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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Tweeting my way through the Christmas therapy break

As I did over the summer therapy break, I have been tweeting my way through this #therapybreak as well! Last time I found it helpful for a number of reasons – as a way of sharing how I was feeling, reaching out for support, recording how the break was going (so that I could look back on it, if I wanted to), taking in the positive moments, giving voice to the horrible moments, counting down, surviving…..Most of all I think it was a method of self-care and trying to create something memorable, beautiful, and ‘out of the box’-y, out of the break. Personally, I have never really liked the idea of a ‘gratitude jar/journal’, or the ‘100 Happy Days’ concept, but only because the ‘enforced’ nature of it – having to find something positive or something to be grateful for each day – doesn’t really work for me. And yet there were many moments of gratitude, I think, in those tweets, but they were there amongst the moments of pain and depression, too. All recorded, a true picture of a break. As this is, I hope, too – I have put together the tweets so far for this Christmas break into a Twitter ‘story’, which you can find here:

https://storify.com/lifeinabind/christmas-therapy-break

The ‘story’ also introduces you to one of my more recent ways of staying in touch with the ‘child part’ of me  – the acquisition of a number of ‘Lottie’ dolls, which in a way represent different parts of me, or remind me of different aspects of myself, or of my therapy.

I hope you enjoy the story, and I will see you in 2017……

 

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The kindness of strangers

I’ll be glad when this day is over.

My marriage is at a new low where our Christmas cards now simply read ‘To…..love….’. Whereas they used to contain a paragraph or two, now even a brief ‘I love you’ is missing.

Though I’m profoundly grateful for the insight and self-awareness therapy has brought me, being with my parents-in-law now brings new triggers in the form of my awareness of every nuance of behaviour and interaction which echoes (indeed moulded) the behaviour and interactions I find so triggering in my husband.

I miss my therapist, and I wonder how Christmas with her family is going. I know she is not a perfect mother, but I believe she is a ‘good enough’ mother, and I envy her daughters that; and I know I need to grieve the lack of ‘good enough mothering’ in my own past, but it’s hard.

Last night I went to midnight mass, alone. Doing things alone is not a problem for me, and I enjoy it as I’m naturally an introvert. But when the Bishop’s address started off on the subject of loneliness, I felt the tears rise all too quickly to the surface. When he spoke about feeling all alone when surrounded by people, it hit home. I felt alone – not because I had come to midnight mass unaccompanied, but because other than in therapy (and to some extent within myself), I have no emotional home, no family (other than my children) in any sense other than because of a ‘technical’ connection through blood or marriage.

After the address, we stood to sing ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’; I was still in a daze, and though it was clearly marked in the order of service, I didn’t realise it was the offertory hymn and a collection basket was about to be passed around. As I was at the start of an aisle it came to me first, and I reacted in complete surprise, suddenly coming up out of my introspection and that place within my head. The church warden who came to me with the basket must have been bemused by my reaction, because he put his arm around me and gave me a big hug, as if to say, affectionately, ‘come here you silly thing, what are you like?!’. He was considerably taller than me and when he pulled me in against him my glasses smudged against his chest and his smart suit jacket. I fumbled in my pocket and pulled out whatever change I had, and he, and the basket, moved on.

But that hug shook me and I found it harder and harder to keep it together, until the beauty of the last verse, the cathedral choir and organ, the sheer volume of sound and being part of it, broke my defenses and I was crying rather openly, but as discreetly as I could; as relieved at letting go, as I was embarrassed at the tears.

He was a stranger – and I know that for many people, what happened might have seemed inappropriate, or unwelcome, or unwise. And though it probably meant little to the man who gave it, to me the hug felt warm, genuine, affectionate, and compassionate. And what hit me forcefully was the thought that this was the only hug or physical contact I would receive from any adult over this Christmas period, with the exception of my parents (and in that instance the contact is not something I want or like, and I try to minimize it as much as possible). In that hug I felt an odd sort of fleeting (but powerful) closeness – though we were strangers and knew nothing of each other, we shared that one moment of my surprise and his amusement, and that briefest moment felt more genuine and revealing of each other than any moment I’ve had with my husband, parents-in-law, or parents today.

The absence of closeness, and the presence of loneliness, is one present that I would rather have given back this Christmas. But that one moment in the very early hours of this morning stands out for me as an example of the well-known and simple truth that the kindness of strangers can make a real difference, whether they are aware of what they do, or not – ‘for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts’ (Middlemarch, George Eliot).


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Why the Christmas therapy break can be particularly hard

I’ve just entered another therapy break – twenty-six days this time. Though the summer therapy break is longer, the Christmas break is more challenging in other ways. My latest post for the therapy website welldoing.org is an open letter to my therapist, explaining why it feels difficult, and how she has helped:

https://www.welldoing.org/article/letter-to-my-therapist-christmas

 

[This article was inspired by a post I wrote at a similar time last year; that post was prompted by an intense set of emotions that arose after I caught a glimpse of my therapist’s daughter, who had come home for Christmas. Families – both the ones that we are part of, and the ones that we are not – can lead to such strong emotions at this time of year….]

 


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Sitting to feel safe

*TRIGGER WARNING – SUICIDAL IDEATION*

I’ve sat pretty motionless for the past hour and a half, because if I don’t move, even if I’m not doing something to actively try and distract from these thoughts, at least I’m not doing anything to act on them either.

I can still move my fingertips on the keyboard, as I’m doing now. Twenty minutes ago I typed in the Samaritans’ email address in an open window in my Gmail account, but I haven’t typed anything else in it yet. I got distracted by opening up a private browser window and looking up more information on a particular way to die. As with most ways to die, there appeared to be numerous downsides. And then I came across this:

https://www.victoriahealth.com/editorial/suicide

It is an incredibly poignant article by the late Sally Brampton, who tragically took her own life a few months ago. It is moving, funny, and brutally honest.

I wish I had a suicidal soulmate, like Sally did. Yet somehow I can’t bear the thought of ‘inflicting’ my suicidal ideation on friends, even on those who might on some level be able to relate to how I’m feeling. I don’t want to burden anyone with my thoughts, or cause them to feel as though they are somehow responsible for my safety. I don’t want to talk to anyone; but at the same my inner critic is busy invalidating me and telling me I have no right to share this with anyone. It tells me I have no right to take my feelings seriously; that if they were serious I would have made an attempt on my life already. That if they were serious then my ‘mood states’ would last longer, rather than often being intense but fairly fleeting. I know my inner critic is a liar. I believe my inner critic.

In her article, Sally wrote that when you are in the midst of depression, “the senseless makes sense”. I don’t know whether or not it’s a consequence of neuroplasticity, but I can certainly attest to the fact that over time and given prolonged suicidal ideation, the concept of suicide acquires its own twisted type of logic. I recognise that it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and I recognise the devastation it can leave in its wake. But it’s still as if the phrase ‘suicide is logical’ has been rewired into a tautology in my brain. Most of the time I can hold it alongside the concept ‘suicide is not a good solution’. But sometimes I really struggle with that. Like tonight.

I felt such a strange mixture of shock, sadness and relief, when I read how in her darkest times, Sally began to imagine dying together with her daughter, who also suffered from depression; lying side by side, holding hands, and drifting off into an endless sleep. A couple of years ago in one of my own lowest patches, I half-jokingly half-seriously suggested to a close childhood friend of mine who also suffers from depression, that we usher in our next decade together in a similar fashion; holding hands while drifting off into a place of no pain. She called me ‘sick’ and hasn’t spoken to me since. I told another good friend what had happened and she discouraged me from writing about it, saying it wasn’t really one of my better moments. It wasn’t, and I was ashamed of it. But I think I’d always been hoping that behind the ‘sick suggestion’, my friend would be able to see the fact that I loved her, and if there was anyone I wanted to share the terror and intimacy of death with, it was her. She didn’t see it – she didn’t see the strange sort of logic that suicidal ideation sometimes constructs. Thank you Sally for helping me feel a little less ashamed of the fact that sometimes the senseless makes sense to me.

And yet I’m lucky, very lucky. Lucky because I’m able to root myself to the spot and somehow convince myself to ride it out while letting my fingers do the job of trying to bring me back into safety. Lucky because at this juncture in time, this moment is a moment; intense and almost unbearable, but likely to pass relatively quickly. I am not in the midst of a prolonged period of depression; and even when I am, unlike Sally’s months and years of hell, my worst periods tend to last three or four weeks at a time.

It’s been almost two and a half hours now, of sitting in one spot, waiting to feel safer. I feel a bit safer. Maybe safe enough to risk moving. My inner critic berates me for wasting hours doing nothing. Previously, not making an attempt on my life was evidence of a lack of seriousness; now it’s evidence of a lack of productivity. Another bizarre sort of logic.

At the end of her article, Sally wrote: “So, and I say this with all my heart, hold onto hope, because if we keep it grasped tight, then summer will surely come”. I’d be lying if I said I was trying to hope for summer. Right now I’d like to be able to hope for a crisp, sunny, sparkling day in winter. Right now, that will be more than enough.


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Pain won’t make me die

remember-poem-2

It feels as though this poem came straight out of the younger aspects of myself, and it’s as if they are speaking both to my therapist, now, and to my mother, then. I wrote it very soon after my last session – I hadn’t been expecting to write a poem but the first two verses spilled out, quite unexpectedly, in seconds. They were a kind of free association by poetry – it really felt as though they were writing themselves, arising from a deeper part of me and bypassing conscious processing and analysis. I didn’t feel as though I could leave those two verses hanging and so I added the rest, the words feeling more consciously chosen this time.

In therapy I had been talking about family deaths I had experienced as a child, and the way in which I was both more involved and more excluded than I could bear to be. I was ‘along for the ride’ while my parents looked after others; but I wasn’t communicated with about it, or helped with my own feelings (if anyone realised I had feelings about the situation). The picture behind the words is about the darkness of pain, but also about being kept in the dark. At the same time it’s about the door being ajar and being aware and frightened of what was going on, even if I couldn’t see or hear things clearly. It’s about things that I saw that were never talked about; and about things that were talked about in my presence that shouldn’t have been. The capital letters and lack of punctuation feel ‘loud’, unformed and childlike; a spontaneous, painful, ‘young-me’ plea……

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BPD as addiction

Although I try to be as open in my blog as I can, there are still some things that feel too private to speak about. Sometimes a moment feels so special and precious I just want to keep it close to my heart where only I have access to it, rather than sharing it. And sometimes a moment feels difficult – really, really shockingly, life-changingly difficult, and I need to hide it away because it is also precious, but in a different way.

A few months ago I wrote about a very difficult weekend when I felt disconnected from my therapist. Though this was hardly unusual (!) it did come after a run of encouraging and affirming sessions, and a really positive break over Easter and subsequent ‘reunion’. I felt (and so did my therapist, I think), that a corner had been turned and some real progress was being made. In that context, then, the internal chaos and the ‘acting out’ that ensued (in the form of a string of emotionally volatile emails to my therapist), was a surprise and seemed like an unexpected step backwards.

In my post ‘A tale of three houses – therapy, progress and internal conflict‘, I wrote about my reflections on that weekend. I realised that: “Part of me wanted that sense of disconnection and separation – it showed that I still needed her, and it also held the promise of reconciliation. A sense of comfort and drawing close after a fight. I hadn’t realised until after that weekend, how close the connection is for me, between love and pain. And how much I need that sense of conflict, to feel alive. Not just because of an addiction to the intensity of feelings; but also because for me, individuating is associated with a struggle. And if I’m not fighting then I fear ‘not being’, or simply ‘being someone else’. ”

That incident of rupture and repair was a major turning point in my therapy. Or rather, it turned me back onto the road of progress that I had been traveling on for the last few weeks. But the way in which it did that was something I’ve never managed to write about – until now. And the reason I’m writing about it now is because I’ve been shocked into remembrance by this post, called ‘Between the chaos’, by blogger ‘Girl in Therapy’.  I’m not suggesting that her situation is the same as mine, and I’m certainly not writing this by way of giving her or anyone else ‘advice’. However, it did remind me how crucial that turning point was for me, and it made my blood run cold thinking what might have happened had I not listened – really listened – to what my therapist said to me then.

***

The first session after my chaotic weekend back in May, was preceded by an email from my therapist asking me to please think about what had happened over the weekend and what I was ‘doing to the therapy’, so that we would have the best chance of learning from it. The first part of the session felt surprisingly light-hearted – almost in the way that hindsight sometimes lends a laughing air to something that could have been very serious. Half-smiling, my therapist told me that she had actually felt very cross when she’d read my string of emails – I suspected she really meant ‘angry’. It occurs to me now that perhaps smiling is sometimes a defense mechanism for her, just as it is for me. I was apologetic, really apologetic. I knew that I had indeed ‘done something’ to the therapy, and that the ‘acting out’ was semi-consciously chosen (for the reasons mentioned above). And so the first part of the session was tough, but not hostile or frightening. We were engaged in a ‘repair’ and I was feeling connected.

The mood changed abruptly when I made a light-hearted comment about the fact that I was glad we were able to repair things, but that I knew myself and this was bound to happen again. I was almost saying ‘we’re fine now, until the next time……’. And all of a sudden her facial expression changed – I don’t know to this day whether the line of her mouth was hiding anger and disappointment, or sadness and pain. Perhaps it held both – it certainly felt as though she was holding in some strong emotion, and I’ve wondered whether she was also holding back tears.

She didn’t say ‘you’re not taking this seriously’, but at the same time I think my comment was evidence enough that the seriousness of what I was doing hadn’t really sunk in. She had no choice, I think, than to do what she did, which was to lay her cards out on the table and to make clear to me the situation as she saw it.

In my post ‘Addicted to feeling torn’, I’d written: “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…”. My therapist told me that she was glad I’d used the word ‘addiction’ – that she’d reached the same conclusion a little while ago, but felt that I needed to come to that realisation myself. I will never forget the way she spoke: the most serious tone I have ever heard her use, almost urgent in its earnestness as she said to me ‘this is a serious addiction’. She said it was as serious as any other addiction, and needed to be treated as such. It had an impact not just on me, but on those around me, including my family.

It felt deadly serious – literally, it felt as though what she was talking about was a matter of emotional life or death, and I was shocked at the turn the conversation had taken. And then came the moment that I’m sure any therapy client dreads, but which many therapy clients with BPD not only dread, but on some level feel is inevitable. She told me that the weekend’s events had even led her to think about whether she had reached the limits of her experience and expertise, and whether she was the right person to help me.

It is impossible to describe what that felt like, and how devastating it was to hear. And yet I want to make this completely clear, particularly for those who fear such a loss, or who have suffered one – I am absolutely sure that she hadn’t ‘had enough of me’, she wasn’t fed up, and she wasn’t ‘getting her own back’. I told a handful of people what was going on, and my husband said something that was probably the single most insightful and helpful thing he’s ever said to me in relation to my mental health difficulties. He told me that the reason she might be thinking of referring me on, was that she cared about me and if she couldn’t help me, she really wanted me to be with someone who could. In a subsequent conversation a few sessions later, she did refer to the fact that it wouldn’t be ethical of her to continue to see me if she wasn’t helping me, and that she was also conscious of the wider context – my husband and my children. In essence she was aware of the fact that by helping me, she was also helping them, and that the reverse was also true.

It was clear that she said what she did because she cares about me and my progress – as she has said on a number of occasions since, she considers our work really important. She was never about to abandon me – but she was seriously concerned that she wasn’t helping me, and from both a human and an ethical perspective, she couldn’t let that continue indefinitely.

***

Those memories and emotions all came flooding back when I read this section in ‘Girl in Therapy’s post, ‘Between the chaos’:

I am progressing, growing…. This is growth! All our hard work is paying off. And…… it’s boring! Yup. Boring.

When you’ve lived your entire life at an elevated level of fear and chaos, when your brain has literally been wired to live in a constant freeze/fight/flight zone… when the people who are meant to look after you and keep you safe are the ones hurting you and their love can’t be trusted….. Well, you start living your adult life that way too, because it’s all you know.  My emotions are used to fluctuating wildly, everything feeling more intense and dramatic, that’s where I live. That is my normal. This solid place where everything is okay is a nice place to visit but I can feel the pull of “home”.

The pull of home – the connection between love and pain, the need for conflict and intensity – reminded me so much of my addiction to feeling torn. I felt shocked, worried, sick, and afraid. Danger was screaming at me, and that is why I’m writing this post. Yet at the same time I want to say again that I’m not suggesting that what happened to me, will happen to ‘Girl in Therapy’ or to anyone else reading this, though ultimately what happened to me was a very very good thing indeed. But when I read that paragraph and it all came flooding back, I knew it was the right time to write about what happened – not because someone else needed to hear it, but because I’d finally found the words.

Having said that, I do really want to convey, with the same urgent seriousness that my therapist did (while knowing, like she did, that only self-realisation can have a lasting impact) – that BPD and addiction don’t just go hand in hand, BPD is in many ways, an addiction. The precise nature of what you are addicted to may be different to the precise nature of what I am addicted to. But the whole nature of BPD is that it tries to keep us trapped and coming back for more – more intensity, more love, more pain which seems like the only route to love, more chaos. Its draw is undeniable; without it we do not feel alive, and we don’t know who we are.

But we fail to see that it’s actually the beauty and the stability and the love between the chaos that is what we really crave. And yet we’ve learned no healthy route to get there, and we’ve learned that it doesn’t last, and things change. And so we feel we have to test its reality and show that it’s still intact, via the bizarre mechanism of breaking it and putting it back together again, repeatedly. For me, the turning point that I’ve described seemed to accelerate progress in therapy, and among all the markers of progress has been a realisation and conviction I’ve never had before: that genuine, deep joy and connection, trust and security make me feel better, happier, more fulfilled and alive, and are much more worth having, than any degree of intensity or cycles of rupture and repair. And those are things that I have found through therapy, and through my relationship with my therapist.

A few years ago, when a different therapist asked me whether I could think of any feelings which were better than the intense highs of BPD, it seemed obvious to me that the answer was ‘no’. Whereas now, whenever I’m tempted by the ‘pull of home’, the memory of that realisation and conviction makes a liar of my addiction, and reminds me there is something better – and that I have a new home.