Trigger – unhappy: that is me. The DSM-IV Criterion 1 for Borderline Personality Disorder has really been getting me down recently, and has been firing up the synapses in my brain left, right and centre (or maybe that should be just left and right).
Criterion 1, ‘Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagine abandonment’ is manifesting itself as hypersensitivity to anything that might be construed (or misconstrued) as rejection, being ignored, misunderstood, sidelined, or not being cared for. And as usual, it’s some of those who I feel closest to, those who I have ‘let in’ and confided in, who are setting off these chain reactions in me. I observe those reactions and responses within myself, and I find them on the one hand self-centred, irrational and abhorrent, and on the other hand completely irrefutable. ‘Intellectual knowledge’ of the reality of the situation doesn’t seem to affect how I feel about it, or the way in which I interpret it. I know one thing – but I feel another.
Triggered: A school friend who I told about my blog several weeks ago, has not yet mentioned it, and seems to be oblivious to the fact that I’m reliving the pain and grief of losing my ex-therapist all over again. I know that she hasn’t had a great deal of time to read it recently, as she has been away, and at my own request is reading posts in chronological order and may not have encountered the relevant entries. But I cannot feel what I know. Instead, I feel hurt and resentful. Instead, I regret ever telling her about my blog, or about my mental health difficulties in general, and I see this as just another reason why my pain should be kept private after all.
Triggered: Another school friend, who also has BPD, was meant to call last week for a chat but didn’t, because she was numbing her own pain with alcohol. A few days later she failed to call again, because she was taking a friend in trouble to the Minor Injuries Unit. I know that she had received some bad news on that first occasion, and that she could not have foreseen the situation with her friend, who obviously needed her. But I cannot feel what I know. Instead, I feel as though it’s just another example of how she responds to others and is emotionally available to them when they need her, but not to me. Instead, I feel angry at myself and at her for needing her, and for feeling helpless in the face of that need.
Triggered: My husband came back from a weekend away, and didn’t give me a hug or any indication that he cared or wanted to know how I had got on while he was gone. I know that he was just reacting to the fact that I was withdrawn and silent. I know that each one of us was waiting for the other person to act and speak first, and that the months and years of inadvertently misunderstanding and hurting each other, has led us each to try and protect ourselves first and foremost, from further hurt. Instead, I felt suicidal – utterly desolate and alone. I felt unreal and unloved and unworthy. I felt rejected and I retreated further into myself. He thought I was ignoring him and that I didn’t care. I was trying to cope with wanting to die, because I felt he didn’t care.
Triggered: My therapist took what felt like an age of silence to think and phrase an answer to the fact that I had just told her that I had been experiencing difficulties with our therapy for some time, and that I had a decision to make about whether we should continue. I know that she was just thinking, and trying to assimilate what I had revealed, and reply in the way she thought best. But I cannot feel what I know. Instead, I felt as though I was on the knife-edge of abandonment – that as I had just revealed that I was thinking of leaving her, she would decide that she could no longer see me. It took every ounce of effort not to break the silence and tell her how unbearable the knife-edge was. How I was both shattering inwardly and at the same trying to burst out of my skin to escape the feelings of rejection, disapproval, and uncertainty of what was coming next.
Triggered: My ex-therapist, Jane, responded to my frantic efforts to avoid the very real ‘abandonment’ of never seeing her again, by saying that she did not think it was advisable to have just a couple of sessions without the prospect of ongoing work, and did not maintain contact or have friendships with those she had seen in a professional capacity. I had followed ‘numbness and denial’ with a desperate plea for something more, though with the very real fear and expectation that it would come to nothing.
I know that Jane had to reply the way she did. I know that her reply, though devastating in its finality, was necessary, and everything I have come to expect from her. It was professional, maintained boundaries, and was written in the spirit of keeping us both safe. I asked her to be honest – and she was. But I also asked her to be gentle – and she was. Her reply was reassuring, validating, clear, and above all, caring. Not in any obvious way – I can only wish that she would come out and say it! But it was there, in every other way – in the things that she didn’t say, as well as in the things that she did. And here’s the curious thing. I do feel what I know.
I knew Jane for weeks, not years. I have had virtually no contact with her for months. But, despite all the odds, and despite the difficulty that I (and many others with BPD) have with object constancy, and holding on to the reality of another individual, in their absence – I still believe that she understood and cared about me. That she cares about me. Perhaps almost as much as being abandoned by her in the present, I was terrified her reply would shatter my perfect and idealised view of her. That I would be abandoned by that sense of caring and the reality of the work we did together. The sense of self-acceptance that she gave me has vanished. But the sense that I was cared for by her, is, miraculously, still there.
I’m not oblivious to the fact that I may be particularly trigger-unhappy at the moment because I could be splitting off any negative emotions I may have had about Jane’s ‘abandonment’ and am transferring them onto others. I have always been passionate about ‘protecting Jane from myself’ and from any possibility of devaluing her, or reducing the height of her pedestal even by a millimetre. I don’t feel angry at her. I don’t feel rejected by her.
But do I know what I feel?