Do you “catastrophize?”

When I sat down for a day shift in my home office yesterday morning, my company laptop started beeping at me like a bat shrieking in the night after I booted it up, with an error message populating across the screen before I could so much as log in. I scanned the QR code on my phone camera, and once I tapped through to the Dell help site, a description awaited me for the error code.

“Hard Drive – Not Installed.”

My heart started to pound. My thoughts started to race. My breath caught in my throat.

I took the error code to mean I had been fired over the weekend. I must have done something so egregious, my employer couldn’t even be bothered to give me notice. Surely, they remotely uninstalled my hard drive instead so I couldn’t inflict any more damage.

So convinced was I that I was now unemployed, I snapped at my poor grandmother when she asked me a poorly timed question. Like a drowning man, I tried pulling her under with me.

But naturally, when I reset the computer, I came to discover my life as I knew it wasn’t over, after all, and that morning’s melodrama could have been avoided altogether had I thought to turn it off and turn it back on first.

The above anecdote is an example of a cognitive distortion known as “catastrophizing.” I have no doubt my dialectical behavior group therapist will agree with me when I tell him about it later in the week.

Catastrophizing isn’t unique to my diagnosed mental illnesses, of course (bipolar I, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD). Yet I can’t help but wonder if I’m more susceptible to it because of my BPD – to be sure, what is a personality disorder if not a body of thinking errors? Combined with the persecutory delusions from my PTSD as well as the psychotic and schizophrenic symptoms of my manic episodes, I sometimes hold my grip on reality at arm’s length.

Indeed, catastrophizing is about jumping to the worst-case scenario without critically seeking out dissenting evidence first. As recently as this afternoon, when my team lead thanked me over Slack for taking initiative on a project, it set me to pacing about the room as though the tone of her message were sarcastic when, in all likelihood, it was nothing more or less than positive reinforcement.

Which is why healthy self-talk is so key, not just for you, but for the sake of everyone with whom you share your community. Because the narcissists and the sociopaths from my past abused me so holistically and at such an impressionable age that I now internalize their behavior as systemic self-oppression, nothing but negativity lies ahead for myself and everyone else around me unless I lead a revolution in my own mind and actively challenge this illogic as intrinsically as it manifests itself in my psyche.

Otherwise, I lose patience with my loved ones over nothing, and I react to my colleagues like they’re passive aggressive when they aren’t.

Running on fumes

On Tuesday, May 24, I messaged my Talkspace counselor about how to combat feelings of emptiness. What I at first thought of as a symptom of my borderline personality disorder turned into something more.

Earlier this week, I texted two Millennials – an “elder Millennial” in his forties, and one more my age (late twenties). I asked them both if they ever felt “empty.”

They both answered enthusiastically and emphatically in the affirmative.

It only makes sense, doesn’t it? According to Fortune, “the average millennial carries about $28,317 in debt, not including mortgages.” If the federal minimum wage is seven twenty-five, then it would take just shy of two years of working full-time, before taxes (or any other expenses, for that matter), to pay off such a debt, which doesn’t even calculate interest.

And I use the minimum wage as the extreme example here because many Millennials – myself among them – are “underemployed,” meaning we’re working outside our educational fields (and we’re paid like it, too).

In other words, we accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pay for college based on the false promise that these graduate degrees would land us higher-paying careers. Instead, we’re working jobs we settled for like we’re indentured servants to these predatory student moneylenders.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles to get by working two jobs, and one of them is an internship paying more than twice the minimum wage. What days off I do get, I spend resting up for the following work week, when I come back in and repeat the cycle all over again of generating revenue for faceless elites who don’t even know I exist, much less that they’re effectively feeding off the best years of my life. Indeed, these individuals surround themselves with ambitious sycophants who lie about the injustices that prop up their disproportionate privileges, and it is they who make up the institutions of oppression which threaten the very future of humanity with war, climate change, and an ever-widening economic gulf between the billionaire class and the global majority.

So, no, the “emptiness” I feel isn’t some pathological symptom of my borderline personality disorder, because my friends without BPD feel the same way.

It is a perfectly logical response to a life I never asked for, and wouldn’t have, if given the choice.