The monks in Myanmar are asking themselves how Buddhism requires them to respond to conditions in their country. I am asking myself how Buddhism requires me to respond to conditions in my life. How do I practice mental illness/borderline personality disorder/whatever you want to call it? How do I practice the moments when my thoughts spin out of control, when my emotions overwhelm me like a tidal wave?
I’m scheduled for an assessment at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto on Tuesday. The BPD clinic there has a five-month-long program to teach DBT skills in a 2-hour weekly group therapy session. The first barrier to entry is a telephone interview which assesses whether or not the program would be appropriate and helpful to me. That was on Monday last. I “passed” and am now scheduled for the longer, in-person assessment downtown. It’s the kind of interview I really wish would have ended with “No, we’re sorry—you don’t have BPD and you don’t need to come to this program.” But that’s not how it ended.
All of the above wishing doesn’t negate the fact that I’m glad that I’ll be getting some serious help with this. I know my emotions do tend to spin out of control, especially when I’m under stress. But for most of my life, the targets of my angry outbursts have been the grown men (or women) who were my significant others. I could always justify that they were capable of taking care of themselves even when I wasn’t in control.
Brianna is a different story. She’s just an innocent little girl, much like I was 38 years ago. And just like I didn’t deserve the abuse heaped on me by my mother, she doesn’t deserve it either.
The most honest answer to the question “Why did you go live in a Zen monastery?” is probably “Because I swore to myself that I would not grow up to be like my mother and I meant it.” And, it is the reason why I will take myself downtown for an assessment of my mental health and why I will go down there once a week, every week for five months and why I will put myself out there no matter how painful and difficult it feels. Facing this illness is difficult and painful. I have to take responsibility for something that isn’t my fault and learn how to live with the brain I have, not the brain I wish I had.
I will not let my child bear the burden of an illness that I am afraid to confront myself. I will not visit the sins of the mother onto the next generation.
And not just for her, but for me. So I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I have done everything that I possibly can to deal with this. So I can have self-respect and dignity. Because it is what needs to be done.