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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Mental health and the holidays: we’ve survived Christmas, but what about New Year’s Eve?

My heart sank when I saw the first of the ‘It’s been a wonderful year!’ type pictorial summaries pop up in my Facebook feed. It seemed to start even earlier this year, and just as the equivalent gimmicks did over the last couple of years, it’s spreading like wildfire; like some sort of contagion. In addition, I know that come 31 December, my feed will start filling up with expressions of festive cheer, thankfulness and the highlights of my friends’ lives over the last year.

fireworks new yearIf there were a Scrooge of the New Year season, I would probably be it. If there were a New Year’s alternative to ‘Bah humbug’, I would probably use it. But at the risk of losing those of you at this point who think I’m simply a mean and grumpy party-pooper – I have a serious point to make.

As soon as Christmas is over there can be a tendency to breathe a sigh of relief and to think “we did it – we survived the holidays”. However, for me, and perhaps for some others with mental health difficulties, the worst part of the holidays is still to come. Christmas is never easy – spending time with my parents and my parents-in-law is generally full of different types of triggers. As with previous years, there have been times of holding back tears during the day, and letting tears flow at night. But I have been dreading this coming New Year’s Eve ever since last year’s New Year’s Eve; and over the last month, as I have felt it coming closer, the more worried I’ve become.

I know that my anxiety over New Year’s Eve is fuelled in part by what came after it a couple of years ago – several weeks of one of the worst periods of depression I have ever had. Whether New Year’s Eve was the trigger for it, or just the beginning of it, I don’t know, but the whole experience has left me dreading this coming January and the night that heralds it in.

Christmas is widely acknowledged to be a difficult time of year for many, including those with mental health difficulties. Because it is a time of year traditionally spent with family, it highlights issues of loneliness or alone-ness; issues of family relationships and difficult dynamics. Add to that the pressures of trying to make the day ‘perfect’ for yourself and for others, and the sheer logistics involved, and it can make for a horribly stressful and potentially unbearable experience. The sheer number of articles published on the internet and through social media at this time of year on surviving the holiday season, is testament to that.

But for me, the pain of New Year’s Eve is of a different kind. It’s not about the people or things that are present, or even absent. It’s about the things that are lost. For me, the pain of New Years’ Eve is the pain of grief. Let me explain.

New Year’s Eve is all about looking back with thankfulness and looking forward with hope. Last year, as I read the constant stream of Facebook posts highlighting all the good things that had happened to my friends, all the things that they were grateful for over the last year – I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by immense feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It makes me feel as awful to write it, as I felt guilty for feeling it. I didn’t begrudge my friends their happiness, or even their expression of happiness. I was glad that they remembered people and events that they could be thankful for, and even more, that they were able to feel thankful for them. But one of the things social media does so well, and often to such detriment, is to facilitate comparison between oneself and others. When I see so much joyfulness and light around me, it’s difficult not to dwell on my own lack of joy over the last year, and on the lack of hope and the blackness that’s inside me.

I know – I know – that what I see on Facebook is selective. It is what people choose to show others –and often times, they choose the highlights, and leave out the rest. I know that some of those friends who shared ‘It’s been a wonderful year!’ type posts on their timelines, have had a far from easy and joyful year. They have had personal illness, family illness, difficult circumstances of all kinds. But they are still thankful – they are still finding things to be grateful for. It’s one of the cruelties of mental illness, I think, that it can rob you not just of joy itself, but of the desire or capacity to look for joy or hope, wherever it may be found.

Last New Year’s Eve, while other people were feeling grateful for good times, despite the bad times, I was grieving over my time. Time wasted and lost to the mire of depression; to the self-absorption of pain; to the hell of mental illness. Time lost looking inwards instead of outwards; time wasted living inside my head instead of living in the moment. What strikes me over and over again as I read blogs by those with mental health difficulties, are the expressions of grief over months, years, and decades spent living with a mental illness, striving towards recovery and release from pain. In an article in the Sunday Times in December 2014, Rachel Kelly, author of ‘Black Rainbow: How words healed me: My journey through depression’, wrote about her recovery from depression, but “at a huge cost in wasted years, especially when my children were young”.

And that, of course, was the other aspect to my grief. It wasn’t just my own time I was mourning. It was my children’s time as well. People are always saying, aren’t they –“enjoy your children while they’re young” – but what if you can’t? I grieved the times I could have spent with them and they with me – but with a ‘me’ more capable of laughter rather than raised voices; more capable of tolerance rather than impatience; more capable of paying attention rather than withdrawing. Added to the grief was a heavy weight of guilt for not giving them the ‘quality time’ they should have had – for robbing them of something. For giving them their own grief, whatever subconscious form it might be taking at their age.

So this year, I’m not going to join in the social media New Year’s Eve jamboree. I’m going to watch some DVDs, and then go to bed. I’m going to post a ‘Happy New Year’ message on the morning of 31 December, and then try not to log onto Facebook again until January 2nd. I don’t think anyone will notice my absence, but if they do, I hope they will forgive me. I hope that they will understand that I’m not a kill-joy or mean-spirited; I’m not wallowing in self-pity or unaware of the fact that everybody hurts. I’m not sad about their happiness or resentful of their joy. I’m simply grieving for my time; for my wasted year. I wish I could see it as something other than wasted – as a necessary step along the path towards recovery and fulfilment. But I’m grieving the loss of that ability too.

I wish more was written about the difficult feelings that New Year’s Eve can trigger, particularly in those with mental health difficulties. I’d like to ask you to increase awareness by sharing this as widely as possible on social media – but there’s a slight irony in that. As well as a touch of hypocrisy. Perhaps I should be asking you, instead, to increase the chances of your own well-being by joining me this December 31st in a DVD marathon of your favourite TV series and a twenty-four period of Facebook or Twitter abstinence.

Go on, give it a try –and I’ll see you on the other side.


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Christmas present selfie

One of my Christmas presents – I am hoping that keeping it by my bed will magically help me to remember more of my dreams! And that it will inspire me to write mediocre poetry. Each double page contains a quote, and the one below struck a particular chord. It reminds me of the reason behind some of my fears of ‘recovery’.

It occurs to me that my finger and thumb holding the journal, and the shadow of my hand, is probably the closest I will come to a selfie on this blog. 🙂

Whether you’re having a Brilliant Peaceful Day, a Bloody Pants (in the adjectival sense of the word) Day, ‘just another’ BPD day, or none of the above, my warmest thoughts, best wishes, and e-hugs are with you xxx

 

journal

 

quote from journal

 

 


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Understanding a loved one with BPD – reblog-ish

A friend with BPD pointed me to this excellent article called ‘I can’t get it right’ – Understanding a loved one with Borderline Personality Disorder. She said that it painted a very accurate picture of how she felt much of the time, and the same is certainly true for me.

What I like about this article is that rather than focusing specifically on the DSM IV criteria as an aid to describing BPD symptoms, it highlights three key aspects of how many individuals with BPD experience the world. These aspects are: feelings are ‘too real’; out of sight is out of mind; and extreme sensitivity and rage. These three aspects describe how many individuals with BPD experience their thoughts and feelings as being ‘as real as reality’; that they may find it difficult to maintain object constancy and retain a sense of consistency about the people in their lives; and that at least partly because of lack of object constancy, they can be extremely sensitive to others’ words and actions, which can often be interpreted  in isolation, without taking account of prior context or knowledge.

This article is aimed at those supporting individuals with BPD, and it provides a compassionate and thoughtful description and also reminds loved ones that the behaviour of someone with BPD is often motivated by attempts to shield themselves from pain, rather than a desire to hurt or manipulate. It describes behaviour and tries to show what lies behind it, and what may be going on in the mind of the individual with BPD. The article also emphasizes the important message of hope and the existence of effective treatments that can make a real difference to those with BPD, and to their families.

Finally, although aimed at loved ones, I hope this piece will be helpful for those with BPD as well. It certainly gave me a greater insight into and understanding of some of my difficulties, particularly with regard to the section on feelings – ‘what do you mean my thoughts and feelings may not be real being my gut reaction, the moment I read that paragraph…!


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A day in the life

A Day In the Life‘ is a project spanning a whole year, looking at the everyday experiences of individuals in England with mental health difficulties. Anyone experiencing such difficulties can sign up to the project, which involves writing a short piece describing your experiences on four different days over the course of that year. The dates are chosen in advance – the first was on 7 November 2014 and the next will be on 10 February 2015. Entries can be anonymous and it’s not necessary to submit something on all four occasions. The project is funded by Public Health England and was highlighted through a number of media channels and websites. The BBC news clip can be found here. The www.gov.uk website says this about the project:

A Day in the Life is designed to provide an insight into the lives of people living with a mental health difficulty to help inform the development of policies and projects which better meet their needs. The project is also designed to better educate and raise awareness among the wider public of the reality of mental health issues.”

I decided to take part in the project when I saw it mentioned on Twitter – its mission is an important one, and writing is one of the few things I feel I am able to do to help raise awareness. I wanted to share with you my entry for 7 November 2014, which can be found here. In some ways, the story is a precursor to my recent posts on parenting, and writing that entry on 7 November motivated me to share more about the challenges of mental health and parenting.

If you are interested in joining the project, please do visit the ‘A Day in the Life‘ site to find out more. More and more entries are being added all the time relating to the first day, 7 November, and they provide a fascinating picture of the day to day lives of individuals struggling with a variety of mental health issues.

 


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My borderline mind

For forty-eight hours after my last therapy session, I felt utterly broken. I cried then slept. I slept then cried. Amongst the battle of words going on inside my head, a few sentences crystallised to describe how I was feeling and what I was realising .

perfect dilemma

It was not an entirely new thought – but it had never been so precisely articulated. The realisation was devastating and the implication radical. At a (mostly) unconscious level, these sentences have defined – continue to define – how I think, act, react, and feel.  Trying to move away from that will involve nothing less than a complete realignment of my very way of being.

How many can relate to precisely these emotions? How can thoughts that are so ‘unrealistic’ (let’s not use the word ‘wrong’, for fear of self-invalidation, even though that is how it feels) seem so utterly persuasive and legitimate?

And how – how – can we wrest ourselves from this way of thinking, without it simply feeling like compromising on life, sacrificing ourselves, and burying our desires?


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What do people think about therapists?

This post really made me giggle, and I’m reblogging it in the hope that it might do the same for others too! I love writing and reading about therapy and therapists, but so much of it is of a more ‘serious’ or ‘thoughtful’ nature, and it is great to read a light-hearted and amusing post about people’s reactions to therapists, from someone who knows one rather well. I particularly like the idea of being ‘therapised’ – if only it were that simple! Enjoy…..!

David M. Beecroft

What do people think about therapists? I am not one. A therapist that is. I am most certainly a people. I ask the question because I am curious for several reasons. One reason is that I am engaged to a therapist. The aforementioned therapist mentioned to me the other day that when people ask her what it is that she does for a living and she replies that she is a therapist, they take a step back. I mean a literal and physical step back. No metaphors here.

As soon as she told me this, I wanted to see it in action. Luckily I had the chance the following evening. As we were sat having cocktails (I know! How swanky are we?) the bartender asked us what we did for a living. Now, this question kinda sucks for me. I have to explain that I am trying to make a…

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