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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Mental health and the holidays: we’ve survived Christmas, but what about New Year’s Eve?

And….it’s that time of year again. And once again I’m dreading it, and this post from the end of December last year describes why, and is just as true then, as it is now. If anything, I am even more frightened of the depths of January this time, than I was last year.
The challenges of the holiday season are far from over, and if you either are someone, or know someone with mental health difficulties, please do reach out to receive or give support this New Year’s Eve. An understanding text (that doesn’t just say ‘Happy New Year’!) can make all the difference….

Life in a Bind - BPD and me

My heart sank when I saw the first of the ‘It’s been a wonderful year!’ type pictorial summaries pop up in my Facebook feed. It seemed to start even earlier this year, and just as the equivalent gimmicks did over the last couple of years, it’s spreading like wildfire; like some sort of contagion. In addition, I know that come 31 December, my feed will start filling up with expressions of festive cheer, thankfulness and the highlights of my friends’ lives over the last year.

fireworks new yearIf there were a Scrooge of the New Year season, I would probably be it. If there were a New Year’s alternative to ‘Bah humbug’, I would probably use it. But at the risk of losing those of you at this point who think I’m simply a mean and grumpy party-pooper – I have a serious point to make.

As soon as Christmas is over…

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BPD and parenting: Sitting with your child’s strong emotions

A few weeks ago I spent more than half an hour sitting in a room with my youngest child while he was having an almighty tantrum. He was trying to get out of the room, and I was trying to keep him contained until the storm passed. To be honest, I don’t actually remember how it started – I think it may have been my persistent but calm refusal to let him any more crisps after lunch. Given how exhausted he was at the time, his frustration and anger quickly escalated and he started hitting me. We were in a room with a group of friends and I sensed this would go on for a while, so I carried him into another room, shut the door, and prepared to ride it out.

He screamed and cried. He grabbed hold of my clothes, my jewellery, my hair, and tried to pull them. He tried to scratch me, to hit me and to kick me. At one point he tried to whip me repeatedly with a cuddly toy, which I put outside the room and told him he could have it back when he had calmed down. He kept trying to turn the door-handle and to get me to move away from the door, and then he tried standing on my ankles with all his weight, while I held them against the door so that he couldn’t open it.

All the while, he was screaming ‘mummy’, and ‘mummy, stop it’, and ‘mummy, you’re hurting me’ – though I didn’t touch him other than to occasionally gently hold an arm that was about to hit my face. I held my hands under his as he flailed them around while he was lashing out – a fun game of landing ‘high-fives’ under any other circumstances. Part of me was wondering what the neighbours were thinking through the not-very-thick-walls and whether they were getting concerned about what I was doing to my child – and then I put the thought out my mind. My child was my focus – and I was trying to do what was right by him.

A number of times I offered him a cuddle or stroked his back; or I held out my arms inviting him to step into them. I was present with him in his anger, and I listened to his cries and his complaints. I regret not saying a little more to show him that I could see how angry he was, that it was okay, and that I loved him and would stay with him in his emotions, for as long as it took. When he said ‘mummy, you’re hurting me’, I regret saying ‘I am not hurting you’ – because in his mind, I was. Maybe not physically, but I was setting a limit that he found immensely frustrating and his anger was scary for him and it appeared to him as though I was inflicting that on him. I wish I had said something like ‘I can see that you are angry and perhaps scared and I want to help you feel better’.

I gave him a different soft toy to cuddle. Eventually I gave him a second soft toy. And suddenly, with no warning, the mood changed, he stopped crying, and he climbed into my lap for a cuddle. I let him know how much I loved him and how wonderful he was, and told him it was okay to be angry and that I understood how scary that could be, but that it was not okay to hit me. We joined everyone else in the other room, but I was hyper-vigilant for anything else that might spark off another melt-down.

I’m not saying all of this to show off my parenting skills – which, much of the time, are very far short of where I would like them to be. I came across a quote on Facebook recently, which said “Parenthood is……whispering ‘for fuck’s sake’ before answering to your name”, and often that is me, with a whole load of impatience and shouting thrown in. What I am describing above is a new thing for me – a new way of approaching things. Up until now my tactics have been the fairly common ones of threats, consequences, time-outs, and counting to three (using halves and quarters where necessary!). But these do not work well for my high-energy and strong-willed children, and things have been getting increasingly difficult, with them often seeming to spend more time in time-out, than outside it. And I have not been feeling good about my parenting, and have been doubting how loving or validating it has been.

So what has made the difference? It may seem strange to say it, but BPD has. BPD, examined in the light of therapy and a parenting website I found recently (Hand in Hand Parenting), which really resonates with me and just ‘feels right’ for our situation, at this time. If you google ‘BPD and parenting’, you won’t find many positive references – much of the ‘literature’ or comment seems to be about how to guard against the negative effects that a parent with BPD can have on their children. And I have no doubt that unreflective parenting, with or without the complication of BPD, will not always generate the most optimal results for our children. But experience, when reflected upon, is a great teacher; and what many people with BPD know a great deal about, is emotional invalidation. When you understand how that feels, and what effects it can have, it gives a powerful motivation to do things differently and to avoid repeating familiar patterns from your own childhood.

In my own therapy, my therapist and I have spent much time about the fact that I fear the impact that my emotions will have on others. That I can’t simply ‘report’ how I feel, without it ‘doing something’ to those I report it to. Often, when I’m really struggling with something outside of session, I will take it to someone else first. A close someone, a trusted someone – but still someone else. It’s as if it doesn’t feel safe to take it to her; and it feels as though I would be placing a burden on her, and I don’t want to do that. At those times, she is allied too closely to ‘mother’ –  my own mother who was, and is, unable to just sit with the emotions that I bring, and to contain them. My emotions have an impact on my own mother – nothing I say is just ‘for report’. She becomes upset or anxious by any hint that there may be something wrong or that things aren’t going well – and she does nothing to disguise it. In fact, quite the opposite – she seeks reassurance, and she seeks it from me. As an adult, I have reached the stage where this just makes me very angry. But the way in which I feel desperate to protect my therapist from the ‘negative consequences’ of my emotions, is a clue, I think, to how I might have felt about it as a child.

Perhaps that is why the concept of letting my child express his emotions, and just sitting with them while that happens, feels so important. I need him to feel confident that he can tell me how he feels and that I will be able to handle it. That I will still be there, I will stay calm, and I won’t fall to pieces. That I will be the same, before and after. And the next time, and the next. I want him to feel safe, and to know that the only impact he has on me is to elicit love and understanding, when he needs it most.

Borderline Personality Disorder has done that for me – and for him; but BPD when reflected upon with the help of my therapist and in the context of my own experience. I keep worrying that time is ‘running out’ for me to do things differently rather than repeating mistakes my own parents made; and I am thankful for my therapist’s repeated reassurance that it is never too late, that repair, if needed, is always possible, and that every instance of breaking old patterns and doing things differently is an important step for me and for my children. She believes in my ability to be a good mother; and after sitting with my child’s strong emotions and holding him close when those emotions had subsided, I am starting to believe in it too.


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Christmas present selfie

sadness 2

There is room in the Christmas story for sadness, grief, confusion, and doubts.” (Vicky Beeching)

From now on, I really want to try and learn how to embrace sadness, rather than try and push it away. I want to learn how to make a home for it and genuinely invite it to stay – for as long as it needs to – rather than trying to shove it out of the door as quickly as possible. I want to try and co-exist – peacefully – with it; rather than feel as though it is unlivable with. I don’t want it to be the housemate that I am forever frustrated with for ‘messing up’ everything I try and put in order; but the wise live-in relative who I am grateful to for showing me there can be a different order that makes sense of things, or a way of redefining order altogether.

I hope my new Christmas present, my little blue friend (Sadness) from the film ‘Inside Out’, will help to remind me of those things whenever I feel anger, frustration, or resentment, at Her frequent presence in my life, particularly at times, like today, when I so strongly wish Her to be absent. I also hope that She will remind me of my therapist’s words on the same subject, and I wish that those words will end up being true: “You may discover that having the feelings (without also trying not to have them) may be a simpler process than you imagine“……


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Christmas wishes

This is an incredibly challenging time of year for so many – with or without mental health difficulties. I don’t want the words ‘Merry Christmas’ to sound hollow or to cause pain; but at the same time I want to wish you as much inner peace, contentment, and moments of hope and joy, as you are able to find tomorrow, on 25 December 2015.

I listened to a Christmas Carol service on the radio this afternoon and it ended with a blessing and a prayer that we may be filled with ‘peace and goodwill’. Not for the first time recently, I thought about how our ability to give to others – to love, to forgive, to be generous and kind – is much greater when we have a measure of inner peace and strength and feel ourselves in receipt of those same things, that gives us an anchor and a base from which to pour ourselves out without feeling as though we might run dry and cease to exist. Ultimately, we will find this within ourselves, even if we spend a lifetime trying. If, for now, someone else is showing you the way, I hope their steadfast belief in you, whether they are with you right now or not, will help you to get through this holiday period with as much peace, goodwill to others, and also crucially to yourself, as circumstances will allow.

To end on a mundane note – and with an apology. I am conscious that I have a long backlog of blog comments to reply to, as well as a number of lovely and personal emails sent through my ‘Contact me’ page. I can only sincerely apologise and say what is true – though not an excuse – that I had a very bad two weeks at the end of November with depression and difficult times in therapy, and this combined with a very stressful period at work. I kept posting – but the cracks were showing in a variety of ways. I intend to reply to everyone by the end of the first week in January, and am grateful for your patience and continued support – and comments!

With love and best wishes for tomorrow!


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Content, Safe, Saved

As mentioned in my two most recent posts (here and here), the subject of ‘mother’ – and specifically, of being a ‘therapy daughter’ to my ‘therapy mother’ – have been much on my mind recently, particularly as I am now in a three week therapy break.

If you have a ‘benevolent’ mother-figure in your life, whoever she is; and if she holds you and keeps you safe, whether literally or metaphorically; I hope these simple, beautiful, words by Pooky Knightsmith will bring her to mind and keep her in your thoughts and close to your heart, and remind you of safety and light…..

Pooky's Poems

She nestled
In her mother’s arms;
Content,
Safe,
Saved.
In this embrace,
She found her home.
Content,
Safe,
Saved.
Dark thoughts
Gave way to lighter ones.
Content,
Safe,
Saved.
These arms
Would hold her always now.
Content,
Safe,
Saved.

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Memory Monday – “Being excluded from your therapist’s life: you’ve read the reasons – this is how it feels”

It’s time for a therapy break – again. But along with the usual feelings of loss and separation, this particular time of year heightens the feelings of being excluded. My therapist is not just on a break – she is spending time, as so many people do over Christmas, with family. She will be surrounded by the people she loves; she will be engaged in family traditions that bind them all together as a unit. They will talk, laugh, remember, and sit close. And I will think about them doing that, as I have been thinking about the prospect of it already, and it will be painful – very, very painful. Of course I want all manner of good things for her – including opportunities to rest and spend time with her children! But what hurts is the fact that that is a part of her life that I will never have access to, and that not being a family member, friend, or even a casual acquaintance, there are certain types of access I will never have to her.

I described that pain of feeling excluded a few months ago, in my post ‘Being excluded from your therapist’s life: you’ve read the reasons – this is how it feels’, which you can find here:

https://lifeinabind.com/2015/04/18/being-excluded-from-your-therapists-life-youve-read-the-reasons-this-is-how-it-feels/

I think that at this time of year, exclusion feels heightened because it is so much easier to make comparisons with others and therefore to focus not just on what I can’t have, but on what others have instead. And as my therapist has pointed out, the unspoken (and for me, barely realised) undertone of that comparison, is a belief that I compare unfavourably with those who have what I desire. That somehow the reason for that insufficiency, is my insufficiency. That I am less acceptable, less worthy, less deserving.

In my post on feeling excluded, I spoke about being a ‘therapy daughter’ – a wonderful phrase my therapist sometimes uses to describe my relationship to her. But at this time of year, my identity as a therapy daughter can feel less like a special bond, and more like a differentiator between me and her ‘biological daughter’; a painful reminder of everything that she (her biological daughter) has access to, that I do not. For a number of reasons, I have been thinking  a great deal about that comparison this week, and having sessions in my therapist’s home makes it easier to indulge in imaginings about what Christmas will be like in her house, with her daughter; and that includes imaginings about the details of what I will be ‘missing out on’.

You see, when it comes to being a therapy daughter rather than a biological daughter,  it’s hard in so many ways. It’s hard being in that house when I know it’s not my space – even if a bit of it is my space for an hour, here and there – but it is and has been her space all along. It’s hard to know that the arms that she will be drawn close by, are the ones that I will never feel around me, and that the kisses in her hair, softly planted, will be, for me, only imagined or dreamed of. It’s hard to know that when I leave for the ‘therapy break’, she will be there even when she isn’t – because they are a part of each other. It’s hard to know that I am kept in mind during that break, but she is always kept in body, heart and soul; hard that I can be known, but she can really know. Hard that she can only ever be beautiful, because of how she is seen; whereas I constantly fear that my ugliness will betray me. It’s hard that she is a daughter, while I am only playing the part. Hard that, save ultimately, they never have to be parted; whereas for me, parting is not just something that takes place over Christmas – it is the end that was there from the beginning and that haunts every hello and goodbye.

I feel that lack of what I don’t have, particularly this Christmas time. And yet – I have the most wonderful therapist in the world, for me. Why do I say that? Because of this: “The reality is that difference, or not being my biological daughter, is no barrier to being connected, accepted or significant“. I can say without doubt that that sentence, and everything it means, is the best Christmas present I will have this year.


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Staying afloat

A friend shared this poem with me and I wanted very much to share it with you. I have read that it is about a father teaching his daughter how to swim – but it feels as though it is about so much more as well. Perhaps this will be particularly poignant if you have a daughter; if you are a daughter; or if you are aching to be the daughter of someone who is trying to teach you to keep your head above water in life, rather than sinking under its weight. Someone who is gently guiding you and buoying you up, until such time as that ability has grown inside you, light as air.

I’m a terrible swimmer and I can’t tread water for more than a couple of minutes before tiring; but I know how to float. It’s a question of remembering to lie back and lie still; remembering to look upwards; remembering to open my arms up in a wide embrace; and remembering the voice of one who tells me I am safe and I am held. And that even in fear and absence – especially in fear and absence – I am held. I hope you enjoy these beautiful words…

First lesson, lie back