I don’t know the success I want, but I do know failure and its horrid emotions

I am a competitive, ambitious, fairly intelligent person on the outside. On the inside, I’m ruled by BPD and its torrent of instability. Further, because my sense of inner self is nearly non-existant, I rely heavily on external events, emotions, and achievements to define me. BPD has served as a constant fog over my true self, a self I am still trying to figure out.

I watched the CNN specials, “John McCain & Barack Obama: Revealed”. In each documentary, the candidates spoke about times in their life when they realized they felt a calling to a higher purpose. The energy, heart, and experience it takes to motivate oneself into a Presidential campaign is enormous, and I imagine both of these men has had their share of struggles, but even in the darkest of moments, never questioned their inner worth.

By virtue of their candidacy, they are successful people. McCain, war hero and statesmen; Obama, Harvard Law Grad, community activist, and elected representative. If I was in their shoes, I would feel pretty good about myself.

BPD’s emotional issues cause me to only feel satisfaction, to feel worth, when I achieve something. In High School, it was getting A’s, running in races, or playing in a regional honor Jazz Band. In the bigger picture of my life, these moments were fleeting. Moreover, every time I did something that made me feel good, I fell into an addictive pattern that naturally set the standard for the next level of “happiness” higher than the previous.

As a result, I naturally burned out, never satisfying myself, never making myself happy.

I have always felt I’ve gotten the short end of the stick on things. To be honest, there have been times when I’ve had genuine success, but no matter what, I yearn for the next level – to be notably sucessful – to be extremely prominent.

For the longest time, this might getting and Ivy League education. In High School, I graduated 4th in class. While this is a nice achievement, especially given the amount of time I dedicated to tons of other school related activities, 4th just doesn’t cut it for the Ivy League. My SAT scores were mediocre, and I was good at – but not a state standout – in my musical, athletic, and other extra-curricular pursuits. To get into these schools you almost have to be Valedectorian and ALL state athletics…Sadly, I just didn’t measure up.

As a result, I have rebelled against myself and my parents over my perception of what post high-school life was supposed to be like. I felt I worked hard enough to earn admission to top schools. Futhermore, if they truly could understand my personal story, they would see that my intentions, feelings, and sacrifice were so that I could go that extra yard. Instead, Christmas day my Senior year of High School, I find out that I am diabetic and go to the hospital. Meanwhile, other high school seniors are sorting out their post-secondary plans, some even planning their first months at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, or Stanford. If the admissions staff at these institutions knew what I went through to get where I was, they would truly and genuinely offer me admission. Instead, my mediocrity drops me to the bottom of the pile.

As a result, since I did NOT go to an Ivy League school, I was upset and felt as if all my efforts were for not. I felt that I would be climbing the corporate ladder forever, kissing some jerk-off boss’s ass for years while my Ivy League peers skate their way to the board of directors and 7 figures a year.

When I arrived at my school, I thought I’d make the best of things, and continue in the same fashion as I did in High School: work hard in the classroom, study, run on the track team, and continue my musical studies. For some reason, I felt I needed to be considered one of the best at one or all of these pursuits in order to feel good in College.

Sadly, this didn’t really occur. I burned out. I collapsed emotionally. My unrefined and untested social skills were poor. Thus, instead of coming home to a household with people around me constantly (as I grew up), I came to my dorm room faced with the challenges of not only pleasing my inner ego, but also attempting to connect to people: a skill I never worked on in High School because I was busy chasing windmills.

What is success? I always say: It’s a top education, it’s being the best in your class, becoming a corporate CEO, meeting your dream girl and having a wonderful relationship, earning six figures, making a million bucks, running a state high school track record, playing a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, etc. All my ideas of success are benchmarked by what it means to be “elite” in our society.

I don’t quite understand why I feel this way. Perhaps I have an inferiority complex? Perhaps I’m afraid to be the person I really am – who isn’t a world record holder, gold medalist, or perfect SAT? Perhaps my vacant inner self needs these seemingly “larger than life” accomplishments to fill its abyss?

After college I didn’t get a dream job, I didn’t get married, I wasn’t summa cum laude, and I didn’t feel like grad school.

I’ve probably lived a completely different life than I had originally planned. Am I successful? Well day to day, I constantly measure myself and torture myself if I’m not number 1. NOT being the top dog drives me to push harder, to sacrifice more, to be more self critical, to be more harsh on myself when I want time out. In the end, the only thing this really does is tire me out, depress me, and make me bed ridden because I am tired of living a life of chasing a carrot I’ll never reach.

I think the answer to my question will probably take a lifetime to figure out. Maybe I will experience success in a form completely unlike anything I had ever pictured. I honestly hope so.

What would be the ultimate success for me, aside from being cured of BPD and diabetes – which sadly will not happen?

I say that success would be to wake up each morning and feel whole – even in the most treacherous of times. I say that success would be to not be measured by material or quantifiable achievement, but rather by pure, unadulterated happiness.

For now, that idea is still a bit of a pipe dream. I’m still very much addicted to society’s measuring stick of achievement, and in the end, we all know that living by society’s standards aren’t always the best.

My challenge: find happiness that emanates from my inner self without prejudice, feelings of being deprived, or material failure.

3 Replies to “I don’t know the success I want, but I do know failure and its horrid emotions”

  1. Recently I came out of a 2 year long relationship with someone who has BPD (although I did not know it at the time, except in an ‘instinctive’ sort of way). Although I loved her dearly, in the end I had to break off with her when I realized the relationship was toxic and its dynamics would never change (because she took no personal responsibility whatsoever and always laid the blame on me). I have a strong personality and I understood breaking off with her was a simple question of self-preservation.

    However, this prompted me to go on a long journey to try and understand what happened and why it happened – something which led me straight into the BPD world.

    I never told her about what I found out – I knew she would never accept it, much less do something about it. It’s not my job to save her, either – that task is hers and hers alone.

    Based on your posts, you, on the other hand, are able to look inside and recognize your own BPD behavior. Let me tell you that this, by itself, is the MOST important step you could ever take to ‘heal’ yourself. Without it you would never be able to do the next remaining step, which is taking personal responsability for your life (and the way it currently is) and actually *do* something about it.

    I have mixed feelings about calling BPD a ‘disease’, because I feel this is just another way of avoiding personal responsability, something so fulcral to BPD behavior. We (all of us) *are* the choices we make, because it is the consequences of those choices that forms our personality, and which, ultimately, makes us stronger – or weaker.

    Life is a long learning process. It’s no different for you than it is for me. I also had a dominating mother who would invalidate my feelings all the time – she never understood my dreams, hopes or expectations. I don’t remember her ever saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m proud of you’. On top of that my parents divorced when I was 3 (so I had no father figure), I was very shy when I was a kid and very sensitive to the opinion others had of me. I still am sensitive, but now I simply don’t let the opinions of others define *who* I am.

    What saved me was that I, from a very young age, instinctivelly knew I was the only one responsible for fighting for myself. Unlike most other people, I knew from an early age what I wanted to do, even if that meant antagonizing my mother (and it often did). I loved drawing and that is what I did until I was 15. I then found a new love, computers – and that is what I do now (and I’m 43).

    This said, it’s not what I do that defines me either. I could easilly do something else (for instance, become a health worker because I always loved medicine too) if I was unable or unwilling to work with computers any longer. I’m curious about all things in general.

    And this is what I want to tell you: you are looking for sucess in all the wrong places. As with most BPDs, you think your sense of self-worth is defined by *external* conditions, much in the same way my ex-girlfriend thought *I* was responsible for making her feel ‘whole’.

    Nothing can be more wrong. The sense of contentment – NOT happiness, because happiness is but a fleeting moment for us all – you are looking for can only come from within. You get it by understanding yourself, others, and by knowing you are making the best choices in life you can possibly make under the circustances.

    Also, by accepting failure for what it really is (i.e. just another opportunity to learn) you don’t let it define *who* you are. One thing crucial to this is to *know* in your heart that if things are bad now they won’t be that way forever – and that you are the *only one* responsible for taking yourself out of any hole you managed to dug yourself in (i.e. in other words, you have to take personal responsability for what happened and for what will happen).

    I make enough money to have a confortable living. A lot of my friends tell me that because of what I do and my potential I could be a millionaire by now. I know this for a fact, and I don’t care. I don’t care because I do what I do for me, out of the love I feel for what I do – NOT to get LOTS of money, power, recognition, etc… I am content.

    For me, I live a dream life. Not because I have lots of money, power or recognition from my peers (I don’t, and I don’t care) but because I have what I would call a confortable living doing what I love to do, going to bed when I want, eating when I want, working when I want, etc… I have *freedom* and contentment, which, to me, is more important than all the money in the world.

    It wasn’t always like this, and, life being what it is, I will have my ups and downs. Heck, ups and downs are a constant of life – the trick is to understand that life is all about change, and that nothing in life lasts forever. There are no garantees on anything. Instead of fighting against the current (which hurts, saps all your energy and prevents you from actually moving forward), embrace it and make the best of it.

    I actually look back on my life, with all the mistakes I made (and there were many), all the pain I endured, and if I could go back I would NOT change a single thing. It was the mistakes I made (or, rather, my willingness to learn from them and try different things), much more than my sucesses, that made me who I am today. And I like who I am today – at the same time knowing I can always become so much better.

    Life’s journey is NOT about amassing success and material things (the feeling you get when you purchase that brand new sports car doesn’t last long, does it?). It’s about understanding. Understanding yourself and others. Getting to know who you are, and what you can do to become a better person, and, by proxy, help the world become a better place simply because you are in it. In other words, become someone *you* can be proud of.

    When you understand yourself, you know where your emotions are comming from. And from that understanding comes control, because you accept the emotion for what it is and you let it flow through you (but you just don’t act on it). Let me give you a real world example:

    I, like all people, feel jealousy when it *seems* to me that my girlfriend is giving more attention to some other guy than *I* think she should. However, I also instantly recognize that this feeling comes not from the situation itself but from my own fears of inadequacy (if the other guy is more good looking than I am, for instance) or fear of abandonment.

  2. Sorry, that comment got accidentally posted before I had finished it. 🙂

    Anyway, by realizing that it’s not the situation itself but *me* that is causing the problem I actually defuse the situation. I *choose* to trust her and fully accept the consequences of my choice.

    By making that conscious choice, I get to see the results of me NOT acting on my feelings of jealousy. The result is that not only does she NOT betray my trust in her, as I don’t drive her away with my lack of trust. This by itself strengthens my trust in her, my ability to control my own feelings, and the respect she feels for me (because she realizes I am not trying to control her).

    This does NOT mean that she won’t eventually betray my trust, however. My decision to not act on my feelings of jealousy is based on three things: my trust in her and, more importantly, my trust in myself and my sense of self-worth. In other words, if she *does* betray my trust it’s not because something is wrong with *me* – it’s because something is wrong with *her*.

    It will hurt like hell, of course, but I will get through it (the so-important trust in your ability to get through pain and come out the other side) and I will choose a better girlfriend next time. 😉

    As for me feeling jealous, I accept it as a normal emotion. It’s not because I feel it that I am a bad person (I had some very bad experiences in my past).

    Jealously, like all the other negative emotions, are there to ‘protect’ your ego from further damage, after all – but the choice of not acting on it actually makes me a better – and stronger – person.

    What you have to realize is that this self-control, self-learning, is always an on-going, step by step, process. It never stops as long as you are alive. By knowing yourself, you are also able to realize that there are situations you are still not ready to deal with and recognize them when they come your way.

    All of us (not only the BPDs) have a ‘tipping point’, i.e.; a point where emotions become so overwhelming that you are no longer able to control yourself. As you become stronger and more self-aware, you are able to deal with more and more pain (it’s a bit like exercising your muscles, you become stronger because of doing this and are thus able to take on more weight. So it is with emotions).

    The trick is to recognize what this tipping point is and NOT allow yourself to get there (in other words, you remove yourself from the situation that is causing you to become unbalanced). This does NOT mean in any way that you should avoid all kind of pain – only that you know for a fact you are not ready to deal with yet without losing control of yourself.

    But this, based on another post I read from you, I guess you understand already. 🙂

  3. Hi Jorge,

    Thanks so much for your detailed response! Your words of wisdom and personal experience with a BPD person is very insightful. In your own words, managing the “tipping point” is key to keeping one’s emotions in check.

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