How to Manage The “I’m Gonna Snap Switch” in the Face of Borderline Personality Disorder.

BPD is colorful and emotional. There is nothing logical or predictable about how a person with BPD expresses themselves: they just do it. Whereas some people are always very much “in control” and measured in how they conduct themselves, someone with BPD will often come across as a Drama Queen or unable to keep their emotions in check. Fact: the very nature of being on the “borderline” between psychosis and neurosis means emotions are volatile, instant, and constantly in swing. One minute you’re feeling even keel, the next you’re spitting mad hurling insults at the unfortunate soul who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. As a society, we can’t have people with BPD constantly running around losing control. This is why we BPDers get medicated, thrust into psychotherapy, and sometimes even committed to inpatient psychiatric care.

The better part of my adult life has been spent trying to figure out ways to control myself and my emotions. No matter how hard I try, the slightest annoyances from the outside world will make me snap and then all hell breaks loose. I hold grudges: some that go back to last week; some that go back to the last decade. I get upset about things I can’t control and take them extremely personally. The slightest bit of criticism from another human being acts like a wrecking ball on my self esteem, destroying any fragile sense of self worth I have. After that, I have to start all over again. Anyone with BPD knows that once the flood gates open, it’s nearly impossible to stop the flow emotions that follow.

I wish I could discover a way to push blindly through life with an enduring high sense of self worth and self control. The problem is, BPD creates a life that is the exact opposite: with little value and little control. When this comes up against seemingly random negative events in life the only sure thing is that someone with BPD is going to explode. Whether or not this melt down takes place publicly, privately, between friends, or among family is the unknown factor. If you like to win easy bets, start a pool on the next time your BPD friend will go off. The question isn’t “if” he/she will go off, it’s “when”. If you bet on the “if” opposed to the “when”, it’ll be the easiest money you’ll ever make in your life.

Last night, just before bedtime, I discovered my cat had peed on my bed. Almost instantly, a BPD rage started boiling up inside me, and quite honestly, I didn’t care to stop it from erupting. My cat seems to pee on my bed sporadically. For all those feline lovers, “yes” I know she doesn’t have a urinary tract infection, and “yes” I clean her litter box faithfully every two days. She’s the only cat I have and isn’t in competition with other cats for food, litter box territory, or my attention. I’ve always used the same brand of litter and her box has remained in the same place for 2 years now. Of course, I make sure food is always available to eat and even rotate through my jumbo-pak of cat meat in the same fashion so she doesn’t feel surprised when tuna fish shows up in her bowl instead of turkey giblets. Thus, the only reason I can come up with for her peeing on my bed is behavioral, not environmental.

I’m embarrassed to admit she’s peed on my bed more than 15 times, and each successive time, I get even more angry with her than before. The first few times I yelled “NO” and made it clear I was mad with her. This worked for a month, but then she started peeing on my bed again. So, I upped the ante: I got so “pissed” ( 🙂 ) I grabbed her by the throat and rubbed her face in it.

Again, I’ve probably just lost all my feline loving readers, but to me this type of behavior is absolutely unacceptable. I took her in after someone abandoned her. She was a helpless kitten running around a vacant lot with no food or shelter. I thought I would make a difference in the world and adopt her. Now all I get in return is cat urine on my sheets and nearly two dozen urine stains on my mattress. Yes, I DO sleep on my mattress even after she pees on it. If it was my policy to get a new mattress each time, I’d be out over $1,500 easy.

As you can imagine, last night my reaction was the worst yet. I screamed at her for two or three minutes, then chased her around the house with a spray bottle (like a water gun) and hit her with as much water as possible. At one point I cornered her and she started growling and hissing (which enraged me even more) and landed several direct hits of water on her face. Hopefully, she got the message, because I made sure to let her know that I was NOT happy having to clean up cat piss at 1:00 AM in the morning.

Most people would agree that it’s understandable to get mad at an animal that urinates on their bed. Most people would not agree, however, that a BPD explosion is an appropriate response to the situation. Chasing my cat around the house and squirting her with water after screaming at her is a bit over the top. At the time, I felt it was justified emotionally because the past few days have been very stressful and disappointing for me. Having to clean cat piss off my own bed on a Sunday night was literally the last straw.

Here’s where we BPDs need to stop and think. Weigh out your reaction based on the event that sparked it, NOT the sum total of your emotional state created by prior unrelated events. This is much easier said than done, but it’s important to remember there is a degree of randomness to life that can’t be controlled no matter how mad we get.

If your car breaks down, the bill collectors keep calling, a bird sh*ts on your head and you are contemplating a BPD explosion, keep a couple points in mind: 1) These three stressful, upsetting events are unrelated, so don’t bottle up your anger to the point that the slightest negativity will set you off. Alleviate the pressure on the anger valve long before you explode. 2) Realize that exploding will only make matters worse – much worse. Suppose the mailman comes to the door with past due bills, and you explode at him for continuing to deliver these notices. Did it feel emotionally satisfying? Sure! Was it the right thing to do? Absolutely not. Now your mailman thinks you’re an a$$hole and won’t go out of his way to be helpful in the future. The entire relationship you built with this person goes up in a puff of smoke because you took out your anger on him for no justifiable reason.

How do you manage the “I’m gonna snap switch”? Try pacing out your emotions opposed to saving them for one angry sprint. If a toddler at the mall drops his ice cream on your new shoes, be a stern, frustrated adult opposed to a BPD volcanic eruption. Of course the toddler’s parents will be annoyed with a strong rebuff to their child’s reckless behavior, but that’s a lot better than having the police called because you threatened to rip the kid’s head off his shoulders.

If you have BPD, always think of how you want to be remembered prior to exercising your emotions. If you don’t care, then by all means go nuclear. If you do want any semblance of a normal life moving forward, however, make sure you react to life’s stressors in a measured, appropriate manner. You’ll be glad you did when your head finally clears.

Attaching Emotional Meaning to Inanimate Objects

Growing up, my dad was responsible for throwing things out and keeping things in good order. If something was broken, it went to the trash. If it was out of date, it went to the trash. If it took up space and was becoming an eyesore, guess what: trash it. He is the exact opposite of those who are “hoarders” and collect everything. My dad is not a collector by nature and does not understand why people give value to things that should be used and then thrown in the dumpster. This is a good thing in some ways: with a family of 6 and 4 young boys, allowing trash to pile up would quickly lead to filth and squalor. I respect his position on this issue and I’m thankful he chose to keep our house on the better side of “ordered” opposed to “disgusting”.

My mom, on the other hand, tends to hold on to more stuff compared to my dad. If you look at her desk, you’ll find old greeting cards, small trinkets, pens without caps, broken objects etc. just piling up. There is really no rhyme or reason to her small space of organized chaos. Once and a while she goes through old papers and gets rid of them, but for the most part if it lands on her desk it stays there.

This actually makes me a bit of a “Momma’s Boy” more than “Father’s protege”: I enjoy collecting greatly. I like to hold on to old things, whether or not I’ll actually use them again. I invest large sums of money in my USA currency collection (thousands of dollars), and am equally steadfast in keeping old birthday cards and those Christmas photo-cards everyone likes to send around.

Why? I really don’t know. For some reason, I attach emotion and feelings to inanimate objects. You now probably think I’m a very material person: actually, not at all. I live in a $500/month apartment with old appliances, a junky TV set, and use 3 shelves as space to pile my all my clothes. My computer is 8 years old and I was using a 14 year old monitor up until it died recently. My wardrobe runs the gamut of Walmart to Brooks Brothers. Buying expensive things doesn’t appeal to me, but collecting things does.

This became especially apparent over the weekend when I began sorting through old items and papers as I prepare to leave Costa Rica and return to the USA.

Naturally, my first stop was clearing out old suitcases so I could start filling them with things I’d actually need to have with me when I move. There was one suitcase I hadn’t used in 8 years. Opening the cover and digging in was like unearthing a time capsule. I found old Welbutrin pill cases, notes from my parents, old diabetic supplies, and plenty of knickknacks. The old medicine was easy to throw away, just as out-of-date diabetic items quickly found their way to the trash. Other things, like random notes from bosses or small gifts I forgot about were much harder to let go. As I browsed through all this old material, a flood of old emotions washed over me. It was as if I was reliving myself 8 years ago, and it felt both confusing and nostalgic at the same time.

For example, I found a note from my dad about having trouble sending my meds to Costa Rica, before we figured out how to do so without trouble. It took me back to when I had just landed in San Jose and was part excited, part terrified of trying to manage my life here. Like a good civil servant (30+ years) he signs and dates everything. His note from September of 2004 was particularly poignant because it reminded me of anxious days between jobs. My original employer in Costa Rica was a complete asshole and I needed to leave. At the same time, where else was I going to go to find work? Back to the USA where my prospects were remote? Or, stay in San Jose and work the “Gringo network” for more employment? Luckily I chose the latter of the two and here I am still in Costa Rica in 2012.

After going through suitcases, I started pouring over old papers. I have a habit of keeping old greeting cards. For some reason, I feel like I shouldn’t throw them away because someone took the time to buy a card, sit down, and write a note to me. An old card really means a lot to me, even if it was written years ago. Old greeting cards bring back old feelings and reminders of happy times. I always enjoyed keeping old Christmas cards. Despite years of struggles to and fro with my family, Christmastime was always pleasant and happy. Therefore, suddenly tossing a greeting card from an old family friend felt akin to throwing away expensive jewelry: it just didn’t feel right. So I’ve held on to the cards that have resurfaced during my mission to get rid of old, unnecessary things before I leave Costa Rica.

I’m not 100% certain, but I do remember reading somewhere that people with BPD put particular emphasis on objects that have little or no value to most other people. A former date’s phone number from the day we met; an old pet’s chew toy; or a letter from a high school teacher take on dramatic meaning compared to what a “normal” person would assign to them. It’s widely thought that my mother has BPD. This might explain why she keeps a messy desks and scrap books of random items from her past.

While I don’t scrap book, I tend to just put things aside in boxes or allow them to collect dust in my closet. Sure, a “Happy Birthday” card from 4 years ago has no importance in my day-to-day life, but suddenly seeing it again after years in storage brings back memories, joy, and sorrow from different times. In most cases, these memories are heart felt and pleasant. In others, painful thoughts suddenly arise and I start to relive experiences that troubled me. Although I can easily recall these memories if I try hard enough, there’s nothing like an actual relic to jump start my mind and recall old experiences.

A picture of a celebrity from a magazine: useless. A picture of one of our family dogs playing in the grass: priceless.

A balance sheet used for computing taxes: ARRGHHH! 🙂 Random notes from a work colleague during a difficult time in our relationship: priceless.

A map or directions to some famous landmark: toss it. A 5 year old, hand made calendar from my Mom, reminding her children of important days throughout the year (not the least of which is Mother’s day 😉 ): a collectible on the scale of gold or diamonds.

Yeah, I know, it’s kinda-dumb. At the same time, old photos, notes, small gifts from important people, even old emails just can’t be thrown away, even if they do nothing now but take up space.

BPDs: Do you know what I mean?

Effexor (Venlafaxine) Withdrawal and Mirtazapine Introduction: NOT what I expected!

It took me 8 months, but I finally saw the new psychiatrist last week. After the usual “get-to-know-you” questions, he concluded that I should stop taking Effexor (Venlafaxine) immediately, with no draw down. I would take Mirtazapine in its place. At first, I felt a brief period of symptom improvement, but then Effexor withdrawal set in. At the same time, the Mirtazapine was building up strength in my bloodstream, which created its own set of side effects.

Suffice to say, the last 10 days have been REALLY interesting and frustrating.

Wikipedia on Effexor – Click Here
Wikipedia on Mirtazapine – Click Here

*Important Note: I’m writing about MY withdrawal symptoms from Velafaxine and side effects of starting Mirtazapine. I am NOT a medical professional. Your side effects/withdrawal symptoms may be radically different, especially if you’re taking other medications. Please contact a doctor if you feel deathly ill or extremely depressed after stopping or starting ANY medication.

Here is a brief list of some of my Effexor withdrawal symptoms and Mirtazapine introduction effects:

  1. Constipation Went Away – I was horribly constipated for about a year up until I stopped taking the Effexor. Now – with or without a laxative – I have a regular bowel movement. This was a welcomed withdrawal symptom.
  2. Body Pulses or “Brain Zaps” – Every 20-30 minutes I feel an odd sensation in my body that would be best described a energy pulses. I hunted down this withdrawal effect online and found another sufferer who defined it much better: “Brain Zaps”. Suddenly and without warning, you’ll feel 2 or 3 zaps shudder through your brain and body, as if someone attached jumper cables to your head. It’s not painful but makes me feel weird and out of touch with reality for a few brief moments.
  3. Acute Moments of Depression – I started experiencing very brief but deep depressive episodes. A negative thought or experience (something as simple as my computer freezing up or missing my favorite TV show) would produce a subsequent feeling of depression I haven’t felt in years. In one instance I was literally looking around the apartment for a knife to carve the initials of I girl I liked into my arm. That would be bloody but so what? It was that acute!
  4. Spacey and distant mood – Since the end of Effexor and beginning or Mirtazapine, I’ve really felt out of it. My cognitive faculties are all in place, but my awareness of the various goings-on around me has been questionable to say the least. For example, I almost walked out of the grocery store the other night without paying. In other instances, my brain freezes up and I have strange thoughts that conflict with reality. The frustrating part is that I believe these strange thoughts, even if it is for a fleeting moment. I probably should limit my driving to avoid a horrible accident from a momentary lapse in concentration.
  5. Vivid dreams – Overall, my sleep pattern has remained unchanged. What I dream about during sleep, however, makes me feel like I’m living in an alternate reality. Over the past few days, I’ll get up in the morning feeling like I literally lived another life in my sleep. I can easily recall my dreams. They felt very vivid and lifelike. Although certainly entertaining, my mind is Jello after getting out of bed and it takes an hour to get sharp again.
  6. Stronger libido, HORRIBLE orgasm control – What blog about anti-depressants would be complete without sexual side effects? 🙂 Suddenly I’ve felt the need to masturbate more often. When I do masturbate, I cum in about 2 minutes. This is in stark contrast to recent years, when it took a lot of “convincing” to achieve orgasm. This actually frustrated a couple of my sexual partners greatly, although I always thought women enjoyed men with good endurance. Now I’m like a 15 year old boy: I want to screw everything and I ejaculate in seconds flat. This withdrawal effect is not cool if I get into a relationship in the near future. 🙁
  7. Greater appetite – Suddenly I feel the need to eat very often and in greater quantities. I think this is from the Mirtazapine. Last Saturday, for example, I had 6 bowls of cereal over the course of 3 hours, which isn’t my normal food intake at all. I also felt the need to go to the store and buy lots of chocolate and salty crackers. Then, instead of pacing the chocolate and crackers out over 2-3 days, I’d just engulf them within 4-6 hours.
  8. Extreme Irritability – My BPD anger fuse got markedly shorter in recent days. I wake up in the morning feeling angry and pissed off about everything. This is especially apparent when I deal with my cat. During interactions involving her rather annoying personality, I’ve started shoving her out of the way, neglecting filling her food dish (not that I’m starving her, just not interested in keeping it 100% full 100% of the time), and closing doors behind me so she won’t follow me to other rooms and annoy me. Usually she likes to jump up on my desk and stand in front of the computer monitor for a few moments to get some free pets. In the past few days, however, the instant she leaps to the desk, I just toss her out of the way: no pets, no cat massage, just angry words. I’m irritable to begin with – this symptom is really making me a piece of sh*t to be around.
  9. Sudden need to cry or react with tears of joy – This one is hard to explain, but here goes: I was listening to some Yanni music the other day, and was so impressed with the musicianship and brilliance of his performers that I felt like I needed to cry instantly. This happened multiple times, especially during some of his best performers’ solos, which are rather amazing if you’re a jazz or New Age fan. All the same, should I really be spontaneously crying to Yanni? Likewise, if something suddenly touches me while I’m watching TV, I’ll feel like I need to cry right on the spot. It’s such a weird feeling and I apologize for the vague explanation.

So that’s where I stand 10 days into Effexor withdrawal and Mirtazapine introduction. I’ve never taken illicit narcotics in my life and therefore never really understood what it feels like to go cold turkey on an addictive substance. If I’ve learned anything, it is that coming off anti-depressants causes odd emotional and somnambulant disturbances.

“May we live in interesting times…” – Ancient Chinese expression.