Last night I read a blog post by a woman who has BPD that described how out of control she felt. As a fellow borderline (who is not symptomatic), I could relate, and shared something I learned with her. I hope it helps.

In 1996 when I was hospitalized for major depression (and diagnosed with bipolar I with underlying BPD) I had no idea how to regulate my emotions. I had barely any more control over my emotional state than a toddler who throws temper tantrums in public. My disorder caused me to fly off the handle at the tiniest things, especially if I felt slighted. I overreacted to things that would have caused barely a ruffled feather in a normal person–but of course being married to a gaslighting narcissist made things so much harder for me. The only reason I wasn’t more out of control than I already was was due to the introversion and reticence that comes along with my Aspergers and Avoidant PD. In a sense those disorders helped keep me sane. Even when I didn’t lose control, I often felt like I was out of my body or the world felt odd and dreamlike. I learned later on these strange feelings were really a dissociative state that is common in borderlines when they feel emotionally overwhelmed. Many borderlines use illegal drugs to self-medicate, and I smoked a lot of pot in those days.

I’ve gotten a lot better since then, and found the DBT therapy I was given during my stay there immensely helpful. I still use it. Back then I still lived with my MN abusive husband and that made things difficult but I still found the DBT exercises helpful once I returned home (things are a LOT better now that we’re not together). I believe they kept me able to just get through life on a day to day basis, even if I still barely managed it.

One thing we learned in the DBT classes was a simple little thing called “turtling.” Whenever you feel like you’re going to lose your composure and “go off,” you imagine yourself as a turtle retreating back under its shell. A turtle does this instinctively when they feel threatened; for BPD patients, “going inside your shell” teaches us to be mindful and THINK before reacting, because impulsivity is something that is a problem for us. In the classes, we made ourselves little turtles out of clay. It was fun and childlike making the turtles, and we even got to paint them and fire them in a small kiln afterwards. I remember carrying my turtle with me everywhere for awhile and pulling him out whenever I felt myself about to lose my composure. My clay turtle helped me remember to be mindful. I still have mine. Recently I found my turtle in the back of a drawer and pulled him out again.

I remember there was a young woman in those classes who used to cut herself whenever she felt her emotions going out of control. The video I posted last night talked about why so many borderlines cut themselves. Cutting is a temporary way to regulate emotions that seem out of control. Instead of “going off” and possibly attacking someone else, she would cut herself. She said she felt relief whenever she did this, like the lid being taken off a pot of boiling water. But after learning how to “turtle,” she told the group she no longer felt the need to do that. Turtling is an equally tactile but a much less self-destructive way to self-regulate.

It isn’t necessary to have a physical object like a clay turtle to be mindful and think before acting, but the tactility of it can be helpful and keep me grounded in reality.
I know this little exercise sounds kind of stupid and childish, but it really does work!

7 thoughts on “Turtle.

  1. That’s really cool, not childish. I have a bunch of tricks to help me with my depression. I wouldn’t b able to function as well as I do without them. I’m glad it’s helped.

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  2. I love this idea. I have issues with ‘going off’. But I have a little bean bag turtle that sits on my computer screen. I will have to try this next time.

    My therapist and I have been talking about different things to help with this. But this one has not come up yet. I will mention it to her. Thanks.

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    • The bean bag sounds good. It doesn’t even have to be a turtle. The turtle is a reminder to “go inside” though isntead of acting out.
      Even one of those stress reliever balls filled with wet sand or whatever the hell they put in those things would work well. Just squeeeeeeeezzzzeeee when you feel like you’re gonna “go off.”

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      • Yeah I have one of those stress balls too. In fact I have a couple of heavy rubber balls and a free wall and no one on the other side right now. So I like to bounce and catch. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. I have BPD (after spending 3 years+ learning, in depth using the dsm5 and online courses) about mental disorders as I knew I wasn’t normal(or bipolar like first suggested)… I really was/am clueless to who i actually am. Either I have a problem, or i’m a horrible person. To put it simply.
    I guess if you have family and friends to support you PLUS the support of a therapist then the turtle thing I imagine is a lot easier to use and conquer some stresse, as there are many other distractions around you for you to find focus on.

    As sad as I’m going to sound now, I live in my own small (might as well be) prison, I am almost completely alone all of the time, ever drifting away from humans and society.
    I wake up not sure how I will feel today despite having plenty of things to do and plans from the night before. Sometimes it’s overpowering thinking of how alone I am, just me and my brain,
    If i get overwhelmed by grief anger sadness etc, which sometimes are caused by the most daftest thing, I turn everything dark and go back bed and sleep, all day and night, enjoying my dreamworld betterl

    You have just confirmed my selfconcluded theory explaining why I shut the curtains and go to bed regardless of time of day – just like that turtle!… But a bit more bizarre setting i suppose. A long time alone can make brain wobble a bit if not strong enough one day.

    SOMEtimes really loud music is also a cure to the ear temperature that stops you hearing your own thoughts, the songs take over you. Has to be happy or singing or dancey songs. I actually tell storie by mixing music and that has really helped. I just have to wait for the creative me to be bothered and no downl

    It sounds so pathetic in writing but please be assured it’s been so long I’m used to everything now and have learned a lot. Im even taking my own course for behavioural therapy which touches on dialectical therapy and then il save again and do the dbt course. then i can play doctor on myself in worst case scenario given how long it takes to get any help here.

    What I ALSO (hehe waffle or what) to add. I used to cut myself, deep scrathes enough to bleed and scar, mainly for the ongoing sting and the lengthly time of healing (as I lack in iron,) which would become my own punishment for cracking to such an explosive level.
    I have not cut myself in 6 years, Within a week of being with a guy ,after only having 2 boyfriends my whole life, and the last one was over 6 years ago! because i dont like hurting people, so keep away until i understand myself.
    Anyway, By day 5 i was cutting myself and did so almost daily, deeper or longer marks until he left 3 weeks ago. I realised then that my crazy breaking point is markers deep in my head and heart some i know of, some i dont, about getting close or over thinking their motives etc im learning like i said. We have been calling on the phone constantly everyday and i miss him so much. I just need to teach myself somehow a trick to avoid the self inflictions. Im lucky he said he wants to help too. Ive never known that though so my head thinks it could be a lie.

    It’s hard cos he takes things wrong waytoo and too quickly!, always finding negatives to aim at himself with whatever words he can use from my sentence because hes had a lifetime of crap with his conditions. One of which is dyspraxia and slight frontal lobe damage. With my inability to explain what i mean easily and at the first time without over waffling (like now), between us it can be a disaster. I’m working on full energy to b alert and try to consider him but its hard when you dont trust him. (issues)

    Any suggestions would be welcome if you have made it to the bottom of this msg!
    Although i’m guessing not much can be done other than me and him keep talking few more hits no doubt until we get used to each others quirks and triggers if we can survive the beginning but. Failing that i run away and hide back in my bed for a few weeks if i cant fix my closeness fears and ruined this relationship too….but i currently have hope. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Keri, thanks for sharing your story. At least you know now what your problem (diagnosis) is. It’s common to feel like there’s nothing inside and feel empty all the time. I used to do what you do–sleep all the time and lose myself in the dreamworld, which I still prefer to real life. That’s actually a sign of depression, and I’m familiar with that. BPDs are often depressed. I’ve learned you have to make yourself a part of the world. It’s hard. It still is for me, as I tend to isolate myself just like you do. I fear rejection and being disliked that much!
      I’m glad you have decided to take a class in DBT skills. I wish I could afford to take a class in that again, but at least I have the book and know how it works. It really does help a lot. Never give up and never lose hope. It will get better. But I won’t lie–it’s never going to be easy.


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