Sarah Woods Is Unborderline

Sarah Woods Is Unborderline

by Monica Ashtyn Agius


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The path from a place of isolation, loneliness, and sadness to a place of happiness, self-fulfillment, confidence, and self-love wasnt an easy one for Sarah Woods.

In this captivating autobiographical fiction, we read of the self-discoveries Sarah made to recover from borderline personality disorder (BPD). Sarah tells the story of how she scrutinized her beliefs, upbringing, and behaviorspulling them apart and starting all over again to build a healthy, well-rounded, and grounded human being.

Throughout the book, we get a taste of Sarahs childhood, dating, parenting, and therapy experiences; the discoveries she made about herself; and her strategies for building healthy relationships with BPD.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504395830
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 02/07/2018
Pages: 108
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.22(d)

About the Author

Monica Ashtyn Agius is from the beachside suburb of Umina Beach in Australia. Monica is passionate about mental health and the impact mental illness has on individuals, families and the wider community. In her first work of fiction Monica creates an authentic character who gives hope that recovery from mental illness is possible.

Read an Excerpt



1. an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or might happen in the future

2. something that causes a feeling of fear and worry

3. eagerness to do something

4. a medical condition in which you always feel frightened and worried

The word anxiety appears many times in this book, in almost every chapter in fact. Even though uncomfortable nervous feelings had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember I didn't realise what they were or realise that I was experiencing anxiety.

Anxiety for me is a feeling of unrest, of something that keeps popping up in my head, of needing to 'slow down' my thought processes, and of feeling like I need to get something out of my head but being unable to. While it is normal for everyone to have anxious feelings from time to time, some people can be diagnosed with anxiety as a mental health condition on its own, or it can be a symptom of another condition such as BPD. When you consider that people with BPD have problems with relationships, self-identity, problems managing their intense emotions, and are prone to participating in damaging impulsive behaviours it is hardly surprising that they experience anxious feelings. My anxiety is usually about one of two things: fear of being abandoned (related to my abandonment lifetrap) which is a big part of BPD; and feeling uncomfortable about 'not knowing'– not knowing what will happen ... not knowing what someone thinks of me ... finding the wait to 'find out' unbearable.

My first memories of anxiety are of when I had my first job at Time Zone (a video amusement centre for kids and families). On a few occasions when I would have to call in sick or to change a shift I would feel immensely nervous before hand, like I was going to be sick. I would make the phone call and it would go well with my manager being understanding and friendly about the situation but the nervous feeling would become a big bad lump in my chest and I would feel even worse after the phone call than I did before it. I could never quite work out why I felt that way but now I think it must have been that I was worried about what my manager would think of me. After replaying the conversation I had with my manager over and over in my mind, without feeling any better, I would always end up calling my best friend, Jamie, who helped me to see the situation rationally and calm down.

The truth is I grew up surrounded by anxiety and learnt that being anxious, especially about new situations and what people thought of me, was the norm.

As a child I would go to school friend's birthday party and when I came back there would be a heap of questions from my parents. Of course, there would be the usual questions like, 'Did you have fun?' and 'What games did you play?' But there were also questions about other people's responses, like, 'Did she like the present?' 'What did she say about the present?' 'Did anyone say anything about your new dress?' I was learning to be concerned about what others thought of me and to tune in to their responses and reactions to me.

I was also learning to worry and think the worst of situations. When my brother and I were little and would go to the beach with our cousins, the other children would have fun climbing on the rocks to look for crabs and other sea creatures with their parents watching from the distance, while we weren't allowed to join in unless our parents were by our side, because my mother was concerned that this was a dangerous activity and we may get hurt.

All parents have their own style of parenting and I know that mine were doing the best they could to show love, care, and protection for their children. It is interesting that the same parenting style can have a different effect on each child – while I developed anxiety and have strong memories of being parented in an anxious and overprotective way my brother doesn't share these problems or have the same memories. Do I experience anxiety because I was an oversensitive child – paying far more attention to the fine details of my parent's behaviour, moods and words than most other children would have? Was it because I was more obedient than my sibling and would listen to my parent's instructions – sitting to the side and watching other kids climb on rocks at the beach, while my brother was more inclined to sneak off and do it anyway? Would I have developed anxiety regardless of the environment I was raised in? Was my experience different than my brother because I was the first born? I will never know the answer to these questions, but I do know that for some reason I picked up on the well-intentioned concerns of my parents and grew up with them becoming a part of the way I also perceived the world.

I didn't realise that I had become conditioned to have 'anxious' thoughts until I was 21 years old. On this day I had a psychologist appointment to go to but I was worried about driving in the expected storm. I remember ringing my psychologist and telling her I couldn't come to the appointment because it was expected to storm and her response was to question where I got that crazy idea – why did I need to cancel the appointment because of a possible storm? That day I made a decision that fear and anxiety would stop then and there and I wouldn't let them be a part of my life anymore – I would create a new norm of behaviour.

And so I began living life with gusto ... if something scared me I did it more! I did it until the fear went away – climbing on the rocks at the beach, going out when I hardly knew anyone, swimming in the ocean, competing in sporting events where people might 'watch me' and think I wasn't good enough – I fought against my anxiety as hard as I could to live a full, adventurous and fun life. But anxiety reared its head in other ways ... Not being able to let go of things and thinking about them again and again is called rumination and is a big part of anxiety. Just like the conversations with my manager (when I called in sick for work), I have always tended to repeat conversations over and over, analysing what was said and how it was said, wondering whether I should have said something a little differently and how that would have changed situations. There were times when my rumination drove me crazy and I wished I could silence the ongoing thoughts about everything and anything.

My anxiety was at its worst after my separation with my husband. My husband and I had been married for seven years and had only recently moved away from Melbourne to the coast to try to live a simpler life by the beach. With no connections on the coast the move meant leaving my fulltime job, leaving my family and friends, and starting from scratch. As scary as that might sound I was excited about the opportunities it brought with it – a life by the beach, being a stay-at-home mum for the first time, and hopefully rekindling a marriage which had been beyond stale for over two years. Unfortunately, three months after the move my husband and I decided there was nothing to save and we had taken each other as far as we could in our lives together – we got each other to our dream location and lifestyle by the beach and that was as far as our journey would take us.

If being a single mum in a town where I knew nobody, with no source of income, and raising two kids virtually on my own wasn't stressful enough, I then started dating a man who I will call 'Grumpy Tradie'.

Grumpy Tradie was always upset or angry about something. Spending hours listening to him grumble about how stupid someone at work was or how the price of fuel is too high or how a loaf of bread isn't as big as it used to be was common place. I didn't mind supporting Grumpy Tradie as he talked through his 'hardships' but soon I became a hardship too and everything I did was cause for complaint or the silent treatment.

There were constantly things to worry and feel panicky about with Grumpy Tradie. Did I say the wrong thing? Why was he upset at me? How long before he breaks the silent treatment? When he finally breaks the silent treatment will he be nice to me or horrible to me? Being in that relationship caused me so much anxiety that my memories of that time in my life are of me being a jittering mess – sitting still but tapping my fingers repetitively on the table while staring into space; and of me being a lifeless mess curled up in the corner of my bedroom too exhausted from crying to cry anymore.

Even when I wasn't a jittery or lifeless mess my rumination was driving me crazy and it felt like there was a constant chatter in my head about things that had happened, conversations which had been had, and things that were coming up. There was so much uncertainty. At the time, the only thing which helped to silence the thoughts was antianxiety medication. I required such a high dose of medication to silence the thoughts and provide some peace that I became zombie-like as a side effect. To get through the day I needed a three-hour nap after lunch, and my care factor about anything was almost non-existent. It wasn't a great way to live but it's what I needed to do to get through a period in my life when the repetitive thoughts were unbearable. Eventually I realised that I needed to cut down my medication so that I could function and to find other ways to manage the anxiety which then resurged.

Anxiety is such an uncomfortable feeling. Unlike depression which makes me feel like I am slowly coming to a grinding halt as the cogwheels become harder and harder to turn, anxiety keeps me awake, jittery, panicky, constantly worrying, moving constantly and with a feeling that I need to take action – to do anything to fix and stop the thoughts and unsettling feelings of 'not knowing'.

I eventually learnt some great strategies for managing my anxiety (meditation was a big one) and with the work I have done on myself my exposure to situations which cause me anxiety has drastically decreased (for example, I stopped dating men who treated me poorly). That's not to say I don't experience anxiety at all (even trivial things like waiting to hear from someone to lock in a date in my calendar can cause me to be anxious). However, having a word for that horrible feeling and understanding what it is, has gone a long way toward managing it.


Obsessions and compulsions

At about the same time that I started seeing a psychologist during the last years of my marriage I noticed there were a large number of things about myself which I didn't understand and which were bothering me:

Why was it that while waiting at my kids' school (at either drop off or pick up time) did I feel the urge to pounce on my kids' teachers with something 'important' to discuss, even when there was nothing to discuss? I tried to control this by telling myself over and over as one of their teachers approached that I would just say, 'hi', but at the last minute I was always compelled to jump up and discuss something with them. This behaviour was driving me crazy and I could tell by the way the teachers avoided eye contact with me that it was driving them crazy too!

Why when drinking water from a drink bottle did I always need to take six mouthfuls and couldn't put my bottle down without doing so? If I went over I would need to start counting my mouthfuls again at number one, until I got back to having had six.

Why when encountering a new man of about my age did my mind immediately jump to thoughts of falling in love with him (despite being married)? And why was I compelled to find out everything I could about him via Google and Facebook?

Why once I was single did my obsession with finding a partner have me compulsively using dating sites – needing to check my profiles hourly rather than every so often. I knew this was unnecessary, excessive and probably a deterrent to anyone getting to know me, but I couldn't control the urges to keep checking.

When I started seeing a psychiatrist we realised I had Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD) which is a kind of anxiety disorder and often also occurs in people with BPD.

When people think about OCD they think about people who need to have their house or desk in perfect order, wash their hands excessively, or need to do things the same way every time. There is more to OCD than that. A simple explanation of OCD is excessive thoughts (obsessions) which lead to repetitive behaviour (compulsions).

In more detail, the obsession part of OCD is unwanted thoughts, urges or impulses which cause distress. The person tries to ignore, supress or neutralise these thoughts urges and impulses with some other thought or action. This is the compulsion part of OCD. While the person may not get any pleasure from carrying out the behaviour it helps to give some relief from the obsessive part of the disorder.

For example, with my obsession for dating sites, I was constantly thinking about finding a relationship and how miserable my life would be if I was forever single. Checking my dating profile gave me a sense of short-lived relief from those thoughts. While you might think that this behaviour makes sense because having an active online dating profile is likely to increase the chances of meeting someone, I could have had similar results by checking it once a day only. Checking every hour wasn't productive and it didn't feel good, it just gave temporary relief from the obsessive thoughts and anxious feelings. It was also very time consuming and made it hard for me to be productive at work, home, and in relationships with my kids, family and friends.

To make things more complicated, when my psychiatrist and I started looking at my diagnosis of OCD we realised that I had a less commonly known form of OCD called Pure Obsessional OCD or Pure O. This is when the obsessions are unwanted thoughts or mental images of committing an act which we consider harmful, violent, immoral or inappropriate. Have you ever seen a person with crutches walking down the street and found yourself thinking, "Wouldn't it be funny if they fell over?" and then feeling shocked with yourself that you thought something so awful? Where does such a thought come from? This is a little of what it is like to have Pure O.

Pure O has given me repetitive brief thoughts of disgust toward people that I love and care for deeply.

Pure O has given me repetitive thoughts of wanting to kiss a man I used to work with even though I found him very unattractive.

Pure O has put images in my head of pushing over an elderly or disabled person so they fall to the ground.

Pure O has given me thoughts and impulses to snatch food from people's plates while they aren't looking.

Over the years Pure O has put other thoughts into my head which are too distressing to share.

Before I understood the diagnosis of Pure O I questioned why I would have such horrible thoughts given that I knew I was a good person and would never intentionally hurt or harm anyone. But that's the thing with Pure O – the thoughts are always of things which are so far removed from anything we would ever do which is why they are so disturbing and cause feelings of shame and disgust with ourselves.

My psychiatrist told me a few stories about the kinds of thoughts some of his patients with Pure O had experienced to reassure me that I wasn't alone in having these experiences. Imagine being a new mum and having thoughts of sexually abusing your baby every time you change his nappy. My psychiatrist told me about this patient to help me feel less upset about an intrusive thought I was experiencing. This patient was so shocked and disgusted in herself because of the thoughts she was having. She tried everything she could to keep the thoughts away including changing her baby's nappy in different rooms of the house, changing it while talking on the phone as a form of distraction, singing songs while changing the nappy, and waiting for as long as she could until someone came over or her husband came home from work (so they could change the nappy instead). Another story he told me was of a lady who had intrusive thoughts that her landlord (who was an absolutely lovely man) had raped her. Whenever he came over to collect the rent or do maintenance on the apartment she would be terrified of opening the door and letting him in because of the thoughts which kept popping into her head.

Imagine having thoughts like this pop into your head at random times. Imagine getting through life this way – having to ignore the thoughts of your mind. Before I understood that these thoughts were a part of a disorder (and didn't mean I was an evil human being) I often saw suicide as the only way out – because how do you live with that kind of evil going on in your own head? Fortunately finding out about Pure O and having confirmation from my psychiatrist that people with Pure O never act on the thoughts allowed me to continue.

Luckily for me the medication I am on to manage my anxiety has also helped to reduce my OCD and Pure O. I have also been able to develop some strategies for managing them when they do occur.


Excerpted from "Sarah Woods Is Unborderline"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Monica Ashtyn Agius.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Dedication, vii,
Introduction, ix,
Sarah Woods is Unborderline, ix,
Prologue: My story, xv,
Chapter 1: Anxiety, 1,
Chapter 2: Obsessions and compulsions, 7,
Chapter 3: Abandonment, 12,
Chapter 4: Triggers, 19,
Chapter 5: Fear of abandonment, 26,
Chapter 6: Codependency, 34,
Chapter 7: Emotional deprivation, 39,
Chapter 8: Self-soothing, 44,
Chapter 9: Addiction, 50,
Chapter 10: Unrelenting standards, 54,
Chapter 11: Mindfulness, 59,
Chapter 12: Shame, 64,
Chapter 13: Grace, 71,
Epilogue, 75,
A note from Sarah Woods, 79,
References, 81,
About The Author, 87,

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