Expériences limites

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?

Listing

I love making lists. Of course I do: I’m a skilled procrastinator. I spend more time making lists than I do actually ticking things off. I’m one of those people who has to make pretty lists, with perfect handwriting and washi tape and stickers. No wonder I don’t have time to actually get anything productive done.

I have too many notebooks, but all of them are completely necessary to me. I have an Alice in Wonderland Moleskine organiser, with the dates on one page and a blank page on the opposite side so that I can add daily tasks. I also have a bullet journal – a berry-coloured Leuchtturm 1917 with squared pages – but this is for more long-term lists and also for keeping track of things that I don’t really want other people seeing. The bullet journal stays at home, the organiser accompanies me everywhere. I also have a notebook for writing down ideas for blog posts (a Peter Pan-themed Moleskine) and a smaller Paperblanks notebook purely for writing my thoughts down in waiting rooms so that I don’t have to carry around the blog notebook and risk losing it. I also have a notebook for study (a large plum purple Moleskine Professional) and a book journal (also Moleskine) to keep track of what I’m reading. That one is pretty empty at the moment, what with me not having time to read because of all the lists I have to make.

I make lists when I should be posting on here. I make lists about posting on here. I make lists on here:

  1. It’s quite possible that I’ve made literally thousands of ‘to do’ lists over the years, yet the only one I recall completing was one I wrote on an A4 sheet of paper (front and back) in October 2006. The fact that I remember this particular list should give you some idea about the sense of accomplishment I felt once I crossed everything off.
  2. Speaking of a sense of accomplishment, I always add things to my to do lists that I have just completed so that I feel as though I’ve done something other than waste all my time writing a stupid fucking list and sticking patterned paper tape to it.
  3. I can’t remember when my obsession with lists began, although I remember a notebook full of lists that I began in 1998. This was not a book of lists of things to do, but more High Fidelity-style ‘Top Five All-Time Favouritest’ kinds of lists. Bearing in mind that I was 14 in 1998, and also bearing in mind that I was a massive fucking loser in a tracksuit when I was 14, I feel rather ambivalent towards this book. On the one hand, it’s full of deeply shameful stuff (e.g. Top Five All-Time Favouritest 911 songs; Top FIve All-Time Favouritest Bacardi Breezer flavours) but on the other hand, now that I’ve made peace with my embarrassing former self, I kind of wish I still had it. It was one of many things I had to leave behind when I escaped from Norfolk so there’s a chance it’ll come back to haunt me one day.
  4. Meta-lists. I have lists of lists; lists that organise my lists; to-do lists that tell me I need to do more to-do lists. I have a problem.
  5. Rules. Lists should only have either 5, 10 or 11 items. I occasionally break this rule, but only on special occasions.

One of my longest ongoing lists is for this blog. To keep it at 5 items, I add something new every time I cross something off. This isn’t so bad, because it’s an ongoing project – but the downside to it is that I constantly feel like I’m behind. I am, but I’m not. Not really. I keep getting stuck on how I think it ought to look and it’s hard sometimes to step back and try to see where I’m actually at. It just looks like a great big mess to me.

My to-do list for my blog currently reads as follows:

  1. Finish ‘about’ page
  2. Create ‘updates’ page
  3. Create reading guide/sitemap
  4. Update plugins, etc.
  5. Design new theme

And there is also a note underneath telling me that I need to post every Monday and Friday. The items on the list aren’t in order, and I’m currently working on more than one task. If the site randomly crashes, it probably means that I’m fucking around with the layout and I’ve woefully overestimated how good I am at coding (I taught myself html/css/php in 2005 – apparently things have changed a little since then). I’ll try not to break it too much. (The ‘updates’ page can now be found here.)

My writing goes in phases. Sometimes I’m manic, sometimes it’s deep and meaningful, sometimes it’s traumatising, sometimes I’m just too fucking tired. I’m trying to push through the writer’s block. I always want everything to be perfect, but sometimes it just can’t be. Sometimes I need to just write and hope for the best.