“Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the hostile. Amidst hostile men we dwell free from hatred. Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the afflicted (by craving). Amidst afflicted men we dwell free from affliction.”
– Dhammapada 197-198
Dear reader. I haven’t been blogging as much as I would want to during the past year. The cause of this is simple: I have been busy with living life itself, I have been busy coping with my borderline personality disorder and I have come to a turning point. I am able to say with a great feeling of gratitude that my BPD is in remission! ‘Remission’ is a state in which disease activity is absent while suffering from a chronic illness, but where there is still a possibility of the activity returning. In other words: I still have a borderline personality disorder, but it doesn’t actively manifest itself. I have control over my disease and I have learned how to cope with it. BPD can never truly be ‘cured’, but I have found a way to live with it. That way is the way of the Dharma, the Noble Eightfold path. That way is applied Buddhism.
I am going to divide the subject into separate parts, since it is so comprehensive and hard to write about. But I hope it will inspire you, dear reader. I hope it gives you some insight into how I deal with my problems, which you can use in order to deal with yours. This first entry will globally describe the path I followed in order to reach the point where I am at now. In this holy tide of Christmas, this most beautiful time of the year in my opinion, I often feel grateful. I have been living in the Middle East during my studies and I have experienced hunger and misery first hand for example. During Christmas dinner, I feel grateful for the food on my plate and my parents and my dog by my side. For the warmth of the hearth, the lights, the feelings of peace. This time of the year is thus an excellent time to write about the theme ‘gratitude’ for this entry. In the next entries I will go into more detail on HOW I actually applied Buddhism to find my way out of the depths of BPD. Previous entries in my blog also describe some steps in that path and I suggest you have a look at them if you feel inspired. All right, here goes:
I have spent the past nine years suffering from mental vulnerabilities, as I like to call them, and I have been coping with bullying and a negative self-image for many more years, going back all the way to primary school. I have never asked for help and I only started asking for help when I was too late. I have written about these subjects in previous entries. In the end, I did end up in therapy. No matter what you do, no matter what you try, if you cross a certain line and reach a certain level of illness, you are going to need professional help. Once again, I am grateful, grateful for the help I received from my therapists.
Before I suffered from BPD, I have already been in therapy for signs of post traumatic stress/ depression. Through my therapy back then I found my way to martial arts. I was suffering from panic and anger attacks and martial arts, especially krav maga, brought a new dimension to my life. My physical fitness increased and I gained confidence. I found out that I am a natural fighter and that enduring hardships can only make you stronger. In this respect, martial arts taught me valuable lessons about life itself and I got to a point where I gained a lot of self-confidence. I was able to take down opponents to the mat which were bigger and stronger than I was myself and in the end I became physically and mentally strong as well. I became more aware of my own abilities and the possibilities of life and I dared to follow my dreams again. The problem however is that I became confident in a fight, but outside of it, I still felt insecure and socially awkward in a way. Unintentionally I started looking for fights and conflicts, just to feel confident. If felt that I would rather fight someone than talk to him, just because that is when I felt in control.
Outside of the fight I was growing discontent with life. I had the feeling I was living in an economy, not a society. It felt as if life was going nowhere and as if I was constantly failing in everything. I wanted to fix the problems of others around me, without looking to my own problems. I felt powerless, weak, small. The prowess I showed on the mat and in the gym was not there. I grew more angry and more frustrated than ever before. That’s when I found the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of the teachings of the Buddha. But still, my subconscious was too strong for me, as you may read here. In the end I felt like I was drowning. People tried to drag me out of the water, but I kept going under. After some really dark episodes of destruction and fighting, my new therapists grabbed my hand, yanked me up from the water and he told me one thing: “No one can help you but you yourself. Start swimming!” It reminded me of a simple verse I read in Keith Sheppards ‘Wonderland Revisited’:
“You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. You can educate your daughter, but you cannot make her think.”
It always stuck with me. Anyhow, I didn’t want to do group therapy, since I was afraid to turn the other clients’problems into my own. Instead, I participated in a psychotherapy program, meeting my therapist once a week in order to evaluate a certain situation or subject. In the end, this was just what I needed. Through therapy I found out that I am cognitively gifted and that I was strong enough to overcome my mental disabilities. What therapy did for me was providing insight. Insight into my own subconscious patterns, into things that dwell beneath the surface of the mind. It helped me to understand myself, to understand how I think and why I think that way. Through finding out about my own weaknesses and patterns we, my therapist and myself, were able to find the roots and causes of my problems. That finally helped me see where my negative feelings and blockades come from and thus helped me looking for an answer to overcome them. Once you can name and understand your problem, you can deal with it. I dealt with it through applying Buddhism, through turning the simple teachings of the Buddha into second nature. Like Jung said: “I am not what happened to me I am what I choose to become.”
The main problem, the main cause of my BPD is the negative self-image that I have constructed about myself over the years. I have always thought of myself as weak, unable to help, a disappointment, a failure. I was bullied because I was ‘different’ and I felt socially awkward. I thought and think on a different level, which I now understand is because I am cognitively gifted. I sometimes find it hard to communicate, because I do think differently. But I am now grateful for it! On the other hand I always felt independent, I was always looking for a ‘better way’, a middle way. This middle way is a key concept of Buddhism, as I would later find out. I felt like I failed in everything I tried, but in the end I learned that there is no such thing as failing. There is either success, or there is an opportunity to learn and look for a change!
I started meditating and reading about Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness and Buddhism in general throughout the last few years and the teachings of the Buddha, as illustrated throughout this blog, helped me to steer my subconscious mind by being mindfully present in the here and now with my conscious mind. By learning to see those mental blockades in my head and the related patterns in therapy, I became able to steer my conscious mind through mediation and mindfulness and thus influenced and forced my subconsciousness to find a new direction. I will write more about it in a later entry.
What about those people who dragged me through? Who wanted to pull me from the metaphorical water , but couldn’t? Well, they are my parents, my friends, my loved ones (also see the blog entry on Noble Friends). They are the ones I am most grateful for. They have always been there for me, they have dragged me through dark places and times, they have inspired me, they have been mirrors for mental reflection, they have done their part by just existing and being there for me. And I still keep meeting new inspiring people! What I have learned in therapy is that whenever I have a problem, whenever worries or fears dawn in the back of my head, the First and Foremost thing to do is talk. Tell people you trust and who try understand you what is wrong, what you are feeling and what they can do to help. Dare to ask for help and help will come. You can ventilate your thoughts and prevent them from becoming traumas which settle in your head and later refude to leave. Just by talking. Talking is our mainway of expression and it is very powerful.
So, where am I now? Well, it took 1.5 years of this psychotherapy to help me get back on track. Related to other friends and acquaintances who suffer from BPD this may be regarded as a relatively quick ‘recovery.’ But let’s not forget that there is a possibility that I encounter new setbacks, but I will never fall back down the bottom of the ladder anymore. It’s a classical example of four steps forward, two steps back. So, I still suffer from a Borderline Personality Disorder and signs of post traumatic stress, but they do not dominate and control my life anymore. Instead, I have taken control of my mind again and through my mind I experience the world. The only one who can change my perception of the world is me! Like the fictional character Simon Masrani (played by actor Irffan Khan) says in the film ‘ Jurassic World’(this film is actually full of leadership quotes and references!):
“The key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control”
Daily meditation, reflection, experiences in the outside world, my volunteer work at the animal ambulance, friendship, study of Buddhist philosophy, reading, it all brings satisfaction to my life in its own way. It may sound strange or even wrong, but I am truly grateful for the lessons I have learned from 9 years of mental illness. I don’t see it as something negative anymore! Instead, it has brought Buddhism into my life. It has provided me with new insights and it has changed my perception of all things and of life itself. I know know what I don’t want in life anymore. I know that whatever happens, things can always be much worse.
I spend my days mindfully now, I try to be present in the here and now and I try to laugh a lot. After all, quoting the Comedian from the ‘ Watchmen’ comics, life is just one big joke. I treat all living beings with compassion, I help others without expecting something in return. I do volunteer work at the animal ambulance in which I do something useful for the world. I look for the right livelihood. I spend my time doing things I truly find useful, developing myself and spending time with my dog and people I hold dear. I find gratification in life itself. I have slowed down my life and take it one step at a time now.
I currently don’t have a regular job. I can’t handle that just yet and frankly, I don’t exactly know exactlry what I want to do in life. So I just keep living life and enjoy the inspiring sights, sounds and people which cross my path. I just keep walking the Noble Eightfold Path with wisdom and insight to fuel the lamp which guides me. At the moment I am exploring the plan of combining applied Buddhism, mindfulness training and psychology in order to become a personal trainer (or spiritual friend as I like to call it) and help others through my own experiences. Something which I already do for those who ask me for help and through writing this blog as well!
Every morning, when I am sitting down on my meditation pillow I ask myself: “ What am I grateful for?” I realise that I am grateful to be there, on my pillow under a roof in a warm house, having stepped out of a warm bed with a whole day ahead of me. I can stand up and drink from the tap, I can eat when I am hungry, I can make coffee, my dog and loved ones are nearby, I have to freedom to be where I am, there is no war raging outside my door, there is oxygen in the air so I can breathe, the list can go on and on and on. There is so much to be grateful for. Instead of thinking about the things I don’t have, I feel gratitude for the many things I do have!
I take refuge in the Buddha, the historical Siddharta Gautama who found a way out of suffering.
I take refuge in the dharma, the teachings which are the path which leads away from suffering.
I take refuge in the Sangha, the people around me who are also walking the path of life.
There was I time when I thought my life was useless, wortheless.
There were times when I consciously decided to end my life.
Now however, I realise that my life is the only life I truly own. It is the most valuable thing in the world. And I am deeply grateful for it all and for you all!
In the next entry I will re-evaluate the aspects of my mental vulnerabilities as described in this previous entry and the way in how they have changed over time through what I have learned and what I have done. Once again, thank you for reading!