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.

Memory Monday – “What’s in a name?”

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**TRIGGER WARNING – SELF-HARM**

To tie in with Mental Health Awareness Week last week, my workplace ran a course covering topics such as stigma, depression, anxiety and self-harm. It was an excellent initiative, and I was keen to attend, though I anticipated it being a difficult and perhaps triggering experience. I went with a number of colleagues, and it was interesting to hear people’s views of mental illness, and their descriptions of their own encounters with it through friends or family.

Although I felt a little strange sitting there and contributing to the discussion in the full knowledge that no one else had any knowledge at all of the fact that I shared many of the difficulties being described, I thought I had ‘got off lightly’ in terms of my response. The discussions of suicide and self-harm hadn’t felt particularly triggering, and I didn’t feel hugely anxious about whether I was ‘giving the game away’ through my contributions.

However, as I discovered the next day, I was suffering from a severe case of ‘delayed reaction’. The whole of the next day at work I had immense feelings of frustration and unease that are best described by referring to my ‘What’s in a name?’ post from September, which can be found here:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/09/20/whats-in-a-name/

I was a complete mass of agitation – as though there was a writhing, screaming whirlwind trying to tear its way out of me. But the writhing and the screaming were covered by a thick and suffocating layer of dense fog, so that they weren’t directly accessible but could still be sensed in a way that was driving me mad with confusion. I could not stop thinking about self-harm – hurting myself was the strongest impulse I could feel all day. I had a therapy session straight after work and I took a penknife into session with me, in full view of my therapist – it’s the only time I’ve done that and I had no intention of using it, but somehow I had to have it with me, if only to illustrate how present and urgent the desire was.

I’ve tried to figure out what lead to those feelings, and the best explanation I can come up with is that they were the result of a severe case of a kind of cognitive dissonance. A dissonance related not so much to opposing thoughts, but to opposing world-views and identities.

For most of my life I have hidden away my feelings and put my ‘very best foot forward’ as far as external appearances were concerned. It was not that I was intentionally lying or pretending to be someone I wasn’t – it was simply that externally I was one person, and internally I was someone quite different. It wasn’t even a particular effort to do so – it was, and is,  just the way things are. My parents expected me to be a certain way; some emotions were not acceptable (for example, anger); and my mother found it hard enough to cope with her own emotions, let alone my own. I was successful at school and at work and it was easy to appear always happy and confident in those environments, and in quite a large part, it wasn’t just about appearances. Those were environments in which I received praise, in which I felt I could achieve something and do something right, and in which I could immerse myself to the exclusion of much else that was going on. But I would never have dreamed of allowing ‘weakness’ (that is, emotion, as I saw it) to infect that part of my life. Giving any sign that I was ‘not okay’ was simply not okay.

This is still how I feel, very strongly, about work. I try to fight it, as I know in my heart that it is a false view – that it IS okay not to be okay. But fighting it feels utterly at odds with everything I’ve ever known. The thought that anyone at work might find out about my mental health difficulties is frightening, and I have no idea how I would even behave or function in an environment in which I was ‘no longer hiding’. Given those feelings and views, the experience of sitting in a room and discussing mental health issues with work colleagues, was like the coming together and overlapping of two worlds/selves which had until now been kept completely separate and compartmentalised. And the impact of that shook me up more than I could have imagined. I didn’t know how to deal with bringing those two areas into contact with each other – the feeling of hiding in plain sight and of part of me being buried and not being heard, was profoundly unsettling. But even worse, was simply the effort of trying to hold those two opposing selves side by side rather than keeping them miles apart. They were fighting with each other – perhaps the intense urge to hurt myself was an expression of the hidden part of me, trying to get out. I don’t know. All I know is that it felt like this, and that that feeling is one I really don’t want to have to experience very often. Maybe that means trying to find a way for those two selves to co-exist or to draw closer to each other and to occupy some common ground. I don’t think it can mean keeping them even further apart – that way lies only further madness.

Interestingly, I think this is a dilemma that I will need to solve in other areas of my life as well. Last week I had dinner for the first time with a woman from church who is a psychiatrist, and who I recently confided in with regard to my BPD. She confessed that she wasn’t sure how to approach a friendship with me while avoiding the pitfalls of trying to be my therapist or asking too many questions; I confessed that I wasn’t sure how to approach a friendship where my mental health difficulties were known right from the very start, as opposed to being revealed after many years of having known each other. We agreed that we would just take it as it comes, and be honest with each other. It is so freeing not to have to hide  – not to have that feeling of dissonance. Maybe at some point, I can find a way of allowing myself to be a little more ‘real’ at work. I know I have a long way to go, but ultimately, I think my recovery depends on it.

 

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4 thoughts on “Memory Monday – “What’s in a name?”

  1. Thank you for this post. I experience two sides of myself as well and I am so ashamed of my mental illness that I put on a facade for the external world, pretending I am okay but then feel like a fake and have strong urges to self-harm. It helps to know other people experience this as well and I am not alone.

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    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting…it’s such an intense but also strange feeling, when that feeling of being a fake just gets too much and makes you feel self-destructive. I had no idea at first why the feeling used to happen, or even how to describe it properly, or what it was. But I’m coming more and more to think of it as an internal response to the ‘real self’ coming slightly closer to the surface of the ‘fake self’, and struggling to break through and to be heard. It’s a jarring between what’s hidden and the facade that is normally there. I’m not sure what causes the jarring – well, in this particular case, for me, it was obvious, but on other occasions, I’m not really sure….but now I think I understand where it’s coming from better, I can try and identify what sorts of things particularly trigger it….I hope you might be able to do this too, and that will help understand the experience a bit better. Take care, and keep in touch!

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  2. Great post, and I can so relate (as per usual!)… I’m glad you have a friend through church who knows at least somewhat about this, and I hope the relationship grows to be a source of comfort and insight. I often think that my brain has become “addicted” to living a double life due to years of practice – like I couldn’t NOT live and think that way… even if everything came out in the open I’d find new ways to hide something else or feel that part of me STILL remains invisible. I’m not sure if that makes sense but perhaps it’s a protection mechanism (i.e. if I always keep something back/hidden, then I’m never fully vulnerable?). Thanks for writing and take care! xxxxx

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    • Lovely to hear from you again – missed you! I know what you mean about keeping something hidden, though at the same time I know a real danger with me is going from one extreme to the other and feeling like I need to tell absolutely everything, once I start to confide. And I really don’t need to, and often-times it might actually set me up to be hurt, if I do that. I need to find a way to be measured in terms of what I say once I have decide to confide in someone, particularly someone I don’t yet know very well….as for the friendship with the lady from church….she sent me an email a couple of weeks ago I still haven’t managed to reply to, and I keep wondering how this friendship will work. I know I’m over thinking it, but I keep wondering things like – do I tell her if I’m feeling appalling, what if I have suicidal ideation? How much detail do I go into about my marriage? Does this all start to get into ‘too much detail’ particularly if she starts to feel I’m calling more on ‘psychiatrist’ part of her, than the ‘generic’ friendship part? I have no idea….but maybe I should ask her next time we meet for dinner 🙂 Let’s talk over email soon! xxxxxx

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