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 under the name Clara Bridges.

What a little penguin has to teach me about my therapy break

15 Comments

jill tomlinson20160810_225854the penguin who wanted to find out

At the start of my summer therapy break I bought this wonderful box set of six children’s animal stories by Jill Tomlinson, with the intention of reading one a week during the break. I was introduced to them by one of my children who brought home from school ‘The owl who was afraid of the dark’. He didn’t seem that interested in it, but I loved it; and I saw in its chapters and in the progression of the story, similarities between the little owl’s journey from fear to confidence, to the stages of the therapeutic journey. Since then, I have wanted to read the other books in the collection, hoping that they too might contain some important and thought provoking lessons, just as crucial for grown-ups to learn as for children, but presented in a beautifully simple and moving way.

This week, I’m reading ‘The penguin who wanted to find out’, and the section above really struck me. It reminded me not just of the lessons I’m supposed to be learning over the therapy break (about keeping my therapist real and staying connected); but of the fact that eventually, the goal is to ‘internalise’ my therapist, and the process, in such a way as to enable me to fly the nest (though that is not quite the right metaphor when we’re talking about penguins!).

Claudius is a ‘daddy penguin’ looking after Otto, a little penguin. Claudius has just told Otto that he will need to leave him in order to go and look for food, as he has had nothing to eat all winter. How many of us, when our therapists ‘leave us’ to go and find their own nourishment of ‘down time’ and a rest, share, on some level, Otto’s horrified reaction? How many of us think, even if we don’t say, the words ‘you wouldn’t leave me….I need you’? And then, when we receive the response, as Otto did, that we carry our therapist with us, inside, how many of us can empathise deeply with Otto’s heartfelt protest that he wants his dad to be outside where he can see him? ‘Oh don’t leave me’ – for me, at least, that is a familiar internal refrain.

And yet, as Claudius says, ‘that’s the important place to have a good dad [or mum, one might say] – inside’. I can’t always see my therapist, much as I would like to. Therapy breaks are good examples of that, and hard as they are they are also necessary periods in which I can learn and practice internalising my therapist, and holding onto to her ‘inside’, even when I can’t see her ‘outside’. It’s vital for that process to take place; it is the process of therapy, in many ways, and it will also be the only way in which I can permanently hold onto her and to everything she means to me and has shown me.

Poor Otto was shattered’. But at the same time he became interested in the journey he was taking towards the sea, and forgot a little bit, about his misery. Therapy breaks are still hard, and much more so on some days than others. But I have become more ‘practised’ at them; and I am trying to notice things about them, and about me and my reactions, that make the journey more interesting, rather than being only a trial to be endured.

How does it turn out for Otto? I haven’t reached the end yet, so I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out. Just as I am looking forward to finding out what happens to me, and what I have learned, when I see my therapist again, ‘on the outside’, in September.

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15 thoughts on “What a little penguin has to teach me about my therapy break

  1. Very good post. I have found children’s books quite helpful in my own therapeutic journey. They have a way of getting down to the essentials.

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  2. Therapy breaks can be so hard, especially for those of us who struggle with internalizing anything that is not right in front of us… I love this story you shared, it is such a perfect parallel.

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  3. Amazing insight and story!! The parallels of the teaching that we as adults need to be able to “internalize” and “keep” our therapist in our minds eye is striking.
    I have had many breaks from therapy due to vacations and another break when my therapist’s husband passed away but more recently since she has been gone due to her son being killed, it has been especially hard. It will be 7 months since I have seen in Sept and a part of me really questions if a smarter client would just start with another therapist to continue the process.
    Right now I am still in the grieving process for her loss/my loss of her and the black hole of not knowing if/when she will return.
    It is the stalled therapy that makes me wonder if it is healthy to just wait.
    That said, this has been a time of great sorrow, grief and feelings of abandonment and therefore have also provided some “practice” for the other losses from the past and to come in the future.
    Thank you again for the interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so sorry, I didn’t realise her husband had passed away too -it must be so challenging being in this situation and her grief must be huge, as must be your sense of loss as well. Did she ask you not to contact her in this period? i.e. is there any possibility of seeing whether she has made some sort of decision about work, and whether she would recommend moving on to someone else more permanently? it is so difficult to be ‘in limbo’ and to be waiting. As you have mentioned before, it also impacts upon your relationship with your current therapist- however wonderful they are, you won’t necessarily feel as invested, if you are seeing them as ‘temporary’. Thinking of you and sending you hugs and really hoping you find some resolution soon… x

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  4. Thanks for the reply…I guess I should have been more clear. Yes her husband passed away two summers ago. Thankfully not really close to when her son was killed!!! But yes, those are two huge losses to have to mourn and get through.
    She has never asked me not to contact her (thankfully, because I posted my condolences on her sons death notice, sent her a sympathy card the next day, sent her an email to her home email just briefly saying that she was in my thoughts and I sent her a card about a month ago saying I missed her and hoped her days were a little less dark and more grey).
    I also included a type of Zen-tangle project I had done specifically for her.
    In all of these “touching base, I have stated at the bottom of the card, “I hope this is not invading your privacy”.
    I ask one of her colleagues about every month and a half if they have heard anything but so far nothing about a date of return or even confirmation of her actually coming back.
    I keep holding on to her statement that was delivered to me through her supervisor three days after her sons’ death…”tell Lou I will be back” as she knows I have huge past issues with abandonment.
    Regardless, I feel I need to wait for her to continue the work we were doing and also mourn the time away from “mommy” and tell her how heartbroken I am at her loss.
    If I get confirmation she is not coming back, I will just have to try to deal with that but I know that will be a huge blow to all of what we have worked on about abandonment.
    Thanks for the “across the pond” hugs…it helps.
    Take care

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