Wednesday, December 31, 2008

goal-setting...according to me

I want to be clear. I do not think that I suffer from any form of BPD. Because I have been exposed to those who suffer from BPD, I think I have some learned (and maybe genetic) tendencies to that behavior. My mother suffers from a disorder—of that I am sure. But she is getting help, and she is improving, so I see that improvement can happen. Change can happen, if people want to change. I can change. I am able to change especially because I am able to recognize what needs to change. It might take me a while to figure it out, but eventually I do, and then I can decide to change it. I am not stuck in a hole with no way out, even though sometimes that’s how it feels.

Many years ago I gave up on setting goals. I don’t think it was because I failed to reach them, or got overwhelmed and decided to quit. I accomplished some. I think the reason why I quit is because I set goals based on what I thought I should do, not on what I wanted to do. I knew I should pray and read the scriptures every day, so I made a goal to do it, but simply making it a goal did not motivate me to pursue it. I think what motivates people is desire, not obligation. If you want something badly enough, there’s a way to obtain it. So maybe as I consider this new year, I will think about what it is that I really want, and set my goals around those things.

Of course there is a spiritual aspect of goal-setting that I cannot help but mention, because I believe it. I do think that in really determining what it is that we want, we also have to consider what God wants for us, accepting that He knows better than we do what will make us happy.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Okay, so here’s a theory. My mother and my grandmother have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). My niece will probably be diagnosed with it when she is old enough to be. This is obviously a brain disorder that runs in the family. My sisters and I all exhibit symptoms of the disorder, whether from being raised by my mother or because we have a little bit of it in our brains too. Doesn’t it make sense that we would? Whether it came from genetic or environmental factors, it’s there. It needs attention. The medical world tells me it’s treatable. My mother is receiving counseling and treatment, but all I’m doing for me is taking medications that offer some relief and give me some coping skills. What about the root of the problem? Here’s what I’m talking about:

As quoted from the DSM-IV, the first criterion of BPD indicates "frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5."

"Individuals with BPD make frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. The perception of impending separation or rejection, or the loss of external structure, can lead to profound changes in self-image, affect, cognition, and behavior. These individuals are very sensitive to environmental circumstances. They experience intense abandonment fears and inappropriate anger even when faced with a realistic time-limited separation or when there are unavoidable changes in plans (e.g. sudden despair in reaction to a clinician’s announcing the end of the hour; panic or fury when someone important to them is just a few minutes late or must cancel an appointment)."

Take Thursday night, for instance. I went over to MJ’s house to see her Christmas presents. I wasn’t completely comfortable there (I never really am, but I can put on a good face), but I enjoyed the short visit, I saw that they were preparing for dinner and I excused myself. As soon as I was outside, I just felt this overwhelming sadness. I felt empty. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to stay, with a friend who has detached from me and with a family where I don’t feel welcome. Why? I couldn’t really figure it out.

So I don’t have BPD in all its severity, but maybe I experience some of its effects. I do fear abandonment, whatever that may mean in my specific experience. I don’t like it when I have to go separate ways from someone I love. I fight it, I try to deny it, I reluctantly deal with it, but my emotions are affected by it. I hold onto people with white knuckles, or I refuse to get close to them at all. Is this the behavior of someone with a normally functioning brain?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

what I miss

I feel a special connection to music, especially when I can relate to it. Dido’s new album is about loss. At least right now that’s what I’m hearing.

What I have lost recently is not MJ. MJ is still my friend. In fact I think now about what we really have in common and it isn’t all that much. A lot of what we did together was me getting my stuff done and her coming along for the ride. For example, we used to take walks, and then I found out later that she doesn’t really like to walk—she’d rather run. We both like movies, but I don’t really consider that quality time. What I saw in her was myself. She needed what I could give because I knew what I needed at her age. She needed someone to listen to her and consider her amazing and interesting, which I did. And she met some of my needs too. So I still have a friend, she’s just not the same friend that I used to have.

What I’m lacking is connection—that fragile, magical state of feeling close to someone, of giving your heart, of feeling vulnerable yet safe. I think it’s that precarious balance between vulnerability and security that makes me feel alive and happy. When MJ was around I had no occasion to feel lonely—not the loneliness that comes from lack of companionship, because like many of us, I have lots of people around, and even when I don’t I don’t mind being by myself. I’m talking about that loneliness many of us feel when we have no outlet for all of the affection bottled up inside of us, when we want to share ourselves but we don’t have a desirable target. Friends are valuable, and friends can help us with that outlet sometimes, but they are no substitute for that one individual that we choose—the one who also chooses us—who we can connect with, share with, feel interested in, feel completely accepted by, and love with what we believe is all of our heart. It’s a nice place to be. It feels good. And unfortunately it feels like it will last forever, even though your mind tells you it won’t.

So that’s what I miss. I even miss stuff that I haven’t experienced, if that makes sense at all. I miss having a hand to hold, a body to lean against, someone I can just look at and they’ll know what I’m thinking. Someone who knows me. It’s all that stuff we take for granted when we’re with someone.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Becoming friends with MJ wasn’t wrong. I think both of us have determined that her joining my family for a while was what she needed. And apparently it is now no longer what she needs. I guess the reason this has been so hard for me is that to some degree, I let our friendship become the axis of my existence. I let my identity be defined by “us,” instead of me. This wasn’t visible to the masses, is what I am learning now. Most people who know us think it’s cool and unusual that we are such good friends. But I’m seeing it in hindsight. Instead of doing my own thing, I tried to find things that we could do together. Both of us suffered from low self-acceptance and self-worth. Both of us are struggling with that now. It’s evident by the fact that we bonded so securely and with such strength. And now that she has made the effort to break free, I am feeling the void. It’s like I put a lot of myself on hold, in the background, and let her come to center stage, and now that she’s left I have to invite the rest of me back, only it’s dormant. It needs to be reawakened. I’m having trouble finding it. I’m having trouble keeping myself occupied by anything as interesting as obsessing about MJ.

I suppose the key is just to keep trying, and I will find myself again. Maybe I will find aspects of me that I never knew.


How to evolve from being a deeply emotionally-involved friend to being just an ordinary, casual friend:

  1. Plan to move as far away as possible from friend.
  2. If #1 is not desirable or possible, pretend the friend has moved far away.
  3. Avoid the friend. Time and distance seem to be the best remedy.
  4. In the time between the time and distance settling in, make every effort to be otherwise occupied, thus preventing self-pity.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


She sent the following text about 10:00 AM:

“I know I’m being a snot job, and the weird thing is, I’m only being that way towards you. (That makes you feel better, doesn’t it?) Why? I’m not sure. It may be that it’s how I detach. It makes it easier for me, that’s for sure, but I don’t want to be mean to you because that’s just not how I think I should treat my friends, especially close friends. I just don’t know how else to do it. So I apologize to you. And the next time I become a poop towards you, kick me out! You don’t deserve what I’m throwing at you, so it’s up to me to find a new way to deal. Again, I apologize.”

I guess that makes me feel a little better. At least she’s trying to communicate about why she’s acting like that. I know I shouldn’t analyze, but I have never been referred to, by her, as a “close friend.” I was always “best friend.” Is that trivial? She is trying to detach. I guess I can’t continue to be her best friend forever. But the title sure made me feel important.

An ensuing text exchange:

me: Did you read my email? [It said: What happened last night? What's bugging you? Is it just the situation? Don't know how to fix it? You're not communicating with me. Except in the sense that you're saying negative things, which indicates you're unhappy or frustrated. My friend, I love you even though you're being a jerk. I excuse it only because I know you're dealing with inner turmoil. But I wish that you would talk to me. It's more effective.”]
MJ: I don’t know how to communicate what’s going on in my head, nor do I think I should. I’ve found [that] sharing my deepest thoughts with you reverses what I’m trying to accomplish and makes me feel more codependent.
me: Understandable. If you’re feeling mean, just stay away.
MJ: But I don’t feel mean until I see you.
me: Because you’re fighting the opposite feeling? Because that’s what I’m struggling with. I want my MJ back and it’s a hard thing to accept that I’m not going to get what I want.
MJ: I don’t get the same feelings when I see you, and I think that’s what pisses me off.
me: How did you do that? That’s what I need to do.
MJ: That’s a bit hazy. I don’t really know. And I’m struggling with dealing with it.

This is my worst nightmare and my greatest fear. That someone I love will suddenly and without warning change how they feel about me. Am I catastrophizing? Is this what happens to codependent relationships? They start with such intensity and then fizzle out when one or the other loses interest? Maybe it’s a good time to move to Australia.

bump in the road

MJ came over last night. It is evident she is still struggling. Maybe struggling to figure herself out, maybe confused by her feelings, maybe unsure of what to do about our relationship now. I don’t really know, because she’s not talking to me about it. And maybe she doesn’t want to. Maybe she doesn’t need comfort or reassurance from me. Or maybe she doesn’t think that would be helpful for the detachment process. Whatever her reason, her comments were negative and without tact. I wondered why in the crap she had come over. I told her that if she wasn’t nice she could go home.

I was on my computer when she arrived. I had brought it up to the TV room, because my room downstairs is so cold this time of year. I was looking at Home Depot’s web page, trying to get some ideas about how I could improve the organization of our kitchen pantry. Its disarray drives me crazy. When she asked me what I was doing and I told her, she made some comment about how people’s lives just get more boring as they get older. I didn’t appreciate the insinuation. Then she went on about how old I was going to be next month, as if I needed to be reminded. I told her she was pushing buttons and she knew it, and that she’d better stop. We turned on a movie and she settled down. I think she was feeling bad about what she had said. At least I hoped so. I tried to watch the movie and ignore her, but the movie was terrible and I really didn’t care to watch it.

Maybe I wanted attention. Maybe I wanted her to know that I wasn’t mad, and that I understood she was experiencing something hard and that it was okay to feel whatever she was feeling. I started bugging her. Then the two young girls in the movie said something about how they would always be friends, and she said she doubted it, which was obviously meant to be heard. I got up and started poking at her, because she was sitting on the other side of the room. But she didn’t want to play. I didn’t want to watch the movie anymore, so I took my laptop and went downstairs. I felt like crying again, and I wasn’t sure why. Because I wanted to help and she wasn’t letting me? Because I wanted some acknowledgment or positive attention and she wasn’t willing to oblige? I don’t know for sure. I got ready for bed and I heard her go out the front door.

Normally she would have come down to my room to say goodnight. Maybe she thought I was mad at her, and I was, a little. But her coming down to my room to announce she was leaving would have been a better choice than just leaving. I don’t understand her reasons, but it hurt.

Monday, December 01, 2008


As my great-great-grandmother Placie Gehres used to write in her diary, yesterday was a “lovely” day.

One of the first surrogate mothers I found in my life was my Mia Maid advisor at church when I was 15. At age 15 I was not content with life. I was looking for attention, struggling with my mother working full time, with her dating, and marrying dad #3, and turning that awkward corner from adolescence to young adulthood. You could say I was a mess. But fortunately, we lived in a nice neighborhood where I made a lot of friends, and one of those treasured friends was Sister W. She accepted me, but more importantly, she loved me and gave me the attention I sought, which at the time made me practically worship her. I feel like one of those movie characters who swears devotion to another character who has saved my life. I will always be devoted to her. Because I can be sure that she will always love me.

I was thinking about her last week. I thought of calling, but talking on the phone is so awkward for me. I prefer to email, but last time I talked to her she did not have email. So instead I wrote her a note on a postcard and sent it off, basically asking if we could get together and catch up. She called on Saturday and left a message saying that she and her husband had just returned from a mission in Nauvoo, Illinois, and that they would be speaking in their church meeting on Sunday, and she invited me to come. The desire to see her overrode my shyness at attending an unfamiliar ward, and I knew that her children would also be there, so I decided to go.

She and her husband are not the most amazing speakers, so sacrament meeting was okay. But theirs is a family within which I can feel almost immediately comfortable. I enjoyed reconnecting with their daughters and seeing all of their grandchildren, and just feeling loved and accepted in BW’s presence. They had a little reunion at their house after the meeting, and it was nice. A little food, some pleasant family interactions, and I could not help but feel satisfied.


I did take something else away from that therapist this last week. During our conversation, I mentioned my lifelong habit of looking for surrogate mothers—expecting, I guess, to be chastised for it. But this woman said that it seemed only natural, given my circumstances, and she could see how the hunting had even been beneficial for me to do, because instead of believing that the mother I had, who could not provide the nurturing that I needed, was what mothers were, I looked for better role models. In effect, this behavior changed my perception about what a mother should be, and maybe what kind of a mother—or mother-figure—I wanted to be. It also provided me with the nurturing and attention that I needed at the time.

I have spent my life believing that looking for mothers in people was a bad thing. I’m pretty sure that my mother’s attitude had something to do with that. She did not at all like the idea of being replaced, and frequently expressed anger at my attempts to attach to various friends in whom I found maternal qualities. It didn’t stop me, however. The need was too great. I just existed with this unnecessary guilt. And embarrassment, because some of my friends were able to witness her rage.

So with this new understanding, do I really need to keep looking? Hopefully I have reached a point in my life where the need for “mother” stops because I can learn how to mother myself.