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How I Learned to Love Failure and Beat BPD at Its Own Game

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“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”Samuel Beckett

I still remember the moment when my psychologist pointed out that my mental response to failure is the same as my mental response to success. I was 18, sitting on a well-worn and comfortable chair, and it was only the beginning of our third session, but honestly, I can’t remember what else he said.

That revelation had me entirely enthralled.

Years later, when I finally got the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) at 26, I thought back to that moment and more things started to make sense.

I’ve never been able to enjoy a success without an immediate and pressing feeling that I should be doing “much much more” overshadowing it. I often thought it was something to do with how I was brought up: in a family of incredibly intelligent people, and expected to follow in similar footsteps and leave similar legacies. Sometimes I thought it had something to do with the fact that if I didn’t show I was willing to put in 120 percent, I wasn’t willing to put any work in at all, according to society.

I suppose, in a way, it is both of those things and much more. But knowing what I know now about BPD, I’m sure more than half of my negative delusions take root there.

Unfortunately, as many of us with BPD know, simply knowing something is hardly enough to beat it. We fight so often, and so hard, against negative and dangerous stereotypes, that even bringing our mental health up in regards to our work ethic is inconceivable. More than that, many of us absolutely hate to have anyone consider us weak for something in our minds we can’t control.

And while it’s true that a lot of our thoughts and responses are uncontrollable, there is one advantage to having a condition that programs you to respond to failure as you respond to success — that allows you to circumvent the programmed processes and walk proudly through a rather large loophole — and I am living proof of it.

During a typical nighttime trawl through social media one evening, I discovered an amazing article that put me into a similar thrall as my initial revelation in this article had. In brief, the writer of the article spoke about being a writer and facing constant rejection, and how difficult it was turning that rejection into something positive and meaningful for her career. She mentioned how someone she knew had started to aim for a certain number of rejections a year for their stories, thinking that if they submitted enough to get so many rejections, surely between those she would have some acceptances as well.

As a writer myself, this immediately touched something very raw: rejection sucks, and it is constant. I remember turning my phone off and considering the article for a good long while. I got mad at it — which, for me, almost always means that the topic is something applicable to my life and my conditions — and then I became determined to try this approach with my own work.

I started collecting rejections at the start of 2017, aiming for 100 by the end of the year.

In all honesty, I didn’t think this would do anything but aggravate an already oft-poked bruise. Not only do I respond badly to rejection, but having a record of it, something I could always see, would surely send me into anguish and anger.

Surprisingly, I found that my first rejection — and the first mark against my hundred — didn’t come with the desperate need to work harder, and “do more” as previously unrecorded rejections had. Instead, I felt more determined than ever to send the story out again to see if I could get a second mark to my hundred within the week.

And then it hit me: I’d broken the loop. I’d hacked the system.

Suddenly, my “rejections” were no longer failures; at least, not in the logical sense. Because wasn’t my goal to collect rejections? Wasn’t success marked by how many times I could fail?

My mind didn’t know how to respond. On the one hand, it should upset me that something I so loved and worked hard on was given back without more than a generic rejection letter. But on the other hand, I was one step closer to my goal of 100 rejections in 2017. I was making progress and moving forward, not backward, with my work.

The feeling of determination only grew with every rejection after. I started to get excited to see something fail, because it would mean success for me in another plan. I wasn’t wasting energy anymore, I was merely connecting it to another part of myself that would fuel me to be more motivated. 

As of June 2017, I have 28 rejections on my list — 28 moments of failure that I managed to redirect into something far more useful — all thanks to my brain that responded to success and failure the same way. Now, with every rejection, I still feel the urge to do so much more, but it is no longer accompanied by the choking feeling that once followed alongside it. My failures, now, are a goal with a quota to meet. They are just as important, in my mind, as my successes are. 

I hope that this story pulls a similar response from you as the article I read did from me. I hope it makes you a bit mad. I hope that you set it aside and consider it and then — with angry determination — implement it into your own life. Because I can’t think of a more liberating and more exciting thing than knowing you can hack a condition that wants to claim control over you.

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Thinkstock photo via DragonImages

Originally published: June 22, 2017
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