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


Addicted to feeling torn


Lyveden New Bield – Photograph by Ed Brambley, sourced from Wikimedia Commons

When you feel caught in painful tension between two choices, two ways of seeing things, two manners of unfolding, you have to ask yourself: is it the choices that you are really struggling with and that feel as though they are both calling and immobilising you? Or is it the state of being in tension, itself, that is holding you there, and that is the chief attraction?

Perhaps the most difficult thing about moving forward in a particular direction is giving up the addiction to feeling torn. It feels like the only satisfaction that lasts. It is endlessly repetitive and effortless to engender; particularly when you can turn anything into a moral dilemma by changing ‘could’ into ‘should’. Besides, who are you without something to fight against, even if that something is your own self? When comfort is predicated on conflict (because closeness comes from conciliation), and freedom to ‘be’ rests on a fight; it’s not surprising that what others call ‘self-destructive’ behaviour is simply an attempt to preserve the only self you’ve ever known.

A half-house stands on a hill: but is it an unfinished house, or a ruin? Which are you, and which do you want to be? The problem with trying to preserve that conundrum, and being addicted to feeling torn, is that the unfinished house – with so much potential – is transmogrifying moment by moment into a ruin, the longer it is left unattended to. If we can’t get past our love-affair with conflict long enough to work hard to put a roof on the house and glass in the windows, our only comfort will be cold comfort, and the self we’ve tried to preserve, will remain only an empty shell.

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The difficulty of projections in our relationships

Strong inter-personal relationships are vital to maintaining good mental health, but mental illness can put enormous strain on those relationships. That’s when therapy can help – and not just those with the mental health diagnosis. I wrote this last summer, and although technically Mental Health Awareness Week is now over, this seemed like an appropriate post for me personally, to mark that week and its important theme this year, of ‘Relationships’.

A few months ago, my husband and I had a rare opportunity to go out in the evening together, while my parents looked after the children. We took the ‘bold’ decision to go out for dinner, rather than go and see a film; ‘bold’ because I have found it so difficult to sustain meaningful and non-confrontational conversations with him as our relationship has deteriorated over the last few years while I have been struggling with my mental health.

The evening was relatively uneventful until I raised the possibility of taking on some additional responsibilities outside work, which he was strongly opposed to because he believed I wouldn’t have enough time, and that it would affect the whole family if I took on too much. That in itself was a fair point to raise as a concern, but one of the features of our relationship over the last few years has been that we have each fallen into a particular way of responding to each other, that I believe comes from both our childhoods. I tend to react to him as a parent; and I think that he tends to react to me as a sibling.

A long-term illness of any sort, can put an enormous strain on relationships. When it comes to mental illness, symptoms can significantly distort someone’s thinking about themselves and the world around them (including other people). They may be ‘ill’, but they can also appear unrecognisable to their loved ones. It can be difficult for the ‘healthy partner’ to focus their anger at the situation they find themselves in, on the ‘condition’ itself, when that condition may have no obvious physical manifestation. It can become easy to blame the person themselves, who becomes synonymous with their condition.

There can also be the temptation to think that because one party in the relationship suffers from a mental health condition, the burden of psychological examination and change must rest with that individual. ‘You’re the one with the mental health problem; I’m okay’. Whereas there needs to be a recognition not just of the fact that the ‘healthy partner’ is often liable to suffer emotional strain themselves, for which seeking help would not just be beneficial to them, but beneficial to the relationship ; but that we all behave in ways that are patterned on our childhood experiences. If there are difficulties in our relationship, irrespective of whether or not one party has an illness of some kind, it is important for each person to think about their own unconscious patterns of interaction, and what might be triggering their responses.

That evening, my husband responded to me as if I were his thoughtless younger sibling who had hatched a ridiculous plan that he saw it as his duty, as the older, wiser and more responsible party, to put a stop to. I responded to him as if he were a parent trying to exercise control over my actions and trying to tell me what to do, without trusting me to make my own evaluation of the situation, and to come up with a sensible decision. I am relying on my own therapy to effect a change in both of our lives, and for the good of our relationship. But some of the perspectives that therapy gives you are hard to grasp if you have never been in that setting. For the moment, I am doing all I can to work hard in my own therapy, in the hope that I will gain the skills and sense of self-worth to be able to work more effectively with my husband, on our relationship. My wish is that one day, we will enter couples therapy together. In the meantime, I hope that we can both try and respond to each other as the people that we are and each fell in love with – flawed as we might be – rather than as the projections of our childhoods.

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Laughter in therapy

In relationships, therapy included, laughter can be an incredibly bonding and connecting experience…

Life in a Bind - BPD and me

laughter in therapy

Therapy is not a matter of milestones, but of moments*. Those moments can be: awkward; intense; heart-warming; painful; shocking; surprising; happy; exhausting; revelatory; uncomfortable; thought-provoking; mundane; interesting; angry; fearful; beautiful.

But there is nothing so lovely in therapy, I think, as moments of laughter. Particularly where that laughter is at an ‘in-joke’- amusing to the two of you by virtue of the intimate work you share in.

I told my therapist that I had asked one of my children how he felt about a particular situation. He told me, and then said “was that the right answer?”. I replied that there was no right or wrong answer.

As I related this story, I caught my therapist’s eye and we both burst out laughing, a split second apart. The irony hit me, as it hit her, and there was no need for either of us to explain what we found so…

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A wonderful song on the theme of relationships, for Mental Health Awareness Week. The quote I posted yesterday was about how difficult connection with others can be; this song is an uplifting reminder both of how wonderful that connecting can be, but also how simple.

I’m aware that unfortunately it can often take something very small to tip me into feeling bad about myself and for me to feel as though I am not cared for. At the same time, however, I’m aware that it can take very little to help me feel loved. Sometimes all it takes is a few words, a small but clear sign of someone reaching out to me, to light that spark of connection and warmth in my heart.

This is a real ‘feel-good’ song for me and the video is full of images of different types of connections and relationships. It’s a wonderful musical and visual world to lose yourself in for three minutes, and I hope it lifts your spirits, just as it has done mine.

Life in a Bind - BPD and me

“The song [Bonfire Heart] is about no matter who you are no matter where you’re from, it’s about the human condition which is we need to connect with people.” James Blunt

So often, the need for connection feels like an overwhelming and distressing burden to bear. For me, this song lightens the load. At the heart of BPD (and of us all) is a need to be loved. How incredibly complicated the absence or presence of that love can make our lives. For me, the joy of this song is that for just over three minutes, it makes the need for love and connection feel incredibly simple, and uplifting.

“People like us, we don’t need that much; just some one that starts – starts the spark in our bonfire hearts…..”


[This post is dedicated to two beautiful borderline blogger friends of mine, who have found love and connection over…

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Connection is hard


The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is ‘Relationships’. Strong relationships are vital to good mental health; but intimacy, vulnerability and connecting with another human being can be very difficult for many with a mental health condition, and in particular, for those with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Life in a Bind - BPD and me

connecting with others dexter quote

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Memory Monday – “Constant craving – BPD and the need to feel understood”

One of my earliest and still one of my most viewed posts, is this one, on the need to feel understood:

Although I wrote from my own experience of BPD, I think it speaks of something universal that resonates with all of us, those with a different mental health condition, and those with none. We all want to be understood. We all want to be loved. As my therapist said recently, “we all want to be special”. “Special” – am I alone in hating that word?

In many ways, things have changed a great deal since I wrote that post. Though I was thinking of leaving my therapist at that time, I have now been in therapy with her for more than two and a half years. We definitely understand each other much better – but we also still misunderstand each other with regularity. A major point of progress is that that misunderstanding causes me far less pain than it used to, and I don’t interpret it in the same way. Not being fully understood by her is far less devastating and disappointing, and I don’t take it as a lack of caring or effort on her part. I know that she cares and that she tries very hard to understand me – and that I do not make it at all easy. But now I recognise that. And I also recognise the fact that my frequent silences in session are okay, but at the same time they do not help her to understand me, particularly when I don’t tell her what’s on my mind, or what those silences mean. I think I now find it easier to have more realistic expectations and to accept that we are all human – including her – and that no one can understand another person perfectly, all of the time. The fact that she wants to understand, and tries, and is committed to continuing to do that, is what’s important, and that helps me to be far more accepting of the fact that she cannot read my mind, much as I would like her to be able to!

But I’d be lying if I said that the difficulties I spoke about in that post, have completely gone away. And though I recently experienced a significant period of growth in therapy, where a great deal seemed to change all at once, we are somehow back again in the very familiar territory of my resistance, my instinct to withdraw and defend, and my pain at not feeling understood. Though now, I think I can more accurately identify that as pain at not being seen or heard; at continuing to bear feelings not validated. I think this is subtly different to not feeling understood, but more fundamental. I think it’s possible to be ‘seen’ or ‘heard’, without necessarily being fully understood. I think you can accept, and validate, without fully understanding someone. And not being understood fully, hurts much less when you feel validated and accepted.

It turns out I have a pretty constant craving to be validated, too, and that craving causes merry hell when it’s not satisfied. Which is not surprising, as it was never really satisfied in the past. It’s a craving that makes me ashamed, because it feels so self-absorbed and self-centred. It’s a craving that means that when I’m talking about difficulties with my children, or my husband, or my mother, I need to deal with my own feelings about the situation first, before I can think about how they might be feeling. It’s not that I don’t care about how they feel, or that I don’t think it would be useful to understand their perspectives; it’s more that it was always about someone else’s perspective, and never about my own, and I can’t bear to be the subject of that repetition.

Last week I had a dream in which I rang my local doctor’s surgery but there were no appointments at all. I then rang a surgery slightly further away, and managed to get an appointment. However, when I turned up, expecting to be taken in for my appointment straight away, I was surprised to find out that I was expected to join an absolutely enormous queue of people lining up outside. I felt like giving up – it would clearly take a very long time to get to the front of the queue, and to be seen by a doctor.

Just like in the dream, I feel I’m waiting; waiting to be seen. And the longer I wait, the stronger becomes the craving for validation, and the greater the urge to defend against the possibility of being hurt. It feels confusing to be back here, but I’m better at waiting than I used to be. And after two and a half years, I’m committed to my therapeutic relationship, and I’m not giving up. In that respect, the difference between where I was when I wrote that post, and where I am now, is immeasurably greater than the length of the queue in my dream. And I hope that that is an encouragement that things change, and perspectives shift, even though journeys often go back on themselves, during the course of moving forwards.

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The Important Connection Between Creativity And Therapy

I hadn’t seen a blog post on the connection between creativity and therapy before, and so was really excited when I came across this one, by therapist Joshua Miles.
The longer I have been in therapy, the more important creativity has become to me. That’s not simply creativity in terms of writing, though that has been a key part of my therapy journey; but also the creative process of using dreams, quotes, music, landscapes, metaphors, and shared memories, to build a new narrative for my life, one that involves greater acceptance, freedom and significance. On a purely practical level, therapy is in some ways such a ‘narrow space’ – one room, two people, and a very particular sort of interaction. And yet this setting is the context for one of the most liberating experiences there can be, and it can give rise to the most extraordinary creativity and exploration of thought. It is that creative process, a joint endeavour between therapist and client, that I have found is one of the greatest agents  – along with the power of therapeutic relationship itself – of lasting change.

I hope you enjoy the post as much as I did!

Joshua Miles BA, MSc

In this article, I am to discuss the important connection between creativity and therapy, and why being creative in therapy matters. I will then look at the importance of letting our minds wander and why it is valuable to nourish our creative avenues in life. Lastly I will explore how therapy can promote and develop creativity.

The connection between creativity and therapy

There is a meaningful and real connection between the creative and therapeutic processes. These processes share commonalities and can often work in tandem and share many of the same structures. In therapy, clients share, explore and think about their thoughts, feelings and ideas. This process of self-exploration can often yield surprising results, or uncover to us some feelings or thoughts we once thought we had forgotten, or in fact thoughts or feelings we did not know we had. Like the creative process in arts, music or writing, we open…

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The use of dreams in therapy

One of my favourite films is the 2010 classic, “Inception”. I remember the buzz around it when it came out – similar to the excitement around “The Matrix”, when it came out in 1999. The buzz was partly due to the fact that it was Christopher Nolan’s next big film after the phenomenal success of the “The Dark Night”, but “Inception” had been much longer in the making, as Nolan worked on the script for around ten years. “Inception” is about a special kind of thief – no ordinary stealer of possessions, but a stealer of ideas. He enters the dreams of his victims – and by sharing in their dream-states and projecting himself deep into their subconscious, he has unparalleled access into whatever secrets and information they may be withholding – even from themselves. The film is about his biggest challenge – not stealing an idea, but implanting one. This is “Inception” – and only he has ever done it before, just the once, with disastrous consequences.


I am fascinated by dreams, including their use in therapy. I think they can reveal a great deal to us – but not in any straightforward way. I don’t believe in a kind of common dream symbolism which applies to everybody and in which particular objects stands for particular ideas. Nor do I believe that dreams are speaking to us about the future. But I do believe that our dreams are speaking to us – that we are speaking to ourselves –  and that this can be a powerful form of communication.

As with free association, it’s not just what we say or dream that is important, but the meaning that we attach to it. What it does remind us of, what does it make us think of? What interpretation of it makes sense to us? And, importantly, why these words, why this dream, right now? What is happening in my life that makes sense of these particular images or scenarios? Whatever meaning we end up attaching to it, just thinking through the various components of a dream and what comes to mind, can be a fruitful therapeutic exercise in itself. If you haven’t tried it before, I can thoroughly recommend taking a dream to session, and discussing it with your therapist – if you can remember it, that is…..


For a very long time I struggled with remembering my dreams. I love dreaming, and I love the interesting and complex worlds that I get to inhabit, and the things I get to feel and experience. Ever since my therapist mentioned bringing dreams to session, more than two years ago, I have tried  – and most often failed – to remember them. Occasionally one would be so emotionally powerful or disturbing that it would stick in my mind and provide valuable material for discussion. But most often any trace of my dreams would disappear as soon as I woke up.

But since a week or so before my Easter therapy break, I have been remembering dreams on a regular basis – if not every night, then almost every other night. Although I remember only small portions of a much bigger whole, often I remember a number of fragments from different dreams during the same night. It happens so regularly now that I only really have time to email them to my therapist so that both of us have a record of them; we don’t get a chance to discuss them all. But as my therapist says, they are ‘in the bank’ and we can return to them; something that happens later on in therapy may trigger a memory of a past dream, and it may suddenly feel particularly relevant, or it may enable us to see something in a different light.

I realised very recently, that my sudden ability to remember my dreams coincided almost exactly with a major shift in my therapy and a big leap in terms of progress. It also coincided with the beginning of a different sort of relationship between me and my ‘inner child’ – a relationship more open to love and support and co-operation, as opposed to a relationship of enmity. The change in my ability to remember dreams does not seem like coincidence – but what I’m not sure about is whether it’s the deepening of my connection with my therapist and my greater ability and preparedness to trust her and be vulnerable with her, that was the key factor, or whether it was the change in how I viewed my inner child. I think perhaps it was both – and that in fact they are related.

It certainly feels as though many of my recent dreams have been about that inner child’s fears and vulnerabilities; some of them have felt like strikingly direct messages. And seeing and knowing her a little better now, it certainly seems possible that she could be acting as a sort of ‘gatekeeper’ –  that she has the strength to block and unblock recollection of my dreamworld depending on how connected and accepted she feels. And that she  – and other parts of me – can use my dreams to communicate how they think and feel.


The thief in “Inception” does not work alone, he is part of a team, a key member of which is the Architect. The Architect designs the shared dreamworld which the thief and his victim enter. The victim populates the dreams with their own human projections, and they furnish it with the details of their own ideas and thoughts. For example, the Architect designs a building and places inside it a safe; the victim’s subconscious fills the safe with the things they wish to keep most hidden.

Over time, I have started to try and understand not just my individual dreams, but my dream-scapes. The features that recur, the particular forms they take, or the items that inhabit them. Dreams use the ordinary features, people, and occurrences of day to day life, and combine them with our thoughts, ideas, dreams, beliefs and associations, to form a narrative that we can then try and interpret. There is no right or wrong answer – the journey to interpretation, or multiple interpretations, can be an end in itself.

I like to think of my subconscious and I as being joint architects of my dreamworld. We feed off each others’ creativity and interpretations. For a long time, the image or concept of a ‘house’ has been a helpful metaphor for me, of therapy. When I dream of a house, I tend to look for an interpretation involving therapy, but which came first? Did I dream of a house and interpret that as being about therapy? Or did the metaphor come first, and influence the dream? I do think that once a connection or particular interpretation is made, that makes it more likely that my subconscious will use the same image again, to represent the same concept. So although I don’t believe in a common dream symbolism, I do think that as my subconscious and I work together in my dream architecture, over time I may well end with a dream symbolism that is fairly consistent and makes sense for me.

I have also noticed, for example, that the colour white in my dreams tends to have negative connotations, and is associated with situations that are unsafe or threatening in some way, despite perhaps initially appearing the opposite. I think I can trace the original association to a childhood memory, but at the same time, now that I have made that connection, I think it is more likely that my subconscious will use it in future dreams. Just as it appears to be using the sense that I have that when I dream about my youngest child, he represents a part of me. And so often, particularly when my attention is elsewhere, he ends up drowning.


Dreams are powerful because there are no constraints – anything can happen. There is speculation that dreams provide “a psychological space where overwhelming, contradictory, or highly complex notions can be brought together by the dreaming ego that would be unsettling while awake. This process serves the need for psychological balance and equilibrium” (

Perhaps that need is served in more than one way – both through the processing that happens during sleep itself, and the processing that can happen when one thinks about one’s dreams, and why they are significant. They may help to bring psychological balance and equilibrium – and part of that could involve a process of connecting us to ourselves, reminding us of who we once were, or of things we have forgotten.

She had locked something away, something deep inside her. The truth that she had once known, but….she chose to forget (“Inception”). Yet we cannot be our own thief, stealing from the vaults of our own minds. The thief was almost defeated by the projection of his dead wife, who he had not yet made peace with, and who continually tried to sabotage him. We need to face our projections (or demons – however you choose to refer to them), in order to have access to the deepest parts of ourselves.

Sometimes we need to choose to forget, in order to survive. But later on, we may need to remember, in order to live. Dreams can help us to do that, if we build them with ourselves.


What lies beneath

We hope for healing – but at the same time we are afraid when we realise it might actually be happening. We’re used to being wounded – what will it feel like to be whole?

grey's healing wound



Therapy breaks – here is the Twitter chat!

Just over a week ago, Alison Crosthwait (from ‘The Good Therapists‘) and I, had a fantastic twitter chat on the subject of ‘Therapy breaks’. For more information on Alison, and on why we chose that subject, please see this post, which I wrote prior to the chat.

Using the wonders of Storify (and a few minutes spent trying to figure out how it worked), I put together a ‘transcript’ of our chat, which you can find here:

Please accept my apologies if any sections are hard to follow or if questions appear to come out of the blue! Due to the natural pauses while one of us was replying to a question, we sometimes found ourselves with more than one question on the go at once, and so reconstructing a particular thread was not always easy! However, I have done my best to keep portions of the same conversation together, as far as possible, and this is why the tweet ‘time stamps’ don’t always follow strict chronological order.

We were hoping to use the subject of therapy breaks to explore a number of areas, including change and attachment. We covered how both clients and therapists can feel during a break, and the different strategies they may employ to manage the break, including transitional objects, email contact, or, occasionally, back-up therapists (a concept I had not come across before!).

I think Alison will forgive me for speaking on her behalf to say that we both enjoyed it enormously and hope that you will enjoy reading through our conversation. We are keen to try this again sometime, and it would be good to hear your thoughts on subjects you would like us to explore (and that YOU would like to explore – please join us!) next time. Speaking personally, though we spoke about ‘attachment’ during therapy breaks, I felt that we didn’t really get a chance to talk in depth about the subject of change, and that is something Alison has written about, and that I would love to discuss with her. It is also something which is particularly pertinent for me at the moment, as my therapy went through significant (positive) changes just before, during, and after the Easter therapy break.

But all suggestions are welcome, and we both love creative ideas, so do feel free to put forward anything therapy-related that you have an interest in! I’m already getting excited at the thought of creating a list 🙂