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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Being enough

I wanted to share another fantastic post called ‘On feeling like too much‘, by one of my favourite blogging therapists, whose blog I haven’t had as much time to visit recently, as I would like. Dawn Friedman is a family counsellor, helping individuals, younger children and teens, and her posts cover everything from parenting challenges, to adoption, to how it feels to cry in the therapy room. I have linked to a couple of her other posts before.

On feeling like too much‘ resonated in so many ways with what I experience, particularly in the context of therapy. ‘Feeling like too much’ and ‘feeling like too little’ are both difficulties I have been discussing with my therapist over the last few sessions. We’ve been talking about how hard it is for me to communicate and express myself during session, and I have realised that that is at least partly connected to a worry about being interesting enough, or about saying ‘the right things’, or about sounding confused or incoherent. I am anxious that what I talk about might be trivial. At the same time, I worry that if I do say something confrontational, critical or angry; or if I email my therapist too often in between sessions – that I will be ‘too much for her’.

These are both recurring themes for me in therapy. During a silence last week when I couldn’t think of anything ‘interesting enough’ to tell my therapist, I said that the only thing going through my mind was the bracelet I was nervously playing with, and wondering how much pressure it would take to break it.

“What would that mean?” came the question.

“Breaking this bracelet wouldn’t matter very much, it’s not that important. But it would be very upsetting if I broke that bracelet” (one that I associate very much with therapy, as it is inscribed with a poem that my therapist and I have discussed).

Am I worried that my ‘being too little’ will be too much for her? Too frustrating? That it will ‘break’ our relationship?

I think we all need to hear Dawn’s final words in her post – to commit them to heart and mind, and repeat them to ourselves when we need them most, so that eventually, we might start to believe them.  I hope we all find ‘our space’, whether that is the therapy room, the open air, or a different place altogether:

“You are not too much. You are not too little. You are enough. You deserve a space where no matter what you show up with, no matter how full or how empty you feel, you will be just right.”

 

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Chasing cars around my rocky island – and other therapeutic conundrums

I think I’m finally starting to realise that my therapist might actually be interested in me. Not just interested in what I have to say from a therapeutic perspective, or because it’s her professional duty to be interested, or because she gets job satisfaction from it, or because she satisfies her curiosity by being interested. But interested in who I am as a person – not for her own reasons or her own gain, but just for the sake of it.

It’s infuriating when she turns my questions back onto me – when she won’t immediately tell me what her favourite piece of music is, or her favourite colour, or why she enjoyed a particular book. But I think I’m finally starting to see beyond the frustrations of ‘therapeutic technique’ and rather than feeling ‘fobbed off’, I’m starting to accept that she genuinely wants to ensure that therapy is my space, and that we focus on me rather than her. She knows that I have a strong people-pleasing streak, and has guessed that behind my questions often lies a desire to find out what she likes so that I can do something to please her, whether that’s play a piece of music that she likes, or discuss a book that she finds interesting. Instead, she tries to persuade me that she wants to know what I think, what I like, why things are important to me. Maybe I’m starting to buy it – but it’s hard to overcome the inbuilt belief that people generally want something from me, rather than wanting me to be me.

Overcome by warm and fuzzy feelings of acceptance, I decided to email my therapist a link to my favourite song, ‘Chasing Cars’ by Snow Patrol:

There are a number of things I love about this song, including the simple repeating nature of the tune, and the way it builds and builds towards the end. But the words capture that part of me that longs for finding and merging with that one person who can be everything and everyone to me. In other words, it captures my longing for that which does not exist – for the ideal, for the perfect.

When we next met, my therapist said the song had prompted her to think of another song, by Simon and Garfunkel, called ‘I am a rock’. My assumption was that it was a song along similar lines, and so I was rather surprised when I listened to this:

Should I be offended?! What is she trying to say?! On the one hand, I can see exactly why she was reminded of the song; why I reminded her of that song. It speaks to the ways in which I try and protect myself from pain and close myself off from other people because of a fear of being vulnerable. But I was confused about how and why she’d made the link between two such different songs.

However, it later occurred to me that in some ways, the second song follows on from the first. That the ‘way of being’ described in ‘I am a rock’ is the consequence of my beliefs and longings as captured in ‘Chasing Cars’. If I am desperate for the one person who can meet my every need to the exclusion of everyone else, and who can do it without hurting me, I am bound to end up as a human island. That one person does not exist and when I try and build someone in that image, they invariably fail to live up to it, and I am devastated by that disappointment. I may push them away, or I may shut them out. Either way, I am left feeling cut-off, and building defences against it happening again. Either way, as the song says, “I am alone”.

For me, there is an idyll of ‘perfect togetherness’ in Chasing Cars. An idyll of emotional vitality and vigour; a landscape with a ‘garden that’s bursting into life’. But it is almost within the definition of an idyll that it is unsustainable or unrealistic. Trying to superimpose it on our feet of clay can lead to the completely contrasting picture of emotional death, which is painted in ‘I am a rock’:

“A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.”

I’ve had some very difficult sessions in therapy recently, where I have felt completely cut-off from my therapist, feeling that she was unwilling or unable to respond to me as I would like. I have her words ringing in my ears: “I have the sense that you feel I’m not giving you what you need”; “I’m only human”; “by focusing on the things you can’t have in therapy, you’re not able to make the most of the things you can have”; “allow yourself to experience therapy rather than want it to be as you imagine it”. She wants me to be myself and accepts me for who I am – I want to be able to experience and accept her as she is too, albeit what she shows me will be very much more limited than what I reveal of myself. It’s hard living on my rocky island and I’d rather be in that garden – but I need to try and accept the weeds and the shade, along with the flowers and the light.


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Why taking a pledge to talk about suicide, can be so powerful

Last Sunday I broke down in front of two people at church, and told them that I was desperate to die and that I had been on the verge of walking out and going to the spot where, when I had been feeling suicidal before, I had planned to take my own life. They weren’t horrified, or at a loss for words. They took me seriously, but they didn’t panic. They held me, and talked to me, and though the pain was still intense the sobbing died down, and some sort of connection had been made.

Less than a month ago, I signed the STOP Suicide pledge. The pledge is part of a wider suicide-prevention campaign working towards reducing the stigma of talking openly about suicide. It is one of a small number of similar projects across the UK (for example, Grassroots) which, inspired by a very successful suicide-prevention project in Detroit, are trying to reduce the more than 6,000 completed suicides (and many more attempts) that take place every year in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Both STOP Suicide and Grassroots have been launched in particular areas/counties in the UK, but their pledges can be taken by anyone, anywhere.

When a friend of mine first drew my attention to the STOP Suicide pledge, I wasn’t prepared to sign it. I thought the campaign was incredibly important and I had no problem with points two to five of the pledge – reaching out to those who are struggling, listening without judgement, and helping them to get support. But I couldn’t hand-on-heart commit to point one – “tell you if I’m struggling and need help”. I was worried that talking about suicide would be too much of a burden for others; that they wouldn’t know what to say or would feel uncomfortable. That it was unfair of me to put them in a position where they would worry about me and might feel responsible for ‘saving me’. It didn’t occur to me that it might be unfair not to give them the opportunity to try.

I’m not sure exactly how or why I changed my mind about signing the pledge. I think it was part of the very gradual process, encouraged by therapy, of opening up a little about my mental health difficulties. But even just a few weeks ago, I could never have imagined talking in that way to anyone about wanting to kill myself. I am sure that even unconsciously, the pledge was a key part of that change, and I’ve been thinking during the last week about why pledging can be so powerful.

It seems to me, that the STOP Suicide pledge is a lot like the promises I made in marriage. When I got married I became part of something bigger – not just because I was part of a unit of two rather than a unit of one, but also because that unit was publicly recognised. Taking the pledge made me feel part of something bigger than myself – part of a community of hundreds of others who had also promised to reach out and to support. My suicidal thoughts tend to be accompanied by a severe case of tunnel vision, where the only thing I can focus on is my pain. Being aware of a ‘wider picture’ is extremely difficult, but the pledge is a reminder that though it may feel like it, my pain is not the only thing that exists. Possibility and hope are out there too.

Within my marriage, I am also accountable – I am a separate person, but there is someone else to consider in the decisions that I make. Taking the pledge somehow helped me to feel accountable – to the campaign, to those other individuals who have also taken the pledge, and to the people in my own life. Not in a way that felt burdensome or restrictive, but in a gentle way that reminded me that I’m connected, and although I may feel like an island, my actions have ripples and repercussions.

Taking the pledge was a bit like taking on board an anchor that you can throw overboard when you find yourself in a storm. Talking to others did not mean I was yet in safe harbour – it still felt as though I was being buffeted by desperation – but I felt a little safer. The suicidal thoughts were still scary, but I felt a bit more in control; less likely to be swept away by them. Like being in a relationship, I had something to cling to, something to help tie me to firmer ground.

And, as it has become increasingly clear since last weekend, taking the pledge is not just about a single decision, made once, and it’s not just about speaking up or supporting someone in crisis. It’s a promise that requires daily renewal, just as staying married requires a continual commitment to choose to love someone, however easy or difficult that may be. I noticed after the immediate ‘crisis’ had passed, that even though I still felt as though I wanted to die, I felt less willing to continue to reach out. Even though the two people I talked to had given me their phone numbers, I didn’t want to ‘bother them’ any further. But taking the pledge means I need to acknowledge that it’s not just about keeping me (or others) alive, but keeping me well. It’s not just about stopping suicide, it’s about support in a struggle and about starting a discussion – and then keeping that discussion going.

Suicide prevention and reducing stigma should be a national campaign – the various projects around the UK are doing fantastic work but this message needs to be taken up more widely. The more people who become involved, and the more that the impact of these campaigns can be demonstrated, the more likely it is not only that they will continue to be funded, but that other similar projects will also get off the ground.

Taking the STOP Suicide pledge means making a promise, a promise to yourself and to others; and we tend to like keeping our promises. For me, promises matter – even when I feel I don’t. Wherever you are, may I encourage you to think about taking the pledge. It may be the most important promise you ever keep.

 

 

 


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The Tree Who Couldn’t

I really love this poem from Pooky – it completely strikes a chord with where I am right now. A broken thing, a tree who couldn’t.

I have friends on the end of Facebook, within reach of a virtual hug;
I have friends on the end of a phone.
I have a therapist barricaded behind boundaries, and a God in his Heaven;
And a pain in my chest where it hurts to be alone.

Pooky's Poems

It’s summer, yet my leaves don’t grow.
There is no leafy green on show.
There are no buds
That promise life,
No branches
Growing to the light.

I’m sitting dormant, sad and weak,
I look dark and dull and bleak.
At first you stop
To see what’s wrong,
But that care ends
Before too long.

I sit, forgotten, in plain sight,
Amongst the trees whose boughs are bright
With blossoms, leaves
And birds who sing,
Whilst I stand bare,
A broken thing.

I wither, shying from the light,
I look more dull when days are bright.
The hot sun shines,
Reminding me
That I should grow,
Like other trees.

But sometimes it is hard to grow,
And put your leaves and flowers on show.
So I withdraw,
My branches bare,
Whilst brighter trees
Receive your care.
the tree who couldn't - a poem by pooky

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The paralysis of perfectionism

*WARNING – SUICIDAL IDEATION, SWEARING, AND LACK OF AN UP-BEAT ENDING*

I am in a bad place writing-wise. I have a stack of posts I want to write, but none of them are making an appearance. Not so much as a witty first line or a poetic ending – and certainly not a coherent middle. My head is swimming with thoughts, realisations, connections, important ideas and understandings from therapy, all of which I’d like to capture – for one thing, I’m very worried I will forget it all and the work will be ‘wasted’. Worse than that, if all that will eventually be left of my relationship with my therapist are the memories of our sessions, I’m absolutely terrified that I’m letting her slip away by not recording everything, and that eventually nothing will be left of what we had.

Gone seem to be the days when I used to look forward to the end of the week and ‘discovering’ what it was I wanted to write about. Sometimes the subject matter took me by surprise and it was only a few hours before writing that it became obvious what I wanted to say. Sometimes I could feel it brewing and gathering distinctness during the week, until it became a half-formed (hopefully not half-baked) idea that could start to take shape once my fingers starting working on the keys.

Writing was easier, I think, when I used to have one, rather than two, therapy sessions a week. In a way, writing was a bit like having a session – it was a way of processing thoughts, digging deep, bridging the gap between sessions, and keeping my connection with my therapist alive. On the face of it then, perhaps having a second session has simply obviated some of the need to write. What I would have processed on paper, I can process in person. But no – I think in fact the opposite has happened. Having two sessions a week means there’s now a great deal more to process than there was before. The result? Mental and physical exhaustion towards the end of the week that means sometimes I can barely keep my eyes open as I try and type; less time for a single idea to turn over in my head and to take shape before the next set of thoughts takes it over and we’re onto something else. The pace is faster; the feelings are more intense; the depth is – well, deeper.

I think this all means we’re onto something. So many of the ideas come from different directions but end up feeling connected, and that feels like a good sign, as if it’s all coming together. But it also means that when it comes to writing about it, I don’t know where to start. In a way, it’s a bit like art imitating life. I talk about something in therapy but I’m not sure, come the first silence or come the next session, how to develop it or how to take it further. I’m paralysed by the sense that there must be a ‘right way’ to proceed; I panic at not knowing what that ‘right way’ is; I change the subject because that topic now feels a little lame and as though it must have run its course. Otherwise why would I not be able to think of anything to say, or why would my therapist not be asking me more questions about it? I used to sit down and write and see where it took me. Now, unless the idea feels fully formed and structured to start with, it’s hard to get going at all. Perhaps doing something for longer breeds more performance anxiety, not less. There is the idea that ‘standards’ must at the very least stay the same, if not improve. As with many things in life, I find it hard to do something simply for the joy of it – sooner or later something inside me wants to sacrifice joy to some sort of self-defined and self-defeating sense of achievement.

A few weeks ago I turned up to therapy without a plan (yes, I was brave enough to do it again!) and we had a lovely meandering session in which we filled in  few more of the details of my past, and which felt intimate and personal and special. At least, it did until near the end when I said that next time I would make sure I came with a plan. Given the implication of my comment (that things had not gone so well without one), my therapist asked me what I thought the session had been lacking. In fact, it had been lacking nothing – it had been beautiful, just as it was. Except for the fact that I couldn’t enjoy what it had been, because I didn’t feel I had achieved something. Things can’t go to plan if there is no plan. They can just go. But that feels uncomfortable – because I have no standard with which to judge that, or my performance against it.

I want to be fucking free. Of the anxiety I feel every time I think I may have said something wrong; of the fear of pushing people away; of the hatred of making mistakes; of the inability to cope with being dreadfully and inevitably ‘let down’; of the belief that what I say doesn’t matter or isn’t interesting to others; of the absolute conviction that I need one person, just one, to be everything and everyone in the whole wide world to me.

I may be in a bad place writing-wise, but I’m in a bad place life-wise, and that worries me more. Therapy is helping me to understand a great deal about myself, about others, about the way I relate to them and to the world. It is revealing the origin of past patterns and of enduring present beliefs. It is helping me to try and figure out little bits of who I am (I recently discovered I was an introvert – who knew?). But I find that the more I understand, the less I want to live. The more I see about what motivated some of my choices in the past, the less I want to live with them. The more I feel what I missed out on and will continue to miss out in future, the less I want to inhabit that future. The more I understand about how things are, the more powerless I feel to change them. I thought things were supposed to be the other way around? Someone please send me some radical acceptance – but it better come with precise installation instructions so that I can’t get it wrong.

In the past, I coped with life by changing the things around me, rather than changing me. Now, I can’t cope with changing the things around me, and although I could try and change me, I don’t think the things around me could cope. I’ve got myself into a little life-conundrum, and my brain is looking for a way out. As I was driving along yesterday, I was convinced that I saw a sign by the side of the road that said ‘Kill yourself, not your speed’. Thank you brain – as if you don’t distort the way I see the world enough, you try and give me little ‘signs from the universe’ to urge me on my way.

I can‘t see a way out of this experience, and in a rather restrained and understated British way, it’s a little worrying. I’m not sure I feel quite safe – and that’s unsettling. Someone very wise once said to me that “it is essential to change how one goes about daily life, much more than it is important to understand anything”. But here’s what I’m not sure about – is ‘how one goes about daily life’ about the actual living, or about one’s attitude while one does the living? I’m not sure I have the means or the courage to change the former; and I still have no idea how to change the latter. So far I’m only at the stage of realising that change is necessary – but that’s a bit like seeing the prison walls for the first time, when you had no idea they were there, and feeling as though they are falling in on you. It feels as though there’s a timer running – will I be able to figure out how to dig myself out, before they crush the air out of me?

I want to go back and do it all again – differently. I want the tattoo and the belly-button piercing, the outrageously coloured hair and the courage to make my own decisions, despite the belief that my opinions did not matter, and the feeling that I was not accepted for who I was. I want to go back and do it right, damn it. Maybe the second time around, I won’t be such a fucking perfectionist. Maybe the second time around, I’ll be happy to just do okay. Or maybe to just do.

Sigh….I’ll feel a damn sight safer when I can read that last sentence without my murderous brain shouting ‘WHO ARE YOU KIDDING?’ in response…..

 

 


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A lesson in boldness from my child

“Depression and low self-esteem often go hand-in-hand. Low self-esteem leaves individuals vulnerable to depression. Depression batters self-esteem.” *

“With low self-esteem you also might believe that you don’t have rights or that your needs don’t matter, especially emotional needs, such as for appreciation, support, kindness, being understood, and being loved.” ** 

I felt a strange sort of pride in my eldest child the other day. It wasn’t over something he had done, but something he had said. It wasn’t because it was something clever, or something witty, or something kind. It was definitely beautiful, but that wasn’t why I was proud. And to him it was probably ordinary – but to me it was immensely brave.

My child asked me directly, in the moment, to meet an emotional need. We were discussing colours and he told me that his favourite colour was peach, because it was the colour of my skin, and that my skin was beautiful. It was a wonderful compliment and I thanked him and told him it was lovely. Then a moment later he said: “Mummy, can you say something nice about me too?”

I was awed, humbled and mortified all at the same time. I quickly responded to his question with a number of things I loved about him, and reassured him that they were true and I thought them, even if I didn’t mention them in a particular moment. But I was ashamed I hadn’t brought them up immediately, and ashamed of my reasons for not doing so. I failed to differentiate him as a separate human being – I assumed that his world-view would be the same as my own. If someone gives me a compliment in response to my own, I assume that they are doing it out of obligation; that is it not genuine. I didn’t want him to feel that way, but that was my assumption, based on my insecurities. He is a child, he does not think that way – yet. Hopefully, he never will.

I hope he also never has reason to doubt whether his needs deserve to be met. I hope his self-worth is such that he never doubts that there are innumerable positive aspects to himself. I hope he never has reason to feel staggered by something that should be so simple but which for me, is so very challenging. I find it so difficult to communicate my emotional needs – or even to acknowledge that having them is legitimate. I cannot conceive of being brave enough to ask someone to say something nice about me – particularly someone I care about.

What if they couldn’t think of anything to say? Not only that, what if they felt put out by the fact I had put them in a difficult position by asking the question? What if they felt compelled to say something nice? What if they said something and didn’t mean it? What if they thought I was self-centred and proud? What if they thought of something to say but that something felt small and insignificant? What if, what if, what if….Fear, pure fear. The question just feels too risky.

I envied my child his lack of fear. He had the confidence and the security (I hope) to ask the question without fear of rejection. It appeared as awesome courage to me – I wonder how it felt and what it meant to him? Whether or not it constituted ‘boldness’, most of all I was proud of the fact that he realised he needed something, emotionally, and then he asked for it. He wasn’t ashamed, embarrassed or scared of that need. He just asked.

The lessons that our children have to teach us can be some of the most inspiring but also some of the hardest to learn. They may involve ‘unlearning’ ways of being and thinking ingrained in us since our own childhoods; and they could involve accepting that we may have lost some vital and affirming experiences along the way. We need to be conscious not to try and ‘live through’ our children. But perhaps we could all benefit, sometimes, from trying to see the world – and in particular trying to see ourselves – through their eyes.

 

Margarita Tartakovksy, from an article published by PsychCentral called ‘8 suggestions for strengthening self-esteem when you have depression’

** Darlene Lancer, from an article published by PsychCentral called ‘Low self-esteem is learned’.


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Positive things I learnt recently

As soon as I read this post, I knew it was one I wanted to keep coming back to. It felt like it was a message ‘just for me’, because it came at the right time to be recognised as being important, even if I can’t take it fully on board right now. I can recognise its importance and its intellectual truth, even if it seems like I’m a long way from feeling the truth of it for myself.

I would like to be able to write this post about myself, in due course. I am not sure how I am going to get there, but through therapy, I hope that I will. I am so pleased for the author of this post that she is coming to these precious realisations. I am excited by her ending – by her ‘to be continued’. I got to the end of her post and had a thirst for more. What other possibilities and realisations lie ahead – for her, and then perhaps for me? What other things do I need to learn and take to heart?

She also has a way of forming words into poetry that I can only dream of and secretly (or not so secretly) envy, as well as admire! Please do check out the rest of her blog, including her ‘Poetry’ category. Her poem ‘The Girl Who Writes‘ from December 2014, still takes my breath away….