Life in a Bind – BPD and me

My therapy journey, recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I write for welldoing.org , for Planet Mindful magazine, and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org.


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Waiting revisited

little rabbit waits for the moonWhy are you carrying a copy of ‘Little Rabbit Waits for the Moon’? asked my husband a couple of weeks ago, as I came home after therapy. ‘I lent it to my therapist’ I said. ‘Why did you lend your therapist a children’s book?’ he asked, puzzled, then thought better of it, gave me a strange looks as if to say ‘this therapy lark is really weird’, and walked away….

Ever since my therapist quoted T. S. Eliot at me this time last year, the concept of ‘Waiting’ has had a special sort of significance for me. But I never expected to find it embodied in a children’s book about a little rabbit waiting for the moon to come out and watch over him, before he could go to sleep. My pre-schooler came across the book at a children’s group, and the parallels grabbed me as soon as I started reading. I went home and ordered it from Amazon straight away. It’s my book, not my children’s – and it’s quite hard to convince them to let me read it to them. I don’t think Little Rabbit’s ‘waiting’ is exciting enough for them – well, I can relate to their impatience, at least…..

When my therapist referred me to those six lines from T. S. Eliot last year, I wrote about them in my post ‘Waiting’. It was very short, so I will reproduce it in its entirety here:

waiting 3

I told my therapist I was thinking about leaving because I didn’t feel cared for or understood. My therapist told me that establishing a therapy takes time. I told my therapist that I couldn’t just wait for someone to come along and understand and care about me. She said that it was about waiting to come to the realisation that I was cared for. 

She asked me if I knew T.S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’. She said that part of it was about waiting. This is that part.”

At the time, I appreciated the beauty of the words, but I felt I was missing their point. It was as if I knew they should be having an impact, but they weren’t. I wasn’t quite sure what they were trying to say – or rather, I felt fairly sure that I didn’t want to understand or take on board what they were trying to say. I have never been a patient person – I’ll always go for the two squares of chocolate now, rather than wait for ten squares of chocolate later. That is no reflection on how much I love chocolate – delayed gratification is just not my thing. But wanting to feel loved and understood is not about gratification – it feels like a desperate, basic need; like survival. And the idea of waiting for that was very difficult indeed to get my head around.

As time went on, the words were no less beautiful, but they became more meaningful. I got a little more used to ‘waiting’. A little more used to my therapist not providing me with reassurance all the time – particularly reassurance as to whether I was cared for or understood. And I became a little more used to the idea that the two things – lack of reassurance, and waiting – went hand in hand. The former provided a space in which the later could, eventually, lead to an appreciation of what was actually there.

I’m no expert in poetry interpretation – and I haven’t read any commentaries on these lines from T. S. Eliot. But the way I interpret them in relation to myself, is that quite often, what I feel as though I desperately want or need, is not necessarily what is best for me, or what I actually need in the long run. Or, it may be the complete opposite of something else I that I long for. When I look at how things have turned out for me in the past, many of my decisions show evidence of ‘hope for the wrong thing’ or ‘love of the wrong thing’ – however desperately right and necessary those things felt at the time.

I asked my therapist last year, whether she hadn’t said she cared about me because it wasn’t true, or because she didn’t think it was within the boundaries of therapy to say it. She said that it would be ‘premature’ – and referred me to these lines. It was, in its ambiguity, a reply very much in keeping with the idea of ‘waiting’. Was it premature to feel that way, or premature to speak it?

The closest thing to those words I wanted to hear, came in December, after a couple of very emotionally tough sessions, and my post ‘My borderline mind’. I had finally realised the extent to which I saw everything through the lens of a strong desire to belong to someone who loved me and understood me perfectly and completely. Going through this in session involved some painfully hard-hitting but necessary realisations about the boundaries of therapy. I felt crushed, confused, vulnerable, but wanted to stay close. Having become conscious of that ‘lens’ I had no idea how I ‘should’ be seeing, or how to proceed with the therapy relationship. My therapist said that at the moment, maybe I just needed to accept that I found it hard to accept. ‘Accept what?’ I asked. ‘Accept that I care; that I’m here; that you matter.

Just like that, un-remarked on in any way by either of us – but what I’d been longing for all along. It happened again, a few months later – as equally unexpected, as equally wonderful, as equally cherished. In a strange way it’s hard to explain, although I wanted to share how wonderful it felt, it also felt too private, too intimate, too special a moment to write about at the time. I held it close, very close to my heart. I still do.

But what was interesting about the first time that it happened, was how ‘soberly’ special it felt, if that’s the right phrase. The fact that it came after my realisation about how my life had revolved around the unrealistic expectation of a perfect relationship, gave it a completely different feel. A weightier feel, in some ways. I think that if it had happened before, it would have ‘gone to my head’, for lack of a better phrase. I may have tried to turn it into something it wasn’t. It might have fuelled those pictures of the ideal, and my pushing at those therapy boundaries. As it is, the ‘waiting’ that had transpired, meant that when the words came, the way in which I saw what I hoped for and what I longer for, had started to change. I felt more open to hoping and longing for something different. To loving someone a bit less perfect and a bit more real.

And so the words didn’t make me giddy – they weren’t like a rush of blood to the head. They stunned me, they blew me away – but they were like a warm, softly-burning fire in my heart.

Since then, I have come to link those six lines from T. S. Eliot with other ‘revelations’ – situations in which I realised that what I actually needed was the complete opposite of what I felt desperate for. I have always had a huge longing to be loved and accepted unconditionally. But at the same time, as had become increasingly obvious in therapy, I have an overwhelming desire to please – to do things to make ‘the other’ happy and to ‘gain favour’. But my desire to please pulls in the opposite direction to my longing for unconditional acceptance and is therefore counter-productive. If I always seek to gain favour, love and acceptance through pleasing, it is never going to feel unconditional. I am never going to see what may be right in front of me, if it hasn’t been gained by the method in which I feel desperate to pursue it.

Equally, I am very resistant to the idea of ‘short-term’ fixes for my mental difficulties – in many ways, it’s why I almost actively deny myself some things (e.g. recourse to religious faith, or meditation) which have helped me in the past. I don’t want to put a ‘sticking plaster’ over my problems this time – I don’t want to ‘recover’ only to find that I ‘relapse’ the next time my life hits a bump, boulder or mountain in the road. It’s why I am committed to the idea of psychotherapy and looking at the past, as well as trying to deal with issues in the present. And yet, a few weeks ago, when I felt as though I’d taken an enormous backwards step in therapy and was doubting my therapist’s caring all over again, I felt incredibly strongly that ‘all I wanted’ was for her to use a few simple and direct words to make it crystal clear that she cared about me. I was in such pain and it felt like such a simple solution, that I couldn’t understand why she would not do it. ‘It would be such an easy fix….’ I thought. Ah – that’s when the penny dropped.

Such an easy fix – yes, it would be. But I was also adamant I didn’t want quick fixes. I didn’t want a sticking plaster. My longing for instant reassurance pulled in completely the opposite direction to my desire for lasting understanding and change. That thought was crystallised even further when I read the quote that resulted in my post ‘Seeking reassurance – when the story in your own head changes’. I had to wait to realise that what I thought wanted was not really what I wanted. That often, what may feel like darkness is actually the light, and ‘the stillness the dancing’.

When I first read ‘Little Rabbit Waits for the Moon’, I felt that it was an incredibly sad story. Having waited, and waited and waited for the moon, Little Rabbit eventually gets so tired he falls asleep before it appears. The moon slides into the night sky, but Little Rabbit is sleeping – dreaming of the moon that will watch over him during the night. All I could think, was that he’d missed it. Missed what he had been waiting for – he couldn’t see it when it appeared.

Little Rabbit had waited a long time – and he had asked a flower, a lake, a winding path, the wind, and the great, rolling hills, how long he would have to wait. Each time he asked, he got an answer he didn’t like – an answer that made it sound as though it would be a very long time until the moon would appear. The flower may have grown into a tree by the time the moon came; the moon may have fallen into the lake; the wind might have turned into a storm by the time the moon arrived; and the hills, which had such a good view, couldn’t see it yet. And so Little Rabbit kept asking someone else, and someone else – ‘just to be sure’.

I had felt an immediate connection with my own impatience over waiting to feel ‘watched over’ and cared for. A connection to asking and not liking the answers I was receiving. A connection to the difficulty of waiting, and the sheer exhaustion (emotional, in my case) of that wait. But what I hadn’t picked up on, until my therapist mentioned it, was the connection between Little Rabbit’s constant asking – ‘just to be sure’ – and my own frequent reassurance seeking.

What I did eventually realise, was that I didn’t have to view it as a sad story. It wasn’t about Little Rabbit missing the moon, or Little Rabbit not knowing he was watched over. The moon was always there, in the sky, and when it finally ‘made an appearance’, it was no less real just because Little Rabbit was asleep and couldn’t physically see it. Not only that, but Little Rabbit had internalised the object that he was longing for – he had created his own representation of the moon that was watching over him, and that, presumably, gave him a sense of safety while he slept. A sense of safety that he could take with wherever and whenever he went (to sleep), irrespective of whether the actual moon was ‘in evidence’ or not. Little Rabbit waited and waited, and eventually found out that what he actually needed, was not what he though he needed at all.

A T. S. Eliot poem and a child’s story about an impatient little bunny may seem like odd texts to put side by side and to compare. But I think they share a similar meaning, and have a similar message to give – at least to me. I’m sure my children are oblivious to it. I’m sure my husband is perplexed – and a little bemused. But my therapist understands what T. S. Eliot and Little Rabbit have in common  – and finally, after a lot of waiting, so do I.