Life in a Bind – BPD and me

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


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Making all things new – BPD and idealism

Behold I make all things new“.

I am not about to launch into a sermon, though some may recognise this as a quote from Chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation. As I described in an earlier post, my Faith, though hanging on by its fingertips, has been ‘on the back burner’ for a while, and this is not a part of the Bible that I have come across either in church or elsewhere, for some time. Nevertheless, the wonders of the human mind and free association meant that for some reason it was this phrase that flew into my mind when I was trying to process my last therapy session.

It was an unexpectedly tough session. Just over three weeks ago I wrote about how disconnected I’d been feeling from my therapist since the Christmas break, and all of a sudden last week, we were right back in that same place again. The process of writing and talking about my ‘open letter to my therapist’ had helped to re-establish connection, and we had talked about how I am still connected to her, even if I cannot feel it in a particular moment. As a result, I had thought that we were back on track and that I had at least until the Easter break before I had to deal with another possible episode of disconnection!

Not only did we establish reconnection, we went further in terms of trust and intimacy than I think we ever have before. Two weeks ago we had an amazing session in which, with her help, I managed to talk about topics that had been on my mind for many months, but which I had not had the courage to broach before. It was very difficult, and very uncomfortable, but she made it possible, and more than that, she made it feel safe.

And yet last week I was back to longing for words of reassurance and acceptance, and resenting her (or, so I thought, ‘the process’), for not providing them. It turns out that I might have made intellectual peace with the idea that not receiving frequent verbal reassurance will ultimately be ‘good for me’, but that part of me is still not emotionally convinced. The moment I feel really vulnerable and alone, and my mood crashes, I start longing for that affirmation, and needing it from her. Feeling as though I’m not getting what I need, leaves me feeling closed off, and holding back.

During my last session, it was incredibly difficult to get any words out. The session was a bizarre mixture of feeling unable or unwilling to talk, and waves of mixed up emotion that I could attach no meaning to and that simply left me wondering what on earth was going on. I know that therapy is a setting in which past experiences can be re-played – and I had a definite sense that something was playing out, but I had no idea what it was. It was when I came home, completely perplexed about how and why things had turned out as they did, that the phrase “Behold, I make all things new“, came into my mind.

It seems too random, too strange to ignore. What does it mean, in this context? What resonances does it have? In the context in which the phrase appears in Revelation, it is about restoration and redemption. It’s about God creating a new and perfect heaven and earth, where separation between God and man is eliminated  (reflected in the fact that ‘there is no more sea’ between them). There’s no patching up of a broken world, or of a broken relationship – there is complete renewal, and a completely restored relationship between the earthly and the divine.

When I emailed my therapist to tell her that this phrase had suggested itself to me, she wrote back with another line from Revelation 21 – “for the former things are passed away”. I think that her interpretation would be that I’m struggling to adapt to the ‘new’ (therapy with her) and am still clinging to the ‘old’ (Jane, my ex-therapist), and am finding it difficult to let go. It reminds me of the sessions just before Christmas when I simply couldn’t choose which of two topics to talk about, and spent ages in silence, just paralysed by indecision. In that instance too, my therapist had suggested that choosing meant letting go of one option, and that I found that very difficult.

But for me, both cases feel as though they are much more about the situation I’m in, than the one that I have had to let go. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me with BPD said that I needed to let go of the notion of ‘perfect care’, because it did not exist. My difficulty, I think, is not so much with letting go, as with letting go of perfection – in all its many forms. I don’t mind putting aside a topic of conversation until another day – but I find it very difficult to deal with the idea that what we do end up talking about, might not go well. While they are still just topics up for discussion, I can imagine a situation in which they each result in emotional, productive, memorable and important sessions. What happens when I choose one is that I have to give up that perfect scenario and trade it for a reality that may fall far below ‘the ideal’.

When I was little I loved the story of Pollyanna – a little girl who always found something to be glad about, in any situation. What I didn’t realise, until I googled it just now, is that people’s interpretations of Pollyanna are divided between those who think that she saw the negative but simply chose to emphasize the positive; and those who think that she was blindly optimistic and refused to see or acknowledge the negative. I certainly ‘re-cast’ past or present difficulties in therapy, in such a way as to draw out the positive. However, I don’t think that’s by way of ‘making the best’ of a situation, because that would involve accepting that the situation does not conform to my definition of ‘ideal’ to start with. It’s about making it a ‘new’ situation, and allowing the restored present to redeem the past.

I used to worry about how I would ever reach a position of deep trust and intimacy with my therapist, when we had such a rocky and difficult start. For me, ruptured relationships have tended to stay ruptured, and very rarely have I had either the desire or the ability to restore them. But when it came to my therapist, I solved my own problem by a logical and perceptual contortion in which the ‘perfect therapy’ became defined as one that is ultimately forged in the fire of tribulation.

I think what I’ve stumbled upon is another example of an absolutely ingrained world-view related to my BPD – another example of a distorted lens through which I see the world. Back in December, I described how in my borderline mind, my fundamental desire to be perfectly understood and loved, coloured the way I saw and interpreted everything I came across. I think what I’m now realising, is that my desire for perfection in general, does the same. Perhaps my desire for perfect love and understanding is simply a sub-set of that bigger hunger. A hunger for idealism – defined as ‘an unrealistic belief in or pursuit of perfection’.

It is hard – very hard – for many people with BPD to hold two conflicting notions side by side. Hard to accept that someone or something can be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ at the same time. That is why one of the key symptoms of BPD is ‘splitting’ or ‘black and white thinking’, in which one’s views and feelings about someone alternate between thinking they are ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’. Holding these opposite notions together is difficult because in my head, the ‘bad’ taints the ‘good’, unless I can somehow make the negative into a positive, so that the whole picture can ‘look rosy’ again, without the dark patches making it look ugly.

But there are two other implications of ‘making all things new’, and re-casting reality in a different light. It means never having to patch anything up – never having to struggle to fix anything. A ruptured relationship is ‘miraculously’ transformed, or the rupture is completely ignored. Mending feels too difficult, too ‘grown up’. I don’t have a template for adult mending – every argument I ever had with my parents was simply buried, ignored and never mentioned again. Nothing was ever properly resolved.

Making all things new also means not having to live with your mistakes – something I find it incredibly hard to do, and which makes me incredibly anxious. Sometimes it feels as though I spend my life in the avoidance of self-blame, guilt and regret over ‘bad decisions’. Having them wiped out is so much easier than having them ‘in the frame’ where I may be continually reminded of them, unable to escape the anxiety they cause me because I am unable to accept myself, and the world, as we truly are. Flawed, but fine.

Both before and after my last therapy session, I had an immense desire for reconnection and for restoration of our therapeutic relationship. I had imagined apologising for ‘having been so stupid’ in doubting my therapist again; and I imagined a free and easy conversation in which we talked about how the situation had come about. I wanted to redeem myself in her eyes, and to renew our bond. I wanted there to be no more separation between us – no more sea.

I think she would say that things were never perfect – but neither were they ruptured. That no restoration or redemption was necessary. Difficult sessions, time apart, negative feelings I may have had towards her, awkward conversations – none of that had ‘tainted’ our relationship. Our connection was still intact through all of that, even if my perception of it was not. And that was something we could work on – we could work to fix the rupture, even if it was ‘just’ perceptual. But that’s to have her viewpoint on the world, which is not yet my own.

I just wanted to make all things new – and perfect again, for a little while.

 

[I sent my therapist an earlier draft of this post before my last session, and when we discussed it, I asked her if my interpretation of the reason for her quote from Revelation, was accurate. She said that it wasn’t – that the ‘former things’ that she had in mind were things or ways of thinking from my past, and were not related to my ex-therapist. I’m not sure how I felt about ‘getting it wrong’! But the mistake was interesting in itself. I often worry that my therapist will think that I am still comparing her with my ex-therapist, Jane – but it seems I may be the only one who is still hung up on the comparison, and much more so than I had thought!]

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