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 and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges.


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Love song

Just as children love to hear the same stories being read to them repeatedly, or like to watch the same films over and over again, I have always listened to music by having a ‘track of the moment’ which I play constantly until its time passes, and then I move onto a different song. The time for which I play a track may be a week, a month, or several months, but while it lasts, I put my ipod on repeat, and the same piece plays over and over and becomes the backdrop to all my thoughts.

My husband, needless to say, is not a fan of this approach, and I have put him off many a track for life by playing it repeatedly in the car. In order to avoid this, I put Sia’s album ‘1000 Forms of Fear’ on in the car the other day, and we listened to it all the way to the end. This tends to be the way I discover new tracks, and on this occasion, I’m so glad I did.

I’m posting a link to this song for three reasons, the first of which is that, quite simply, I love it and wanted to share it. It’s the last track of the album and it’s called ‘Dressed in black’, and has now taken over from Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ as being my ‘play on repeat’ song. I have had a keen interest in Sia since my posts ‘Intensity‘ and ‘Inner child and past child‘ which were triggered by ‘Chandelier’ and the video for it. Sia has a diagnosis of Bipolar II and it’s all too easy to relate to many of the lyrics of her songs, and the intimations of depression, suicidal ideation, desperation, self-harm and darkness, that can sometimes be found in them.

Secondly, it reminds me of my therapist. Having said that, particularly during a therapy break, almost everything reminds me of my therapist as she is almost constantly on my mind. And love songs in particular, remind me of my therapist. Not the traditional romantic type of love songs, but the ‘dark and twisty’ ones generally involving brokenness and salvation. The verses I’ve picked out in the image below, are particularly poignant for me.

Finally, whether you see them more literally in the context of a romantic relationship, or metaphorically in the context of a therapeutic relationship in which one is held and touched in very different but still very intimate ways – this song contains three of the most beautiful lines I think I have ever heard sung. “You took my hand in yours; you started breaking down my walls; and you covered my heart in kisses.”

Sia dressed in black_2

 


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Progress can be painful

Jane 2Two weeks ago my therapist suggested that one of the reasons why I may be finding things so difficult at the moment, particularly with regard to the therapy break over Easter, is that it is ‘that time of year’. When I asked what she meant, she said that it was at this time last year that I had been waiting to find out whether I would be able to go back into therapy with Jane, my ex-therapist, after a break of a few months. It was also the time when I found out that Jane was considering retiring, and would no longer be taking on any more patients.

I paused for thought – it would certainly at least partly explain why I had been so pre-occupied by thoughts of what it would take to ‘push my therapist away’, and by worries about our therapy having to end prematurely if, like Jane, her health began to suffer, or  she decided to retire. However, I hadn’t made the association with how I had felt this time last year, or indeed any association with Jane at all. What I did notice, when I started to think about it, was that for the first time it felt as though Jane was part of my past, rather than my present. The thought felt interesting, but also disturbing, and so I pushed it to one side. Jane had been so much at the centre of my thoughts and feelings over the last couple of years, even in her absence, that any shift in her position felt strange and uncomfortable.

Although Jane and I only had fifteen sessions together, I formed such an immense attachment to her and idealised her so completely, that losing her was devastating. I spent much of my first eight months with my current therapist in tears over this loss, but with the ever-present prospect and hope that I would return to therapy with Jane. I have experienced bereavement but I have never properly grieved – yet this felt like a powerful grief that took months to loosen its hold. Even up to a few months ago, I would be regularly overwhelmed, out of the blue, by sadness, loss and longing for her. I persisted adamantly in my view of her as perfect in every way – the perfect therapist, the perfect human being.

Although at various points I felt I had made a commitment to my current therapist, she was still very much ‘in the shadow’ of Jane. I constantly compared her and her words and actions, with Jane’s. Before Christmas, when my therapist made some reference to the fact that I had difficulty ‘letting go’, I was shocked and said that I had committed to therapy with her. Yet my unthinking Freudian slip when I answered her, said it all. ‘I’ve committed to this therapy – I have no choice’. Which of course begs the question – but what if I had a choice? Or rather, what if I had the only choice I was really interested in having, the option of returning to therapy with Jane?

Even at Christmas, despite the fact there had been some momentous and intimate moments in my current therapy, and I felt my therapist and I had made great progress in building a more trusting relationship; when I thought about what I would do if I had that choice, the answer was unclear. I didn’t know what I would do – the draw to return to Jane if the option were open, was still very strong indeed. I very much suspected that if I had the opportunity, it would be almost impossible to resist. Although I found it disturbing to think that I couldn’t yet say that I was invested completely in my current therapy, I also found the thought of completely letting go of Jane, just as disturbing.

Which is why last weekend was a mixed-up, bitter-sweet, wonderfully healing and also painful time. Thinking about the fact we only had two sessions left before the break, I turned again to my therapist’s suggestion that part of the background to my feelings of distress, are my memories and experiences of last year’s ending with Jane. I asked myself again the question – what would I do if I had a choice? What would I do if Jane contacted me to say that she was not retiring – that we could resume therapy together again? What would I do if the one thing I’d been wanting for so long, was actually offered to me now?

I would say no.

I’m not sure when and how the change happened, but at that moment I realised that I could now answer that question unequivocally and without hesitation. I would not choose to return into therapy with Jane. It was a massive shock. On the one hand it was incredibly welcome for the sense of relief in not feeling conflicted; the sense of security and safety and ‘rightness’ that I’d come to feel about my current therapy. But on the other hand it was very upsetting because it signified a letting go of the kind that I hadn’t done before, and that a year ago would have seemed completely impossible.

It’s not that I don’t want to see Jane again; she meant to much to me, and still does. I still find it incredibly difficult to get my head around the fact that despite living in the same city, I will almost certainly never set eyes on her again. That thought is as hard for me to comprehend as it is to try and imagine infinity. I would love to see her again – I still long for it. I would love to talk to her, to hear her voice, to see her smile. I have no photos of her, and am worried that soon I won’t be able to remember what she looked like, or how she sounded. I want to see her again. It hurts that I can’t.

But I don’t need to be in therapy with her. I have everything I need in my current therapy. It’s not always what I want, but that’s okay – questioning what I want, and why, is part of the process. I wouldn’t want to replace my current therapist with anyone – not even with Jane.

I cried tears of happiness and of sadness combined. It felt like an arriving home and a leaving behind. It was the day I suddenly realised that things were no longer all about Jane.


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Memory Monday – “Even the hairdresser’s made me cry”

This week’s Memory Monday coincides with the first anniversary of my entry into the blogging world, and so I am linking to my first ever post:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/03/23/even-the-hairdressers-made-me-cry/

Eighty-nine posts and around 72,000 words later, and I am very much looking forward to my second year as a mental health blogger! I have gained so much from the process: community, friendship, support, information, insight, advice, humour, encouragement, challenge….I could go on. Writing, and processing thoughts, experiences and emotions through writing, has also become a key part of my therapy. So much so, that when I’m not writing, I don’t tend to feel as connected to my therapist – an interesting question in itself, for discussion during a session….

I want to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to anyone who has read or commented on a post over the last year – it’s been wonderful interacting with you and getting to know you. I always appreciate it when someone takes the time to let me know that something I have written has struck a chord or has been important to them. I have been struck in this way by so many wonderful posts by other bloggers, it’s humbling to know that sometimes others relate in the same way, to one of my own. So thank you – and apologies for the occasions when it takes me a little while to respond to a comment! I like to reply fully while approving every comment, and so I’m not always able to be as quick as I would like.

For those who follow, read and comment regularly, whose wonderful words and encouragement I treasure – an extra special thank you. You inspire me, challenge me, comfort me, and you are always thought-provoking.  I feel like I’ve got to know you a little, and some of you I am in touch with outside of WordPress, and I am privileged to think of you as friends. I very much look forwarding to continuing our discussions over the next twelve months. 🙂

As for the book described in my first ever post – I did eventually finish it, but not until around six months later. I hate to read a few pages at a time, and so I saved it until my next opportunity to spend several hours reading, when I could really immerse myself in it. The second half of the book was just as wonderful, and had exactly the same effect on me. For reasons I still don’t fully understand (I even asked my therapist to read it, in case she had any insights about it), I once again felt sadness, pain and longing while reading. And when I finished the book lying in bed at the end of the day, I spent a long time in hard sobbing. The only possible reasons I can still come up with, are the ones given in my post; but I am hoping that further along in my therapy journey, I will be able to understand them better. The reaction was so powerful, so visceral, that I do think that it must have therapeutic significance. But sometimes that significance takes time to uncover, and time to understand.

Perhaps I shall read it again just before the end of my second year of blogging. I wonder if I will have some fresh insights on it then? Or perhaps if you read it too, you can help me with some of your own! Happy reading – and THANK YOU again, for making my first year in the blog-o-sphere, such an extraordinary one….

 

 


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Borderline, pass, fail – BPD and testing those we love

Part of the frustration of learning more about BPD and becoming more self-aware, is the sense of feeling boringly and predictably ‘textbook’. I can just hear my therapist laughing at this point, at yet another example of wanting to be ‘special’ – which in this case is manifested as annoyance at being simply pedestrian. I’m having that feeling of predictability, right now. It’s coming up to the two-week Easter break, and the mood in therapy (at least my internal one) has changed. It’s not just that I’ve suddenly entered the zone of ‘stage-fright’ – the term my therapist used to refer to the anxiety and indecision that takes over when I enter the last fifteen minutes of our one-hour sessions. It’s the fact that I strongly suspect that I am testing her again; which, as far as my own behaviour goes, is utterly predictable in the light of the upcoming break and the emotional abandonment feelings that go with it.

It is fairly common for those with BPD to test those they care about – unfortunately, it is one of the behaviours which, due to a lack of understanding of the motivations and world-view that underlie it, can lead to accusations of manipulation or game-playing. But ‘testing’ is not a game, by any interpretation of that word. Neither is it a conscious and deliberate choice. The person with BPD may be completely unaware that they are doing it, but even if they are aware, they may be unable to stop it, or the drive to continue may feel too strong to resist.  And what drives it is, quite simply, a need to feel loved, cared for and understood.

Testing is intimately linked both with the fact that many with BPD have very high expectations of those they care about, and also with the issue of ‘magical thinking’ – that others will know what I’m thinking and what I need, even without me asking. Many with BPD unconsciously link feeling cared for, to having their expectations met and to having people intuit their needs. Testing is a way of seeing whether those criteria have been met, and therefore ultimately, it is a way of finding out whether one is cared for. This may sound far from sensible, but it can feel undeniably logical to someone with BPD as well as feeling emotionally true.

The logical and emotional forces behind testing are immense. For example, if a close friend doesn’t contact me for a while, I will worry that they don’t care, but rather than getting in touch to find out if all is well, I tend to maintain my distance. You could argue that that is game-playing; trying to elicit a response using passive-aggressive withdrawal. But according to my logic, ‘forcing’ a response would be meaningless; I want my friend to freely and without prompting, think of me and get in touch. I can see that whereas I might think of this as an opportunity for her to show me that she cares, she could argue that I am restricting the way in which she can demonstrate her caring. Her demonstration has to fit my expectation.

On a conscious level, my testing is always seeking a positive outcome – that is, I desperately want the person to pass the test. As far as my conscious mind is concerned, that is why I persist in the test even when I know that it is very unlikely to succeed. I can be so desperate for that evidence of caring, that the associated risks of huge disappointment and pain, seem worth taking. However, I think it is highly likely that there are unconscious motivations at play as well, which are the complete reverse of my conscious awareness.

My therapist has said, on a number of occasions, that it looks as though I am setting up therapy to fail or to be unsatisying. I create a situation in which I am bound to feel upset or disappointed; I may try and push boundaries, ask a question it’s unlikely she would answer, or expect something from her she is unlikely to give. Invariably, I tend to do this just before a ‘break’, whether that’s over a weekend, or a longer therapy break. This is the equivalent of ‘getting in first’ and giving myself a reason to emotionally cut myself off from her, so that I don’t have to feel either the hopelessness of loving her or the painfulness or feeling abandoned by her. It gives me a reason to feel angry with her – because my adult brain knows that it is not her fault that there is such a thing as a weekend and that everyone needs a holiday, even if the child part of me tries to deny it. In the same way, I think it’s perfectly possible that my ‘testing’ has an unconscious negative motivation. Perhaps I want people to fail the test so that I have an excuse to push them away and feel angry with them, rather than deal with the painful ramifications of closeness, and of the fact that how I want to feel cared for, isn’t necessarily how others demonstrate caring.

Just before the six week summer break, I was aware that I had unintentionally constructed two tests for my therapist. I was hoping that she would tell me that she cared about me in our last session before the break; and I was hoping that she would send me a brief email on the first anniversary of my last session with Jane, my ex-therapist. She knew how much I wanted to feel reassured that she cared about me, how anxious I was about the break, and also how difficult and painful I would find that anniversary. Surely, therefore, both of these were small and easy things that she could do, that would be enduring examples of her caring. Examples that I could recall whenever I doubted that caring in future. And surely, given that she should understand me fairly well by this point, both of those things should be fairly obvious to her, and she should know what they would mean. Or so my reasoning, and my internal justification, went.

Of course, she ‘failed’ the first test in our last session; and she failed the second a few days later. Although I expected it, I was devastated, both times. And yet I repeated the scenario again, when I realised that I was waiting to see what she would do or say on my birthday. I had already mentioned the date, and that we would have a session on the day itself, and I began to build up fantasies of what it would be like. They ranged from the ridiculously unlikely (her giving me a hug) to the fairly mundane (her giving me a card or lending me a book).

Whatever the details, the test was to see whether she would remember my birthday. And of course she did not. A friend of mine with BPD said that there were many other things she would rather her therapist remembered about her, but my own reasoning was this: why would she not commit the date to memory, and show me that she remembered, when this would be such an easy way to show me that she cared? And why would she not understand how much it would mean? My therapist and I talked about this afterwards – it was painful and challenging, but also very helpful. She was unequivocal about the fact that hugs were outside the boundary of therapy, and that my ‘testing’ succeeded only in hurting me. We have had numerous conversations, before and since, about the fact that caring can be found in ordinary things; that she cannot read my mind, but that this doesn’t mean that we aren’t connected.

And yet I can see that I’m doing it again. I made an association, a few sessions ago, between how I’ve been feeling about her in the present, and feelings from my past. I kept it to myself, mostly because it simply felt like an undercurrent, but now it has burst up to the surface in a powerful way. Even so, I found myself in the last couple of sessions deliberately staying silent on the association, waiting to see if she would mention it. If therapy is a context in which the past is replayed, why is this association all but invisible to her, when it seems like the elephant in the room to me? And it’s painful – so painful. I came back from my session and retreated to bed as soon as I could, wanting to lose myself in sleep. Feeling frustrated, not understood; parts of me feeling invisible.

But at least this time, I can challenge myself in advance of my therapist doing it for me. I know that I’m being unfair, and I can’t judge her on the basis of what she doesn’t know and what I held back from her. There were two things going on simultaneously – and she was dealing with the present, and the very obvious fears and feelings I was having about our relationship. In fact, part of the reason I held back, was that the things she was saying about that relationship and the present situation were important, helpful, and I wanted to hear them. I didn’t want to divert her from the topic, while also being frantic about the associations I was waiting for her to acknowledge.

This time, I can see that I’m hurting myself, and that it’s pointless. Only recently I told her that I’d realised how strong our relationship had become and how much conviction and trust I had in her and in her judgment. That realisation was powerful, and it can’t be undone by a fundamentally flawed test. A test that demonstrates nothing less than the fact that she is paying full attention to me in the present, and nothing more than the fact that her mind-reading powers are human, not divine.

I don’t want to test her, I want to talk to her. There is no magic to even a borderline pass in a test that is predicated on the fallacy of her being inside my head. Allowing for closeness despite a fundamental un-know-ability does not diminish us –  it makes us stronger.

 


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Piano-playing selfie – this one works!

Many thanks and also apologies to those who clicked on the link in my previous ‘Piano-playing selfie‘ post and couldn’t get the video to work. Having struggled to get the hang of uploading into Youtube, I think I’ve cracked it and hopefully this should now work for everyone!

The previous link was to an upload of the video into a Facebook page – that was a last-ditch attempt to get something to work, having utterly failed to upload video into WordPress. The clue should have been in the phrase ‘You can upload videos and embed them directly on your blog with the premium plan‘ – which I don’t have. Common sense and observational skills were never my strong point.

Enjoy!

 

 


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Piano-playing selfie

final piano

Click below for video:

https://fbcdn-video-c-a.akamaihd.net/hvideo-ak-xtp1/v/t42.1790-2/11061853_1613088832239142_2068064098_n.mp4?oh=c90528b93f74d4cf1b999ddf6b92d2a6&oe=550A134E&__gda__=1426724994_000c6f8c41585d5e938cccb073f6b1c3

 


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Memory Monday – “Waiting to fall – BPD and obsessive attachments”

With the exception of my ‘Home page’ and my post on BPD and invalidation, this week’s Memory Monday post has had more than three times the number of views of any of my other posts. It is by far the most consistently viewed post; and the most frequent search engine terms that lead people to my blog, are centred on obsession and attachment.

These are powerful feelings that evoke powerful responses, which can include shame and guilt. Obsessional emotions can ‘feel wrong’; they can make us wonder what it is about ourselves that means that we get taken over so completely by a force we feel unable to control – a force entirely centred on another human being. The obsessional feelings may be temporarily intoxicating, but something inside may nag at us, wondering if this is all a sign of deep trouble. What does it mean? Why me? Do other people feel this way?

If you feel the way described in this post, you are certainly not alone:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/06/21/waiting-to-fall-bpd-and-obsessive-attachments/

I searched for information on obsessions, when I was in the middle of a particularly difficult obsession with a friend. I may have written this post many months ago, and I may have had particular individuals in mind when I wrote it, but it is as present and as difficult an issue for me now, as it was then. Whether the feelings relate to a friend, a partner or a therapist, the intensity of an obsessive attachment has brought me, repeatedly, both the most intense highs and the most painful lows. It seems to me that therapy, in particular, is a cruel form of unrequited love in which attachment can be necessary for healing, but the boundaries of the relationship may serve to make the obsessional nature of the attachment even more painful. 

I have tried, in this post, to give a very personal take on what an obsessive attachment feels like, how it comes about, and why it happens. We will all have our own particular versions of ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’, but I hope there is enough commonality here that my main purpose will have been achieved – that you will feel less alone with these feelings. Less shame, less judgement; more understanding and more acceptance. I think our obsessive attachments are trying to tell us something – and if we’re in therapy (or even if we’re not), it may be a major part of ‘moving forward’ to try and work out what that is……