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Be skeptical of your gut instincts.

I think my stomach has a brain. 

It knew, long before I did, when the relationship wasn’t going to work. It tried to tell me as much when I had to sneak out of my partner’s bedroom night after night because I couldn’t stand his snoring or the smell of his pet rats. It knew as I held back tears because the frigid couch I called my makeshift bed displayed a pillow that said “Life is good!”. My head tried to believe the damn pillow, but my gut refused, and it was right. Life wasn’t good. I just had to realize it one organ at a time.

My stomach knew, long before I did, that moving to Minneapolis was the right choice for me. The first time I had the idea, my head sounded screeching alarm bells. You can’t move across the country chasing down your love for Mystery Science Theater 3000, it told me. That’s just stupid. But a tingling sensation just below my lungs sang a different tune. It knew that I would end up in Minnesota, and it never forgot. It kept reminding me. 

Call it what you will: intuition, premonition, spiritual guidance. They all come down to the same aching feeling in your gut that begs you to make a change in your life. The challenge is knowing when to listen. As someone with borderline personality disorder, I struggle to see reality clearly, so I have a hard time trusting my gut. Is that ache just my disorder steering me toward an emotional breakdown? Or on the contrary, is my stomach trying to show me the way out of a hopeless situation?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these questions. Sometimes my intuition deceives me, because it’s actually just my borderline brain telling me to make an emotional decision where a logical one is called for. This happens a lot when I’m anxious. My gut begs me to get the hell out of a public place because it believes my surroundings are unsafe. When that happens, I search myself carefully for the reasons why my instincts drive me in that direction. What evidence does my gut have that I’m in harm’s way? Usually, the answer is a resounding none. My anxiety inaccurately tells me that I’m embarrassing myself by existing, that I’m being scrutinized by everyone in view, that grave consequences will come about because I had the gall to leave my apartment to get groceries. I know none of those things is true, so I ignore the twinge of nausea in my stomach, and make a point to buy everything on my shopping list before I go home.

In other moments, though, my instincts are wise. They sense impending danger – real danger – and advise me to get out. The flavor of a helpful intuition is slightly different than that of a useless reactionary fear. When my gut has something healthy to tell me (like break up with him or move to Minneapolis), my sense of unease grows steadily over time. It isn’t a sudden sensation that grips me; it’s more of a slight discomfort that slowly consumes me. And that healthy discomfort is typically hard to address, because the choice it wants me to make isn’t easy. I don’t want to hear the message it conveys. I was devastated when I broke up with my boyfriend, and moving to a strange city alone was scary as hell and took a ton of work and planning. But deep down, I did those things because it was so hard for me to face the knowledge that I had to.

That said, I still often struggle to know when my gut is dispensing good advice or when it’s feeding me bullshit. I’ve had to develop a sort of secondary intuition that tells me when my original intuition is healthy. Sometimes my mind becomes a hyper-analytical echo chamber, and I have to put the problem away for a few minutes and distract myself, or air it out with someone whose input I value. In the end, getting to know myself has proven to be my most valuable tool as I weigh my instincts against my logical brain. I’ve learned to take each tough decision as it comes and make the choice that feels best, regardless of whether or not my gut agrees.

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