March: On Praise.

In some ways, this is a sequel to my January post: a sheepish admission that as much as I wanted to insulate myself from reviews, I was unable to do so.  It’s been easy enough to avoid my bad reviews, because no one has yet addressed any of them directly to me.  But my publicist quotes the best reviews in her weekly reports, people include my @-handle when they say nice things on Twitter, etc.  So while I’ve done well at avoiding the bad stuff, I find it physically impossible to insulate myself from reader enthusiasm.

This should be good, right?  But for someone with BPD, it’s dangerous in a couple of ways.

Danger #1: Complacency.  Borderlines are infamous for defining themselves by others’ opinions of them, since they’re deficient in the natural self-evaluation skills that most neurotypical people have.  When you combine this with the internet’s tendency toward hyperbole (everything we like even a little becomes the BEST THING EVER), there’s a danger that I might start to think myself more skilled than I actually am.  Confidence is all well and good, but it’s uncertainty and insecurity that have always made me view my first and second drafts as “too boring” and driven me to try just a little bit harder.  Well-managed insecurity is what impels me to study and improve.  Growth comes from health, health comes from balance, and it’s hard to stay balanced if you have a steady supply of tempting, sugary praise with which to feed yourself.

Danger #2: Backlash.  Public praise is like a rubber band: every good review pulls the band a bit tighter, raises expectations a bit higher, and eventually the tension bursts as that first person explodes, “THIS IS GARBAGE!  I’VE BEEN LIED TO!”  Soon the internet is awash with “THANK GOD IT’S NOT JUST ME.”  The higher the praise, the louder and more vicious the backlash — and the higher likelihood that the author will be targeted directly with it, because people assume that anyone who has been hearing nothing but “brilliant!” probably needs to be knocked down a peg or two.  Unfortunately, for a vulnerable* Borderline, it only takes one “garbage” to cancel out eleventy gazillion “brilliant”s, because a Borderline’s demons seize gleefully upon even a single negative opinion as THE TRUTH ABOUT YOU, UNVEILED AT LAST.  So the continuing backlash, meant to “even things out,” actually becomes overwhelming and blots out any trace of joy.

*Am I vulnerable?  I don’t know.  I like to think that a full course of DBT has turned my life around, that I’m in a much more solid mental health position than I was, say, three years ago.  But a miscalculation in my favor could be catastrophic or even deadly, so I have to be constantly vigilant.

This is an entirely new kind of problem after thirty years of desperate, vain efforts to write something that would get an iota of attention (I was actively seeking publication from the age of ten onward).  Like anything new, this change is stressful.  My familiar, well-practiced DBT tools have helped me to cope, and so has the deliberate decision I made in late 2013 to focus relentlessly on the positive.  The real positive here has nothing to do with attention or lack thereof, but with something far more intimate, more personal: the fact that after 40 years of being a pain in everyone’s ass, feeling like an emotional and financial parasite who needed others to support me in every conceivable way just to survive, I have finally given something.  People are reading something that I not only conceived of but persevered with and completed, and it pleases a great many of them.  This fact alone is so potent that I can cling to it like a raft in a stormy sea.

I did a thing.  There is a reason I’m alive.  I’m not obsolete now that I’m (probably) finished producing excellent children.  There are still things I can offer, things that can improve the lives of others, mostly fleetingly, but occasionally in much deeper, more lasting ways.  So, thank you.  I owe a great deal to all of you who took the time to write kind things about my book.  Every author loves good reviews, but for me they’ve awakened me to an entirely new paradigm: a world in which I might have infinite capacity to be of value.

But that capacity will shrink the minute I actually believe any of the things any of you are saying.  I’m straddling a peculiar paradox, and I’m fascinated to find out how well it holds up in the long run.  But in the meantime, you all have my sincerest gratitude, and I will enjoy this feeling for however long it lasts.

My social media deal this year.

As a slight follow-up to my last blog post, I’d like to lay out what’s going to be happening with me on social media this year so you don’t wonder why I seem to be ignoring your tweets all of a sudden and assume I’ve muted you.

Due to my increased stress and responsibility this year (which creates a much lowered threshold for BPD “flareups”), and the absolute mess that is 2016 current events, I’m finding the unpredictable nature of the social media firehose a bit too much to handle for now.  So I won’t be partaking in the general stream, either on Facebook or on Twitter, but will be checking my mentions regularly and continuing to post.

If you have some exciting news or self-promo stuff or just a random thought you want to share with me, I hope you’ll contact me directly – don’t feel weird about it.  It will get pretty quiet for me if you don’t, so you’ll be doing me a favor, even if it’s just “I have a cool story idea!” or “Here’s a picture of my cat looking stoned.”  I know it’s more trouble for you to contact me individually than to just “put things out there,” so I don’t expect you to do it for every little thing, but just try to remember I am still here and still interested in you, just taking self-protective action to avoid being steeped in the general atmosphere of anger and panic.

I will also do my part by remembering to individually contact the people who are important to me, and not expect them to do all the work.

Ways to get in touch with me, in order of how much I like them:

Postal mail!  Mishell Baker; PO Box 78760; Los Angeles, CA 90016

@ me and possibly other related people on Twitter (as an extrovert I like this because it’s like hanging out in a public hallway, and others can listen in and add to the fun).

Send me a GChat message (I often reply very quickly – if I don’t reply within a few seconds I’m probably away and will get back to you later)

DM me on Twitter (not the most efficient way of chatting but I will at least see it pretty quickly because of email notification)

Facebook?  I’m new to it but it’s another option – tagging to get my attention publicly, as well as private messages.

Email me, if you have my address.  Ask me for it if you don’t.

I don’t mind text messages, if you have my number, but I’m infamous for leaving my phone somewhere for 2 days and forgetting it exists, so don’t expect a speedy reply.

I’m sorry if this seems selfish, weird, or melodramatic — I know it’s probably hard to imagine exactly what I’m dealing with unless you are familiar with BPD or have been cohabiting with me.   My husband agrees that something needs to be done to reduce the random emotional projectiles I’m bombarded with, because I’m a primary caregiver for small children as well as an over-committed debut author who has a lot of deadlines to meet and trips to plan.  I can’t afford to lose even half a day to BPD right now, so I’ve got to batten down the hatches.

If you’re reading this, I do hope you’ll come knocking, though.

February: On BPD.

So, February is “Get Everyone Excited About My Book Month,” which means that I’ve been spending a lot of time doing guest blog posts, interviews, etc.  And of course, due to the nature of my book, what people are most often interested in hearing about is Borderline Personality Disorder.

It’s no huge secret that I share a diagnosis with my protagonist (though honestly we don’t share much else, personality-wise).  I’m not sure, though, when if ever I’ll feel comfortable publicly wearing the label.  There are (I suppose I should say were) advantages to staying quiet about it.  In possibly the bitterest dose of irony ever, I’ve gotten so good at managing the symptoms of the disorder that several people — not realizing I had it — have told me that people with BPD were basically garbage.  “Best to let them sink,” an acquaintance recently said to me on Twitter when I brought up the disorder.  “I’ve known too many, and they’re radioactive.”

With PR like that, is it any wonder I’ve been standing half in the closet about my diagnosis all this time?

It took well-earned, possibly better-than-neurotypical self-control not to respond with, “Well congrats, now you know one less,” and block/unfollow.  That’s what a stereotypical Borderline would have done.  She would have switched this man from the “good” folder to the “bad” folder in her mind and torched that bridge from orbit.  But I have received treatment for my BPD, and part of that treatment involved learning a skill that even some neurotypical people haven’t mastered: the ability to comfortably hold conflicting truths in the mind simultaneously.

I can now say, “This person holds hurtful beliefs and spoke in a callous way that wounded me, but he is also an intelligent and interesting person.  Despite the fact that we disagree vehemently on this issue, there is a lot I can learn and enjoy from continued interaction with him.”  This fellow wouldn’t have spoken that way if he’d realized I had BPD, which doesn’t excuse what he said about the many human beings he considered expendable, but it means at least that he was not trying to hurt me personally.  The very fact that I can recognize all of this is proof that BPD is not a life sentence of misery: that people with the disorder can change, grow, and improve just as anyone else can.

BPD’s terrible PR, though, is simultaneously daunting and the exact reason I do need to be more open about my diagnosis.  As a source of prejudice, BPD has an advantage that race and sexuality as well as other mental illnesses do not have: there are still a great many people who have never even heard of the disorder.  What if the very first Borderline they met was someone functional, possibly even kind, polite, warm, and giving (if a bit intense and eccentric)?  What if that person was me?  Would the person who met me and found me likable go on to be slightly more forgiving of the next Borderline they met, even if it was someone who didn’t have the (considerable!) resources to undergo dialectical behavior therapy?  Even if that less-fortunate Borderline didn’t have everything quite under control?

I love this idea, but it also puts a great deal of pressure on me to be the Good Borderline.  When I have bad days, I question everything I post on social media, terrified that everyone will see and judge and I’ll lose whatever ground I’ve gained in proving that Borderlines deserve empathy and love, that a diagnosis does not tell you who a person is.  On bad days the voice I’ve wryly nicknamed “Harold” whispers to me that it’s all a show, and soon everyone will see you for what you really are and abandon you.  We all have thoughts like that, but for a Borderline, it’s actually a realistic scenario.  Borderlines are radioactive, right?  Don’t touch.  Just let them sink.

Let them sink.  Am I overreacting when I translate this as let them die?  Approximately ten per cent of Borderlines do exactly that, by their own hand, and it’s not hard to see why when otherwise rational people are capable of sincerely suggesting that maybe, yes, they just should.

I’d be lying if I said I’d never considered it.  But I have two children, which to me represents a keen, ever-present responsibility not to become one of that ten per cent.  I cannot teach my children how to thrive in the face of hardship by demonstrably failing to endure mine.  And so for the last decade or so, I’ve protected myself from despair in part by letting myself pretend that I didn’t have BPD, by staying mostly quiet about it, or at least not associating myself with it in an obvious way.  Now those days are over.  I’m the author of a book called Borderline, for Pete’s sake.  I can’t pretend not to have first-hand experience.  For better or worse, it’s part of my brand now.

So consider this post a gentle warning.  Now that I’ve officially stopped pretending, it’s possible that I may backslide a little.  Added stress causes flareups of dysphoria (the intense feelings of anger, panic, despair, self-loathing, etc. that intermittently plague those with BPD).  I may seem a little more “crazy” for a while.  I may slip; I may tweet some things that sound too “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” for your taste.  If so, I’m sorry.  Just brush it aside and forgive and know what I know – that it’s a disease like any other, and that I can eventually get its symptoms back under control once I adjust to the changes in my life.

Be patient.  I’m still here.  I am not my diagnosis.  I am still the same duck you thought I was; there’s just a little more paddling going on underneath the surface of the water than you thought.  You do not have to be afraid.

And neither — I hope — do I.