“This, bhikku’s, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering, precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration”
– Siddharta Gautama Shakyamuni,
Dhamma…cakkapavattana sutra (try pronouncing that a few times. You can read a translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu here), the ‘discourse that sets the wheel of truth in motion’ is traditionally believed to be a textual record of the first teaching of Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha, after reaching the mental state of Enlightenment. He shared this first lesson with the five brahmin ascetics he formerly used to meditate with.
Through this text, the four noble truths, the teaching of the Middle Way and the Noble Eightfold Path, the cornerstones of Buddhism are introduced (check the ‘glossary’ on my page for more information about these concepts)
I start the second part of my blog entry on Borderline in Remission with these teachings, because it is these teachings that have helped me to cope with my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Back in 2013 I first felt that I was suffering, I was unhappy with life in general. Society was too hasty, people too unfriendly, life was just unfair. Just like it does for most buddhists, I needed this reality-check to find my way to the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. In 2014 however, my BPD was triggered through feeling extremely unhappy again. It overruled my conscious mind, which spinned out of control. I was not able to apply the teachings of the Dharma anymore, simply because my subconscious mind overruled my thoughts and actions most of the time. I literally lost control of my mind!
Through therapy I have learned to look past the false images that my subconscious ego projected in my mind. I was not the helpless, angry and negative person I felt I was. I am a strong person, I am my own problem and my own solution! Therapy gave me insight into my own mental formations, it unclouded my mind again and that’s what enabled me to start applying the age-old, but still very real teachings of Buddhism again to re-master my mind, to re-master myself.
When I started blogging, I wrote an entry called ‘Hello BPD, it’s me’ in which I tried to examine the characteristics of a borderline personality disorder as stated in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and the matter in which they applied to me. Now, with my BPD in remission, I felt that I should re-examine those characteristics in order to visualise what has changed. Here goes:
Fear of separation
When I wrote my previous entry I was in a relationship which at the time provided me with love and happiness. Later on, this relationship broke down. When previous relationships ended, it was always a heavy mental blow for me. The fear of separation was so strong that I immediately entered a state of utter despair and I literally lost my will to live. When I left this last partner, it felt very different. I realised that it wasn’t the relationship that had brought me happiness, it was the way in which I could let go of my feelings. I recognised myself as not being too attached to this person anymore! I was still anxious to start dating again, but later on I tried to date a girl again and I was again hurt when she left me. But this time, of course it hurt, but I recognised this to be ‘normal’ heartache. We all feel this way when we are turned down when in love. There was no feeling of depression, just sadness, which is perfectly normal. I was able to move on rather easily.
Through applying the teachings of the Buddha, I didn’t cling to persons anymore. I have learned that I can only experience and uderstand myself through my own mind. I have learned that I should not rely on external factors to provide happiness. I have learned to place myself first in this respect. That doesn’t mean I have become egoistic, nor egocentric. I just realise that it’s not my ego (the false perception of the ‘self’ as an independent entity), but my mind which comes first! In her book ‘If the Buddha dated’, Charlotte Kasl states that true love, tempered by wisdom (through insight) and free of unhealthy clinging is the key to fulfillment. That unhealthy clinging, which inherently comes from the natural urge to protect your partner and your offspring, should be tempered by insight. I like to visualise it like this: you can hold something you hold dear in your clenched hand, fearing to let it go. But when you open your hand, palm upward, the object of your affection will still be there, it will not fall from your hand, even though you are not clinging to it.
I still have to be wary to keep walking the middle way and not choosing the way of duality, of opposites. I should not trade my fear of loss for fear of attachment. It is easy to avoid relationships alltogether, in order to not get hurt. But that would mean that I would deny myself the pleasure of feeling love in a relationship. Therefore, I keep the mind focused and try to see everything for what it is. Everything in the world, including a relationship, is perishable and that’s what makes it worthwhile! Because you can lose it, it gains more value. In the same way I have learned to truly value friendships, without unhealthily clinging to them. You have to be self-reliant and develop a degree of self-confidence through insight into your own mind, which can perfectly be done through meditation, concentrating the mind on a single point. Help others, be good for the world, but never forget to put your own mind first, only you are your own solution. It is all about your mindset!
Intense and illogical anger, often followed by feelings of shame and guilt
My anger was one of my greatest obstacles. The good news is that I haven’t had anger attacks in six months. I can’t even remember the last one! The more I started to understand the patterns in my subconsious mind, the more I could see the pattern. I have the advantage of being cognitively gifted, I have the ability to be self-analytic. My therapist used this ability to let me gain insight into the patterns that lead to my feelings of anger. When I wrote ‘Dear BPD’ I was already able to create a delay between the rising feeling of anger and the actual outburst. The feeling of powerlesness or aggression by others, like someone cutting me in traffic or flipping me the finger, would instantly trigger a violent anger attack in the past. I was taught to leave the situation which sparked my anger and to go back to my breathing in order to restrain myself back then.
I kept doing this. I kept going back to my breathing whenever my anger was triggered. The more I did this, the more space I created between the initial trigger and the moment of eruption. In that moment, by practicing mindful breathing, I became able to analyse the cause of my anger. Instead of giving in to that anger, I would practice what Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh calls ‘deep looking.’ I smiled at my anger, recognised it mindfully and then I tried to realise that this anger would not solve the problem, it would only make it worse. By staying focused on my breathing and Hanh’s metaphor of the burning house (envision your anger as a fire that is burning your ‘house’, your mind. Don’t run away from it, don’t fuel it, but douse the flames with mindful attention!) I would eventually gain the upper hand on my anger. It took a lot of tries before I was able to really control my anger, but in the end I was able to walk away from a situation while dousing the flames of my anger.
Whenever there are too many stress factors, I can still erupt into anger attacks. Think ouf outside sensory triggers like fireworks, but also of social triggers or too much stress in general. That’s why I still need to be careful not to run into too many stressful situations. I have to say ‘no’ and draw clear lines for myself and others around me. Working fulltime is therefore still a great obstacle. Whenever I encounter aggression now, I immediately recognise that anger is not the solution, I immediately go into a state of mindfulness, a response I have cultivated through practice and meditation. I once again have the self-confidence and insight to see that I should avoid my anger.
Someone’s provocation is not worth it to let you tear down your own house after all. I don’t feel guilty afterward, I feel happy that the insults do not hurt me anymore, I feel stronger because I can hold my head high and walk away from the possibility of extreme anger. Through martial arts and the violence in my past I have further reached this insight, but I have also learned that those who really provoke me and go too far can still be met with controlled aggression. If their insults and verbal attacks turn physical or invade my personal space, I am perfectly capable of defending myself and those I hold dear through the controlled application of physical force, which is then only a last resort. (read: Anger: My way to the Eightfold path). Anger is normal, but heed the Middle Way!
Severe depressive mood swings and irritability
The mood swings are still there. Sometimes I get irritated ot depressed without good reason. Acceptance is the key here. In order to get away from it there is only one way: talking. I look for someone to talk to. I have my parents and dear friends and colleagues who listen to me without judging. I talk to them, I vent my thoughts. If I still feel bad, I turn to my meditation pillow or I go outside and I practice mindfulness. I ask myself what I am grateful for at the moment. I often quickly realise that there is oxygen to breathe, that there are birds singing or there is sunlight around me. By being mindful of these things, I see that there are many things to be thankful for all around me. I then try to look into the emotions that make me feel depressed or irritated. I try to feel compassion for those who trigger these feelings in me. Once again, this can only be refined by dedicated practice, every time these mood swings take place. Nothing beats talking. Talking is so extremely powerful. It is our main way of expression, so never underestimate it!
Suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviour
These are not present anymore. They usually were sparked by anger through powerlesness, despair and a negative self image and followed by extreme feelings of guilt, which I do not actively struggle with anymore. The answer here, once again, is insight through experience and meditation. Once you control your mind, you control the emotions that trigger the self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, the Dharma has taught me that the only thing you truly own is your own life. Nothing is more valuablt than life, for you can only experience the world through your own mind. When you are not alive, your mind is not alive. When you are focused on the here and now, you are truly alive! Life is only truly available in the present moment, never give it up!
Chronic emotional emptiness
In order to battle emotional emptiness I keep myself busy with useful activities. Working at the animal ambulance as a volunteer brings me a lot of satisfaction for example. Spending time with good friends or doing things that matter to me, talking with people, go hiking, reading, they are all important parts of my day. I meditate on the things I am grateful for every morning, just the small things. I never really feel emotionally empty and when I do, I talk about it with others, or with myself in silence, by being alone with myself! Whenever I feel empty, I set out to do something which makes me feel useful, even if it is a simple chore like cleaning a closet or chopping wood! Or I go out to my happy place, a coffee house in order to have coffee (that’s a surprise) and strike up some good conversations! Meeting new people is also great and it’s not as difficult as it seems. Open your eyes and open your mind! Experience the world around you, there is so much to see and to do!
Dangerous impulsive behaviour
Like the feelings of self-harm, this was mainly related to anger, despair and powerlesness. As long as these are absent, there is no impulse to trigger dangerous impulsive behaviour. I sometimes feel a bit of an urge, but it is easily suppressed now through meditation. Wow! It’s that easy!
Distorted and unstable self-image
The root of all my problems, as I have learned from my therapy. I had to learn that failure is never real failure, and that failure and success are both equally important parts of life. Here again is the teaching of the middle way! Ask others what they think of you. Talk to people. Learn to accept compliments, which may seem hard at first. It can be done. Meditate! See your own strength through insight. See that you are a beautiful person, since your mind is what defines you! Let go of what drags you down. I have let go of hobbies that were not feeling ‘right’ anymore, I avoid too much media-induced negativity and negative people in general. Instead, I now cultivate what makes you feel good! I am thinking of picking up traditional Jiu Jitsu, I seek new friendships, and I started playing the banjo for example. Don’t set true expectations or goals to which you cling, just let your ambitions be guidelines and don’t impose harsh deadlines for yourself. Just live and keep up the standards which enrich you, which for me truly means following the Noble Eightfold Path and studying the Dharma!
“I am a Buddhist striving for peace and I suffer from anger-induced Borderline. Failure?”
No! It’s not! Recently, a student of psychology and I had and inspiring talk over a good beer. She told me about hitting rock bottom. By reaching that point, you get an oppurtunity to realise what you don’t want in life and this enables you to look in another direction. It opens possibilities. Without going deep, I wouldn’t have found my way to Buddhism in the first place. My weaknesses, glories, victories and downfalls have made me into who I am now. It is all part of life. So why feel bad about yourself if yourself is all you have?!
This is a hard one. I still dissociate. I can ‘zone out’ completely, especially when there are too many sensory stimulants around me. I phase away into my own head. Luckily, I have become aware of this and when I start dissociating, I go back to my breathing to return to the here and now. I breathe in, I am here. I breathe out, I am here now. This ‘mindful breathing’ as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it, brings you back to yourself. You start breathing consciously, while breathing normally is an automatism. It returns your focus to the present. I also mainly ignore the warped media, the management and consumption society, negativity in the media and avoid taking my phone into my bedroom when I go to sleep. I try to dissociate from negativity consciously, which for me is something good. I try to use dissociation in a positive way.
Meditation is a powerful tool to reach the here and now. Build meditative moments into your day (I return to the here an now when I go to the restroom, when I stand in a long line at the cash-desk or when I eat and drink for example by focusing my mind on the current activity) or apply short sessions of sitting meditation in the morning or evening. Visit some silent places for meditation if you cannot calm your mind, like chapels or a forest for example. Look for insight through experience. Meditation is not about running away, it is all about being mindfully present and aware! It is a form of anti-dissociation. You associate with everyhting by seeing nonduality and inter-relatedness of all things and their finality when you meditate. There are many good books on meditation! I can recommend the books by Thich Nhat Hanh, they have greatly helped me in the past.
I also need to structure my life through making ‘to-do’ lists on my cellphone. This way, I can let go of some things that trouble my mind. By writing them down, I create more space in my head. Letting go of things, of concepts and ideas makes the obsessiveness part of my BPD a bit more bearable. Although I have to watch myself, I do not want to become a nihilist by letting everything go So I still give in to structuring stuff, which yes, is still tiring. But I find creative ways for it, like looking for spelling in the administration at work. I do useful things in my house, like re-structuring my closet for example. Obsessivene structurasiation can become really rewarding this way!
Writing this article, I start thinking: “What the hell happened to my borderline?! How did I change so fast?!” Then again, I should remember that my BPD is in remission, it’s not gone. It is still there, but at the moment the siatuation is perfectly bearable. There is remission, remission carries its rewards, but there can still be a return of the symptoms of BPD. So I still take it easy and I try to not forget to slow down. I keep practicing the way of the Dharma, I keep on mediatating and studying and I keep on walking the Eightfold path. I keep blogging, so I can inspire others through my own insights. Thank you for reading, and if there are any questions, please ask!
In my next entry I will do a similar self-investigation, based on the signs of PTSD I have also been suffering from.