I’d never enter a relationship – from internet dating or otherwise – with the intention to hurt someone because I’m mad at the world. In reality, I already have a few ways of venting my anger, most of which are productive. Practically speaking however, any hurt, inconsistency, anger, emotional volatility, etc. in a new relationship would almost certainly come from me. Is eHarmony.com trying to make a quick buck, or are they simply unaware that my matches might come to hate me and regret the fact they ever invested a few months of their lives getting to know me?

They say you have to risk being hurt to find love. You have to open yourself up and be emotionally vulnerable in order to gain the affections of others who do the same for you. This all makes sense in writing, but not when one has to factor BPD into the equation.

Maybe my BPD symptoms have improved – maybe they have not. In any event, if I actually go out on an eHarmony date, I hope that I’ll be 100% honest and genuine with my potential partner, showing them the bad the comes with the good in me.

Good luck to others trying internet dating!

BPD Moodiness: Sometimes I find it hard to laugh, smile

When my BPD swings into depression mode, sometimes I find it very hard to laugh or smile. I try to watch funny TV shows, surf YouTube, or watch re-runs of popular sitcoms at network TV websites. No matter what it is, once I’m in a low mood, it takes VERY funny jokes or humor to make me crack a grin, let alone laugh out loud. They say “Laughter is the best medicine”. Whether or not that’s true is debatable. One thing is for sure: it can be damn hard to laugh when you’re feeling down. For these episodes, laughter is hard earned and sometimes not even worth the effort.

BPD depression also changes my disposition. For example, if I’m visiting a grocery store, many times I’ll not even look people in the eye, choosing instead to look at the ground or pretend I’m searching for something on the shelves. When it’s time to checkout, I don’t interact with the cashier. I basically fumble through my wallet, pretending to be looking for coins, and will sometimes ignore basic questions like “How are you?” or “Can I help you carry those groceries to your car?”. The truth is, if I answer the “How are You?” question honestly, they probably won’t like what I have to say. Furthermore, they’d probably chalk me up as a weirdo or “a few cards short of a deck”.

Future visits to the same grocery store will result in less social interaction, because people who initially reached out to me think I’ll respond to them like I did before: distant and lacking positive energy. As a result, I’ve learned to act like a little spacey, which gives me latitude in social interactions to sometimes be cheery and other times be dismissive. To be sure, acting “spacey” may not be much of an improvement over acting depressed, but at least some people give me the benefit of the doubt.

If I’m out with friends – which happens very rarely – and I’m feeling depressed, I find it hard to keep up with the conversation and any jokes being told. Sometimes the jokes sound utterly stupid and not worth a laugh, when in reality I’m the only one in the group who’s not laughing. I also get very bored with people telling the same old stories, embellishing the past with white lies and exaggeration in an attempt to be entertaining. I want to scream “Shut up, that’s not how it happened”, but I keep my mouth closed. Others around me seem to find the conversation enjoyable, so I just act distant and not engaged.

Many psychiatrists encourage social interaction as a way to lift oneself out of bad moods. I’m not sure I agree with this treatment. When depression has my emotions running amuck, being around people can be annoying, stressful, and even more depressing. Everyone else has a reason to smile, but I don’t. What’s wrong with me? Are my standards for humor too high? Or, am I a social “outlier” that has never – and will never – quite fit in? More importantly, how can I ever expect to meet a potential life partner (woman) for a relationship when I’m simply not happy?

My Mom used to say, “just pretend you’re happy”. That doesn’t work either. It makes me feel disingenuous to those around me. I don’t want to found a relationship based on emotional lies. That’s a recipe for disaster later on when your partner realizes he or she has been interacting with an abnormally depressed individual, and not the falsely cheery person they met months before. When it comes to emotions and feelings, I prefer honesty or acting spacey. It is more authentic then feigning happiness when you simply feel like sh*t.

Given a few hours or days – depending on how my moods cycle – eventually laughing and smiling become easier, if only for a short while. I laugh at the stupid jokes, make small talk with the grocery store cashier, or smirk when a friend is recounting a story that is clearly exaggerated. Watching TV also becomes more enjoyable. Suddenly, my standard for good humor goes down a bit, and in the process, my ability to sincerely laugh increases.

Moodiness is probably one of the most frustrating symptoms of BPD, because it interferes with how you interact with those around you. It’s one thing to be sad and glum inside your apartment, but it’s another to be the same way in public. People who act depressed, timid, or otherwise disturbed in social situations are ultimately ostracized. If you’re not going with the emotional “flow”, you’re not welcome.

For now, I’m content with the moments when I can laugh and smile authentically. It’s those other down moments characterized by depression and melancholy that really get to me, forcing me to pretend to be someone else who’s more positive that he really feels.