Life in a Bind – BPD and me

My therapy journey, recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I write for , for Planet Mindful magazine, and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by


Separation anxiety – BPD and emotional development

I hate going back into the world after a therapy session. All I want is to remain suspended in that sense of comfort and connection. All I want is that relatedness, that safety, that mutuality. I want to stay in that therapy bubble so very badly, that leaving it is heartbreaking.

I feel guilty; selfish and self-indulgent. I feel as though by wishing myself so strongly back into that therapy room, with my therapist, I am rejecting not just the good things in my life, but the people in my life. I have a husband, children, a good job, relative material comfort. There is so much that I could hope for, wish for, and live for – how can that ‘bubble’ be the most attractive thing in the world to me? How can that be the thing I feel I want more than anything else? As a mother, with her children’s lives ahead of her, how can that possibly be true? And if it is, what does that say about me?

There is only one way that I can rationalise it to myself, that releases me from some of that guilt and feeling of self-centredness. And that is to try and argue that perhaps these are not adult dreams, or adult desires. That perhaps it’s not the adult who wants to be in the therapy cocoon forever; that the adult is not rejecting her own children. Those are the child’s desires, and she would be happy if the entire world disappeared as long as she was safe and held in that ‘unconditional positive regard’ that is the bedrock of the therapy relationship.

I’ve been aware for some time, of the fact that I feel different ages at different times, and with different people. I cannot help but feel around twelve years old whenever I am in the presence of our vicar’s wife, and it takes a constant effort to remind myself that she sees me as an adult, and not as the child that I feel when I’m around her. She feels motherly – not in some stereotypical way, but simply in the sense that she is the kind of mother I would have wanted to have.

But nowhere am I more aware of the adult and the child parts of me, than in therapy. In her excellent post ‘Mind Blown’, Half of a Soul commented that her therapist had asked her what age she felt when she was distressed, and that she had realised that it was the age at which she had started to suppress emotion, rather than allowing herself to experience it. I too, tend to feel much more child-like when distressed, and the age that I associate with those feelings, has been getting younger. Therapists have a difficult task in that they have to identify ‘who’ (adult or child) is engaging with them at each point in the session, and they have to decide how best to respond in a way that meets the needs of the one, without invalidating the other.

The idea of ‘regressing’ during therapy while re-experiencing events or feelings of childhood, is a common one, but the difficulty with BPD is that it’s not just a case of going back to childhood, but a case of being stuck there. There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of BPD, but some have argued that BPD is at least partly due to early ‘developmental arrest’. Individuals continue to grow physically and intellectually, but their emotional and psychological development is impaired, and key developmental stages are interrupted and never properly negotiated. Comparisons between some BPD behaviours and characteristics and those of toddlers, is common. These behaviours and characteristics include: splitting (black and white thinking); projection (of disturbing emotions onto others instead); difficulties with object constancy; lack of boundaries or a distinct sense of self. Given these theories of developmental arrest, it is easy to see why such comparisons are made – to a greater or lesser extent, those with BPD have never really outgrown those early defence mechanisms and ways of seeing the world.

Toddlers want to be ‘grown up’ but their desire is for a superficial adulthood and a responsibility that provides temporary excitement and a sense of control, but has no real consequences. Their real desire and satisfaction is in the land of fantasy and play, and being burdened with inappropriate levels of adult responsibility too soon, leads only to insecurity, anger, distrust and emotional pain. That is why being an adult can weigh so heavily on someone with BPD. There are so many ways in which our ability to relate to and to deal with the world, is compromised. What should be ‘normal’ adult interactions can be laden with confusion and pain because the adult response feels ‘wrong’ even though intellectually one may appreciate that it is ‘the right thing to do’.

I recently asked the advice of a school friend of mine, on how to deal with a situation in which I was feeling triggered by the lack of contact from another friend. The adult, non-BPD response would be to just go ahead and make contact. I recognise that that is the right thing to do, but it is a giant struggle against my BPD to actually try and do that. My inner toddler is sulking, but not only that – she has big insecurities and a great need for reassurance. I don’t want to contact my friend first – if I do, how will I ever know whether she would have contacted me at some point? How will I ever know whether she would have thought of me – whether she cares? My school friend replied that those are the risks of adult life  – but part of me hates adult life, and has difficulty in engaging with it.

The weight of ‘being an adult’ falls heavily back onto me when I leave the therapy room. Even if the interaction with my therapist on a particular day was more ‘adult-like’ than child-like, going back into the world feels like a burden. Can I really ‘blame’ that intense desire to stay, purely on the child within, and divorce it from all other parts of myself? It’s one thing for the desires of the child to be uppermost; my concern is that I cannot find the adult. Where is she, and what are her desires? If I want to ascribe to the child the desire to ‘live in fantasy and play’, I have to be able to separate it out from the desire of the adult, and be able to show that it is different. But I’m not sure that I can. Perhaps it is because the adult is here in body, but in a very real sense, she has not fully come to be.

And so I am left, every time I leave, with the sense that I want to stay forever, and with the guilt that I should be wanting something else. I’m left with ‘separation anxiety’ and crumbling memories of that precious hour, until they can be recaptured again when I am back in that room. Leaving the therapy bubble is heartbreaking – but I have to keep on doing it, time and time again. Perhaps when the separation becomes a bit more bearable, I’ll know that there is a bit less growing up to do.


What’s in a name?


I am in the grip of something that I don’t understand. It’s happened before, and it’s always disquieting, as unlike many of the symptoms or feelings I experience, this is one for which I don’t have a name. For a while I wondered whether it was a type of dissociation, but I thought dissociation was meant to protect you from painful emotions, and this is one of the worst feelings that I know.

There is something within me to which I don’t have access, and the frustration that this inaccessibility engenders, builds and puts increasing pressure on my insides. Sometimes the frustration builds and builds until the force of it is so strong I feel as though I need to explode outwards but I can’t. Sometimes I am dimly aware of it  – it builds for a day or two and then dies down, without any explanation, either for its arrival, or its departure. There is the feeling and the meta-feeling- the ‘inaccessible’ emotion, and the unbearable frustration.

My school friend who also has BPD was telling me that she feels bereft because she is struggling so much and yet is completely unable to put her feelings into words. I feel very grateful that for me, writing is not daunting, but a delight, and that it is one of the very few ways in which I am able to communicate emotion. But although I had to admit that I could not directly empathise with her ‘writers’ block, I do know how it feels to be ‘emotionally blocked’.

She struggles to capture feelings in words and to make them known to others; ‘inaccessibility’, for me, means struggling to capture emotions in feelings, and to make them felt to myself. And because I know that that sounds all but incomprehensible, I will try and explain it a little bit more.

This is what I wrote to my friend, when she told me about feeling bereft:

“I think I can understand the utter frustration of not being able to express something, though I don’t necessarily experience it in relation to words. Not being able to express something leaves you feeling deprived, because you can’t let ‘it’ out; and neither can you let someone else in to see ‘it’, because you cannot paint a picture for them. ‘It’ is inexpressible and incommunicable and that leaves you utterly isolated, with no bridge to another mind.”

That sense of being ‘cut off’, bereft, not being able to paint a picture of what is wrong, or to transfer the information to someone else where it can be understood and felt  – that is how I experience ‘inaccessibility’, but in relation to myself. That is how I experience ‘inaccessibility’ in relation to an emotion that I can sense but cannot feel; a disquiet that I can intuit, but that does not reveal itself to me.

‘Inaccessibility’ is always connected, for me, with a strong desire to self-harm. It is part of what grips me and intrudes upon my thoughts. It may be intended as an ‘antidote’ but it’s also part of the poison, as it feeds the meta-feeling with its own brand of frustration. My cutting has almost always been restricted to a small and easily concealed area of my body, in order to be able to keep it absolutely hidden. The need to be restrictive has always been frustrating, and occasionally that frustration spills over into minor cuts on more visible parts of my body.

In these times, the need within me is to start cutting and not to stop. The desire to be able to keep going, to fill up all of me with pain, and to blood-let out of every pore, is intense. The fact that I cannot do so  – that my life, as it is now, depends on not doing so – just adds fuel to the fire, and deepens the compulsion. In these times, the self-harming serves a double purpose. It tries to block and distract from the frustration by creating pain that is louder, more immediate. At the same time, it tries to make the ‘inaccessible’ present by removing the vacuum and giving me something concrete to feel.

I never know when the disquiet is going to arrive – and I never know how much it will build, or how long it is going to stay. I felt it when I visited that same school friend two years ago, and we spent an intense weekend closeted in her flat, sharing our experiences and talking about our relationship. By the end of the weekend, my internal state reflected the pressure-cooker environment we had immersed ourselves in, but I had no release valve and I felt as though I was bursting at the seams with anguish.

I felt it grow for about ten days last year, when I was having counselling sessions with my ex-therapist, Jane. It started off as pain that I could sense was there but could not feel or express, and it grew into something so unbearable that every day, I wanted to die. Our session over-ran a little one day, as I desperately clutched my arms around my body, folded over double in my chair, needing frantically to feel and cry but not being able to give birth to a single tear.

This time, my mind keeps coming back to a recent therapy session where I was describing thoughts and dreams I’d had, related to what it would have been like to be my therapist’s daughter. I can’t really describe why it felt like such a ‘special’ session. Particularly because other than ‘special’, I’m not sure it felt like anything much at all. I’ve been feeling ‘high’ following on from my recent Escape into suicidal ideation, but this seems to go hand in hand with a sense of not connecting with my emotions, and of being detached from them. But I keep wanting to come back to that ‘special’ session – to dwell in it. I want to talk about it all again, even though I’ve got nothing to new to say. Something powerful is drawing me, but it wants to stay unnamed and unfelt. And this ‘inaccessible’ something has flicked a switch inside my mind that keeps the same sentence playing on repeat: ‘I need to cut; I need to cut’.

I can’t pretend to understand it, though I do want to ‘name it’. I want to be able to look it up, to read about it, to have someone say ‘This, this, is what you are experiencing, and this is why it happens’. I want to know whether it is a fundamental part of my diagnosis, or something unrelated. I want to know whether others experience it too.

But would I really feel more in control of it, be better able to deal with it, if I knew what this ‘inaccessibility’, this ‘disconnect’ was called? Knowledge is power – I believe that. But at the same time, ‘a rose by any other name….’ – or perhaps by no name – would still be the same bloody set of thorns.



This is a very interesting and helpful post on a subject that I think affects many people with BPD, and which, as the author highlights, can be very beneficial to be mindful of.

I have noticed that I am acutely sensitive to the facial expressions of my therapist, and interpret anything other than an outright smile, as a critical, disapproving or judgemental expression. This is particular true of her “I’m thinking” face, which is rather unfortunate, as she is quite a thoughtful person and takes her time to respond to things! I have similar difficulties with my husband’s facial expressions, which I also tend to interpret as harsh, unless he is actively smiling.

I think it can be very helpful to try and remain conscious of this tendency to interpret expressions more negatively and, as the author comments, to try and remind ourselves that our perception of how the other person is feeling or reacting, does not necessarily reflect reality. At the same time, it’s important to try and accept our own feelings about the situation, and not to judge ourselves for these tendencies or perceptions.

I have certainly found that ‘taking a small pause for introspection’ has been helpful in this, and in so many other situations where BPD has been playing havoc with my emotions!


Selective hearing – and all that jazz

pushchair finalI think I need a new pair of ears. I’m quite attached to my current ones, and there is not a great deal wrong with them cosmetically; nor are they more than usually clogged up with wax. Nevertheless there seems to be a rather serious fault with my hearing, which I think I have been ignoring for some time.

The problem seems very much like the one my children are inflicted with. It’s called selective hearing. The selectivity can depend either on the content of the message (‘please get dressed’ versus ‘there’s cake in the kitchen’); or on the person uttering it (me versus anyone else in the universe). The selectivity may also depend on the emotional state of the child at the time. For example, feeling angry involves hearing nothing at all – although in fairness this applies to anyone within a hundred yards, given the volume at which my children voice ‘being angry’. Alternatively, feeling hungry for cake and therefore being open to bribery, entails hearing everything, even if it is only spoken once.

Lastly, the selectivity also depends on expectations. If my children are expecting me to give them cake before bedtime (if, for example, I have been foolish enough to promise them such a thing in exchange for five minutes of peace in the car on the drive home), absolutely nothing I say regarding a lack of cake will be heard at all. If I burn the buns, if there is no flour in the house, if all the supermarkets in the world are shut – none of that will matter. Instead, I will be expected to magic some cake into existence to satisfy their all-consuming need, or else I risk facing their impressive explosions of irrational rage.

A few days ago, I resumed therapy after a few weeks’ break over the summer holidays. As often happens after my sessions, I tried to remember particular parts of the conversation, or particular things that my therapist said, but struggled to do so. But in trying to remember, I did recall a couple of phrases which brought me up short and which really made me conscious for the first time, of how great my hearing problem really is.

I had challenged my therapist over a sentence which I had found upsetting, in one of her recent emails. During the course of her explanation of what she had been hoping to convey, she mentioned that I ‘used words well’ and that she had been trying to show that I was ‘held in mind’ during the break. I had clearly heard the words (in a purely auditory sense), and I had even remembered them. But at the time, they simply washed over me, neither heeded nor absorbed. They made no impact, and yet on reflection, that fact astounded me.

In my post ‘Good therapy’, I referred to the fact that fellow blogger BPD Transformation had said to me that it’s possible to train yourself to ‘look for signs’ that your therapist cares about you. My intense and all-consuming attachment to my previous therapist, Jane, meant that I didn’t really have to try ‘look for signs’ – I found them readily, in precious, remembered phrases that still serve to uphold my conviction that she did, in fact, care about me. When thinking about my current therapist’s words, it occurred to me that from Jane, those words would have been gold. I would have clung onto them, absorbed them, taken them to heart and held them. They would have been a ‘sign’ of the fact that she cared, and the fact that she thought about me and thought well of me (or at least, of my writing!).

But as described in some of my other posts on the subject of therapy, I have been struggling for some time now to feel cared for, understood and accepted by my current therapist. There has been progress on all those fronts; and I still have Hope. But I remain desperate to know and to feel that she cares about me; and I have been dying for some praise, whether that concerns my writing, or some progress or realisation I might have made in therapy. So how could those words of hers have passed me by so blithely?

When it comes to selective hearing it seems to be a case of ‘Jane versus the rest of the world’. It’s not that my hearing wasn’t selective when it came to Jane – it was that it was selective in a diametrically opposing way. My rigid determination to keep her on her pedestal ensured that my mind filtered out anything remotely negative or less than perfect, and completely ignored it. Whereas with all other people, I suffer from quite a common BPD tendency to notice the negative much more than positive, or to construe the neutral in a negative way, wherever possible. In large part, I think that’s a function of the fact that I project how I feel onto others; and also a function of assuming that everyone else sees the world through my own particular brand of borderline lens. But with my current therapist, the situation appears to be even worse – it seems to be a case not just of noticing the negative more, but of barely noticing the positive at all.

When it comes to selective hearing it seems to be a case of my feelings being either the amplifier or the attenuator of what is heard. If I am worshipping someone, I hang off their every word, and their words sustain me. If I am feeling rejected and misunderstood by someone, then it’s very difficult for anything they say to get through, and to be truly heard. Difficult, that is, unless it happens to live up to my expectations of what I think I need to hear. Difficult, unless it happens to match up to my script.

Perhaps the problem with my hearing is that it is like one of those badly designed internet search engines which will not find what you are looking for unless you happen to guess almost exactly, the correct combination of words or phrases to search for.

I’m coming to realise that, at least with those closest to me, when I’m in distress and in need of validation and reassurance, I expect it to arrive in a certain way. I expect others to reassure me using words that are part of a script that exists only in my mind. And I expect them to intuit it word perfectly, without any help or clues, or without even the knowledge that the script exists. These expectations are not necessarily conscious, and the script may not even exist until I think about what I needed ‘after the fact’. But the after-effects as described in my posts on communication and on anger – the disappointment, hurt and the rage of expectations not met – are there none-the-less.

This is ‘magical thinking’ at its worst. It doesn’t just rob me of the ability to ask for what I need; it robs me of the ability to receive what I need, unless it is delivered in ‘exactly the right way’.

My post on the relationship between BPD and expectations, and the difficulties that this results in, in terms of communication, was entitled ‘Are you receiving me?’. However, it seems to me that I am the one who needs to be receptive. I need to widen my channels of communication, and allow more than one route in. I need to scrap the script, and allow for the possibility of improvisation.

And with careless disregard for mixing my metaphors – when it comes to therapy, I need to remember that it is more like jazz, than a piano duet. I found the following wonderful words online: “Playing jazz is as much about listening as it is being able to play your instrument. In that kind of situation, a player isn’t thinking about ‘what should I play next’, but rather ‘what is the music, at this moment in time, missing that I can provide?’” .

Turning this on its head, perhaps for me, in therapy, I should be thinking not so much ‘what am I expecting to hear?’ but ‘what are the words, at this moment in time, providing for me, that I am missing?’



[‘Magical thinking’  is a phrase that my ex-therapist Jane used, to refer to my expectation and assumption that others could (and should) be able to know what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling, without me having to tell them.]