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.

Progress can be painful

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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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13 thoughts on “Progress can be painful

  1. What a great step to take! That’s progress to me 🙂 Congrats to you! 🙂

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  2. Beautiful post and I revel in how much growth has happened here. I truly hope I can get to the same space as you and see DS as part of my past. He told me this week he is closing his practice (I blogged about it) and I guess it is really hard for me to digest that he will no longer be part of my life from August 😦 Your post gives me hope though x

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    • Thank you SO much for your wonderful words – it’s always wonderful to know when others are ‘celebrating’ with me, as I find it so hard sometimes to acknowledge and accept growth. I know exactly how you feel about DS, and not being able to take it in, and I’m so glad my words have given you some hope. When I commented on your post, I talked about grief, and I think there’s no escaping there will be a great deal of that. But it IS possible to get through, and although it’s a well-worn phrase, it does definitely take time. How much time, is person-dependent, but in my case it took a full 18 months to reach the point I have now, described in my post. And to give you even more hope, I wanted to tell you that my school friend with BPD worked with the same counsellor for eleven years, and when he retired two years ago, she was understandably completely devastated (I cannot even begin to comprehend what it must be like to lose a therapist after that length of time). Now, two years on, she has said exactly the same to me as I have written about Jane – she wouldn’t want to go back into therapy with him now, and that’s a position she once believed it would be impossible to reach. She is very attached to her new therapist, albeit in a slightly different, perhaps slightly less obsessional way (this matches my own experience). She and I both worked through our grief with a new therapist, who now means the world to us, and that’s something we didn’t think was possible. So there is definitely hope, however hopeless things feel now, and however sacred that space feels. It will always feel sacred, and he will always occupy it, but there will be room for someone else to occupy a slightly different space. Your work with DS will always be important and significant and you will be able to look back on it and those memories will be precious and you will still have strong feelings for him. Working with someone else seems as though it would negate all that, but it’s amazing how it doesn’t. (Which is not to say that trying to form a relationship with a new therapist while grieving an old one, wasn’t turbulent for a long while, but that turbulence is now part of a treasured alliance, and I would love that for you at some point in future)….many hugs, thinking of you xxx

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  3. Anniversaries, and all that are attached to them, are very powerful. Most of the the time our subconscious does strange things without us even really knowing. I am also going through kind of a hard anniversary. Hang in there, you are definitely on the right path.

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    • Thank you so much for reading and for your encouragement. I agree, the subconscious is a strange thing indeed – and fascinating….! I am so sorry you’re going through a difficult anniversary as well, and am here to listen and support if that would be helpful in any way. Hang in there too – and keep in touch….

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  4. This is amazing progress and I’m sure it will pave the way for even better therapy…;-)

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