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.

A lesson in love

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This weekend my therapist is at a residential conference – strangely enough at a conference centre I have stayed in myself. I have been dreading this weekend for months, remembering how I felt last time she went to a similar event. I have been dreading the feelings of exclusion, of jealousy, of knowing that she will be interacting with strangers who for these three days will have a greater insight into the minutiae of her life – what does she have for breakfast? – than I will ever have. They will be in company without the company of the clock; they will talk and laugh uninterruptedly; they will take a walk and talk – or not. They will capture the moment, in a picture. Oh to be a fly on the wall and to be able to observe her interacting in a carefree way with those around her. And yet, I know the irrationality of my fears and hopes. I have a very different – the opposite of care free –ย  and more valuable kind of access to her than most of them will ever have ; and being a fly on the wall would be unbearable for precisely that reason. I’ve never had to ‘share her’ย  – I wouldn’t want to have to try.

After this, we only have two more sessions before a two-week Easter break, and I was worried we wouldn’t have time to process the fall-out from this weekend. Yet somehow, as always seems to happen, we have arrived at the point just before the break – despite my fears over this weekend – with a lovely sense of security and connection. It’s been an incredibly difficult few weeks, and I have found myself treating her in ways I have hated myself for. I have caused her to feel coerced, manipulated, and intruded upon; she’s had to wade through the mire of counter-transference and my resistance. But she is my therapist – and she continues to amaze me and to show me, through her example, what love really looks like.

What has struck me deeply, through all of this, is that she keeps on giving. She holds the space; she holds firm against the resistance; we work through the pain, the tears and the tantrums (all mine). But she keeps on giving, and she does not withhold. Yes, she withholds therapeutically, for the benefit of the work, but she does not withhold of herself in retaliation. I am so used to the tautology that misbehaviour equals punishment; that resistance leads to consequence; and that if I try and ‘win’, something will be taken away and lost. It’s why, each time she shows me her unwavering nature and her generosity, there is always the internalised voice that says ‘this time….this time, I have really blown it, she will never be the same with me again, a part of her is lost to me’.

But every time, I’m wrong; and I’m so thankful that I’m wrong. There is no retribution; and she doesn’t see herself as wronged. She knows me, and that whatever mess I bring from one week to the next is only part of me, and not the whole. She cares for the whole, and reminds me that it is there, even when I have forgotten. She responds to what I bring – without bringing up the past and without conditionality. She gives, as if I’d never tried to take what wasn’t mine to have; and that is both humbling and overwhelming.

The night before she left I sent her a brief email saying I would miss her, and I wished her an interesting time and an enjoyable walk around the gardens (replete with poems and quotes hidden amongst the trees). I also said that I hoped a poem or two might come out of this weekend – it’s been my way, recently, of trying to cope with difficult or intense emotions. I didn’t think I would receive a reply until after the weekend, but she wrote back saying she would think of me at the house and in the gardens; and she shared something (a poem and a picture) of the material she would be thinking about over the weekend. Her giving was a wonderful and deeply touching surprise. She included me, when she knew I would be feeling excluded; and she told me she would think of me, when she knew I would worry about being kept in mind, when she had so much on her mind.

And so I have drawn together my thoughts and feelings into a poem; grateful for her giving, trying not to dwell too deeply on the missing, but reminding myself of what I have. I have tried to capture a lessons in love – a moment of being together at a distance, in a picture of words, timelessly unhampered by the clock.

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12 thoughts on “A lesson in love

  1. I’m glad to hear the ground is not shaking under you and your therapist stands her ground even when it moves. We are, all of us, in therapy or out, at the mercy of time. The therapy session just makes it more obvious. If time didn’t matter and we were immortal, it wouldn’t matter whether our trip down the highway lasted a day or 100 years; there would always be more time. Those contacts your therapist makes at the conference doubtless are scheduled to some degree and bump up against everyone’s plans. Granted, perhaps they give each other more than an hour. You know well the ache when someone you love goes away. All lovers know this. All parents know this when the child goes to the university, leaves town for a job, etc. I am trying to say this not to discount your feelings, but to point out that we each deal with some version, many versions of this. And finally, since we are mortal, the grand session on planet earth ends. No, there is no escaping the clock.

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    • You’re right, and of course she would have been constrained by time at the conference. And I know that even three hours a week is more than she sees her closest friends. We all have to deal with the pain that comes with limited time – and sometimes I wonder whether part of what therapy is teaching me, is learning to live with the clock and with the sure knowledge of grief, not too far away, and to learn how to leave myself open both to the grief and the joys along the way, rather than protecting myself from it all…..thank you so much for another wise and thoughtful comment….

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      • Not at all. It is the cost of being human, isn’t it? (Rhetorical question)! If you are able to master the problem of limited time, then you will be way ahead of almost all of the rest of us.

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  2. I am feeling very distressed atm. I have often threatened to quit therapy and my therapist is getting impatient with me. I feel so remorseful of my horrible emails and tell her and then become so clingy and dependent. I dont know what to do. Her emails are very brief and to the point and I don’t feel she loves me any more ( which I totally understand seeing as I’m not nice) Your blog today made me feel sad about my own therapy road. Can you give me some advice?

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    • I am so sorry you’re feeling distressed xx I will reply as soon as I can but I’m unlikely to be able to before tonight, unfortunately. In the meantime, please take care xx

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    • Hi again…I hope you’re doing a bit better……. I hope you will forgive me if by way of a reply I give you some links to blog posts…I think it’s the best way of explaining what I wanted to say, as I have written about my own experience of what you are going through. I should say that I can only relay my own experience, and that everyone’s therapy journey is different, so I’m not saying exactly the same things are going on for you and your therapist. I also know that until I experienced certain things, no amount of ‘knowing’ or analysing sunk in – I think we all have to experience things at the right time, in the right context, for them to really have an impact. I did want to say though that it’s possible you may believe your therapist is impatient because you fear that she is – I find I’m really good at seeing what I expect to see, in people’s expressions! It’s also possible she’s impatient with herself, rather than with you, wondering what she can do to really help you. Having said that, my therapist has felt angry and impatient and frustrated with me in the past – and it was important for me, and the direction my therapy subsequently took, that I understood that, and thought about it. What’s really helped me is thinking of myself in terms of different ‘parts’ (https://lifeinabind.com/2016/06/01/parts-of-me/ ) as it meant I could somehow get a bit more perspective on how I was reacting, and it felt as though I had a little more control over it, and I had a way of talking about how the different parts of me were feeling, with my therapist. Starting to think of myself in this way was a response to the situation described in https://lifeinabind.com/2016/12/04/bpd-as-addiction/ , https://lifeinabind.com/2016/06/04/a-tale-of-three-houses-therapy-progress-and-internal-conflict/ and https://lifeinabind.com/2016/05/23/addicted-to-feeling-torn/ . Since then, I think one of the most important and helpful things I’ve learned, is to try and be as vulnerable and open as I can be in session, completely determined to hide nothing, including the ‘ugliest’ things about my motives, fears, or desires. Those are always the most connecting and helpful sessions, for me. And in those sessions I also try and let go of any temptation to try and control what she thinks or feels about me – I try and settle in completely to a frame of mind in which we are connected but separate, completely free to be ourselves. But it took me a long time to get there, and I still manage it only a minority of the time – but knowing that I can, both of us knowing that I can, makes a big difference to the times when I continue to act from a different and more resistant place….I have no idea if any of that will help. I really hope the posts help – I think the point ultimately comes – once you’ve reached a place where you have an awareness, even a small one, of what you are enacting, and why you are enacting it, and can see that there is a past pattern at work, and you understand where it comes from – at that point, we all have more control than we think we do, more control than we feel as though we have. Even a momentary pause to consider what we are doing, and why, and to try and figure out which of our personas is responsible, can be enough to allow a different internal voice to enter the fray and have some sway over us. It may be enough to help us to not send an email – or if we send it, it may enough to come into session not fearful of retribution or consequences, but conscious of responsibility, and wanting to take it and own it, with a genuine desire to look hard at ourselves and to do it differently next time. That sort of approach has made all the difference to me, but it’s really really really hard, and it took a long time for me to reach that point in therapy…..sending hugs x

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  3. Ah this is lovely. How lovely that she replied and said those things, I really hope that helps to keep the connection at the front of your mind whilst she is gone. Xx

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