If you have BPD – and Feel Guilt or Remorse – An Apology Is Never Too Late

After visiting home in November, I brought my college computer (circa 1999) back to my apartment. My hope was to get it running and review my old emails, papers, and random diaries. I knew it would be painful because this particular computer accompanied me when my BPD erupted in school, later sending me to involuntary inpatient treatment.

Booted it up successfully with some elbow grease. The mother lode would have been my emails, however I think I erased them many years ago. Still, there were plenty of papers, a couple files containing written work I did for my psychiatrist and other random mementos.

Upon reflection, I felt extreme remorse and guilt for my behavior (more than 10 years later). These feelings started passing through my mind a couple years ago, but seeing that snapshot of my dysfunctional college years made them much stronger.

In effect, reading and reliving the rage and depression confirmed some progress: I knew what I did was wrong, and needed to make it right.

An Apology – Correctly Worded – Is Never Too Late

I decided to write letters to people I hurt and offended. This was difficult to do without venturing into cliche statements about “recovery”, “responsibility”, “one life to live”, etc. So I spent considerable time composing 2 page letters broken into three sections:

1. Re-introducing myself (these people have had thousands of students) and recounting my history with them. This was hard, because I buried some of these memories, but felt it would be better to include all of them. If I didn’t, the letters would NOT be authentic and sincere.

2. Expressing remorse for my actions, including any attempts to violate their personal integrity and discredit their better judgment. Then, I explained the treatment I began after college. I wanted them to know I’ve made a diligent attempt to improve myself.

3. Expressing gratitude for their decisions which ultimately led me to a better place, then wished them continued success and happiness.

Receiving letters a decade after-the-fact might strike some people as strange, so I made every attempt to minimize any concern that I was seeking attention or simply checking off steps in a recovery program.

Instead I wrote personally, honestly, and authentically. I revealed my BPD diagnosis and all that it entailed. This disclosure to people familiar with college students would – in part – explain why it took so long for me to apologize.

The facts don’t change, but the perception might have

Surprisingly, I received responses. They were thoughtful, thankful and glad I had engaged in treatment. These responses made the exercise even more worthwhile, though just sending the letters off in the mail felt like a load off my back.

I suppose a degree of guilt can move someone to a more positive place, as long as it is transformational. Obviously, living in a constant state of guilt would be unproductive. Stopping for a moment to acknowledge it and make amends to others, however, is productive.

I told my current therapist about my letters. He seemed encouraged, yet also said “some letters are better written than sent”. I understood his point: re-opening old wounds is disruptive to others, even if my apology is well intended.

With that, I believe arriving at a point where I can acknowledge my poor behavior, apologize for it and give others credit for their guidance represents a milestone in my BPD recovery.

Should I write letters to every single person I wronged many years ago? Not necessarily. There has to be a balance to this cathartic experience, and learning to measure how to communicate with others is another skill people with BPD must acquire.

As I write, I’m NOT patting myself on the back. Rather, I’m holding my head a little higher, knowing that I am taking responsibility for my actions and letting others know that I’m sorry for hurting them.

Writing apologies isn’t about padding one’s ego. Rather, it is about being brutally honest, expressing remorse and thanking others. As for me, I believe I have reclaimed an important part of my own dignity, one long ago lost to my initial BPD implosion.

BPD Medications: Some cause annoying weight gain

Part of having BPD is struggling, to some degree, with your own appearance and levels of self confidence. When I first became aware of my appearance when adolescence began, I was never really happy with myself because I was very slight and not outwardly muscular. As I moved through middle school to high school, I was always physically active as a member of my school’s cross country running and track and field teams. I also continued running for the first two years of college.

As a result, I’ve always been used to being thin and unimpressive in terms of build. I was grateful to be thin. At the same time, however, as a male desperate for female attention, I was self critical about the fact that I didn’t have a more “manly”, solid build. My body was definitely toned from the conditioning aspects of running, but not built. I felt many of the girls ignored me simply because I didn’t have a formidable self appearance.

When I was first diagnosed with BPD in 2001, I was still thin and pretty much the same as I had always been. I began taking medication to help stave off depression, which included Effexor, Welbutrin, Zyprexa, and Klonopin. These medications also helped to stabilize my moods and quiet my mind when I went to sleep at night. For the most part, I noticed an improvement in my mental health, but nothing overly dramatic. The reality of BPD is that medication is probably only about one-third of the battle: the rest is working through behavioral patterns and mental ruts that cause pain in one’s life.

After college and up until I went to Costa Rica, I was 5’8″ 160 lbs, about 5 pounds more than I weighed when I was participating in sports in college. This was a healthy weight to have and I never really worried about what I ate or what medications I was taking.

Fast forward to 2009. I still take all of the same medications my doctor initially prescribed for me, mostly because I want to do everything in my power to feel better. The downside, however, is that I think 8 years of these medications, Zyprexa in particular, and the continuing battle with BPD, have caused me to gain weight.

Over the past few years, as I’ve continued to be self employed working online, my levels of physical activity have declined to almost nothing. The daily struggle with BPD, feelings of emptiness, depression, and worthlessness also generally send me to my bed, where I’ll spend a few hours each day napping just to escape the reality of myself. Sleeping in this way can be addictive: if your sub-conscious entertains you better than your regular, brow beaten conscious, why would you want to wake up and deal with your BPD?

Additionally, it’s worth noting that as a type 1 diabetic, the better you get at managing your diabetes, the more likely it is you’ll gain weight. At one point, my diabetes doctor said gaining a few pounds is actually good because it indicated that my blood sugar levels were not completely out of control. When sugar levels are constantly high, the body begins to break down fat, muscle, and everything else in between in an attempt to find energy. The by-product of this process is constantly needing to urinate. Essentially, when blood sugar levels go unchecked, you’re urinating your own body mass out every time you go to the toilet. This is why my Doctor said that gaining weight as a Type 1 diabetic is not necessarily a bad thing (although if you are Type 2, it IS something to worry about).

Putting my improved diabetic control (a good thing), my use of Zyprexa (a good thing mentally), and lack of exercise (probably not a good thing) together, it’s easy to see how all of these factors coalesce to cause general weight gain. On top of that, I just turned 30, and I’m sure my metabolism has slowed down. I’m not a scrawny teenager who can eat pizza and ice cream anymore. Now, my body and the way I manage myself are built around many different priorities.

BPD definitely contributes to this mix by causing me to sleep a lot. Also, something I just considered recently, is the fact that I’m starting to use food as a crutch for feeling better or passing time. I’ve begun to eat “recreationally” instead of just eating when necessary.

All told, since I began living in Costa Rica at 160 pounds, and considering the complicated mix of medication, lifestyle, eating habits, and BPD symptoms, it should come as no surprise to me that I’ve gained 18 pounds, putting me at 178, the most I’ve ever weighed and considered “overweight” by most all types of body mass calculations.

Instead of feeling bad about my small teeange body, now I feel bad that I’ve started a beer belly and don’t nearly exercise as much as I used to. So, it appears that no matter what my body image is – thin or gaining weight – I’m never happy. As a result, my will to exercise or modify my lifestyle is almost nil.

I know of a few people who will not take Zyprexa because they don’t want to gain weight, and this is particularly understandable if you’re female. Women have it much worse than guys when it comes to weight gain issues, and throwing BPD, Zyprexa, Depression, and a sedentary lifestyle altogether certainly doesn’t help the situation.

I guess it comes down to this: am I better off with the Zyprexa, all other factors considered equal? I would say “Yes, and maybe I should take more to keep my mood swings in check”. I think the issue now is to find a way to counteract not only my medications, but also the habits that have all contributed to my weight gain.

This is much easier said than done. I would recommend that people take the Zyprexa if it’s helpful, even if it means an extra pound or two. In the end, it’s probably not the Zyprexa that’s causing trouble: more likely, it’s just the reality of living with BPD and any other maladies you might have.

Borderline Productivity: What makes you feel full?

I’ve mentioned before that I am self-employed. My business interests are mostly based around internet marketing, although I’m heavily invested in my USA currency collection ( old paper money ) and in a bio-tech penny stock. I spend much of my time working on my websites, creating programming scripts, and doing SEO (search engine optimization) on a daily basis.

During my annual trip home for the holidays, I was discussing achievement and goals with my therapist. I started with my usual line of thinking when I was talking with her: How do I do something that feels meaningful or productive, inspite of the fact that I am shackled by mental and physical illness?

Usually I state this as a rhetorical question, followed by some self pity and comparisons to others. Specifically, I am always harping about the fact that I feel I have been deprived, given the short end of the stick, or somehow cheated out of having a better life mostly because I have to deal with my illnesses, difficult family, and mediocre personal achievement.

Using a topical example, I cited some the achievement and promise of Barack Obama. Intellectually and emotionally, I realize he is a very special person. He has had his share of difficulties in life, but also was blessed with some gifts that were nurtured along as he grew up, finally giving rise to his amazing candidacy and election as President of the United States.

I mentioned how I envied his Ivy league Harvard education, open minded up-bringing, and his personality that is calm, cool, collected and engaging. He feeds off people and they feed off him, and he is happy to be around others and make a difference.

Once I framed this argument for my Psychiatrist, I then proceeded to wonder why I feel so short-changed, so empty, so without direction. Why do I lack purpose? Why aren’t I my social, more intelligent, more gifted to achieve more? Why do I have Type 1 diabetes and BPD, both of which hold me down and handicap me? How is my life really worthwhile, if I can’t at least mimick the goals and intentions of a great man like Obama?

This year, my therapist offered a different, two part reply to me: 1) Not everyone wants that kind of responsibility or weight in their lives, even if it could be more self-fulfilling; 2) Just be another “Bozo on the Bus”, a motto that many 12 step programs like AA use to help people feel more connected to one another.

My problem, as I’ve reflected on this advice, is that I DON’T ACCEPT IT.

I don’t want to be another Bozo on the bus. I DON’T want to be average, chained to a 9-5 work life, and stuck with trying to deal with my enfermities for the rest of my life. I don’t feel this is worthy or worthwhile. I would prefer to be exceptional, but I’m realizing that in some ways this is a fallacy. At some point I need to stop fighting about my hand of cards and just play them the best I can.

But since my return to Costa Rica, I’ve rebeled against this “Bozo on the Bus” idea and have put in many hours of hard, very productive work in the past 20 days. During this time, there were moments where I forgot that I live alone, that I don’t get out much, that I’ve put on weight, and that I feel very empty.

In these highly productive moments, it feels somewhat euphoric to know I’m doing something other than sleeping, moping around, or being depressed. At the same time, however, I realize that I risk falling back into ruts sown in High School and College; where I busied myself and motivated myself out of spite of others to the point that in moments of recognition, I somehow felt alright; only to crash by the end of my college years completely exasperated emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

When I work, I do what I call “head banging” ( no, not the grunge or heavy metal head motion ). By head-banging, I mean I picture myself slamming my head against the wall repeatedly, harder, and insistently until I get done what I want to get done. The end is result is project completion, but I’m mentally and physically exhausted to the point that I need to lie down and sleep.

So, in a way, this form of productivity is productive, per se, but is also a slippery slope that can lead to other problems and aspects of my BPD personality type that, in the end, bring me down. Working because you want to be better than someone else or more worthy of admiration is really a short run solution. In the end, I ask myself: “Do you really feel any better – and if not – what is it that you can do that will make you full inside and out?”

The answer to that question is very unclear to me. For now, I continue to work as I’ve done before, doggedly, determined to best my competitors despite glaring weaknesses and physical and mental illness. Somehow I feel better if I can outgun someone knowing that I come to the table like an underdog.

The core problem with BPD, however, is not productivity, but feeling full inside despite immense emotional turmoil.

How does one feel full inside, and how does one find what makes them full?