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.

Chasing cars around my rocky island – and other therapeutic conundrums

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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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8 thoughts on “Chasing cars around my rocky island – and other therapeutic conundrums

  1. I didn’t know I wasn’t the only who wanted my therapist to be everything. They are so wonderful, so why can’t they, right? Thank you for sharing your thoughts so honestly. I can really relate. I also relate to feeling that my therapist isn’t “getting it”, quite often. And not giving me what I need. It is hard to fill bottomless needs.

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  2. Gosh, I am a rock, and I am an island as well. What a great post. I soooo want to experience love and acceptance, just like in Chasing Cars. But I have made myself an island, inaccessible, barely any people in my life, which is so painful, but secure at the same time. I look forward to following your journey and perhaps picking up some tips. Thank you so much for sharing this. Its been a bit of a lightbulb moment for me 🙂

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  3. ‘I Am A Rock’ is seriously fucking angry song. I should know because I’m a frigging cliff face at times. 🙂

    Not sure why she shared this song with you especially if you know her to be evasive, is it about her or you? I’d have been irked too. I sometimes think that therapists are like partners or best friends and that if some kind of strong rapport isn’t there it’s not going to work. I have this connection with my counsellor but not my shrink no matter how hard he tries to connect with me. She makes me feel like a person he makes me feel like a lab rat. Not his fault but maybe ‘I’m just not that into him’! Hope this helps x

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  4. I’m increasingly closer to being a human island

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  5. Very insightful. Being honest is refreshing. You are growing. Good job.

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