I can have strong emotional reactions to things — it’s a symptom of borderline personality disorder. It means that if I get some bad news, it’s hard to bounce back and something trivial can send me into a downward spiral if I don’t take steps to intervene. It’s difficult to deal with, but I’m getting better at self-managing. However, sometimes I react to something which I didn’t expect to have such an impact…
For the past week and a half, we have been having the kitchen renovated. It’s a major overhaul which involves knocking down a supporting wall, repositioning the sink and replacing the flooring throughout the downstairs rooms in our home. There is a lot of dust, noise and clutter (most of the kitchen is in boxes on the living room floor), but it’s only for a few weeks so I thought I’d cope well. My parents are taking time off work, so I have minimal contact with the workmen (who are perfectly nice chaps, but my anxiety doesn’t really take that into account) and can carry on with my normal routine.
Except that I can’t carry on with my normal routine.
I am incredibly stressed. I can’t concentrate on anything or relax. My sleep patterns are worse than they have been for almost a year. I’m finding it hard to think straight. It probably doesn’t help that I have caught a cold, which is combining with the dust to make my chest hurt.
I was prepared for all of the upheaval, but my reaction has surprised me. It has made me realise how valuable it can be to have a stable home life and some kind of regular routine.
It feels like I have been knocked off-kilter and I can’t pinpoint exactly why. After all, I’m still spending most of my day as I usually do (writing, reading and watching television — though not necessarily in that order!) and am alone most of the time, albeit with people in the next room. I’m still wrangling the dogs and answering emails. Not much has changed in terms of myself.
But my environment has changed. Simple tasks like letting the dogs out or grabbing lunch have become more complicated, because I have to check that the garden gate is closed and that neither I nor the pets are getting in the way. I also have to put a lot of effort into finding food, crockery and cutlery. I suppose my stress is down to no longer being able to do the little things I usually take for granted.
The problem is that I cannot change the upheaval and I cannot hide from it. When my anxiety increases, home is usually my sanctuary. I can hide away a little until I feel strong enough to deal with whatever is causing the anxiety. But now my home is causing the stress and anxiety! I can’t avoid it, because going outside causes even more anxiety. I can’t ignore it, because the whole house has been invaded by mess and noise and dust. Lots of dust.
I’m trying to frame this situation as resilience training or some kind of exposure therapy. As uncomfortable as I am, this is not a oermanent state. It will pass.
In some ways, this is reminiscent of my worst episodes of mental illness: I can only wait it out because I am unable to fight against the situation. The main difference is that when my mental health is at its worst, I can’t believe that the situation will pass even when I know it’s true. My mental health is good enough at the moment that I have hope, faith and trust that this is temporary.
Of course, it helps that any renovation is, by nature, temporary. Yet so is illness — even chronic conditions have ebbs and flows.
So I find myself wondering how my reaction would be different if my mental health were worse. I think I would be more stressed and I would see my reaction as proof that I’m doomed to a terrible life (remember that downward spiral I mentioned at the beginning of this post?) and nothing will ever go smoothly for me. I would ruminate on everything in my life which is less than brilliant, i.e. most of it! I would get lost inside my negative thought patterns and be unable to do anything productive.
Which makes my current stress a good sign, in a funny way. It means I feel well enough to acknowledge the exterior cause without berating myself for my reaction. I also tend towards anxiety when I’m well enough to feel motivated to do things — when I’m at my worst, I tend towards depression and that tends to obliterate everything else.
So facing such a challenging situation has highlighted what is going well in my life. Trouble is, that knowledge doesn’t make me feel less thrown off-kilter!