Only those closest to me have ever seen my meltdowns. I have incredible cover-up powers; a lifetime of honing them and numbing my emotions. Few of you have seen me screaming and wailing, destroying objects around me, bashing my head against things, hopeless and wanting nothing more than to die in that moment.
It all starts with a trigger. Sometimes it’s a stressful event or environment. Sometimes it’s a slow build-up of the day’s/week’s/hour’s cruft, gradually infringing on my rational brain. But there’s always a tipping point.
They are often an hour or more of emotional agony, with a painfully slow recovery period in which I am exhausted and extremely sensitive. They usually cost me a whole day. I can trace them backwards to see where the twisted road went, and how I used skills to improve the situation, but they are still a black box of pain, and I don’t remember how things got to that point.
But something extraordinary happened the other day.
He was on the beanbag, talking about a possible web contract. I listen to his recommendation, and for whatever BPD-infused reason, all I’m hearing is criticism.
Stab stab stab.
It’s obvious I’m becoming upset, staring at him through the ladder of my loft bed. He asks what’s wrong and I become defensive.
"I just can’t handle criticism right now!"
I start to cry.
He softly reassures me that he’s not criticizing. Now I start sobbing and expounding on all the ways I’m feeling criticized. I try to breathe to stave off the panic. I can’t believe he would be so mean to say those things from the story I invented in my head thirty seconds ago.
A teensy little voice pops out of the tornado: this is one of those meltdowns.
He asks how he can help. I weave my upper body onto the ladder for support and gasp something like, I’m trying, I think I got this, I don’t know how.
"I don’t know what it is but I can believe there’s another explanation. There must be another possible explanation. This isn’t real, is it? Help me find what it could mean instead. It doesn’t make sense but I know I’m not thinking right. No, but I can do this."
Crying, gasping, hanging on, looking at a blur in his direction.
"It’s actually not criticism I think. It’s not. I don’t know how to feel that but I believe it’s not. That’s another way to explain this."
Coming down a little. Breathing.
I replay words in my heads, check the facts. I can just barely see the words again, in their original voice, before my own story came to life. I know somewhere in me that there’s another thing that makes sense and that my calibration is off.
It’s enough. It hurts, I’m processing, I’m tired… but for the first time, I was able to see through a meltdown from start to finish. It was so compressed that I hadn’t forgotten how it began. I used conscious effort to pull myself in the right direction.
Despite these meltdowns occurring regularly (with decreasing frequency and intensity over the past year, I’m happy to say), I felt like I never understood what was happening to me. It was like having read about something in a book hundreds of times, but only now experiencing it for the first time, over two intense minutes.
And it means I’m actually getting better.