If you’re not familiar with poker, the thing to understand is that you start a hand with some cards of your own, and you don’t yet know what other cards will be available to you to use in that hand. You have to “sign up” to play that hand by putting some money in the pot before the other cards are revealed, and there’s a minimum amount (the Blind) that’s essentially the baseline price of admission to play. Sometimes people will bid higher than the Blind (if the cards they CAN see bode well for play, or if they want their opponents to THINK that), but sometimes a player will hope to see the next few cards without investing a great deal up front. Calling the Blind, or going in for the minimum amount, is called Gypsying, or Limping in.
The other day my counselor told me several times that the word “Gypsy” describes me. (I don’t think he even knows that I literally do live on wheels, in an RV!) In that same day, reading a book about Borderline Personality Disorder*, I got forehead-smacked by chapter-headings titled “Playing the Dealt Hand,” and “Learning to How to Limp.”
With the word “Gypsy” on my mind, and the poker-connection of Gypsying or Limping, those headings felt significant, so I read mindfully; I believe in Messages rather than Coincidence. (“As my first Sponsor always said, “Coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous!”)
The chapter in question talked about practicing change, which can be “a monumental struggle” for a Borderline Personality. Okay, that sounded odd to me at first, given my own very-varied past performances in Life… On the surface, you wouldn’t tag me as a person who struggles with change.
In fact, if you look at my behavioral patterns over recent years, you’d probably say that I don’t Limp In or Gypsy (at least not in the poker sense) in most decision-making moments. I throw myself headlong into whatever I’ve decided to do, nothing half-assed about it.
You’d probably also say that my resulting Journey has been remarkably Gypsyish in nature—-in the sense my counselor may have intended, of “one who follows an itinerant or otherwise unconventional career or way of life”…
And perhaps the conflicting senses of that single word are suited in their own way—Borderline Personality seems to be defined by opposites.
I’m a black-and-white thinker in many ways, but I might change my mind about which is which. My old black is my new white. Or my old turquoise is my new pink. I’ve joked before that the surest way to ensure I WILL do something is for me to vow I will “Never” do it. In any given moment I am certain of my beliefs, and will act on them without pausing for thought… But I also coming to distrust my sense of Self because I’ve switched up my paths (and some beliefs) so many times.
Part of that is just LIFE happening. I have to make a choice based on the cards in my hand, before I get to see any of the other dealt cards. And it’s sometimes fitting that the “big reveal” of the next three cards is called the “Flop.” The trouble with a bad flop comes when I’ve bid high, putting a lot on the line rather than Limping In. And that’s where my Gypsyish propensity to go All In serves me more sadly than if I’d actually “Gypsied.”
Case in point: my ill-fated (and brief) marriage two years ago… I didn’t know much more about the man than his name when I said “yes”—and a great deal of what I did “know” turned out to be entirely fabricated. Within a matter of months I was broke, pregnant, and reeling, clutching annulment papers that he’d agreed to sign in hopes of evading criminal charges of polygamy.
That’s an awful example of a situation where there was no real reason to go “All In.” Instead of staking everything before gathering the pertinent information, I could have been unblinded by waiting to seeing his “cards” for the considerably lesser price of the Blind. (As a frustrated friend put it, “Have you heard of dating first? Maybe you should try it!”)
And here we have it—“Impulsivity” is one of the hallmarks of the Borderline Personality.
In other words, a defining trait of a Borderline is the habit of NOT consistently keeping habits. (Irony, anyone?) Along with that, consider the word describing Gypsyism: Itinerant, defined as “habitually traveling”… or you could say, habitually resisting Habit.
William Least Heat Moon wrote about traveling that “you are what you are right there and then [because] people don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” Imagine the freedom of defining yourself only by the present moment, without the context of habits or roles or expectations.
Now imagine the confusion when a Gypsyish Soul is asked to describe herself honestly. In order to accurately answer, I’d need a time-tag to the question! I’ll happily tell you all about myself yesterday, or two years ago yesterday—but those will be two drastically different depictions. No single snapshot-in-time would actually explain ME.
Where some people could self-assess with examples of accumulated life-choices, I’m truly at sea when faced with such an inquiry. (Please pause to send a prayer-of-patience to my poor counselor.)
I’m at sea. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for,” observed John Shep. Apply the analogy to people, and I’ve definitely been out there on the open swell—but feeling none too seaworthy of late, and I’m pretty sure my compass is fried.
My latest foray (and a type of travel for which nobody plans or packs!) consisted of ten days in a psychiatric ward. Strictly speaking, a foray isn’t just a brief excursion, but a sudden attack. Precipitated by my own mind’s attack on my Self, and reciprocated by the attack of the Self on the problem of that mind, those ten days functioned like a Pause button on the stimuli of daily life, giving me some time to study myself in something like a vacuum instead of in situ…
The hospital environment certainly fulfilled Least Heat Moon’s vision of a place-and-time where a person does not have to fill any expected roles. In there, I wasn’t defined or identified by being anybody’s daughter, mother, employee, wife. I was simply Kana. I hung out in hospital scrubs and (ironically, given the intensive amount of reflection going on) didn’t see a mirror for the duration.
While I was there, I began the Project of becoming more Self-Aware, questioning the assumptions about myself that I had been holding as absolutes, tinkering with my self-image and behaviors. (“Tinker” is an act of repair or invention. It’s also used to mean Gypsy.) And while Gypsycraft might usually refer to foretelling the future, I’ve undertaken the assignment of dissecting my present and past for clues to my Self. Clues to my own role in my own life.
When Kreisman & Straus wrote about borderlines finding “different aspects of their personality emerge in different situations,” I identified completely. As a kid, I loved a song my mother taught us that began, “If everybody had a tail and chose its shape and size”—and went on to enumerate the different types of tails one might choose for different functions. I was so enamored of the idea that I created an entire wardrobe of interchangeable tails to pin to my pants, and my sister and I played “Tail Monsters” for months.
If I offload the accessory appendages, who am I really? I find I’m overturning assumptions, and even some of the trivial discoveries can shake me a bit, just because it’s disconcerting to realize I’ve been wrong about mySELF. Case in point: I’ve been certain, for years, that I hate pink. My passionate protestations have achieved the level of “family joke”–I refused to dress my infant daughter in pink even though the world assumed the blue-clad baby must be a boy, and my husband Jon jokingly threatens to dress ME in pink if I misbehave…
Yet one evening in the hospital I found myself choosing a pink set of scrubs. (“These appeal to me. Do I wholly hate the hue?”) Imagine Jon’s amusement when I told him over the phone that I intended to buy a pink pullover when I got out. Yup, that’s right: I’m test-driving pink.
And okay, I like it. But even with an adjustment that is more symbolic than substantial, my brain can create complications. My black-and-white thinking (or in this case, pink-and-turquoise thinking) urges me to decide between the pink and my habitual turquoise shades of dress. Of course there’s no earthly reason for this to be a mutually exclusive choice, but my mind wants to make it one.
My entire closet (minus the single pink top) consists of shades of teal-and-turquoise, to the point that acquaintances refer to these as “Kana’s colors.” (I respond by joking that “when everything goes with everything, it’s easy to shop, easy to pack for a trip, easy to get dressed in the morning… When I find a great purse or scarf, it goes with everything!”) Apparently this has become important to me. I literally won’t buy a sweater I (otherwise) love, if it’s not in “my” color palette. If the addition of one pink pullover throws me into mental turmoil, I’m definitely having some identity issues.
All I can conclude is that some Gypsying (of the poker variety) is in order. No more jumping in till I’ve seen at least some of the cards.
And probably some Gypsying of the exploratory variety is in order as well—continuing to get to know myself, as it were. I don’t yet know what that means, but I’m open to the journey.
*The book on Borderline Personality Disorder recommended by my psych-doc “to see if it resonates” with me… Um, YES.
Kreisman, Jerold J. & Straus, Hal. I Hate You–Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality. Penguin, 2010.