It’s good to think about things you don’t really understand. Sometimes just hearing about a concept and then allowing your brain to run wild with ideas and theories on what it might involve and how you feel about it just might teach you something interesting about yourself. What’s cool about that is that you and I could both sit and think about the exact same concept for an hour yet arrive at absolutely opposing viewpoints almost as though we weren’t thinking about the same thing at all.
Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that we experience the same feelings yet perceive them differently due to inherent differences in personalities. One person’s happy infatuation is another person’s annoying distraction. One person might be comfortable with expressing their anger, someone else might be terrified of even acknowledging its presence – regardless of how intense the feeling of anger actually is. The level of intensity – of any emotion – that a person is comfortable with is completely dependant on both the person and the emotion in question. Some people would prefer not to feel anything. Others happily let emotions come and go, only becoming distressed when something goes wrong. Others still try to find the absolute edge of the emotion in order to experience it fully and become despondent when things are calm.
A limit-experience (or expérience limite) is what happens when you fuck around too close to the edge and go sailing right over the bastard and off into unchartered territory.
I’ll be honest, that’s not quite how Foucault put it; I’m paraphrasing a little. A limit-experience is when a person experiences the absolute extreme point of life itself – a point of intensity beyond which living seems impossible, reality is no longer what we believe it to be and the conscious mind is no longer able to comprehend what it is experiencing. However, in order to keep things simple, I’m only using the term in a very loose sense so that we can establish that there is an edge and that it is a very extreme place to venture.
One of the problems with drifting out to the edge is that once you’ve seen it and felt its intensity, the calmness of the centre becomes quite boring. This isn’t just to do with negative emotions – thrill-seekers (true ones, not people who just go to Alton Towers or whatever) who do all kinds of crazy shit knowing full well it might kill them, do it because of the intensity of excitement that they get. They’re at the edge, sometimes quite literally, of living. And it feels fucking incredible. Nothing else matters at that moment in time. When they have to stop what they’re doing and go back to life and go back to the centre, nothing feels quite the same. All the emotions here are diluted, and it drives them crazy because they know how amazing they can be. So they seek more thrills, just so they can play close to the edge again.
Is it that they’re addicted or is it simply that we shouldn’t have to fucking settle?
Of course, it’s not just positive feelings involved here. During times of grief or crisis, sadness intensifies and pushes people closer to the edge. Some people go too far. Some people don’t make it back. Those people who do make it back – even if they don’t quite make it back to where they started – don’t necessarily feel better about it. Instead of intense sadness, they feel nothing. Numb and empty. Sometimes time or other emotions help to fix this, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes those who are stuck feeling numb and empty try to reclaim some of the sadness they had by lashing out at others, or by hurting themselves, just so they can feel something.
As I said above, some people are happy not feeling anything with any particular intensity. I can’t really write about them because I have no idea what that’s like. I don’t understand why one person will be content to just chill when things are calm, whilst a different person will start getting panicky about it. But seeing as though it appears to be the intensity of emotion – or lack thereof – rather than the emotion itself that seems to be the problem, surely it would be healthier to consciously throw oneself into an intense positive emotion instead?
There are a number of problems with this. Firstly, a person in that mental state is likely to be clinically depressed and clinically depressed people tend to not be able to do that. You can’t try to BOOTSTRAPS someone who barely has the fucking will to wake up every morning. Secondly, emotions are fleeting – once the intensity of the positive emotion has worn off, the person is likely to be back feeling shitty and numb and probably berating themselves for even trying to be happy. Depression is a bastard like that. Thirdly, and sadly, it is much easier to fall than it is to climb. Positive emotions generally require effort, especially for those who find little positivity in their current surroundings. You have to pull yourself up and that carries its own risk of falling. Falling from an even greater height generally tends to hurt more.
Finally, and closely related to the last point, is that falling until you hit the bottom carries an intensity all of its own. When the pain or the emptiness is too much to bear, you give up and let go. And it’s terrifying, because at some point you have to land. Sometimes you get back up and realise that now the only way to go is upwards and slowly you start to recover. Sometimes you land and decide to stay there a while because at last all the horrible noise has stopped and you’re in control again but you’re so fucking tired. Sometimes you’ve fallen into this fucking pit so many times you decide you’re going to have a wander about because there’s nothing better to do. And sometimes the darkness just decides that you belong to it now.
When the sadness or the panic or the emptiness take you right up to the edge of living and the intensity is so overwhelming that reality begins to crumble around you, nothing else exists. It takes over and fills you and breaks you and all you can do is hope that you’ll be seeing yourself again soon as it tries to destroy you from within.
And then you come to some time later and you’re back in the centre and the calmness is kind of okay because you can feel yourself breathe again and you really weren’t sure you were going to make it but you have so that’s pretty cool. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to stay there. And if you do, I sincerely hope you never drift so far out again.
The trouble with me is that I get bored easily. Or I’ll do something stupid like fall in love with someone I can’t have while I’m trying to get better and rebound into the intensity of obsession before a final ricochet into heartbreak. I’m my own worst enemy. I’m not as self-destructive as I used to be, but I need some form of intensity to drive me and I always seem to look for opportunities to hurt myself in order to keep me going. I know all these emotions well. They can’t hurt me anymore because I’ve been to the edge a few times now and each time I go it scares me less – and that is fucking terrifying.
The other trouble with me is that I’m an addict and intense emotions are addictive, even the negative ones. I don’t know whether it’s true dependency or just habit – or maybe, somehow, it’s just a comfort thing. All I ever really knew when I was a kid was fear and sadness. I was left alone pretty much all the time, left alone to hear terrible acts of violence through the walls that no kid should ever have to hear, left alone to wait and see whether the person who came to get me was going to be horrible to me as well.
I don’t know when it was that I resigned myself to the fact I was going to carry sadness with me forever. All I know is that it’s there when I need it, when I need to check that I can still feel, like a security blanket of crying myself to sleep. The sadness itself isn’t bad. It just is. And it knows me so well.
One of the main problems for people with borderline personality disorder is fear of abandonment and I guess clinging on to sadness is my way of making sure that I still have something left when everyone else realises I’m awful and disappears. But… I also realise that those are the thoughts of a broken person.
How do you fix a personality?