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 under the name Clara Bridges.


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Why I won’t be writing a blog post this weekend

[Quotes are from ‘Love the way you lie Part II’ by Rihanna, featuring Eminem]

“On the first page of our story
The future seemed so bright
Then this thing turned out so evil
I don’t know why I’m still surprised
Even angels have their wicked schemes
And you take that to new extremes
But you’ll always be my hero
Even though you’ve lost your mind.”

For three months I listened to no other music but this song. I listened to it on repeat – hundreds, thousands of times. It was my break-up song – the break up of a long-standing friendship that was an almost-fatal casualty of BPD. But not just my BPD – hers too.

Until two years ago she knew nothing of my mental health difficulties. Until two years ago, we were fine. And then I told her, and we were no longer fine. For six months we were caught in a constant cycle of push-pull on both sides, which fed off itself like nothing else, as we constantly triggered each other. To add fuel to the fire, I developed an obsessive attachment for her, and that fanned the flames of our already destructive relationship. I experienced frequent ‘splitting’ towards her – she was perfect, she was evil. She told me she could cope with that – she lied.

“In this tug of war you’ll always win
Even when I’m right.”

In the end, it wasn’t the ‘push’ that pushed her away, it was the ‘pull’. I killed her with kindness. I sent her so many friendly, caring, overly affectionate messages, so many messages asking her to visit and talking about all the things we would do when she did – that she felt pressured, persecuted and manipulated. The longer she stayed silent, the more persistent I became. I can’t deny that somewhere deep inside I knew where this was going; that part of me was steering the ship towards the iceberg that would quicken its sinking. On some level, I’d known for months that this was coming. On many occasions, I had been desperate to cut her out of my life completely; desperate to escape the feelings of powerlessness and dependency that she triggered in me.

“And it’s sick that all these battles
Are what keeps me satisfied.”

This song is about domestic violence. I never laid a finger on her, except to hold her, crying, in my arms. But I felt every inch the abuser; the emotional abuser. I was guilt-ridden and tormented by the thought that the part of me that was addicted to intensity had been feeding off the emotional storm of our relationship. That part of me had been sustained by the energy of the roller-coaster ride, though it turned our lives upside down and made us sick with pain.

“So maybe I’m a masochist
I try to run but I don’t wanna ever leave
‘Til the walls are goin’ up
In smoke with all our memories.”

Thankfully, the waters of our friendship ran too deep even for obsession and BPD to suck them dry. Or maybe we were just lucky that having faced only six months of hell, and both being supported (by this point) by caring therapists, we were able to slowly start to rebuild our friendship and talk about where things had gone wrong. I am no longer attached to her in the same way, and our friendship will never be quite the same again. Maybe that’s a good thing –  but I also think that we will always, to some extent, trigger each other.

The last time I saw her, around four months before we ‘broke up’, we spent a whole day closeted in her flat, engaged in intense and sometimes distressing conversations. On the one hand, seeing her was wonderful. But it was also one of the worst weekends of my life. I was full to the brim of emotions that were there but that I couldn’t connect with, couldn’t feel and couldn’t express. I desperately needed to cry but no tears came. I had an overwhelming desire to self-harm, my frustration levels were through the roof and I felt as though my insides were one massive itch that I could not scratch. By the end of the weekend I wanted to die and it was all I could do to stop myself pulling over on the car journey back home and ringing another friend to tell her that I felt like driving  into the central reservation.

She is coming to visit me this weekend. It will be the first time I have seen her since things went so horribly wrong. The first time in eighteen months.

Wish me luck.

 


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In my dreams

I love to dream. Day-dreams, night-dreams – they have always been an escape. Sleep without dreams, or at least, without recollection of dreaming, feels unsatisfying. When I have vivid dreams, I feel as though I have had a refreshing, deep sleep – although in reality, the most vivid dreams tend to occur in the last part of the sleep cycle, when one has already come out of the deepest sleep phases. Perhaps it is simply the fact that when it comes to vivid dreams, I feel ‘fully immersed’ – deep in the dreaming world, if not in deep sleep.

I have always found it difficult to live in the present. My waking thoughts are constantly full of situations and conversations past, or more likely, imagined future conversations and role-plays. Often, those conversations provide a way of escaping the sense of helplessness and lack of control in the face of whatever is hurting me at the time.

Much like the daydreams, night time dreams have also provided a means of escape from whatever has been going on in my life. Dreams, of course, often replay the themes of ‘real life’, but the settings are often different. But even when I feel no need of escape, I still look forward to dreaming in order to try and satisfy that great craving for the one drug that so many with BPD feel they cannot do without – the drug of intensity. Vivid dreams have always been a powerful source of intensity for me. In the strength of their emotion, they feel far more ‘real’ than real life. They have more colour, more depth, more connection, than most day to day events. Intense emotion feels like the ‘gold standard’ that all other emotions aspire to.

It’s not surprising, then, that I should court those dreams and those emotions. I feel extremely fortunate that, unlike many with mental health difficulties, I am not afraid to go to sleep, and my sleep is not besieged by nightmares. I have had some extremely distressing dreams, in which I have felt overwhelming sadness and have woken up crying and afraid. Dreams of illness, of loss, of death. Dreams that made me resolve, in the middle of the night, to try and live in the present, to stop being self-destructive, to try and live a long and healthy life. But for whatever reason, by morning, the impact of those dreams has severely diminished, as has my resolve. The only thing that stays with me, is the afterglow of intensity, and the sense of having felt alive. The emotions may have been intensely negative, but the imprint of intensity outlives the memory of the felt pain.

For me, my nightmares have not been of the sleeping kind – they have been waking nightmares in the middle of the night. The real-life fear of dying or of going mad. The terror of one’s brain forcing the mind to get to grips with its own non-existence. This terror plagued me as a teenager, and when I left home and went to university it transmuted itself into Panic Disorder. In those middle of the night episodes, the fear of death was not so much about existential angst, as about the seemingly inevitable consequence of the terrifying physical symptoms of panic, including tightness of the chest, shivering, and sweating. If that is what sleeping nightmares feel like to so many, no wonder dreaming can be dreaded, and can be the very opposite of refuge.

More recently, my desire to dream has been driven not just by a need to feel, but by a need to know. I have never been convinced by ‘formula-driven’ dream interpretation where dreaming about ‘X’ always means ‘Y’. But it’s becoming ever clearer to me that dream interpretation can be a legitimate and valuable part of therapy. That being said, I think it’s important to remember that there is never one ‘objectively correct’ interpretation of a dream – there can be several different interpretations, working at different layers and from different perspectives, none of which can make sole claim to the truth, but all of which can have something valuable to add by way of understanding oneself or a situation, better.

I have just finished reading Irvin Yalom’s ‘Love’s Executioner and other tales of psychotherapy’. I can highly recommend it, particularly if you have an interest in the process of therapy; but one of the things that struck me most, was the use that Yalom made of dreams, to better understand and get to the core of his patient’s difficulties. One client in particular, though distant and closed-off in sessions, nevertheless had another identity, ‘the dreamer’, who spoke to the psychiatrist about the patient’s deepest needs, through his dream life. The work of therapy was eventually concluded when the patient had integrated the part of himself represented by the dreamer, and the two spoke with one voice.

Over the last few months, I have occasionally been awed by the amazing ability of our brains to take the circumstances of our lives, our thoughts and our emotions (conscious and subconscious), and to weave them into a complex, rich and beautiful dream tapestry that can be so revealing of what is really going on in the deepest parts of our being. About a year ago I had a dream in which I made a cut across the top of my foot, along the base of my toes. I realised there was something inside that I had to get out, and very slowly, I managed to extract what turned out to be one of those clear plastic name-badge holders that one is given at conferences or meetings. There was a white piece of paper inside the holder, but it was blank. It was as if to say: “Who are you? What is your identity? Are you finding an identity in self-harming? Is it starting to define you?”

For years, when growing up, all of my dreams (or at least the ones I could remember) involved being chased. I was always ‘running away’ from someone, though most commonly, in my dreams, running away involved flying, in order to escape. Flying is often associated with lucid dreaming, and it’s certainly the case that I have a number of dreams (not all of which involve flying) in which I am aware that I am dreaming, and can control my environment. Although I cannot choose which of my dreams are lucid, it is perhaps one of the reasons why nightmares are less frequent for me, and why my dreaming holds fewer fears.

More recently my dreams have been not so much about being chased, but about trying to escape. A couple of nights ago, having escaped a ‘prison’ made of glass, I found myself on the roof of a very tall building, unable to climb down to safety. A group of my old school friends stood below, and one of them started to climb up the outside of the building to try and help me down. Half-way up she lost her footing and tumbled to her death, slamming down on her back on to the hard concrete. She was a friend I had not been particularly close to – but she was also a friend who looked (physically) more like me, than the others.

I wonder what my therapist would make of that dream. I wonder if she would think it was about therapy, and about her. The truth is, when it comes to her, I feel locked in an endless idealization/devaluation cycle: one minute feeling trapped and rendered helpless and vulnerable by my efforts at transparency, another minute feeling free and on top of the world, yet all dependent on how I think and feel about her at the time.  Is anyone who tries to help me, doomed to fall, metaphorically, to their death? My therapist said she had a hunch this week, that she would be ‘in the naughty corner’, due to a mistake (albeit an innocent one) that she had made. But little does she know that she is not in the ‘naughty corner’, but ‘in the dock’, and I feel as though I am putting her on trial almost every week. Will she ever be able to demonstrate sufficient proof of her caring? Will she ever be able to climb up the high walls of my defences and reach me, even rescue me? Alternatively, is that brave and foolish climber, me, or another part of me? I have felt, for the last few years, that in order to recover and be ‘rescued’, I need to become someone else, and thus put part of me to death. But in my dream, one part of me died, but the rescue was ultimately unsuccessful. What conclusion can I draw from that?

To quote and misinterpret a mis-quote of a famous quote: “we are such stuff as dreams are made of”. Literally, we are the stuff of our dreams, and the more I think on it, the more I am convinced that there is a role for our dreams, in helping the fractured parts of ourselves communicate with each other and express themselves, until one day, they can speak in unison, with a single voice. I have always loved to dream – but now I hope my inner dreamers will love me back, and help me heal.

 


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Blog awards (Postscript) – running for cover

I realised that in writing my recent post about blog awards, I completely neglected to mention how I was planning to respond to the two nominations for awards that I received. And I believe that as well as my thanks, which I have given, the two people who nominated me should know what I plan to do, and why.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am honoured and very glad to be nominated. I often doubt myself and my writing, and receiving the nominations gave me much-needed encouragement and motivation, and I can draw on that in times to come, when those doubts return with a vengeance.

I would love to accept the awards – but I do not think that I can, for two reasons. Firstly, when addressing my concerns over finding the time to respond to the nomination in accordance with ‘the rules’, Tempest Rose (‘Nonsense and Shenanigans’) told me not to feel under any pressure, but to ‘just keep doing what you’re doing’. ‘Doing what I’m doing’ is what led to the award, and for so many reasons, I need to ‘keep doing it’. I don’t know if I will receive any other award nominations (particularly after these last two posts!), but I would like to be consistent in how I respond, and following the rules involved with each one, would inevitably take time away from ‘doing what I’m doing’. Secondly, although everyone reacts differently, I’m conscious of the anxiety and pressure that I felt under, to respond to the nominations and to ‘follow the rules’, and I wouldn’t want to visit that on anyone else, however unlikely that might be.

I would love to accept the awards, and I wish that I could accept them without following the rules – but somehow, I feel that that would be disrespectful to the individuals who created them. Perhaps these are now the ‘blogging community’s awards’  – perhaps we now ‘own them’ collectively, and can individually decide how to respond when we are nominated. But until there is some sort of consensus on that, it wouldn’t feel right for me to simply change the terms of the award. I have always felt bound to play by the rules, and if I cannot follow them, I don’t feel I can play. I hope that doesn’t sound moralistic or judgmental – it is certainly is not intended that way. These are my own internal drivers, and this is a very personal decision. I am most definitely not saying that others should make a similar decision, and in fact I have greatly enjoyed reading the ‘award posts’ of those who have accepted awards and have ‘followed the rules’. Those posts are often very insightful and illuminating of the individuals involved, and help us to get to know them better.

Thank you again, H&J  (‘The Bipolar Bum’) and Tempest Rose, for your kind words and for the nominations themselves. Your words have already shown me that you will understand my decision, and not be offended by it. I am crossing any and all limbs that can be crossed (which for someone as inflexible as me, is not very many), in the hope that others, particularly givers and receivers of awards, will also understand my posts on this subject, even if they do not agree.

The extent to which disagreement can make me feel uncomfortable (with the exception of the purely academic and philosophical sort) continues to amaze me. Having now posted my views on the subject of blog awards, I am metaphorically ‘running for cover’. Until the next post, and with reference to the last paragraph of my previous post, you will find me hiding under a large mountain of cake.


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Blog awards – a few thoughts (probably neither inspiring nor influential)

I suffer from the common, though rather irritating affliction, of wanting to be liked. Other than during some rather self-destructive phases, when I am in what I like to call ‘fire starter’ mode, I prefer to avoid offending anyone, and I run a mile from confrontation. And so it is with quite some trepidation that I embark upon this post, on the subject of blog awards. I have a mental vision of losing all my followers at a rate of knots – I almost wrote ‘in droves’, and then realised that that would give you a somewhat inflated notion of my popularity. I really don’t want to risk offending even one or two, but the subject has been on my mind for a little while, and part of me feels driven to give it an airing, nervous though that makes me feel.

As bloggers, we write for many different reasons. We write for ourselves; we write for others; we write for healing, and for expression; we write for understanding and for support, both to give and to receive. We write because we need to; we write because we must. But regardless of the reasons why we write, I believe that most of us would like our writing to mean something to somebody, and until someone tells us that that’s the case, we dare not hope that it is true.

A few weeks ago I was incredibly honoured to be nominated for two blog awards within the space of a few days. ‘The Bipolar Bum’ nominated me for a ‘Very Inspiring Blogger’ award, and ‘Nonsense and Shenanigans’ nominated me for a ‘Most Influential Blogger’ award. I have thanked them both for their nominations, but I haven’t managed to post the awards on my blog, or indeed to ‘officially accept’ the awards by following the rules associated with them.

Before I go any further, please let me say this. I don’t disapprove of blog awards. I don’t think they’re a bad thing. I don’t think they’re silly, frivolous, or pointless. In fact, quite the opposite. I believe that blog awards are an enormous compliment, and believe me, I’m a huge fan of compliments. I went on a course once where one of the ‘bonding’ exercises involved giving each other compliments, and out of all the courses I have ever been on, it’s the one thing that’s stuck. I like to give them, genuinely, as often as I can. Not to get into anybody’s good books. Not to get something in return. But because I think that it’s an important thing to do. It’s far too easy to fall into the habit of only speaking up when there’s something to criticise, and forgetting to say anything when there’s something to admire or praise. So when seen and taken as compliments, blog awards can be immensely important – they can touch, motivate, build up and inspire.

But I do have some concerns about the ‘chain-letter’ aspects of blog awards, and about the number of ‘rules’ attached to them.  Perhaps this is just a function of my anxiety, perfectionism and rather obsessive nature – but I know I’m not the only one. I have seen a number of bloggers either gracefully decline an award, or express some anxiety over the nomination, and in many cases, it tends to come down to a similar set of reasons, a key one being time.

I was completely surprised, and absolutely thrilled, to receive my first nomination. But almost immediately, the thrill started to be moderated by an anxiety, bubbling below the surface, about finding the time to reply and act on the nomination. Many blog awards are accompanied by a list of rules that most often include answering a number of questions about oneself, and listing a number of other bloggers (sometimes up to fifteen) who you wish to nominate. You may have noticed that I have a problem being brief. Try as I might, I can’t use one word where ten would do. I used to use twenty where one would do, but blogging is teaching me the art of self-editing. I’m still learning.

Given that fact, and my compulsion towards perfectionism, I know that I would spend a great deal of time both thinking through and writing, the answers to the questions involved in these nominations. And then there’s the rule about nominating a handful of other bloggers for the award. How could I possibly choose? For someone suffering from the aforementioned ‘wanting to be liked’ affliction, the idea of naming some and omitting others, can cause not-insignificant discomfort and uncertainty. I was incredibly thankful when ‘The Bipolar Bum’ replied to my concerns about the fact that it might take me a while to ‘pay the award forward’, by telling me not to worry, and to simply take it as the compliment it was meant to be. I heaved a huge internal sigh of relief, as my anxieties started to dissipate. I certainly had not wanted to offend the very person who had expressed their appreciation for my blog, in this way.

To paraphrase the other part of ‘The Bipolar Bum’s’ message to me, I don’t believe that the nomination of an award should place a burden on anybody. I don’t believe that it should put anybody under pressure, or cause anyone anxiety. I know that these things are the very opposite of what the awards are designed to do. I’m also sure that these things are the very opposite of the feelings that those making the nominations, would want the recipients to feel. At the end of the day, I know that my responses, while valid, are perhaps towards one end of a normal distribution (in the strictly statistical sense!), and are a function of my mental health difficulties, which no one else should feel responsible for. However, I can’t help a wry smile at the irony of the situation – these are blogging awards given by and for those with mental health difficulties. Perhaps then, we in particular should be mindful both of the importance and of the potential impact of the awards.

So for anyone thinking of creating a new blog award – may I make a small and very personal plea?

First and foremost, please make it clear that it’s a compliment – freely given, to be freely received. A compliment is a gift. Please make your award a gift – no strings attached, no rules to follow. An award recognises what has already been done and achieved, it is not conditional on what is still to be done. There is so much that we have to do in our day to day lives, from the routine, to the mundane, to the extraordinary, where the extraordinary could mean simply living through another day. Please make it clear when nominating someone, that nothing more needs to be done. By all means, give ideas or suggestions for how the nominee could mark receipt of the award, if they wished. They could put a logo on their page; they could write a blog post about what the award means to them, or about some aspect of blogging; they could share a favourite song. You could encourage them to nominate at least one other blogger for the award, if they so wished, and perhaps to say why they had chosen that nomination. But you could equally encourage them by reassuring them that it is fine to just accept the award, and do nothing.

If I were allowed one ‘rule’ (or at least a strong encouragement!), it would be this. ‘Please thank the person who nominated you for the award’. The ‘thank you’ doesn’t need to take a particular form. It doesn’t have to be public, or linked to a blog post. It can be via email, or via a comment on another post. If, in addition, you would like to do something to help to share the blog of the person who nominated you, consider re-blogging one of their posts that has struck a chord with you; or consider linking to their blog, from one of your posts.

Finally, I think it’s worth saying the following. They say it’s the thought that counts. I know that that’s true, but how many of us would deny that we don’t enjoy receiving a gift, even though we know it’s less valuable than the thought behind it? Nominations for blog awards are wonderful – by all means keep them coming! But it’s the fact that you thought of me, and thought I was deserving, that really counts. It’s the fact that something I wrote touched you, moved you, helped you feel less alone, helped you understand yourself or others better – that’s what really matters.

Blog nominations are heart-warming to receive – I love to know that you like my writing. But I love getting to know you, more. So keep those comments on posts coming as well – not just on my posts, but on others too. Blog awards provide recognition; comments start a dialogue and build bonds. Comments let me see you, and allow you to see me  in a more immediate and informal way than the posts themselves allow, however real, personal and revealing they are (and I hope that mine are all of those things).

I will always treasure the words of those who nominated me for those two awards, and I am humbled by them . The nominations themselves were just the icing on the cake. There is definitely a place for icing, don’t get me wrong, but we mustn’t forget the cake. The icing gives us a sugar rush and leaves us high, but the cake fills and sustains.

Until the next time we need cake. Which I think, for me, is right about now.


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Connection

“The song [Bonfire Heart] is about no matter who you are no matter where you’re from, it’s about the human condition which is we need to connect with people.” James Blunt

So often, the need for connection feels like an overwhelming and distressing burden to bear. For me, this song lightens the load. At the heart of BPD (and of us all) is a need to be loved. How incredibly complicated the absence or presence of that love can make our lives. For me, the joy of this song is that for just over three minutes, it makes the need for love and connection feel incredibly simple, and uplifting.

“People like us, we don’t need that much; just some one that starts – starts the spark in our bonfire hearts…..”

 

[This post is dedicated to two beautiful borderline blogger friends of mine, who have found love and connection over the last few months. This song reminds me of you – you know who you are].


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Hope

rainbow hope final

When you have BPD, hope can feel like such a precarious state. Any hint of it feels more like ‘hoping against hope’: hoping in the face of hopelessness; hoping even when one is abandoned by hope. We’re so aware of the shifting nature of our sense of self and the volatility of our emotions, that we cannot believe that hope will last. We’re so used to every positive situation being tinged with something dark, that sometimes hopefulness simply feels like misery in disguise.

I remember being asked by a therapist a couple of years ago, what I would want if she could just wave a magic wand and make anything at all happen. I sat there with tears rolling down my face, completely unable to think of anything to say. It wasn’t a case of not being able to decide, or not knowing what I wanted. It was the fact that the very concept of a future – any future, let alone one that was ‘better’ than the present – was completely unthinkable. I simply could not see beyond the present pain, and hadn’t been able to, for quite some time. The ‘future’ spoke of hope – but I had been abandoned by hope.

A few months later, a different therapist referred to the progress I had been making in one particular area, as ‘a success’. My resulting tears seemed to baffle her, but somehow I found it difficult and distressing to think of anything I had been doing, as ‘a success’. Success had always been so important to me – but having a reached a state in which I felt little control over my life, and had little self-esteem, the concept of succeeding at anything, was also unthinkable. It was too painful to be praised. ‘Success’ spoke of hope – but I had been abandoned by hope.

They say that hope sustains life – but it seems to me that love sustains life long enough to give birth to hope that that sustenance will continue. If I felt abandoned by hope, it was because I felt abandoned by love. Abandoned in the present, and in a way that I’m still trying to properly understand, abandoned in the past. I remember very clearly the strong desire, when growing up, to be loved unconditionally by someone who did not have the biological imperative to do so. My ex-therapist called this ‘confused thinking’: I thought that parents were programmed to love their offspring unconditionally, and yet in her mind, this was a contradiction in terms. Love is not about programming but about acceptance – and while thinking that my parents loved me unconditionally, I was also very aware of the areas in which I ‘fell short’, did not meet expectations, or was something other than what I was desired to be. Hence the need to be loved by somebody who chose to love me – choice implied acceptance, something I did not feel I had.

For the first time in a long time, this week I felt a glimmer of hope. Not hope in the face of hopelessness, but hope in the face of possibility – the possibility of recovery, and the possibility of change. For the last couple of weeks I had come away from my therapy sessions hurting immensely. Incapable of asking for reassurance directly, I allowed fears over lack of acceptance to spiral out of control, such that everything my therapist said (or didn’t say) contributed to the excruciating sense that I was unwanted, disliked and uncared for. In my last session I could barely speak, paralysed by fear of further hurt and an overwhelming desire to just shut down. I was drifting in and out of being emotionally present, but she reached out to me, and gradually, we began to work through how I was feeling, and I managed to be honest with her about my need to have her articulate her feelings and her reassurance clearly.

Ultimately, that session gave me a glimpse, more than anything else has ever done, of the transformative power of the therapeutic relationship, and that glimpse has given me hope. I have always struggled to understand how psychotherapy works and how it can lead to recovery. Although I enjoy the satisfaction of uncovering the subconscious and making links between the present and the past, I have always known that therapy is not an intellectual exercise, and the more I find out about myself, the more I wonder what I am meant to be doing with the information. Equally, although there is a certain cathartic release in connecting with powerful emotions during therapy, re-experiencing past trauma does not lead to change if the experience is simply a repetition, with the same end result, and no corrective emotional re-interpretation.

However, there were three amazing outcomes from that session that have resulted in the hope that I cling onto now. I realised that although it is easy for me to feel hurt, it is also easy for me to feel loved. That feeling is very hard to hold onto, but that is why I need my therapist’s reassurance and caring to be explicitly stated – I need to hear the words, so that I can remember them, and so that I can recall them when I need them most. Those words and phrases don’t just help to build trust, they are the foundations of that trust, because their recollection can help to keep the whole edifice from crumbling (as it did for me over the last couple of weeks) when it is the subject of internal attack.

With growing amazement, I also realised that my therapist had responded to my needs and had made a commitment to continue to do so. It’s hard to explain how deeply it touched me to know that someone was trying to meet me ‘where I was at’. To know that I had been heard and my viewpoint accepted; to know that I hadn’t had to justify how I felt or be ashamed of it; to know that it was possible for me to voice my feelings and my needs, and for something to change as a result. I still find it hard to get my head around, and it still feels awe-inspiringly humbling.

Humbling, because I know how very different her worldview must be to mine, in order for her to be able to respond in that way. To be able to respond to my needs without fear or threat of ‘losing control’, ‘being manipulated’, or ‘being pushed too far’. To be able to meet me where I am rather than either distancing herself from me or being swamped by my emotions. I used to wonder about strength of her boundaries, because I was unused to the degree of self-disclosure that she seemed happy with, compared to other therapists I had worked with. However, any doubts I might have had have been completely blown out of the water. It seems to me now, that her ability both to share some of herself and to change how she works in order to respond to me, is a function of the strength of her own sense of identity and her own boundaries. And that is why what I say or do cannot threaten her or push her away, and the converse of those qualities also explains why my own reaction to some very triggering relationships, is the opposite of her own reaction to me.

The final outcome of that session was a brief realisation just before I drifted off to sleep a few nights ago. It was a beautifully simple and surprising moment: it seems strange to call it a ‘revelation’, as the thought seems, on one level, so obvious. But it was an emotional revelation, if not an intellectual one – I knew it because I felt it, and because I felt it, it gave me hope. Feeling loved for who we are, makes us feel freer and stronger. For so many nights over the last couple of years, my comfort before going to sleep at night has derived from the pain following self-harming – the pain which felt like a big enveloping hug. It scares me to say it, but this comfort felt better.

Feeling loved for who we are, makes us feel freer and stronger. It sends a shiver down my spine. I dare not hope.

But hope I do.

 

[The sustaining power of explicit reassurance and caring, brought to mind one of my favourite passages from ‘Get me out of here: My recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder’ by Rachel Reiland. In that passage, Rachel’s therapist says to her: “You survived by seizing every tiny drop of love you could find anywhere, and milking it, relishing it, for all it was worth. And as you grew up, you sought love, anywhere you could find it, whether it was a teacher or a coach or a friend or a friend’s parents. You sought those tiny droplets of love, basking in them when you found them. They sustained you. For all these years, you’ve lived under the illusion that somehow, you made it because you were tough enough to overpower the abuse, the hatred, the hard knocks of life. But really you made it because love is so powerful that tiny little doses of it are enough to overcome the pain of the worst things life can dish out. Toughness was a faulty coping mechanism you devised to get by. But, in reality, it has been your ability to never give up, to keep seeking love, and your resourcefulness to make that love last long enough to sustain you. That is what has gotten you by.” ]