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.

Dreams and endings – always endings

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I had three dreams on the two nights prior to my last therapy session before a four week break – all of them betraying my fears not just about this temporary ending, but about the more permanent ‘ending of therapy’ to come. It’s a familiar pattern for me – one type of ‘loss’ cascades into layers of loss stretching into the future.

***

I was standing on the balcony of a block of flats and my ‘therapy jacket’* fell from where it was hanging and onto the street below. I thought to call out for help, for someone to pick it up, and then I decided I should instead run down and get it. But as I was about to rush down, a man drove up on a motorbike, picked it up, and sped away. I screamed after him, hoping someone might pursue him, but he was gone. I was devastated at the loss of something deeply meaningful and irreplaceable; even awake, I remember the quality and intensity of the distress I felt in my dream, which was so great that it actually woke me up. This is my version of a nightmare, which haunts me and jolts me awake – not fear, but overwhelming sadness and loss.

***

I got off a bus and found myself near my halls of residence at university. Waves of nostalgia hit me – good feelings, a sort of happiness, but tinged with the sadness of times now distant and never to be re-lived. Good memories shot through with the faint unbelief that this could ever have been my life – that I was ever there, younger, less burdened with things not done, lives not lived, joys not felt. I walked up to the building and the front desk staff recognised me without me saying a word, and the familiarity felt comforting. But when I looked behind them, I saw that the place had been gutted by fire. Only blackened structures remained, and the beautiful buildings had disappeared. I was shocked, saddened, horrified – overwhelmed with tears, and grief. They told me what had happened, but I don’t remember what they said. Something to do with Fresher’s Week, I think – it seems that what was meant to be a new beginning, had in fact brought about an ending.

***

I was in my car, in the bottom right hand corner of an enormous open-air courtyard within a building that completely enclosed the space on all sides. All of a sudden, the ground started falling away, starting from the bottom left hand corner and moving towards the right. I began driving up the right hand side of the square, at first managing to escape the collapse by some distance, but then having a narrower and narrower strip of land to drive on, as the break-up of the earth caught up with me, and almost overtook me. Just as the strip of land was about to disappear to nothing, I drove between a pillar and the building but the space was slightly too narrow and I crashed and came to a halt, wedged in the gap. The ground disappeared all around me, but I was pinned in place, and didn’t fall. Being stuck felt like my salvation.  

***

My therapist suggested that perhaps my husband was stealing my therapy – a reference to the fact that I deeply resented the fact I had spent much of the last week of therapy before the break, focusing on the feelings that my couples therapy was triggering in me. It was not how I had planned ‘setting up’ for the break, and it felt like an intrusion. It felt as though I was losing valuable individual therapy time and wouldn’t be able to cover everything I wanted to before the break. My therapist was not wrong in her interpretation of my first dream, but as with any dream, a number of different interpretations are possible, all of which may lead to their own insights.

For me, it was the loss of a visual representation of therapy, and the absence of a tangible reminder, that struck me most. I was reminded of the conversations I’ve had recently with my therapist about how I’ve always hoped that at the end of therapy she would give me a photo to remember her by. I don’t think it had occurred to me it was a request she might refuse – so many therapists these days have a photo online, even if their web presence is limited to their contact details and a summary of their areas of expertise. Yet she indicated that I wouldn’t need a photo – that I would carry the memories I needed, within me. It was an implied, rather than a direct, refusal, and it was far from reassuring. Sometimes I find it very hard to recall faces – and I am terrified that one day, I may not be able to recall hers. I am scared that I will lose that vital reminder of her presence, one way or another, whether the reminder is stolen by age, or illness, or another cause.

***

Over the last few months, I have spent more and more time worrying not just about the end of therapy, but about the fact that I don’t know when it will end, or when my therapist will retire. She has said she will let me know at least a year before it happens – but now it feels as though I live in dread of walking into a session only to find out that it is the session at which she makes that announcement. I have been imagining what it will be like – even though I don’t want to imagine it. I imagine it in various different ways, because the possibility of it is so difficult to conceive, there is no telling how the reality will go.

I imagine the version where I am numb and in shock, and my defenses kick in to protect me from pain, so that I just carry on as rationally and as much in denial, as I can. I imagine the version where I simply can’t bear to be in such pain in the presence of the person who has hurt me, and I ask to leave – but I’ve never left a session, and I know I would regret it, so that scenario doesn’t seem very likely. And I imagine the version in which I show her that it hurts indescribably much – as it sometimes does when the premonition of the future hits me at home at night and I hold my stomach with wordless cries and open mouth and soak my pillow with streaming nose and eyes and it is unbearable but I bear it and yet I know that even when it passes, this time, it is coming, actually coming, this and more. And in the exhausted quiet after, part of me is grateful to be able to open myself up to the grief, which feels like an honouring of everything my therapist means to me; but part of me trembles in fear underneath, at the thought of the time when the grief will really, really take hold of me, and it won’t last half an hour or an hour, or ten hours, or a hundred…..

The imagined shock of that announcement is what the shock of the burnt-out building reminds me of. The distress following the shock, a dim foretelling of what the reality will be like. The nostalgia of returning to a familiar place with good memories, at Fresher’s Week, a time of new beginnings, reminds me of returning to therapy after a break. And it is then, in particular, that I imagine coming face to face with devastation. Therapy seems to run on academic terms, just like schools and universities – August is the ‘month off’ and things resume again, come September. It seems likely she would choose to retire at the end of an academic year, particularly as she sees a number of students. And so it also seems likely that, if she ‘gives me notice’, it will happen at the start of the academic year, and following the summer break. I’m afraid of therapy breaks – but these days  I am also afraid of going back.

***

The third dream took place on the same night as the second, and I believe it is on a similar theme. It was my therapist who saw it this time – the collapse of the ground and the ever narrower strip of road, mirroring the passage of time. The longer I am in therapy, the less time I have left in therapy. If only I could stop time….There is so much that – perhaps generously – she didn’t say, about just how my behaviour and resistance in therapy is sometimes geared towards just that. Towards denying progress (or at least minimising it and trying to show how much more there is to do); staving off the end, even though the end is inevitable and ultimately will be determined by her retirement, irrespective of whether I am ‘done’ in therapy, or not. There is a sentence in ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson, which perfectly sums up that denial, and that holding back: “She couldn’t lean her whole weight on any of this when she knew she would have to live on after it”.

My therapist’s conclusion about the dream’s message disturbed me – whereas I felt that getting stuck had saved me, she suggested that perhaps I needed to carry on, despite time getting ever shorter. It makes sense – that I should carry on, make the most of the time, complete the work, if the work is ever really complete. But I can’t help wondering, did her words mean more than that? Was she encouraging me to keep going not just because it’s a good thing to do, but because she now has an actual timescale, an actual date in mind? However much I tried to think about the disappearing ground as representing time left in therapy, I could not persuade myself that driving on and falling down into the chasm was anything other than dangerous and to be avoided.

***

“Ends are for yesterday, not tomorrows.

What will you do with the time you have left?”  **

 

[* I bought my therapy jacket during a therapy break more than two years ago, and it is a constant comfort blanket and a warm reminder of my therapist, acting both as a jacket and a blanket, depending on the season and the time of day!

** – from ‘The Time Keeper’ by Mitch Albom ]

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6 thoughts on “Dreams and endings – always endings

  1. What you describe feels familiar. For me the end of therapy doesn’t loom so large but all the little endings do. I often go on a little break (internally) before the breaks start. I also insist on seeing the clock so I know when the session’s coming to an end. I hate it when she has to interrupt me saying the time’s out. I need to feel a little bit in control, not be surprised, be prepared. So I very much relate to your distress at not knowing when the feared thing is going to happen and not having control of it.

    Also a strange bit of synchronicity. Before the break I had a dream my therapist lent me a book, something she would never do in reality. I then imagined which one I would choose from her bookcase if I could. There is one whose title on the spine appealed without knowing what the book is. The name is similar to the name I gave my inner child. And the book is Lila! It was a shock to read that you lived out my fantasy… The quotes make me want to read it, I’ll have to look for it in the library.

    Thinking of you during this difficult time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bit of a ramble coming up!
    I was struck by the description of your terror at leaving therapy, or rather the ending with your therapist because that is exactly where I was some time back. In that place where I could not perceive a time when I would ever, in a million years, be able to say goodbye and remain emotionally intact. Indeed I did at one point have an ‘implosion’ at a long (self imposed) break and it was awful, truly awful. And I got the distinct impression when I returned after it that I was the exception rather than the rule in how people usually react to ending therapy, and that my reaction was quite extreme, at least in my therapist’s experience anyway. My fear of the inevitable final ending multiplied after that experience and I spent the following year living in absolute terror of the inevitable. I also, like yourself, spent time in imagining how the ending would be and, also like yourself, I imagined all sorts of scenarios, none of which for me ended well! And I truly could not believe, or even think about believing, that it would in the end be ok, because, for me anyway, I believed that I didn’t have the personal resources to cope with the grief, I needed my therapist, I couldn’t give her up. I did though need to have a firm plan for the time scale of when I would end, even though I was terrified and for a long while there I lived in denial. I gave myself 9 months to come to terms with this ending, well 4 years really, but in the end I gave myself a final 9 months with a specific date set in place to wind down to.
    Up until the last two weeks of this plan I was still sleepless with terror. I couldn’t imagine a life without my therapist in it, without being able to speak to her weekly, email her if I needed to. In the end it was a chance comment from her, one which she still to this day does not know the impact it had on me, that made everything ok. It wasn’t that this comment itself did that, it was the reaction I had to it that did it. I went away and had a huge meltdown for 24 hours, not eating, raging at her (not her literally, just at the small version I carry around in my head), and then the more grown up version of me asked myself just what was I doing, who was a I trying to hurt? Not going to go into the discussions I had with myself but the upshot was that it put to rest the child terror in me and allowed my child to say, its ok, it will be ok. I can be sad and that is ok. I can be angry and that is ok. I can miss her and that is ok. And you know what? I was ok, it is ok, some days more than others- I still have days when I miss her a lot but its still early days (couple of months). But I did not, and have not since, had a major emotional implosion. I feel ok. But I was ready to do that despite spending all that time in terror up to that point that it would never, could never become a reality that I would be ok. But it did become a reality for me. I needed a date to end because otherwise I never would have done it and it made me work harder trying to deal with the fear of parting and being my own responsible adult again. But I was seriously worried as the day grew ever nearer that I’d made a huge mistake and went to some lengths to try and negotiate some more time after the summer holidays (time not refused but neither was it given). I wish I’d known that it would take me til the last week or so to finally accept that I’d be ok and that what I had to be ok with was the terror and grief that I was trying to avoid, and, for me anyway, accepting it’s ok to be afraid and to grieve her loss has meant that the reality is that I have managed it far better than I ever thought possible and it hasn’t been the overwhelming experience I believed it would inevitably have to be.
    Anyway, I really hope you’re able to get to a point of readiness to start the ending process yourself before your therapist announces her retirement. So much better for you to be able to prepare for and to say goodbye of your own volition in your own time than to have it forced on you by external circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I am very short of time at the moment and so although I’m extremely grateful for yours and others’ comments, I will need to reply to them more fully in a few days! But I very much wanted to say this – though I can see what you mean about initiating the ending myself, I very much want to be in therapy with her until she retires. I may not be prepared for the ending, but I am prepared for it happening in this way, and moreover very much want it to – for a number of reasons which I will try and go into at a later stage!
      A couple of years ago I think she saw us ending before her retirement, but for at least a year or so I have got the feeling that she accepts (at least, I’m hoping I’ve made the right interpretation!) that it is much more likely that the two will coincide. But I don’t think either of us thinks of that as curtailing my therapy – I think the hope is very much that when that happens, we will have done enough to equip me for the end, and whatever comes after, and that I will have internalised her sufficiently.
      In the past, I used to dread her ending sessions and so I would always take the initiative and make the move to end the session first. It meant I felt more in control, and less rejected. But one of the signs of my trust and security is that I no longer mind if she draws the session to a close, and I guess I feel that way about her retirement. Though I absolutely dread losing her and it seems completely unimaginable to be without someone I love and respect in this way and with whom I have the most adult, trusting, vulnerable, and fulfilling relationship I have ever had – I don’t think I fear a ‘loss of control’ or that she will force something upon me. I am very scared of the grief and the loss; and though I spoke in terms of her hurting me, I didn’t mean that I felt her retirement as a particular threat or action against me – endings and boundaries always hurt a great deal, and there are plenty of those to experience in therapy! Thank you so much, again, for your comment, and I will reply a bit more to you and others, as soon as I can!

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  3. Every time I read one of your posts I am always struck by how strongly I relate to everything you are saying. ” The longer I am in therapy, the less time I have left in therapy.” Yes, yes, and yes again!! It scares me how doing well is almost as scary as not because doing well means that we are getting closer to an end (at least, that’s how I reason things to be). So inevitably whenever I end up doing well for a period of weeks, my brain realizes this and I end up in some manner of self-sabotage. It took me months to become cognizant that I was going that. The end of therapy with my therapist is terrifying and yet I know there is going to be a point in my life where that is the case. I’m in the middle of a 14 day break (only 14!) and it feels very difficult. I cannot imagine how it will feel to one day terminate, so I feel for you being in a constant state of worry. How do you find the courage to bring this up to your therapist? I seem to struggle in discussing my attachment issues with her. I’ve certainly shared some, but I hold back on others. While I don’t worry about her retiring (she’s very young and has only been in practice a few years), I reel at the thought of her getting pregnant and leaving on maternity leave. I know she was recently married in the past year, so I can’t imagine she is too far off from this if she does want children. This happened with my first therapist years ago. I struggled and didn’t have even a fraction of the attachment to her I have with my therapist now. And every time I think about bringing this worry up I hesitate for fear that she is going to confirm it. Like if I continue to live in denial for as long as possible it’ll be best. I wish you strength in dealing with these feelings!

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  4. However much your dilemma is so very personal – and it is – what you are describing is also universal, even if most of us do our best not to think about the shortage of time and the inevitable disappearance of everything and everyone we hold dear: either by their departure or our own. The Buddhists say this is the nature of life and the cause of all suffering: clinging. To oversimplify and betray my own limited knowledge, we are caught between wanting and its dissatisfaction; getting and holding on for fear of losing the thing we now have; and despair over what we have lost. Their solution comes in two parts: a recognition of the truth of the world, in part the reality I’ve just described; and meditation to enable you to let go of the clinging and the self, and simply to live in the moment with feelings loving kindness toward all the living world. That said, for those of us not yet “enlightened” (in the Buddhist sense), it is easy to underestimate our ability to survive loss. I expect you will improve before your therapist leaves, survive, grieve, and be better for knowing her for a long time after she and you part.

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  5. Pingback: Reducing email contact with my therapist – Part 3 | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

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