Life in a Bind – BPD and me

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


Brain scan selfie – and a parenting realisation

brain scan selfie 2Okay, so the title is a bit of a misnomer – clearly, I didn’t take a picture of my own brain! But I must admit to being strangely excited about being able to see the inside of my own head……

I recently had an MRI scan as part of a research study, and this is the picture I came away with. I think it’s always nice when they give you a souvenir for taking part in medical research…! Not being a physician or radiographer, I can see the picture but I don’t really know what I’m looking at, and I certainly don’t know what the researchers are looking for. But what  I found even more intriguing than the brain scan itself, was one of the exercises that I did alongside it. Although I don’t know what they were looking for from the exercise, or what questions they were seeking to answer, it certainly had something to teach me, and what I took from it was a mental picture and a lived experience of something I have read about many times in parenting books.

The exercise in question involved choosing one of a number of stimuli based on whether you got a ‘positive’, ‘negative’ or ‘neutral’ response to your choice. Responses changed, and you had to try and figure out the rules to get the maximally positive result. I found that when the tests involved either ‘positive and neutral‘ or ‘negative and neutral‘ responses, I was able to keep focused; to remember what I was doing as I went along; to try and figure out the rules; and to stay motivated to ‘get it right’. The positive responses were encouraging, and the negative responses just brought out my competitive nature and my determination to figure it out and ‘beat the system’! However, the difference in my reaction to those responses, compared to my reaction to mixed ‘positive and negative‘ responses (with no ‘neutral’), was immense. It was as if my brain just went into meltdown: I couldn’t concentrate; I kept forgetting what I was doing; I couldn’t figure out the rules or try and follow the ‘logic’; I felt confused and incredibly demoralized and demotivated.

I’m not sure what the ‘point’ of the exercise was – or what the researchers were trying to learn. But the first thing I thought of straight after that experience, was the parallel with the way in which I sometimes behave towards my children. I try to be consistent with my children – both in terms of discipline and also in terms of how I react to them in different situations. But, as with any parent, I don’t always succeed. And I think that at the moment, BPD means that I don’t succeed anywhere near as often as I might otherwise. Emotional dysregulation and emotional lability are at the core of BPD, and I do often find my mood switching very quickly between calm and angry; or between happy and irritable.The changes in my mood also mean that one day I might find something very triggering which on the previous day, did not affect me at all. I try not to let this volatility affect my children, but neither can I fool myself that they don’t notice it, or that it doesn’t sometimes affect them. A major reason for my being in therapy, is to try and ensure that I minimize the impact of my mental health difficulties on my children.

And so the experiment struck me because I wondered whether this is how my children feel, when presented with rapidly changing reactions; when there seems to be no rhyme or reason why their choices or behaviour receive a ‘positive’ response one moment, and a ‘negative’ response the next. A consistent and predictable environment helps children to work out ‘the rules’ of social interaction and acceptable behaviour – when that consistency isn’t there, do they find it as confusing, demoralizing and demotivating as I did? When presented with constantly changing reactions, I felt as though my brain was in meltdown and I couldn’t function – could that be related to how my children feel when they are visibly having a meltdown?

I’m not sure if it’s legitimate to extrapolate from my own feelings and worldview, to that of  my children – not only are they different people, but the way in which they see the world is probably very different at this stage in their lives. But  – what if there is something in that extrapolation? If there is, it gives me an important insight into some of their behaviours and the feelings that might underlie them, and it shows me just how difficult it might be for them to respond to me in a positive way sometimes, when they do not know what to expect.

This may sound sobering – and it is. But the reverse side of this particular coin is that although the change in my reactions was dramatic, it was also temporary. I sometimes switch rapidly from one emotional state to another, and sometimes that change is very visible to my children. But, as my therapist has told me on a number of occasions, my children and I will continue to work on our relationship all of our lives – we will be constantly building and rebuilding and repairing.

I am excited to have taken part in this research study for a number of reasons – but most of all, I am grateful for the fact that a different perspective on what goes on in my own brain, may have given me new insight into what goes on in theirs.




What I want to play

Many months ago, I asked my therapist what her favourite piece of piano music was, as I wanted to learn to play it for her. She (of course) asked me why I wanted to know! And she also said that her choice would vary, depending on the moment. But most importantly, she said that what she really wanted to know was what I wanted to play.

At first I think I saw this as just some kind of psychotherapy avoidance tactic – just another way of ‘getting out of’ personal disclosure. But we talked about it several times, and it became clear that this was another instance of her being genuinely interested in me, and in what I like and need, and in what those things can tell her. She was very keen to emphasize that my sessions are my space, and very much about me, and this was another example of an occasion where it would be most helpful to think about came into my mind when I said that I wanted to play for her. She also made the very valid point that one reason why I was asking was because I might feel as though I had to please her, and so focusing on what I wanted to play, was another way of demonstrating that I didn’t need to do that.

I told her that I didn’t know what I wanted to play. Which was one reason why I asked. However, a few months later I came across Ludovico Einaudi’s ‘Giorni Dispari’ and immediately knew it was what I wanted to play for her. It was beautifully simple and moving, and it moved me to tears on a number of occasions.

I immediately came to associate this piece with her. And in the run-up to the therapy break it was intimately tied up with feelings of impending loss and separation, and both the playing and the listening were often accompanied by heavy crying.

I am learning this piece for her. I am practising it more diligently than I have practised anything in a long time! Not because I want to please her, but because somehow, I want it to be fitting for her. I want it to be a task that I undertake with her in mind, and I want to put the effort in to make it sound as beautiful as I can, just as I want to give of myself and put all my efforts into our sessions.

I am still practising. I’m not quite there yet. But by the end of the therapy break, or soon after, I hope to be. I may fear therapy breaks immensely, but I want to be able to look back on this one, and know that I learned to play, and shared with her, the piece that I really wanted her to hear. The one I chose. The one that’s all about me, at the same time as being all about her.


A day in the life – Day 3

In December and May I wrote posts giving links to my first two entries for the ‘A Day in the Life‘ project. The project involves writing a short piece about everyday life on four different days spanning a whole year. Anyone who experiences mental health difficulties can get involved, and not everyone submits an entry for each of the four days. The fourth and final day covered by this project is 26 August 2015 – if you would like to contribute, even if you haven’t done so before, please do visit the site and have a look. You will be able to register if you would like to take part.

On 7 November I wrote about being at home with the children, and how it turned out to be an ordinary day – even a good day – despite the fact that it started less than ideally, and I spent quite some time catastrophizing. It reminded me that we aren’t defined by our mental health difficulties, and neither are those difficulties invalidated by the fact that we can experience joy as well.

On 10 February I wrote about my day at work, and the ‘burden’ of apparent competence. The fact that I often feel trapped by my ability to carry on even when everything inside feels like it’s screaming and on the verge of collapse. I feel trapped by the necessity to carry on and the fear that if I don’t, those two parts of my life that I have held separate for so long – work and non-work – will come together and my world will quite literally fall apart.

The third day was Sunday 10 May. This time I wrote about going to church with my family, and about faith. The fact that I find it hard to have faith in God, in other people, and in myself. That often I sit in church and feel resentful of the fact that I am hiding who I am, even though that is entirely my own choice. It is a function of my lack of faith which means I don’t trust how people might react, who they might tell, and how they might respond to me in future. But sometimes it only takes a little faith – or, in this case, a little one’s faith – to restore some hope, and to bring some comfort and a sense of being loved.

Here is my account of Day 3.

(Please ignore the 10 February heading – this really is my account of 10 May!)


The stranger who has loved you

I feel like such a long, long way from this. But my therapist is helping me to take down the letters from the bookshelf. She has my heart – until I can give it back to the stranger who has loved me.

Loving yourself


What holds us back from talking to someone who is suicidal

The ‘National Attitudes to Mental Illness’ survey, carried out annually since 2003,  has shown a very encouraging shift in the attitudes of people in the UK towards those with mental illness. According to the mental health charity Mind, since the launch of the current Time to Change campaign in 2011, an estimated two million people (almost five per cent of the population) have improved in their perceptions of mental illness. More people than ever before are admitting to knowing someone with a mental health problem (more than 6o% of those surveyed in 2013) – and yet, almost half of respondents still say they would feel uncomfortable talking to an employer about their mental health difficulties.

The evidence of a general increase in tolerance is persuasive, and the worries individuals still have about trusting in that tolerance when it comes to their employer (a worry that I have to say I share),  may  over time start to lessen as more and more employers are putting time, money and often a great deal of passion, into promoting positive attitudes to mental health within their organisations. Employers are running raising awareness campaigns; they are training up staff members in mental health first aid; they are holding charity events to raise money; well-being and mindfulness events to reduce stress. It’s happening in the workplaces of my friends up and down the country, and my own workplace is no exception. There is definitely more talk about mental health in the corridors and in the tea room, than I have ever heard before.

It’s not just a welcome change – it’s an intriguing one. People are voicing what they actually think, what their own fears and reservations are around talking about mental health; and it demonstrates just why these campaigns are needed. When it comes to talking about suicide, there is a particular nervousness, and there are two completely contradictory views that I have often heard spoken – occasionally by the same people. It’s not necessarily that individuals are afraid that by talking about suicide they will almost ‘encourage‘ it or make it more likely to happen – most campaigns that I know of (for example, the excellent STOP Suicide campaign, which I have written about previously), tackle that particular myth head-on and make it clear that this is NOT the case. My feeling is (though I have no evidence to back this up) that this is also more of an ‘organisational concern’ (which includes a subconscious paranoia that suicidal thoughts might somehow be ‘catching’), than one which operates at an individual level. The two contradictory views that I am thinking of, can be summed up as “my words will have no impact and so I am not responsible/don’t need to do anything“; and “my words could have a huge impact, and if something happens I will be responsible“.

I have heard colleagues say that they would worry about talking to someone who was feeling suicidal, in case they ‘said the wrong thing’, or ‘made matters worse’. Though it is mostly unspoken, it is clear that there is an underlying fear here. “What if this person, who I am trying to help, does actually attempt or complete suicide? What if I said something which  made them feel worse; or what if I didn’t think of saying ‘the right thing’ that would have helped? Am I responsible?

NO. Assuming you are a genuine and caring person and that you have not been subjecting your colleague to harassment, bullying, or other words or behaviour which could potentially make you culpable in some way – you are not responsible for their subsequent actions and you are not responsible for saving them. If they have come to you in need and confided in you, you may well have a moral duty to try – but that is far as it goes. It would be entirely natural, I think, to feel guilty in such a situation -but that doesn’t mean that there would actually be something that you are guilty of. And I’m not going to lie to you and say that it will never happen. It is possible that, despite your best efforts, someone that you try and help, may complete suicide. They may even do it within a few hours or days of talking to you. But it is NOT your fault. Remember this – your conversation with them was part of a large and complex history of events and conversations, in all likelihood stretching way back in time, possibly before you ever met that person. The interaction of all those words and circumstances; the way in which they became linked with and interpreted in the light of the past, and through the lens of depression or another mental health condition – none of that is within your control. Will this situation happen to you if you start talking to people about their suicidal feelings? It is unlikely – and here’s why.

The vast majority of people are helped by talking about their suicidal feelings. And saying absolutely nothing, or walking away from someone who is clearly in distress, is likely to be much more upsetting than saying something which is ‘not quite the right thing’. And you really don’t have to say very much at all. Helping someone who is feeling suicidal is about letting them know that you’re there for them, that you see them and their distress, that you accept them and what they may want to tell you – and that you’re listening. Listening, and just being present. Your presence, and a small number of caring words, is all that is required. Everyone is different – you don’t know exactly how this person in front of you, got to this point in their lives. You couldn’t possibly know what the ‘exact right thing’ to say in this situation would be – they probably don’t know either. But it doesn’t matter. Emotional isolation is a killer – literally – and by interacting honestly and compassionately with someone who is feeling suicidal, you are doing the right thing in that situation. And yes, it’s okay – more than okay – to ask them if they have a suicide plan, and if they have the means to carry it out. Trust me, they are likely to see it as evidence that you care, and that you are not judging them, and that in itself, is a HUGE deal to someone who may feel invisible and worthless.

Which is why, your words are both less powerful than you fear, and more powerful than you hope. If you are concerned that the impact of saying ‘a negative thing’ would be so significant, why would you be unwilling to believe that the impact of saying ‘a positive thing’ could be significant? Acting on the belief that ‘whatever I say or do won’t make a difference because if someone really wants to complete suicide, they will’, is doubly flawed. Flawed because it significantly underestimates the power of a few caring words in such a situation, and flawed because fundamentally, you have no way of knowing whether any particular individual ‘really wants to complete suicide’. The individual themselves may be ambivalent about it – they may have an intense desire to die combined with an intense fear of death. They may be absolutely sure they want to leave this world – until hope, or at least doubt, enters in. And you can provide that. And it’s very, very simple for me to prove that to you.

Look at the story of Jonny Benjamin and his ‘Find Mike’ campaign, which tracked down the person who talked him down from the edge of a bridge in 2008. Look at the story, which has gone viral, of a young man who saved someone’s life by asking them if they were okay. Three words  – but packed with meaning. I see you; I care about what happens to you; talk to me, I’m listening; I’m here. A hundred words in three – with COMPASSION tying them all together. Compassion – from the Latin word meaning ‘to suffer with‘. To be really present with someone in their suffering.

I have said that you may never know what brought someone to the point in their lives at which all they want is to die. I have said that that journey may have been long, complicated, and multi-faceted. But here’s the beauty of compassion, and of ‘suffering with‘. It’s about the here and now, not about what has gone before. It stands out because it is different from the rest of the landscape in which that person is currently standing. It’s not that what has gone before is not important – it’s that ‘suffering with‘  shows that what has gone before is not all that there is. It’s that it enables the person to answer the question ‘Are you okay?’ with ‘No, no I’m not okay. And I’m so glad that you see’.

As for ‘no, I’m not okay – but will I be’? Well, that is for another day, a day beyond the brink. Because that is another way in which ‘suffering with‘ is powerful- it leads to hope. And hope is about knowing that what has gone before is not all that there will ever be.

So if you have been tempted to think, as some of my colleagues do, that when speaking to someone who is feeling suicidal your words may either too powerful or too weak – I would say that in the moment, they can powerful enough. Speak them with boldness, but most of all with compassion. Be present, suffer with.


[If you would like more information on how to talk to someone who is feeling suicidal, please do look up the resources on websites such STOP Suicide, Grassroots Suicide Prevention, and the Samaritans.]


Sexual feelings for your therapist – and what they can tell you

Tonight is the night. I have been meaning to write this post since last November – so it’s only taken me nine months!
I finally decided I had to write it because of a comment I read on an amazing post called ‘Erotic transference‘ by Attachment Girl (AG) on ‘Tales of a Boundary Ninja‘. The individual making the comment thanked AG for the post, and said that it was a “great public service for people like me to learn from“. This immediately reminded me of the start I had already made, many months ago, on this post. I began like this:

I can’t quite believe I’m writing this post. I think the only way I can convince myself to do it is if I see it as some form of ‘public service’. So often I come across forum posts or bloggers who talk about the intense feelings they have for their therapists, and how they find these feelings incredibly confusing, painful and often embarrassing. And it seems clear that one of the most difficult things about those feelings is wondering if the are ‘usual’, acceptable, and shared by others. I want to show that the answer to that question is YES.”

I like the way my answer to my own question was an emphatic ‘YES’ and yet I still hid beneath a rock for nine months and literally couldn’t write about these feelings, which are so ‘usual’ and ‘acceptable’. But I’m going to come out from under that rock because I DO still believe that these feelings are experienced by many people, and that it’s really important to talk about them. And by talk about them, I mean talk about them PARTICULARLY with your therapist. And if you think you can’t do it – read this and cringe. And cringe some more -and then, please, have that conversation….

An important thing to say is that I find it impossible to define exactly how I feel about my therapist. The nature of the feelings changes and I have lots of different types of feelings for her. I used to find that quite disturbing, but I decided, in the end, that I didn’t need to define them. I know that I love her – but I no longer feel compelled to place a label on that love, and to call it one type or another. It’s complicated – and that’s okay.

At the same time, I am also trying to accept that I may never quite be able to separate out what is ‘transference’ (that is, what is actually a feeling about, or connected with, someone else or a situation from my past or present) and what is a genuine feeling about her. What I am completely adamant about is that I DO have genuine and strong feelings about her. When I say I love her, I mean I love HER – in as much as I possibly can, and despite how relatively little I know about her. The way in which I experience that at any particular time may well be a function of the type of transference we are engaged in during our work  – and who she most represents to me at that time. But I cannot cope with the thought that what I feel for her is all just a function of therapeutic process – and I am sure that is not the case. And, from certain things she has said in session, I’m pretty sure she agrees with that assessment.

This post is primarily about the sexual aspects of the feelings I have for her – although it is not those feelings which dominate, they are the ones that can feel the most difficult and the most confusing. Particularly when placed side by side with the other (and more frequent) types of feelings I experience. Often it feels like being deeply and intensely in love; but at other times it feels as though I want desperately for her to be my mother and for me to be her child.
There are two key things  I have come to learn about sexual feelings towards one’s therapist: that it is important to try and accept them rather than criticize, deny or feel ashamed of them (much MUCH easier said than done); and that it is important to try and understand what they are telling us. Because they have a HUGE amount to say.

I find that lots of things that we experience or talk about in therapy ‘stand’ for something else, in addition to their more ‘obvious’ meaning. And so the first thing I came to understand, is that sex is a very important metaphor for emotional intimacy. As adults, the place in which we are usually most emotionally intimate with someone, is in the context of a romantic relationship, in which that love and intimacy is expressed physically. It is not at all surprising then, that in the context of a therapeutic relationship – which is incredibly intimate in a very unique way – that the ‘adult’ reaction is for that sense of intimacy to become linked with sexual feelings and a desire for physical expression. When looking for a place to ‘put’ our feelings for our therapist, this is the closest parallel we can think of.

But there is another aspect to this, which Attachment Girl talks about. As a child, intense emotional intimacy existed, or should have existed, in a very early phase when the child was essentially non-individuated from the mother. Where there was complete merger, and no separation. Part of developing and growing up is moving through this phase, into healthy separation and a sense of self, independent of the parent. When this development doesn’t fully occur, and where there are unmet needs from childhood, we may experience that childlike longing for merger with our therapist, as with a parent; but at the same time the reference point for those feelings of intimacy from the point of view of our adult self, is a sexual relationship. Which can be why what we experience for our therapist feels so confusing – we may be experiencing a childlike longing, but through adult eyes and brain.

Understanding sexual feelings as a general metaphor for an adult’s experience of emotional intimacy, and understanding how a child’s experience of intimacy can transpire alongside this, was a key step in enabling me to accept my feelings for my therapist, rather than be so troubled by them. And once I accepted them, I was more prepared to explore them, and to try and figure out what they meant. Part of that involved trying to notice when those feelings arose, and trying to understand the timing; asking the question ‘why now’? It also involved thinking about the sexual imagery itself – the nature of the fantasy – and what that might be telling me. And it also, on occasion, involved me conducting ‘thought experiments’ to see what they had to reveal. It’s not just unbidden thoughts that can be of value – but what you are prepared to imagine, and conversely, which situations you find it really hard to think yourself into.

It was around a year ago that I finally figured out the meaning behind one of my most frequent and disturbing (to me) sexual images involving therapy. But it took me well over six months before I had the courage to say anything to my therapist. I still can’t quite believe that I did. The realisation was an important one – but the way in which it had tried to communicate itself, was extremely difficult and confusing to bear, until the meaning became clear. Understanding that a fantasy about me wanting her to watch me take care of my own sexual needs in session, was actually about ultimate acceptance from her, was both a revelation and a relief. The concept of desperately wanting someone to fully accept me and to delight in me; to delight in the idea of me as a separate individual, taking care of myself, without needing me to be dependent on them to meet my needs – THAT is what all those sexual images, which had caused me so much pain, had been about.  And, as described above, those needs related directly to what I felt I hadn’t had or experienced in childhood. Since I realised that, and since feeling much more accepted in therapy, those images have largely gone away.

At around the time of last autumn’s brief therapy break, I also started to realise that my sexual feelings for my therapist appeared particularly during, and towards the end of, a therapy break. And the nature of the images was again disturbing to me, as they felt so much at odds with how gently and lovingly (though still intensely) I felt about her at other times. The emotions felt almost aggressive, and that was also the tenor of the accompanying images. I felt an enormous desire for merger, but in a way that involved me ‘taking her over’ completely. The picture in my mind was of literally pushing her up against a wall and ‘giving her the time of her life’ – and yes, I did actually say that to her…..Go on, you can say anything to your therapist after that…..

Did she blush? Did she cringe? Was she horrified? Did she laugh? No, none of the those things. She was un-phased, as she had been when I told her that I loved her and asked her if that was okay, and she said of course it was. On this occasion she simply remarked that the image was as if I wanted to give her an experience so good that it was completely irresistible. And then I realised that yes – when I was nearing the end of a therapy break, what I wanted desperately was reunion, and for her to never ever leave me again. The ‘aggressive’ element was probably connected both to suppressed anger at her ‘abandoning’ me during the break to start with, as well as to a desire to be a ‘good’ and irresistibly interesting patient, upon her return.

But that image had more to give…..I realised that all my dreams or unbidden fantasies involving sex with women, all had that same ‘aggressive’ edge to them, and I always felt like a ‘perpetrator’. The encounter was never ever pleasurable or fulfilling, either for me or for the other party involved. I have come to link this image with the feelings described in my post ‘Total impact – BPD, helplessness and power‘. I think these images may be connected both with my desire to have more power (mainly, over myself) and to feel less helpless; but also to the sense that everything I do impacts upon people, often negatively.

Sexual images and feelings are, in general, reflective of more difficult times in my therapy. Which is also something noted by Attachment Girl, who commented that an upswing in her sexual desires for her therapist tended to happen when she was moving towards a difficult realisation, and the erotic feelings were almost serving as a distraction. Whereas once a major breakthrough had been made, her feelings were centred around gratitude and safety. That is exactly my experience – to which I would add feelings of great love, but not in a way that feels sexual.

I have slowly come to see that the fact that I am even having sexual feelings about my therapist, is a positive thing, for a number of reasons. I have always had the notion that the ‘perfect and purest relationship’ is a non-sexual one. I idealised Jane, my ex-therapist, completely, and sexual images involving her were so upsetting and painful, that on occasion I deliberately brought them to mind as a form of emotional self-harm when cutting was no longer proving as effective. Recently, a friend of mine started a sexual relationship with an older woman whom she had been close friends with for a number of years. When I spoke of it with my therapist, I talked about how I’d felt disappointed that their relationship had ‘degenerated into that’. My therapist asked why this might be, and I realised that it may well stem back to the fact that my mother exalted the mother-daughter relationship above all others and believed it held a unique place. Which of course, in many ways, it does – but she emphasized it in a way that was incredibly exclusive and sought to minimize, in comparison, every other kind of relationship. I was always aware that my father was very much ‘third place’ (at most) in her affections, being ‘outranked’ by both me and by my grandmother.

My acceptance of these feelings for my therapist means, I think, that I can see her as human and imperfect rather than idealised (though I admit I still do struggle with that sometimes!). But also, as I realised quite suddenly a few months ago – she and her body are one. I don’t love some mysterious essence of her,  I love her, and that includes everything I see before me. It shouldn’t be that I see a physical expression of love as somehow inferior or impure or imperfect. Or at least, no more imperfect than the wonderful person that I am privileged to love. Somehow, although I have been in relationships all my adult life, that was a strangely new thought.

The sexual feelings have made a reappearance during this therapy break. But they are different, and I’m trying to understand what that means. When I carried out ‘thought experiments’ in the past, to see what my ‘bidden’ rather than ‘unbidden’ fantasies could show me, I discovered that the thoughts and images were very much ‘milder’ and more loving than those more aggressive pictures I had had before. But they still involved my therapist being completely submissive – immobile even – with me paying her all of the physical attention. When I tried to imagine her touching me instead, it was very very difficult. Not just difficult to imagine, but difficult to accept, emotionally. And I don’t think that was just about the forbidden nature of sexual relationships in the context of therapy. I could sense that my reluctance to have her touch me, rather than me touching her, was about making myself vulnerable and letting her get closer. I think it was connected to the realisation I had, described in my post ‘Censored: wearing a mask in therapy‘, that I was still holding back, and not giving her access to my thoughts and emotions, as they happened.

And so it’s interesting to me that this time around, it’s about wanting to feel her touch me, and not the other way around. Accepting her touch, wanting her to show me things – rather than me taking control and ‘forcing myself’ upon her. It’s not even so much about merger, this time around – there is a certain separateness still, in wanting to feel her touch upon me. I used to want so much to merge indivisibly with Jane, my ex-therapist. But it occurs to me now that if I’m swallowed up by my therapist, I cannot see her – and I really, really want to see her. And to be seen. And that’s only possible if we do not occupy the same space.

This feels like one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. And it’s not because of the sex. It’s because of what I’ve JUST written – in the paragraph above. It scares me – so much.

So if you’re having similar feelings about your therapist, but you feel far too ashamed and scared to talk about them – I sincerely hope that this post will be an encouragement to do so. I truly believe that as well as being one of the most excruciating therapy moments you might go through, it could also be one of the most beneficial and healing.

I hope that this post will be an encouragement not just because of all the things I have admitted to in therapy (and if I can, you can too!); but because the fear inherent in talking about the feelings, pales when compared to what slowly comes as a result of the talking – the fear of progress, when you realise that something might be changing.



Two years ago, on 6 August 2013 at 6.50pm, I walked out of Jane’s office (my ex-therapist) for the last time. I have included this clip, because this was the song that I played over and over again for several months after that day. It was our ‘break-up song’, if I can call it that. I have written about our brief therapy relationship, what it meant to me and how attached I became to her, in the ‘All about Jane‘ section of my blog. Losing her meant feeling the grief I had never let myself feel over losing anyone before. It was intense, often overwhelming; it took up the majority of my first eight months in therapy with my current therapist, and it wasn’t until eighteen months after that August day, and one year after I knew for certain I would never see her again, that I felt I had actually grieved her loss fully, and had finally accepted it. To realise that was painful, but also comforting at the same time, because it meant that I had grown closer to my current therapist.

The sixth of August 2014 – the first anniversary of that loss – was a very difficulty day for me. I felt let down that my own therapist had not remembered the significance of the date and had not contacted me by email. Although I had tried to exercise ‘self-care’ by watching a film and having a glass of wine, I had ended up giving in to the urge to internet-search and google Jane, and that made me feel incredibly bad about myself, and as if I had betrayed and sullied the memory of our relationship.

And so it was with some trepidation that I was ‘looking forward’ to the second anniversary of that loss, this year. But I am surprised. I am surprised at how much better I feel than I expected. I am surprised that Jane was not the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning. It didn’t feel like I was grieving anymore. I thought of Jane – but not in a way that caused me pain. I loved her and her smile – I still do. But the only feeling I was conscious of today was missing my current therapist. Wanting to be close to her – to see her again. Wanting to see her smile, and hear her voice. What a difference to last year, when I simply felt betrayed and let down by her. What a difference to when I was still in anguish over the loss of someone I had idealized and still missed dreadfully.

It’s encouraging to realise how much things have changed – to realise how attached I have become to my current ‘therapy’ (as my therapist would say – and I feel like saying: “No! Attached to you! To my therapist! Let’s tell it how it is!“). But at the same time it is scary – progress in general is scary. It would almost feel more comforting if I was in bits about Jane, as I was last year. Or in bits about not having my current therapist around at the moment. I don’t like being okay. Change is difficult to handle – but most difficult to handle is the thought that change means that this current therapeutic relationship, which I am so incredibly attached to, will eventually need to be grieved as well. Maybe not in quite the same way as I grieved Jane – because that relationship ended prematurely, before we were done, before I had made much progress. But it will be grieved nonetheless. And yet…..

I had a lovely phone conversation with one of my best friends yesterday. And part of that conversation involved talking about some of the things my therapist and I had discussed, and the impact it had made. It was part of a wider conversation on the topic of children growing up, and the discussion I had had with my therapist just naturally came to mind. And I thought: is this how it will be, in years to come, when I no longer have her physically with me in session, but I carry her and her words with me, internally? She felt woven into the fabric of my life; it felt natural to recollect her and her words. It felt comforting, and real, and special. That, in itself, was a big surprise, given how difficult it normally is for me to retain a sense of her reality and her presence, particularly during a therapy break.

When I thought about it later, it felt wonderful – but frightening at the same time. I’m not ready to say goodbye. I know it will be a long time yet before I do. But I am so so not ready to say goodbye. SO not ready, that I am crying as I write these words. Even to glimpse that goodbye, from a distance, and to acknowledge its inevitable reality, is painful. But there is hope in knowing that her presence can still feel wonderful in her absence.

Because one day, these will be her anniversaries that I will be writing about – and I need to know that I won’t feel cold and alone, but warm and in her company. That one day we will reach a point where she can never really leave, and I can never really be left.

But not yet. Not yet.


It feels like only blood


[Note: the picture on which the poem is superimposed is of red paint. The image was obtained from Morguefile at . Although the image is meant to represent the subject matter of the poem, it is intended neither to offend nor to ‘promote’ self-harm.]

I wrote this poem a few months ago, possibly during a therapy break, although I cannot remember the exact circumstances. I remember thinking it was unfinished – but then when I came back to it a few weeks ago, it felt as though it was complete as it was. Trying to ‘tidy it up’ or add a more ‘positive’ ending felt like a denial, an attempt to ‘tidy up’ something that is anything but tidy. This is how it feels to me, when I want to self-harm – not the sum-total of how it feels; and not how it feels every single time. But it captures some key elements of most of my urges to hurt myself. I wrote it ‘in the moment’ – it’s un-tampered-with emotion.

And so I think it’s important to present it as it is.

It feels like only blood FINAL



Exploding kittens – this is actually a post about my marriage

Damn it. You know when your other half does something to completely ruin the mood? When you’ve got yourself into the right head-space, prepared the music, had a drink, and then they say or do something that completely ruins it all?

Well, I had my laptop, my hot chocolate, some sad music and I was all ready to write a serious blog post about the descent I’ve taken into negative thought patterns, only two days into the therapy break. And then my husband suggested we play a new card game he’d bought, called ‘Exploding Kittens’ (no actual kittens exploded or were in any way harmed during the making or playing of the game). ‘Exploding Kittens’ has two versions – ‘the original’ and the ‘Not Suitable For Work’ version, intriguingly sub-titled ‘for people who are into kittens, and explosions, and boob wizards, and sometimes butts‘. Obviously, I chose the latter version. And thus my plans for the evening went to pot.

A year ago, I probably would have said that I didn’t feel like playing a game, and that I needed to write a blog post and then go to bed. More than a year ago, he probably wouldn’t even have made the suggestion. We had reached a point where he in essence he told me he’d given up on me. He would stay with me, but felt that the only way to ‘survive’ the situation and to be ensure he could still be strong for the children if I was hospitalised (or worse), was to withdraw and pretend as though he didn’t care. Anything else was too painful, too risky and simply not worth the effort as nothing he tried seemed to work and everything he did seemed to backfire. At that point, we were both in ‘defense mode’  – too afraid of being hurt by the other, to risk any sort of effort or vulnerability.

He had warned me, repeatedly, that he would reach that point. I wish I could say it was the first time I didn’t heed a warning until it was too late. I wish I could say it was the first time I pushed at a boundary to see whether it would hold, or what it would take to break. I wish I could say it was the first time I had ‘tested’ someone’s love for me. Like God, I wanted him to be there when this was all over – irrespective of what I (consciously or unconsciously) put him through in the meantime. But somewhere along the line I forgot that he was only human. That I may have married him partly for his strength, but his strength was limited, not limitless. Although I would never ever have said that I expected him to be perfect, I think, looking back, that I expected him to be perfectly there for me.  And although I never realised it at the time, I think being ‘perfectly there for me’ included an expectation that he wouldn’t get angry, or call me names, or be unkind, or shout, or run out of patience, or any of the other myriad things that human beings do when they are under a great deal of strain, are hurting and have reached the end of their tether.

I had never really talked to anyone about my mental health difficulties or really opened up about my deepest fears or most intense emotions. And so when my mental health started to deteriorate significantly after the enormous life change of having children, I didn’t talk about it. I started therapy – but I never discussed with him, any of the things I talked about there. My past ‘coping’ strategies of intense and obsessive relationships kicked in (in the guise of a close friend, and then a therapist, both completely ‘unavailable’). And I picked up a new coping strategy – self harm – of which he is still completely unaware.

Things went from bad to worse. The ‘smallest’ or ‘most ordinary’ things would trigger me, and every conversation would consist of him trying to get me to talk and me feeling under attack and trying desperately to close myself off from pain and being completely unable to bear the thought of being vulnerable or of not feeling accepted. I know that to him, the silence felt like anger, or as if I didn’t care. Instead, the silence was simply self-protection and trying to keep myself together. As these ‘arguments’ started to happen more and more often, my silences started to become filled with thoughts of self-destruction and self-annihilation, which were more and more easily triggered.

Eventually, lack of communication and walking along a knife-edge were too much, and the reality that he had warned me of so many times, actually came to pass. And of course, as soon as it did, the familiar  sense of panic and wanting to pull back from that self-destructive brink, took hold. Now I needed to fix it – to recover the situation which seemed irrecoverable. But by this stage we were entrenched in a number of vicious circles. He thought there was nothing he could do to ‘fix’ me  – true, but this was not the same as there being nothing he could do to help me; and neither was it the same as his actions and words not having an impact on me, both of which he seemed to believe. He didn’t seem to believe in the possibility of recovery – which meant that other than having the support of my therapist, I felt I was facing my battles very much on my own. My inability to deal with conflict, to get angry, to ‘get over’ an argument quickly – all also meant that we continued to be stuck in a pattern of my distressed and prolonged silences coming across as annoyance or lack of caring.

Though not normally a good sign (!), I see it as part of the progress I have made in therapy, that I now occasionally swear at my husband during an argument! Expressing anger, even if in a not-entirely-helpful way, and trying to put my view across rather than withdrawing into silence, is, I think, an important step. I have also, over the last few months, opened up about a few very personal things, in an attempt to be at least a little vulnerable, and to make a greater effort to communicate. I told him a little about how I’d felt about Jane, my ex-therapist; I have told him that when I’m steeped in silence after an argument it’s because I’m feeling suicidal; I have mentioned how difficult and upsetting I find my current therapy breaks.

But I still have a tendency to expect a ‘perfect’ response to my attempts at vulnerability and communication. And if I don’t get it, it makes it that much harder to try and open up again. I still feel completely at the mercy of other people’s responses to me, in terms of determining how I feel about myself. My husband is not naturally gifted (who is?) at knowing how to react to someone with depression, or someone struggling with rock-bottom self-esteem or suicidal thoughts. He might bear the responsibility for that, but I also need to try and bear responsibility for helping him to understand, and for working on not letting his reactions affect me so much. My therapist is trying to help me reach a place where his responses don’t immediately send me into a incredibly negative downward spiral of feelings of worthlessness and wanting to die. It’s a combination of trying to help me to see where his own reactions might be coming from  – a place within himself and his own past – and trying to build up my own sense of self-acceptance and self-validation. It’s very very hard, and even if I can make progress on the former, the latter seems at present, a bit of a pipe dream.

And I still haven’t felt ‘safe’ enough to try and explain to him that my reactions to him also come from my past. That when he triggers me, I suddenly become not a wife reacting to her husband, but a child or teenager reacting to her parents. And so my responses are often not directly about him either. My therapist thinks he ‘sees me’ often as a sibling; I know I ‘see him’ often as a parent. But interestingly, we have both observed that when he is brutally honest with me about how all of this is affecting him and how he feels about it, things improve between us, at least for a little while. I know that he puts that down to me feeling guilty. But I haven’t been able to explain that any change is not motivated by guilt on my part, but by suddenly seeing him as him – a partner, not a parent, a vulnerable human being whom I love and who is hurting.

There has been definite (if painfully slow) movement, over the last few months, though I’m still struggling to accept our separateness and our difference, without letting that impact on my sense of myself. A couple of months ago he came home from a short business trip and said he had missed me. To me, that was a very significant statement, which gave me a little glimmer of hope for the future. And yet, having had that glimmer of hope, I had to ‘defend it’ against my husband’s view that he didn’t see why his had been a significant statement – that it hadn’t been so for him. Somehow I had to try and let our separate views be our separate views, and not allow the way he saw that moment, to destroy everything I had received from it. He places far more value on actions than on words; whereas I place great store by what is said, and I remember it.

Part of our separateness lies in the things that we enjoy. I have been trying to prioritise spending more time with him, and I’ve been counting the time spent watching films or TV programmes together on a Friday night, as ‘quality time’. However, it seems that that does not really satisfy his desire for communication and interaction, and it was difficult accepting that my ‘efforts’ didn’t necessarily have the impact I had thought they had.

But we can both, it seems, appreciate the comic-strip humour of ‘Exploding Kittens’. It’s a fast and fun game  – death by exploding kitten is inevitable, for all but the eventual winner. You never know when you’re going to draw an exploding kitten – sometimes you will have a card that enables you to see three steps into the future and ‘fend off’ the attack by a quick reshuffle of the deck; sometimes you will be able to ‘skip’ the explosion; sometimes you will be able to  defuse it using various means (including ‘incarceration’ in a cat box  – no comment). But sometimes the damn kitten will explode and you’ll be f***ed and it will have ruined a perfectly good and gloomy blog post.

Another day, another exploding kitten, as they say. There will be time – plenty of time – for that blog post on the pain of the therapy break. For now, I’ve gained a little light relief from battles – both domestic and internal. And that’s a vital step in surviving the next six weeks without my therapist – and the next six weeks, months, years (or, very optimistically, decades!) with the man I married.