Dealing with BPD – the Pitfalls and Power of Humor

It probably doesn’t seem like humor is one of the important things to consider when reflecting about ways to deal with borderline. I have come to the conclusion, however, that humor is one of the underestimated and under-reflected things when it comes to dealing with BPD.

So what is humor? To me humor is the ability to see something funny in things. Either in things that are funny in themselves, or in the absurd, the unexpected or when things get a twist that alters the meaning or the perspective from which you look at it.

I grew up quite unfamiliar with the concept of humor. The family I grew up in was one where the only kind of laughing was laughing at someone. Laughing at someone else’s bad luck, at someone else getting hurt, at how stupid someone else is . . . This kind of ridicule was the only kind of laughing I knew.

Which brings me directly to what I think is the biggest pitfall of humor. Probably due to BPD I am very, very sensitive to getting laughed at, to getting ridiculed. If there is the remotest possibility that someone could be laughing at me or that I could be the subject of a joke, then that’s a terrible situation for me and I will take offense, get defensive and destructive. Just the same I am very afraid of looking stupid if everyone seems to get a joke, only I have no idea why it’s supposed to be funny. That’s embarrassing and a safe way to make me feel awful about myself and suspicious of everyone’s motives and the relationship I have to them. So in this regard humor can be very treacherous.

But humor has the same power in a positive way, too. In my family now, everyone laughs a lot. I learned that there is a big difference between laughing at someone and laughing together. Laughing together is one of the best things ever. It can be a bridge when there seems to be a gulf between me and someone else. It can defuse a tense situation. It can help against stress or unpleasant stuff. And it strengthens relationships. Which is all very important for someone with BPD.

What is funny is probably different for everyone. Me, I find simple jokes funny. Even when they’re silly. Or maybe especially when they are silly.

What’s brown and sticky? – A stick!

Knock-knock! – Who’s there? – Figs! – Figs who? – – – Figs the doorbell, it’s broken.

What’s a cat’s favorite color? – Purr-ple!

That’s the kind of jokes that get me laughing. Little games of silliness do, too. I also love it when I can make someone else laugh in the good way, like when I tell a silly joke like the ones above and the other person actually laughs instead of telling me that the joke is dumb.

What I still need to work on is learning to laugh about myself. Like when I make a mistake, not to take it too seriously, but to be able to laugh at myself, too. I used to be unable to do that at all, but I am getting a little better. And even when I still have a long way to go, I can already see that especially in the context of BPD it is a valuable ability. For example when I catch myself nursing absurd thoughts, I can now sometimes appreciate the absurdity and when I do and feel safe in the situation itself, I manage to smile or laugh. For example when I am all too quick to shoot an angry “I hate you” at my mom, and she looks at me and I realize I was being a little too dramatic and don’t really even mean it, I can now grin and allow for her to smile at it, too, and sometimes we even laugh about it, because shared humor makes the bad feelings go away.

But that only works when I don’t feel like she’ll be laughing at me, but feel secure that we’re laughing at my somewhat silly BPD behavior together. It makes all the difference.

And in my Chest Beats the Heart of a Tiger

A little freaking out yesterday night was followed by a long talk with mom. Strangely we do our best talking at night. Maybe because it’s special, having her stay up with me. Maybe because at night, with a long day behind me, my defenses are exhausted and go down easier. And maybe because I know that after meaningful talking, she’ll often spend the night downstairs on the sofa-sleeper with me, which is like camping in the living room.

Anyway, I guess I wasn’t even *really* freaking out. I was unsettled for real, by yesterday’s thoughts about sex, which led to thoughts about how fucked up I am in general, and I had a hard time just telling her, that was what. So instead of taking the straight route, I sharpened a bunch of pencils and ended up pointing them all at my wrist and arm in the ‘look, I’m gonna! really, I am!’ way.

Kind of silly, I know. I already knew while I was doing it, too. Still, somehow I didn’t manage to find a better way to let mom know I’d like to have a little heart to heart with her. Just saying so is harder than it sounds. Well, but at least mom is not stupid and can tell if I am being serious or just pretending to be, so I ended up getting her ‘pull the other one, it’s got bells on’ look, while she accepted the invitation to play a round of ‘wrestle the pencils from my hands’.

Looking back to this peculiar little prelude to sitting down and talking, I realize just now that maybe it does serve a very real purpose and that maybe this is why I can’t just walk up to mom and say that I’d like to talk. Typing this I just noticed that I smile when I think about it and that it gives me a happy feeling, recounting the choreography of our start into talking in my head. Because a choreography is exactly what it is. I am not really freaking out, am not truly out to hurt myself. She knows and I know. So in theory she could cut me short, tell me to stop acting up and use a more appropriate behavior. But she doesn’t. Instead we go through the motions. Mom allows it, plays her part, like I play mine. Sometimes I wonder why she does that, allowing for me to play sicker than I am, but I think I might just have gotten it.

I just realized it makes me feel secure. It establishes that we have a good, safe relationship, that she knows me, that she takes care of me and that we have a special bond that means we  know our way around one another. She’s reliable in how she reacts. Knows how to read me. Knows I’m not being serious, but plays her part anyway, like she understands my need for safety. It’s like an unspoken reassurance that she’s there, open to take whatever comes her way and that our relationship is strong enough to take it, too.

So much for epiphanies on a Sunday morning. I think that is why I can’t just skip this part.

So with that settled, back to the talking itself. It was a long talk, but I won’t bore anyone with the details, and cut right to the chase. I told mom that I was feeling like the most fucked up person ever. Like someone who’s never going to get anywhere, because I’m just stumbling and falling down all the time. Whenever something is good, you bet it will be followed up by a great big kick in the ass, just like life wants to show me my place: That I was a failure, am a failure and will always be a failure, so why don’t I just stop trying?!

So what did she say? Did she agree that it sucks and that shit is way harder than is fair? Yes, she did. And how. She said it’s not at all fair some people get dealt such a crappy hand that makes them suffer and causes pain and hurt and an inner basement full of shit and that it’s okay that I feel angry and sad and fed up and everything. That it’s understandable I feel like a failure. But that no matter how I feel, in my chest beats the heart of a tiger. That I wouldn’t have made it this far without the heart of a tiger.

I liked that. Mom said that a tiger that’s been made to think of itself as weak, worthless and insufficient is nonetheless a tiger. A tiger who was able to do what it needed to survive. And who is able to do now what is needed to walk the way towards healing. That it’s normal to stumble, and even to stumble a lot, like a wounded tiger would stumble, but that it takes the heart of a tiger to get up and carry on.

I’m feeling good today. Because I have not given up in the past. Am not ready to give up now.  Because in my chest beats the heart of a tiger.

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