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.

Making all things new – BPD and idealism

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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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10 thoughts on “Making all things new – BPD and idealism

  1. Tomorrow evening I’m going to post an essay on one aspect of “trust” issues within relationships. This is a thing that therapists and patients spend countless hours on, so I thought I’d approach it metaphorically. I’ll be interested to see what you think.

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  2. Do you regularly share your blog with your therapist? If so how does that feel for you?

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    • I do – with all my ‘substantive’ posts, I tend to send her a link after I publish, and before my next session. I started doing that within a couple of months of starting blogging. It feels okay – which is a surprise for me, as I always hated anyone reading anything I wrote and used to be petrified of having to talk to anyone about my writing! But I think that was related to the fact that I was petrified of being vulnerable and revealing myself to anyone, and as I do that verbally in sessions, it feels easier to also let her ‘see me’ in writing. How I feel about sharing posts with her, is always an interesting barometer of how I feel about her generally! I noticed for a while after Christmas I wasn’t sending her links, and realised I was semi-consciously holding back because I felt so cut-off from her. When I’m ‘devaluing’ her and going through the familiar ‘push-pull’, I do get the sense that I want to ‘keep my posts to myself’, just as I find it very hard to talk and be open with her in session, during those times. I have an ‘unwritten rule’ that I try not to break, that I won’t use blogging to communicate with her – if there’s something I want to discuss with her I will either wait and write about it after the session, or I won’t share the post with her in advance. I don’t want it to become a ‘way out’ of having difficult discussions with her, and I don’t want to miss out on opportunities for talking about things which may help to deepen our therapy relationship. So I try and ensure that my posts don’t contain anything that hasn’t come up in one way or another during session. Some of the interpretations or conclusions may be ‘new’, but they will have come from something that we discussed during a session, and that she will be therefore be familiar with. I see her twice a week now, but when I saw her once a week, posts were quite important in terms of filling in gaps or updating her, when there was so much to talk about, but so little time in session. Sharing posts was a way of conveying more than I had time to do otherwise, and allowed us to jump into a topic more quickly, perhaps, than would otherwise have been possible. In some ways, it’s harder to write now I have two sessions a week, and it also doesn’t serve quite the same purpose. I have an opportunity to talk about the things I might otherwise have written about. I spent a whole session, recently, talking about blogging and what it means to me, and the functions it might serve, in the context of therapy. I was speculating that one of the reasons I had been feeling so cut-off since Christmas, was that I hadn’t written very much in January or early February. My therapist’s take on it was that not blogging or sharing posts had allowed me to experience a disconnection I normally tried so hard to avoid, and that this was useful because we could work on it….an interesting perspective! Did you have any thoughts about this, yourself? I just wondered if there was something behind the question – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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      • Thanks for this explanation – interesting thoughts. I was wondering about it because I never showed mine to my therapist and had thought about doing it at some points in the past. I may do so eventually. It was useful to hear your thoughts.

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      • Thank you, and good luck with trying to decide whether to share your own writing! I thought you were no longer in therapy? Are you still in touch with your therapist? My therapist and I have discussed whether or not I should send a link to my blog to Jane – or rather, I have asked my therapist what she thought of the idea! However, that is a very very different situation – my reasons and motivations for doing so would be complex and are tied in to current issues I struggle with in therapy -perfection, letting go etc….

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  3. Well, I don’t know where to start! There are so many things I relate to – not getting what I want and then closing down, unable to hold good and bad together and, of course, the issue of trusting the T and this notion of perfect care.

    I’ve often thought about what your Psychiatrist said at the assessment, about there being no such thing as “perfect care” and I wonder how much of this plays out in every turn with the Therapist. I also wonder – and this also relates to my own life – if our desire for that ‘perfect love/relationship is actually a means to cutting off from experiencing the more realistic relationship/love, and that includes with our Therapists. Recently, I had to ask myself if I was capable of that perfect loving care. Could I be all of this to someone else? I’m not sure I could, it’s very unlikely.

    I also try to look for the positive in past bad experiences. I wonder if this stops us from grieving and healing from the past.

    The other thing that stuck out was when you said you don’t have a template for adult mending, which is my own experience and, of course, I wonder if this plays out in our relationship with our T’s. We’re not necessarily mending a relationship, but we are trying to build one amidst all our fears and lack of experience. Mmmm not sure if that makes sense…

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    • Thank you so much for your comment Cat, and I’m glad you could relate 🙂 I think you’re right to wonder how much of the ‘perfect care’ desire (and frustration at not having the desire met) plays out with the Therapist – I think it does play out at every turn, and at the moment my therapy feels like a backwards and forwards game where sessions simply alternate between ‘good therapy’ and ‘bad therapy’. Like you, I don’t get what I want and so close down; we then have a frank discussion/resolution at the next session and I feel really close again; then the ‘push-pull’ kicks in and my sub-conscious gets the better of me and I do/say/think things that mean by the time I get to the next session, I have found something else to feel I haven’t received, and I close off again. My therapist has often said that I set up situations to fail, or that I set up therapy to be unsatisfying. I’m sure that’s true, and I’m sure that often it’s in response to fearing that the closeness I may sometimes achieve, isn’t perfect and won’t last. I think your point about cutting off from a more realistic experience of love is really really interesting – I hadn’t thought about it in that way before. I think you’re right – because I feel cut-off every time I feel I don’t get the care I need, I don’t get the opportunity to experience a stable relationship with more realistic expectations. I agree that always looking for the positive means trying not to deal with grieving. I wonder if it’s also related to your point about experiencing more realistic relationships. I keep trying to put an ‘idealising’ spin on my relationship with my Therapist, because it avoids me having to deal with the ways in which she/our relationship isn’t ‘perfect’. Your last paragraph makes perfect sense too. I’m very conscious at the moment, of the fact that all my efforts to build a relationship with her are based on ‘old’ and ‘unhelpful’ patterns of behaviour and expectations e.g. a belief that I have to please in order to be accepted. But this just gets in the way of me experiencing what I truly want, which is unconditional acceptance (post on this lot still to come – it’s all quite new and whirling around in my brain!). I have no idea what to do about it all or how to get past it, but at least realising what’s going on, is something! Thank you again for your insights 🙂

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  4. I really appreciate how you explain what goes on in your mind. As someone with a suspected BPD sister, I read this as if you were her and she took some responsibility for the source of her pain. Instead, at age 50, she continues to think everyone else is doing her harm. We are all basically in some kind of pain of our own.

    I’m wondering if you have any words of wisdom for those of us who are confused and conflicted about what to do, how to respond, what does help look like that doesn’t continually feel like we’re pouring sand into the ocean.

    Even the simplest thing like ordering a dish I want to eat, will invite hostility and being frozen out for the rest of a meal. I can’t comment on what happened because it will be denied, and I would invite more hostility by doing so. Ignoring invites hostility. And later, I might even be accused of not apologizing or thanking her enough for something totally unrelated.

    I also can’t say, “I know that my exercising normal personal choices makes you feel rejected. But I need to be able to control what I eat without it offending you.” That will invite even more hostility, not to mention the fact that that gets into me interpreting her motives, which would offend her.

    This is just an illustration of the kind of thing that has played out again and again. I also know a lot of people with BPD resent people claiming the lie. But from this end, it can be pretty devastating to have objective reality such as an email or a canceled check for proof, only to have that fact be denied. This might seem trivial but if your reputation is at stake, it often doesn’t seem like enough to say, “Well, I know what the truth is.”

    I don’t know what I’m asking really. Maybe I’m just trying to have a conversation with you that I don’t ever expect to have with her. I’m exhausted, sad about a lifetime of having absorbed so many blows (which is my problem to get over), but being told I imagine it or being blamed for it, really feels like too much sometimes.

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    • Thank you so so much for your wonderful and considered comment. You have no idea how much it means to me, to be able to interact with those who love and support people with BPD. I love interacting with other bloggers who share the same diagnosis, or who have mental health difficulties in general, and being able to help or support them is something that’s very important to me. But so is trying to help loved ones understand more about what it feels like for those who they are supporting, and this group has been much harder to reach. So thank you so so much for taking the time to read and to write. I have been thinking very much about what you’ve written, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a little more time to think and then write as helpful a reply as I can (though I don’t know whether it will ultimately end up being helpful at all!). I would certainly _like_ to be able to have some words of wisdom, and at the very least I would like to be able to describe to you how _I_ might feel in your sister’s situation, and why. But we’re all different, and that’s not to say that her experience would be the same as my (imagined) one.

      Both of you are clearly hurting a lot – and yes, it absolutely feels like too much sometimes. But I think it’s wonderful that you’re still trying; that you’re still reaching out, trying to support, and very importantly, it looks as though you’re trying to find out more and trying to understand. It’s very validating to know that someone you care about, is striving to understand you better. I know it probably feels like there’s not much point to trying, a lot of the time, because sometimes you can never win, but honestly, I think it _can_ ultimately make a big difference. We need to know that those we care about and who care about us, believe in us. I think we all need that, irrespective of who we are!

      I’m so glad you felt moved to write, and that you wanted to have a conversation. I’m always happy to answer questions, as far as I can, though I’m no ‘expert’ and have done nowhere near as much reading on BPD as I’d like. But I’m always happy to share my experiences, my feelings and my thoughts, and it would be a privilege if that were helpful to you in any way. Take care, and I will be in touch again over the next few days.

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