Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 16 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Black and White Thinking

One of the typical traits of Borderline Personality Disorder and Alcoholism is something called black and white thinking. For this reason, I have been planning a post on this subject for quite some time, but it wasn't until my trip to Colorado that posting about it became more imperative. While I was in Colorado I realized that many of us, even "normies," frequently use black and white thinking as a way to rationalize our decisions, improve our self-confidence, or reaffirm our position in life. And you know what? Black and white thinking can be quite annoying when voiced out loud!

Black and white thinking is exactly what it sounds like. Something is either one extreme or another; there is no middle ground. During my vacation I became irritable when my fellow Minnesotans bad-mouthed Minnesota at every turn. As a native Minnesotan, I take pride in my state. But once we hit Colorado, in every comparison, Minnesota lost in a landslide. For example, Colorado weather was perfect (all good) while Minnesota weather sucked (all bad). Colorado towns had charm and character while Minnesota towns had none. Colorado residents were terrific while Minnesotans were duds. Colorado drivers knew how to drive while Minnesotans ALL drove in the left lane ALL the time. Black or white; there was no middle, but the truth actually lies smack in the middle of each of those statements. (I actually saw some Colorado drivers in the left lane, too!)

There are not too many things on this planet which are 100% good or 100% bad. We live in a world of gray, but gray is a diffuse, ill-defined color. When we make a decision or want to reaffirm a long-standing position (like where we live or what party we vote for), it is simple and reassuring to define our other options as completely negative.

For people with BPD and alcoholism, this thought pattern is extremely rigid and pervades every aspect of daily life. As a result, we (I once suffered from both of these illnesses) have trouble tolerating any challenge to our concrete beliefs. We hold these beliefs until our knuckles bleed; our terror is no less than that of the desperate man suspended by an unraveling rope inches above the deadly, raging river. The gray, murky water is much scarier than the concreteness of either shore. Our terror presents, however, as anger, irritability, or judgementalness, and we may be quite difficult people with whom to share space.

Having recovered from BPD and active alcoholism, I have learned the skill of tolerating gray matter. Actually, I've come to love the gray matter! The gray matter lets me off the hook! I don't have to know everything! How cool is that?! I don't have to know what is best or what is worst. I don't have to be an expert on anything anymore! It is a relief--a RELIEF--to acknowledge the positives and negatives of EVERYTHING!

Yes, northern Minnesota is very cold in the winter, but there are a ton of things to do and a ton of like-minded people to play with! Yes, northern Colorado has beautiful mountains and cacti, unlike Minnesota, but does that make Minnesota bad? Does the fact that Minnesota has billions of gallons of fresh lake water make Colorado horrible? No. It just is. Those things just are. They each have positive and negative attributes. Isn't that neat?

Can you see how embracing the gray matter avoids anger, judgement and argument? What is there to argue about? If we are discussing what IS, rather than qualifying it as all good or all bad, there is nothing to debate. Life is suddenly simple. Simple! It is so cool! I only wish I had learned this years ago.

So, if you're interested, practice your gray thinking today. Embrace the middle ground. When you find yourself noticing something, do you immediately place judgement on it? Are you immediately comparing it to something else? If so, why? Is it something on which you need a strong opinion, or can it just be? Next time you notice it, practice just noticing it. What is it? What color is it? What is it's function? How is it related to your life? Can you like parts of it and not others? Try it. It may be one of the most freeing skills you ever learn. Practice it daily, and let me know how it goes. Good luck!


Asdquefty said...

I know the black and white thinking all too well myself, as I find gray areas confusing and have little patience for uncertainty.

I can be very judgemental at times and if I don't like someone when I first meet them it's extremely hard for me to warm up to them.

All stuff I have to work on, but at least I'm aware of it.

Great post!

etta said...

That means a lot coming from you, Asdquefty!

Shiv said...

Excellent post, and a good point made. Thank you for sharing this one with us :)