because misinformation and stigma make the disorder even worse
I’ve had three rounds of dialectical behavior therapy treatments. My therapists have always told me that thinking dialectically is the same thing as approaching life with a “both/and” attitude: that sometimes, conflicting ideas can exist simultaneously. As someone with borderline personality disorder, I often have to remind myself to hold seemingly opposing truths in balance; I might tell myself I can’t think of a reason to feel sad AND I’m crying, or I value my friend AND I’m upset with them right now.
However, it never occurred to me that dialectical thinking and “both/and” thinking might be subtly different things. Dr. Pauline Boss succinctly creates this distinction in her novel, The Myth of Closure:
When we think about the loss of a family member or friend as both/and, we may be reminded of dialectical thinking, which means holding both a thesis and antithesis but eventually reaching a synthesis or blending of those two opposing facts. With ambiguous loss, however, such opposing ideas may never blend and synthesize… It is important to know, therefore, that both/and thinking is not precisely the same as dialectical thinking. This is because synthesis may not be possible… balancing two conflicting ideas in your mind at the same time is less stressful than continuing to search for one perfect solution.
I agree vehemently with this quote; at least, up until the last part.
Like many people, the stress I feel in the face of ambiguity compels me to search for an absolute answer that will dispel that ambiguity (even if that sometimes means blaming someone or something that isn’t actually at fault). However, balancing two opposing ideas in my mind is so totally foreign to me, so utterly outside my natural capabilities, that thinking in black and white is basically always less stressful for me than accepting that reality might hover somewhere in between. Maintaining the inherent tension of “both/and” thinking, to me, is existentially painful. It’s indescribably difficult for me to carry two seemingly conflicting thoughts at once, and it’s often a worse experience than just finding someone to blame for a problem that isn’t their fault.
I’ve worked on my “both/and” thinking skills, of course, in dialectical behavior therapy, which has helped. Holding two opposing truths at once is one of those pesky firewalls against psychiatric suffering that medication can’t reinforce. The only way to learn it is to practice, and I like to think I’ve gotten a lot better at it, though it still exhausts me at times. Still, I doubt I’ll ever agree with Harris’s assertion that “both/and” thinking is less stressful than absolutist thinking.
Misery and Mystery, A Novel
Please enjoy the first 229 words of my sci-fi/horror novel-in-progress.
The girl sat, rotting, in class. She ignored her teacher’s bitter lecture about the futility of attempting prosperity in a capitalist society, focusing only on the colors she wove into the short story on her desk. Bent over her class notes, scratching away, she was struck yet again with the awareness that if she could escape these four hormone-drenched walls, she could rise above the thick dim-wittedness of her classmates and make an impact on the world. But at least for now, she could not escape, and so she wove her colors into the paper, aching.
She drained her pencil of words. The ideas flowed seamlessly into a gorgeous story she knew well. Variations upon it lined the pages of all her journals: she and he, together. Inevitably, though, the plot reached a screeching halt, right where it always did.
She knocked on his door.
Footsteps approached, she wrote. And then what? The rustle of the knob, the creak of the hinges… and then, nothing. She knew what she wanted to see on the other side of that door when it swung open, but she was incapable of writing it down. His beauty was too otherworldly to convey, and any attempt to describe it felt like an insult to the real thing.
So, faltering, she turned away from the page and indulged in a glance at the real thing.
That’s all I’ll share–for now! If you want to keep reading, you can get up to the first two chapters by becoming my patron.
Here’s a painting I did in high school. It’s relevant to the story in ways I can’t reveal yet.
Mental Health, Part II
Do you have questions about what it feels like to experience a severe mental illness, but don’t know how to ask them? I’ve created a Q&A page on Slido where you can anonymously ask me anything about having borderline personality disorder (or depression, anxiety, dissociation… I’ve been through a lot). I encourage you to submit all your questions related to mental illness, even if–especially if–they feel too uncomfortable or personal to ask someone you know. My answers may end up in future issues of this newsletter–though of course, I won’t know your identity.
As always, my Etsy shop, Little Knitting Machine, is open for business. I mostly sell hand-knit beanies, but if the price is right, I’m happy to make, like, an ugly Christmas sweater for your cat, or whatever.
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Thank you for reading this issue of the Miss Misery Newsletter. Remember to be empathetic to someone today.