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.

The paralysis of perfectionism

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*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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13 thoughts on “The paralysis of perfectionism

  1. “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…’ Yes.

    “Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” From “Middlemarch” by George Eliot.

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    • That’s beautiful, thank you so so much…..I never gave George Eliot her due, since Silas Marner, a standard British school child’s set text!

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      • Same on this side of the pond. Even when I read it for a second time as an adult, I still found it lacking. “Middlemarch,” on the other hand, ranks as a quieter, less histrionic version of “Anna K.,” to the extent of covering so much of what it means to be alive. And so beautifully.

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      • Dr Stein, I was just wondering if you might be open to being contacted via the email address given next to your comments? Please don’t worry if the answer is no- I completely understand if time/boundaries etc mean that this is not something you wish to do, and would prefer to restrict communication to blog comments. I would never presume to use someone’s email address in this way without asking them first, hence using this thread to do so. Please forgive the request, which I’m happy to explain further….!

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    • Thank you SO much for your kindness and concern and I’m so sorry for my delay in replying. I hope I didn’t cause concern….unfortunately, I’m not ‘in the system’ as it were, and do don’t have a cpn and am not in the care of a local mental health team. As my ex-therapist said, it’s a sad reality (though, due to the funding situation, an understandable one in some ways) that if you are able to work and look after a family, it is assumed that you are doing ‘well enough’ to manage without NHS support. My GP is always willing to see me, though she does tend to try and push medication (which I’m not opposed to in principle, I’m simply terrified of it changing me and dulling my feelings). I rely on my therapist, and on the small handful of friends (most of them not local) who know about my diagnosis. It’s one of the reasons I’m trying to be a bit more open and willing to talk about my situation, with a few more people. At the moment, therapy is a bit of an ‘island’ for me – my only respite and main source of support, but realistically, there need to be others involved too……Thank you again for reading, and for commenting, do keep in touch…

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      • My cpn & crisis have said that going to work deems me as functioning & not requiring crisis support. I can’t get therapy or appropriate meds without a cpn tho.
        Medication is okay as it’ll be a small dose first & your GP will keep checking you 🙂

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  2. I can relate to so much (as in almost all!) of this. I really don’t know what to say, but I truly believe that the understanding you have gained will help you to be the person you want to be and to live the life you want to live. I relate very much though: Thank you for sharing this. Your posts connect with me, and I get so much for reading them. I find you very inspiring as a person (although I admit only from reading your posts and comments), and I am very sorry you are in such a bad place right now, and I really hope things get much better for you soon. xxx

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    • Thank you so much- and yes, they have got better, thankfully, and the support from you and others, has meant a great deal. I hope you are right – at least about becoming the person I want to be. As for living the life I want to live – I think what will be key is not focusing on the past and the things I might have done differently, because that could give me a unrealistic and frustrating view of what the ‘life I want to live’ actually is. I think at certain times in your life you are unavoidably constrained by circumstances, which is not necessarily a bad thing (e.g. mortgage, school, parental health etc) and so purely in practical terms, it may be impossible to leave that well-paying job, or move to a different area etc. But I guess that learning to appreciate what ‘living the life you want to live’ means, within the possibilities available and the context in which you find yourself, is important….
      I am so glad my posts connect with you – you know that yours do exactly the same for me. Thank you for your immensely kind and humbling words – and I am absolutely sure I am nowhere near (if at all!) inspiring in person! But if I can achieve that in writing, and make a difference and ‘add something’ to the world or to others by putting things down in words, that’s a privilege that means an awful lot and which I wouldn’t believe about myself, were it not for others such as you, letting me know. Thank you again, and take care xx

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  3. I am in the same exact boat as you are right now. I’m always chastising myself for my perfectionist side. I am always wishing I could go back in time and do the things in my past over again without listening to my brain or the people that influenced my decisions in the past. There are times I wish I had been able to stand up for myself and not let others make me feel like I had to do them.

    I’ve always tried to change the things around me to fit my own needs and feelings. I’m in a spot where the things around me I can’t change and it’s making me depressed to the point where I can’t stop crying and wanting to turn myself into a mental ward for a couple weeks and make someone take care of me so I don’t have to.

    When you said, “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 feel like this every day with every person around me and I wish to GOD the one person I want to understand could understand me fully and that’s my partner. He tries so very hard and he understands me more than anyone does but there are times where I still feel disconnected from him because I can’t get those feelings out and help him understand me.

    You are definitely not alone in these feelings.

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    • Thank goodness I am not alone in those feelings – and neither are you. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and thoughts with me. Yes, yes and yes, to everything you’ve said. I feel it too, including that awful sense of not being able to change anything in my life and wanting desperately for my body to cave in on me, just as my mind feels like it’s doing, so that I can be admitted and looked after and so that someone can see what it feels like on the inside, when the outside appears to be perfectly fine. I feel terrible for having those feelings – I know that a ward is not a pleasant place to be – but those feelings come from desperation and despair, particularly, as you’ve noted, when my home is somewhere where I should feel understood and supported, but I don’t. And so I yearn for somewhere else where that might happen….

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  4. You may certainly contact me via email.

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