Why Boundaries Matter

For years I couldn’t feel anger. I was so used to stuffing it down inside myself, that I only ever took my anger out on myself. At the partial hospitalization program I’ve been attending, they talk about how anger is a secondary emotion, how it is usually the result of some other emotion. And that makes sense to me, because I think for me anger is usually secondary to hurt. For years I couldn’t feel anger, I just felt the hurt and at times betrayal. Then I went through a lot of trauma specific therapy and all the anger that I’d suppressed for years came flooding out. It took a lot more therapy, but I eventually got to the point where I can feel anger without being afraid of losing control. I began to be able to experience big emotions or fluctuations in emotions without them taking control of me. And then this past autumn happened.

I knew my partner was polyamorous when I met her. I was aware of this but kind of filed it away because we were living in a really rural town for years where dating prospects were pretty slim. Then we moved back to the Boston area, but my mental health was such that she didn’t seek out other romantic partners. But over the summer and early fall, it became clear that she was interested in potentially dating other people outside of our marriage. I had a lot of fears about going forward with her dating, mostly the usual things like “What if she decides she likes this new person better than me? What if she leaves me?” that came up many times in therapy as I processed this. And over time I began to believe that she meant it when she said she wasn’t going anywhere. But then she told me who she wanted to try dating and I just had a bad feeling about it not just because of the worries I mentioned above, but also because the person she was talking about, I’ll call her C, had given me a bad feeling when we met.

I love my partner and I wanted her to be happy, so I said okay, even through these bad first impressions and neither of us could really tell if I was uncomfortable with Miss Insecurity because she generally sent off warning signs in my head or if I was just going to be uncomfortable with anyone my partner was dating. So I said okay and their relationship began. And it was awful. For six weeks, C managed to not just manipulate my partner but also acted in ways that were borderline abusive towards me. She continually started conversations with me online and then ghosted on them after I responded, sometimes not replying for a full week. She tried to make me help her process her feelings of jealousy and upset when I tried to set boundaries with her. She patronizingly tried to explain to me how relationships worked and how I was being a bad partner. She used guilt to try to manipulate my partner into spending more time with her when my partner genuinely couldn’t due to scheduling constraints that didn’t work with C’s constant travel plans. C had jealous fits that I wouldn’t expect out of someone who’d been having polyamorous relationships for twenty years. When my partner had to occasionally turn down invitations for dates, she got upset that I got to see my partner all the time when in reality there were weeks where my partner and she spent more time together than the two of us did living together.

I spent the first few weeks of their relationship feeling very isolated and alone. I tried to set boundaries as a way of protecting myself and C took my setting them out on me. She made everything about her feelings and told me I was bad at relationships. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening because C made me feel like the only reason I was struggling was because I was bad at polyamory. She told me that I shouldn’t talk about the issues that she and I were having with my partner, essentially trying to take away the one person I could talk to. I felt like I couldn’t reach out to mutual or non mutual friends because I was internalizing her message and was afraid they would judge me harshly. I spent the last few weeks of their relationship an anxious wreck every time my phone vibrated because I was afraid it was C trying to start shit with me again. I had trouble sleeping and meeting obligations because I was trying to deal with this alone.

But then I just couldn’t do it anymore, not alone. I started talking to friends who were also in polyamorous relationships about what was actually happening and they were horrified. One friend who knew C through other channels responded by e-mail that they’d heard that my partner and C were dating and that they felt “a moment of both horror and deep love for” me because they had also had bad experiences with her as well. Other friends told me how they were horrified by the way that C was talking to me because being polyamorous themselves they would NEVER had talked to their partner’s partner this way. Person after person, friend after friend share their horror stories of dealing with C. I finally started to feel less alone. I wasn’t happy that my partner was still in this relationship because of the ways it was affecting me, but at least I wasn’t alone in my feelings anymore.

I had refrained from talking about any of my problems with C because I didn’t want other people to have to pick a side and I didn’t want to damage her relationships with mutual friends. I tried to be the bigger person. I continued to treat her with respect even though she didn’t extend the same back to me. Even months after the breakup, I limited my discussions with mutual friends to protect her. And really that was the thing that made my partner finally end this toxic relationship. She was contacted by a mutual friend who said they wanted nothing to do with me anymore because C was trash talking me behind my back, lying about things I had said or done and framing them as her feelings so no argument against them could be made. That was the last straw. My partner met up with her to break up. C failed to mention she was drunk and the breakup took until after 3 AM because my partner had to wait for her to sober up enough that she’d actually remember the conversation in the morning. Yeah, it was a three hour breakup.

So why am I bringing all of this up now? Because C is still, unsurprisingly, bad at boundaries. And this is still, perhaps just as unsurprisingly, affecting my life. I am angry at her behavior, I am anxious of the way she may treat me after the next conversation that she and my partner have about respecting boundaries. I’m anxious that she’s going to try and turn our mutual friends against me as she has in the past. I’m angry that months after my partner broke up with her, that boundaries are still continuing to be violated. I was talking to a mutual friend last week and her reaction was that it sounded like we had both been hurt by this relationship. And I wish I’d had the strength to tell her that it wasn’t just that we’d both been hurt. That C had been actively manipulative and toxic and abusive during the six weeks she and my partner were dating and that it went beyond not inviting us both to the same gathering. I wish I’d had the strength to not just shrug and agree. I don’t know where to go from this point, but I need to figure something out because right now every time I see her face, I’m a ball of fury and hurt and recognizing that anger is a secondary emotion doesn’t make me feel any less angry by the situation.

A Familiar Holding Pattern

After Amelia’s death in January, the depressive episode I was in got worse. I waffled about going back to the partial hospitalization program (Triangle) that I attended in June because it felt like maybe my depression wasn’t bad enough to warrant me being admitted to it and besides what if there were other people who needed the services more than I did. Yeah, I apparently have imposter syndrome about accessing mental health care. But that was what I was thinking, distorted or not, and after some gentle pressure from both my psychiatrist and my therapist, I gave in and got my therapist to call and schedule an intake for me. That was about a month ago.

Even though I felt shitty about taking up space in Triangle, I went in for my first day on February 19th. I was trying to push those thoughts aside and just focus on recovery when I read a statement online that wound up being the destabilizing event that my brain had apparently been waiting for. I wound up not really sleeping much that Monday and felt pretty crummy heading into the PHP the next day. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d read and the implications for what could happen and my thoughts just spiraled into despair. I made it through the first couple groups that morning and then just couldn’t make my brain stop. I asked one of the clinicians if she had a minute and followed her through the back hallway into her office. She was so kind to me and all I could think was what if it was me this time. What if the thoughts running through me took control and I didn’t make it home that night. We talked for maybe ten minutes. Well, she talked and I sobbed. I wound up meeting with the psychiatrist I’d been assigned to and she wound up sectioning me to a nearby ER to be evaluated for an inpatient bed. The irony of being terrified of taking someone else’s much needed spot in the program and winding up being transported across the city by ambulance to spend a week on a locked inpatient unit was not lost on me.

The hospital was okay. They were really lacking in structured activities, so I spent most of my time hanging out with other patients and playing with art supplies. I started another journal and probably filled half of the notebook before I left, mostly to get thoughts out of my head and also because I was just bored. The hospital psychiatrists made a bunch of changes to my meds. There were some not great moments, patients having meltdowns and breaking furniture, the guy who tried to commit suicide on the unit minutes after I’d been taken to my room, the guy who literally ignored me all week but who would sit at the table across from me and flirt with the women there as if I were invisible if I tried to continue being involved in conversation with the women I’d just been talking with. He’d go so far as to talk around me, change the subject of the conversation, or depending on who was around, switch into Portuguese so I couldn’t interject. But things were pretty okay. I found camaraderie in some of the other patients. I burrowed under the occupational therapy department’s weighted blanket that they loaned me.  I gambled with the hospital kitchen, trying to order as many non-water beverages on my meal trays as possible and seeing what they’d cross off. (I think my max was one cup of hot water for tea, one cup of hot water and no sugar added hot chocolate mix, a cup of diet ginger ale, and a diet cranberry juice.) I felt pretty safe and supported.

I wound up celebrating my 35th birthday while hospitalized. I wasn’t really looking forward to my birthday because Amelia’s memorial was scheduled for the following day and it just felt weird to celebrate something after what had happened. My partner came by for a visit that night and brought me a slice of cake, with two other friends which I was not expecting at all. I missed the memorial, of course, which was felt complicated. I tried to distract myself that day, reading over the pamphlets on grief that the interfaith chaplain had given me, hanging out eating way too much no sugar added sorbet and playing games that I continued to suck at and lose. We marked the passing of time by waiting for our next meals, having long forgotten what we’d ordered by the time it arrived. I drank a lot of tea. I was discharged after a week, and referred back to Triangle the next day after spending a night getting much better sleep in my own bed.

The meds change has been interesting so far. The psychiatrist I saw in the ER increased my evening antipsychotic dose because he felt that would help with the ruminating thoughts that were keeping me up at night and added a sleep med. The inpatient psychiatrist I saw discontinued one antidepressant I’d been taking and lowered the dose on another because she though it might be making me more anxious. She also started me on a mood stabilizer which has mostly been making me drowsy during the day. I hear this side effect most likely will pass with time and I’m starting to feel a bit more alert this weekend, so I’m hoping it will eventually be fine. I am noticing that when my mood drops during the day it isn’t dropped as fast or as low so hopefully the med will do what I need it to do after we figure out the right dose for me. I actually woke up feeling really good this morning, even if it didn’t last throughout the day. It’s way better than I felt three weeks ago, or even a month ago. I’ll just have to wait and see what comes to pass.