Life in a Bind – BPD and me

Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and my therapy journey. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org. I write for welldoing.org and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges.


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Guest Post by Clara – Be gentle with me…

Sometimes I write poetry of dubious quality. As a teenager, and in my early twenties, I did it a lot. In those days, they were of even more dubious quality because some of my favourite poets were from the late 19th/early 20th century, and I tended to use the same sort of language, which made them a hideous combination of old and new. I have a tremendous fear of sharing my poetry with others – somehow, much more so than writing a piece of prose, it feels like complete nakedness and vulnerability. As a teenager, I wrote a poem about how scary it feels – it was in the style of T.S. Eliot’s ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. It wasn’t quite as dubious in terms of its quality, as some of the others. But today I’m taking a leap of faith and sharing this one. It feels odd to be reblogging my own guest post from this fantastic site, but I’m not that hot on blogging ‘etiquette’ or conventions! This was written before I became involved in blogging, hence the different ‘name’. Enjoy, or not, as the case might be – but don’t tell me if you don’t…. 😉

Day in the life of a Busy Gal...

FRIENDS FRIENDS (Photo credit: [Share the Word])

Fellow High-functioning BPD sufferer Clara was inspired by my recent poem Finger on the Trigger and decided to write her own poem using the format I had used. I offered to share it here for her as she does not have her own blog but wanted to know what I thought of her poem, I loved it and I’m sure you will too…

It’s about the painful push-pull that you can get in friendships between two people who both have bpd, something I’m sure a lot of us can relate to…

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All about Jane – Postscript

All about Jane. That was what I had originally wanted to call my blog, as it seemed to sum up my life for the past year or so. Jane, my ex-therapist – despite an absence of many months, she still feels like the mainstay of my life. How can that be possible when all the time we had together was fifteen one-hour therapy sessions, spread over a few months? Yet I started to grieve her from the very first day, when she completed a sentence I was struggling with, with a word that perfectly captured what I was reaching for. I knew our therapy was time-limited, and I still remember the contradictory aftermath of that first session vividly. Self-harming to distract from and give expression to the pain I was feeling at the thought of losing her, eventually. And an intense, burning desire to fill up my whole body, every inch of it, with pain, at the frustration of not being able to feel enough.

I wanted my post on losing Jane to stand alone. I wanted the grief to stand alone. But I also had a nagging need to write a postscript. Because I feel such guilt and shame at writing and sharing how I feel about that loss. I feel guilty for my grief. I feel condemned.

Jane is still alive, and I barely knew her (though I felt she knew me intimately). I don’t feel entitled to my grief. I feel I have no right to that emotion. I feel that it must be a slight on the grief of those who have lost enduring and long-standing loves to death.

I have lost in that way, as well, but Jane’s is the only loss that I have allowed myself to feel since my aunt died when I was ten. In two years of therapy, I haven’t dared to broach the subject of death. It’s entirely possible that unfelt grief of losses since, have become transferred onto and wrapped up into, how I feel about Jane. It’s just a theory, because I haven’t dared to explore it. Or maybe it’s just an excuse, to alleviate the guilt, and to justify the pain. I do  wonder why I was so adamant that I would allow myself to feel Jane’s loss, and not close myself off from it. Perhaps there is a degree of emotional safety in grieving when you know that you do not necessarily have to accept finality as part of the loss.

Some time on, and the possibility of resuming therapy with Jane, privately rather than through a free service, is now available. The possibility, but not yet the reality, as there is no space for me, yet. My life has become a series of markers in the sand  – a list of ‘not yets’ and ‘contact me again’, in two months or three, or after Easter. Now it’s after Easter. Now I’m waiting for another reply. I’m waiting to lay down another marker, preparing to live a little longer without the air I feel I need to breathe. I’m waiting to put down anchor. I’m waiting to come home.

In the meantime, my grief feels stolen – stolen from those who have more right to feel this way. And so I had to write a postscript, to say sorry, in case I stole from you.

 


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All about Jane – attachment and loss

I have a spent a great deal of time trying to write this post, but like grief itself, it just feels wrong. Like grief itself, it feels senseless, jumbled, confused, meandering. I go over it and over it, and just can’t make it right. So I have to let it be. I have to let the words, such as they are, communicate as best they can.

I wear a silver ring to remember her by. She liked silver jewellery, as I used to when I was growing up. Silver rings on every finger and silver bracelets on her wrists. I need a constant reminder of her, something to keep the memory of her alive, something to keep her real. But the ring wasn’t enough. I also wear a silver bracelet – maybe the more items that remind me of her, the more real she will feel, and more I can try and keep her with me.

The day I lost her was the first and only time in my marriage that my husband and I slept in separate rooms. I couldn’t describe what I was going through – I just needed space and time to grieve. I didn’t want to be touched, to be spoken to, to be with anyone else. I needed to be alone and to try and give it all expression, to pour it all out in tears, if I could. It was only a few hours later, but I felt as if my memory of her was already fragmenting, and as if I was already losing the reality of her. I felt as if I would shatter violently, as if I wanted to break out of my body, because there was just too much hurt to hold inside. The one week anniversary of the last time I saw her was a powerful re-experience of the devastation.

Over the next few weeks and months I put her name into Google repeatedly, even though I knew the result would always be the same, and that I would find nothing. I looked at the one document I had that had her name in it – somehow seeing it written down made her feel more substantial, confirmed the fact that she had actually existed, brought her closer in some very small way. Seeing her name, repeating her name in my mind was a strange kind of attempt to self-soothe, to fill the void left by her absence.

When I was out in town, I looked for her in crowds, searching for her face amongst those of strangers. Every day, driving past the windows of the building that we met in, I felt physical pain at the reminder and memories of her, as I looked up at the windows and imagined her inside. I felt a little angry at her for abandoning me – ‘a little’ was all I could let myself feel. I was still determined to keep her on her pedestal, still determined to halt the idealisation/devaluation cycle indefinitely, and keep her in an idealised state forever.

Any attempts by another, to provide the support that she used to provide, served only as a reminder of what I was now without, and brought fresh despair and anguish. I no longer had a ‘safe place’, an ‘anchor’. The sense of self-acceptance that had started to grow within me, entirely due to her acceptance of me, was fast fading away, and any little self-esteem I had left, could be pummelled into the ground by the weight of a feather.

As the months wore on the pain turned from a raging fire to constant burn  – a permanent ache but also a strange emptiness. Often, unless I’m feeling intensely, it doesn’t feel like I am feeling at all. But every so often, for no clear reason, an intense sadness and a missing of her, comes upon me and makes me utterly desperate for her again. In those times, the need for her is overwhelming. In those times, I cling pathetically (and thankfully, at a distance), to my two closest friends, transferring the unbearable need for her, into a desperate neediness towards them. And even outside those times, when I mention her name, the tears are never far behind. It takes just four little letters, spoken out loud, to reconnect me to the hurt.

In her absence, there is no longer anything to tie down the reality of her, or to keep me grounded. When she was in my life, she occupied her own space within it. That space was so large, that sometimes it left room for little else. And within that space she was adored, obsessed over, but still an idealised person of human proportions. But now that she’s gone, she has started to become less self-contained and the image of her is losing its integrity and coherence. It is as if the black hole of her absence has sucked in all meaning from elsewhere and attached it solely to her. The ways in which I have begun to think of her are quasi-religious. She is my Alpha and my Omega – my only hope, the only one who can ‘save me’. She stands for all that is good, noble, compassionate, caring, and for a million other things besides. Forgive me, for I have fucked up my life. Absolve me of my iniquities.

In her ‘elevated’ state in my mind, she has become less a person of flesh and blood, and more a philosophical construct, a concept of ‘the ideal’.

I want her to be human. I want her to be here. I want to feel again – intensity and love. I want her physical, perfectly imperfect presence. And it kills me that I’m grieving for someone who is still alive. That we could continue to share the same city air, until one of us dies, without me ever seeing her again. Trying to grieve, while living with the possibility of reconnection – is this what purgatory feels like?

Just as it was the last time I saw her, I don’t know how to end. I think a close friend of mine summed it up as well as anyone could ever do, in four short words.

Darling, grief does you.


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A good psychiatrist

I have absolutely zero doodling talent. Thankfully, ‘A Frequent Sadness’ has bags of it, and shares it on their excellent blog, along with some great words of wisdom. Given my preoccupation with therapy and therapists alike, I thought I would reblog this particular gem. I wish my therapist was like this! If you like this one, do check out lots of other great doodles and great words over at their blog site…..

A Frequent Sadness

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I know it might sound odd to some, but it seems that a few qualified doctors or profs are great at theory and have worked hard for their degrees, yet have very little sympathy or empathy for their patients. Experiences recounted to me by friends have shown times where the doctors ask unhelpful questions, such as “how would you like me to help you” (I don’t know! You’re the one who’s supposed to tell me what’s going on!) And “does the window look attractive to you? Do you want to jump out?”. I’ve  no knowledge of psychology theory- but whatever methods these doctors are using, it’s just not helping anyone.

Another thing is that these doctors are not necessarily sympathetic to your cause. They might allow their personal leanings (such as political preference and a diehard love of the theories they have developed or learned) to make them judgemental of…

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Suicide – Blog for Mental Health 2014

*TRIGGER WARNING – SUICIDAL IDEATION*

I have spent a couple of weeks thinking about what I wanted to write about in my ‘Blog for Mental Health 2014’ post. Being in pain has crystallised that for me, and what I’m writing about is not quite what I expected. I thought I would expand upon the summary in my ‘About’ page, of who I am, and my diagnosis. But I knew this morning that I had to write about something else.

I spent yesterday evening reading through the Lost All Hope website. The first time I came across the site, many months ago, I was looking for a quick and painless way to die. Yesterday, although I felt unsafe, desperate for connection to someone or something to keep me anchored and feeling as though I was still a part of humanity, I knew deep down that I was extremely unlikely to ever cut the ropes of this life in a bind. But I did know that I needed help. Suicidal ideation – ‘Help me’.

I wanted to write, but I didn’t feel that I could. I didn’t feel it would be fair – on you. I have always handled my emotional and mental health difficulties alone, and the damaged part of me very strongly believes that I should continue to do so, that  grown-ups shouldn’t need support. The scared part of the damaged part is also afraid of being overwhelmed by emotion, either her own, or others’. She is therefore terrified of overwhelming you and driving you away with hers. The scared part is hard to own, hard to integrate, and she feels so very very young.

I couldn’t write, so instead I read. Maybe it’s the style in which the pages are written –very personal, very conversational. I felt as though there was someone there with me, talking me through what I was feeling. Trying to convince me that hope was not all lost. I was struck by this particular paragraph on the page describing the author’s own story:

“ ..if there is anything missing from the lives of the suicidal, it is connection with others. Being seen and loved as we are. To think, there are millions of people crying out for the same thing…..and it isn’t even something that requires great skill or money to attain.”

And that is why I’m writing about suicide in my ‘Blog for Mental Health 2014’ post. Because a large part of blogging for mental health, at least for me, is connection with others. Despite (for those of us who find it necessary)  the anonymity or pseudonyms, we write to be ‘seen and loved as we are’. To find those tens, hundreds, even thousands of others who are crying out for the same thing.

Connection, understanding, compassion, support – the desire to give and to receive them, without judgment, but just with love. The Lost All Hope website talks about the fact that ‘helping people’ can provide a possible reason for living. The author says that it can be as easy as speaking to someone.

I hope that my blog can speak to someone. I would like to help. To show support, to provide understanding, to educate, to make the smallest contribution towards erasing stigma so that maybe one day, more of us can use our real names when talking about our real stories.

Through writing, I want to try and re-educate the part of me that feels I have no right to speak out, or to lean on others. I want to give myself permission to feel angry, hurt, scared, and yes, angry, and to be able to express those feelings in words. I have talked about therapy being some of the best care that we can seek for ourselves, but so is this.

Finally, I would like to take part in the ‘Blog for Mental Health 2014’ project because I have been inspired by so many wonderful bloggers who have been open and raw and honest about their mental health difficulties. But it goes beyond inspiration – I am immensely privileged and hugely grateful to be able to call a couple of them my friends. And I am touched beyond measure that one of them was just a text away yesterday and today.

So here is my ‘Blog for Mental Health 2014’ pledge:

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

If you would like to learn more about the project, or take part yourself, do visit this page.

Suicide is a dark topic to write about, but I hope that the message of this post is hopeful. I didn’t want these words to be about what led me to the place I was in last night. I wanted it to be about the lights that can illuminate small corners in those dark places that we sometimes find ourselves in, and guide us to safer waters, when we need it most.

 


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PayBACS – a tale of BPD splitting

“Please pay by cheque or BACS”.

An ordinary little phrase at the bottom at my most recent bill from my therapist, who I have been paying by cash for the last few months. Brief, polite, perfectly innocuous. And also the spark that lit the touchpaper of an almighty episode of splitting which occurred during and after my therapy appointment a couple of weeks ago.

Let me explain.

The evening started off perfectly ordinarily. That is, I felt usually dysthymic, and was driving to my appointment wondering what I should talk about that week. Grief over losing my ex-therapist? No – overdone. Feeling uncared for in my current therapy sessions? No, potentially too confrontational (at least, in my head), and I wasn’t sure I had the energy for either a lot of crying or a lot of criticizing. Rather serious difficulties in my marriage caused my long-term irritability, withdrawal, giving my husband the silent treatment, and a whole host of other BPD related symptoms? Probably – for one thing, my therapist actually tends to talk a little more when we are on the subject of my marriage. Which for me, is a good thing. An ongoing issue between us is her tendency to leave long silences and to let me do most of the talking, and my frequent paralysis in the silences, and desire for more of a discussion.

But I digress.

I entered the room and in an instant, the mood (not that there was one, other than in my own personal headspace) changed. Sitting on the table next to ‘my’ chair were three books by Susan Hill. I had talked to my therapist about the complex emotions I had felt while reading a Susan Hill book recently, and the fact that I had then blogged about it. We discovered a mutual love of the author (or, at least, I discovered that she had read a number of Susan Hill books, and this immediately became a peg off which to hang a ‘mutual passion’ and a ‘point of connection’ between us).

But this was something else besides.

On the one hand, my therapist was simply lending me some books. As she said in a later session, she was aware that there was a break coming up over Easter, and wondered whether the books might help to ‘tide me over’. But on the other hand, the little pile of books on the table (carefully chosen, it seemed to me, to cover the topic of grief and loss, which she knew was a preoccupation of mine), was an indication that she had actually thought about me between sessions. And not just thought about me – had thought about what I might like or what might be useful to me, and had then taken action to do something about it. Maybe, it was even an indication that she cared about me – just a little bit. Purely professionally, of course. But still, that was caring of a sort.

I was elated – smiley, happy, chatty.

The tone had been set for the rest of the session. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, but it felt good. I  felt that we were getting on, that we were getting somewhere, that we were connecting. She felt friendly to me. When I looked at her, I saw laughter and kindness in her eyes. She didn’t seem stern, as she sometimes did when I felt suspicious, wary, or confrontational towards her. I know that a lot of it is projection – the way she looks to me, and how she comes across to me during a session, is very much a function of how I feel towards her at the time. I project my feelings about her, onto her, and see them reflected back at me. But somehow the intellectual appreciation of the fact, doesn’t change my ‘emotional reality’ – knowing it isn’t the same as emotionally believing it.

I was most definitely ‘splitting’.

And she was most definitely in the ‘good’ camp. In the ‘blazing white’, though short of a halo (as that status belongs only to my ex-therapist), camp. As I drove home, I had several ‘OMG I love her’ thoughts. Not in a completely obsessional, utterly taken over, ex-therapist kind of a way, but in a ‘isn’t she great, I just love her’ kind of a way. I felt warm and fuzzy inside. I was looking forward to the next session, and thinking I might even be able to broach the ‘wanting to feel cared for in therapy’ issue, without too much embarrassment and without it feeling too difficult or confrontational. I thought it might even feel safe. I arrived at home and parked in front of the house. I took out her bill that I had picked up just as I was leaving the session.

“Please pay by cheque or BACS”.

What the **** was she trying to do to me? It was an instant flare-up of anger. It was a physical sensation of being punched in the stomach when I least expected it. It hurt from head to toe. And there was an awful lot of swearing going on in my head. [That’s the only place it tends to go on – I’m sadly far too repressed to actually verbalise the swearing. I get a secret pleasure out of hearing my friends swear – of all the ways to live vicariously…..!].

I hated her. With a passion.

All my most deeply felt criticisms of her came flooding back into my mind, and any trace of positive emotion was gone. How could she do this to me? This was just another example of her behaving in an X, Y, or Z kind of a way. It may have said ‘Please pay by cheque or BACS’, but what it actually meant was…..

I sense a bit of interpretation may be required.

BPD can make you hyper-sensitive to criticism. It can make you hear or read things into words or sentences, that aren’t really there. It can assign meanings to something said or written, based on a huge amount of personal history and ‘baggage’, rather than on what was intended by the other person. When my husband asked me to fold my car wing-mirrors back when parking on our narrow road, in case they were hit by another car, all I heard was an attack on the way in which I chose to park the car, a demand that I should act differently, a desire to control me by getting me to do things his way, and a lack of willingness to help in car parking endeavours (as in the rest of life, or so went my train of thought…..).

Sometimes, it feels as though BPD is a rather defective and less amusing version of BabelFish in which some words go in, some inexplicable and rather bizarre process happens, and a whole set of different words and meanings come out, which may be a million miles away from the original. It’s a bit like one of those online binary translators. You put in a three word sentence and a whole paragraph of binary comes back. It’s like when you ask your husband to go to the supermarket and he comes back with a completely different set of items to the ones you requested – but far less funny. [Although I know that when repeated more than once, or on the day of a dinner party, it is not remotely funny].

It’s like a cruel form of Chinese whispers where the end result is not just a variation on the original, but a hurtful, painful and completely twisted version of the original.

These are the thoughts and feelings that ‘Please pay by cheque or BACS’ raised in me.

I have been doing something wrong, and you have not corrected me. You let me continue to pay by cash, when you didn’t really want me to. You let me persist in doing the wrong thing – how could you? It’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating. It’s making me hate myself. You have made me hate myself.

Once again, you have not been upfront with me. Why did you not mention it in person? You know I place huge importance on you being straightforward and honest with me. Why could you not have raised it at the start of the session, as my ex-therapist would have done? How could you not realise that I need you to be upfront and to enforce boundaries? You don’t understand me at all. Letting me pay you in a way which isn’t helpful for you, does not appropriately maintain your professional boundaries. If you don’t maintain those, I cannot trust you.

Why couldn’t you have talked to me about this? Why are you being so cowardly? If you can’t deal with talking about money during a session, how could you possibly deal with any of the horrendously embarrassing and excruciating things I might want to talk about during session? How could I feel comfortable being open with you, when you aren’t comfortable talking about this with me?

“I don’t understand you, I don’t care about you, I can’t talk to you, I don’t respect you, I can’t be honest with you.”

The physical pain continued. The intense frustration of having been dropped from a height and been massively let down, was building. I wanted to quit therapy. The pendulum had swung wildly. It had been a while since I had self-harmed in order to ‘punish’ someone else (although the ‘punishment’ was always completely ineffective, as the ‘someone else’, whoever they were, never ever knew).

But it was time for payback.

So I did self-harm. And I did feel better. I had an inappropriate mental vision of a sine curve with a very large amplitude and a very short period. And having tried to use lessons learned in therapy to rationalise my way out of the situation, I took one of my own Susan Hill books to the next session, to see if my therapist wanted to borrow it. It’s hard to squash the never-ending cycle of the desire to push away and the desire to connect. But that’s the subject of another post……

 

[Splitting is very common in BPD, and leads to ‘all or nothing’ or ‘black and white’ thinking (and, one might say, black and white ‘feeling’). In BPD splitting, an individual may see themselves, or another person, as either entirely good, or entirely bad. Fundamentally, ‘splitting’ is all about a difficulty in holding opposing feelings, thoughts or beliefs about oneself or about another person, and an inability to bring opposing attributes together, and to see them as part of a cohesive whole. Splitting is one of the nine DSM IV criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder (a manifestation of at least five of the nine is technically required for a diagnosis), and the criterion is worded as follows within the DSM: “A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.”

I haven’t tried to give a factual overview of splitting in this post, but to describe how one particular ‘splitting’ episode felt to me. There are a number of excellent blog posts and online articles on splitting, which can be found through a quick google search, all of which do a much better job of describing it, than I would do! But reading about it is not the same as reading about how it feels, or reading an actual example of how it can come about. And for me, it is always those personal stories that resonate the most and mean the most, because of the immense relief and comfort of realising that others feel the way I feel, and are going through similar things. I didn’t even  realise that this criterion of the DSM applied to me, until I read others’ blog posts regarding their own particular examples and experiences of this phenomenon. To me, ‘black and white thinking’ had always been a question of ‘intellectual flexibility’, and as I was always fairly adept at arguing both sides of an issue, I thought this meant my thinking was rather ‘grey’. It took reading about others’ experiences of splitting to help me to realise that not only was it true of me, but it perfectly described the way I felt in a number of situations, and about a number of people. I finally realised that ‘black and white thinking’ wasn’t really about thinking at all – it was about feeling, and those feelings shaped one’s views of others and the world. I hope, therefore, that though short on facts, this account may be similarly helpful to someone who wants to know more about BPD splitting, either because they are wondering about it in themselves, or because they are seeing it or experiencing it from someone else. ]


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When Do I Tell My Kids?

Wow – this is a tough tough question that I know I will have to address at some point over the next few years, and so posts like this are very encouraging, and, I think, quite rare. Have you seen any other good posts about being a parent with a mental illness, and the challenges this poses? I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has a post, a link, or a story to share!