Life in a Bind – BPD and me

My therapy journey, recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I write for welldoing.org , for Planet Mindful magazine, and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org.


10 Comments

A new experience of mother, Part 4

At the end of  ‘A new experience of mother, Part 3’, I wrote about how my therapist’s own words about the ‘mothering’ that she offers me, have been a constant source of comfort and security, and a reminder of who she really is.

It’s important to add to this that they are also an indirect reminder of who she is not. The concept of experiencing my therapist as a ‘new mother’ really sunk in for me when I finally realised that she is not like my own mother; that she does not and will not behave towards me, in the way that my own mother did and does. And that realisation precisely mirrors the way in which I first made a positive connection with the ‘teenage part’ of myself (as described in ‘A new experience of mother, Part 1‘). She (my inner teenager) finally realised that I am not like my own mother, and that I don’t behave like her either (or at least, not most of the time!).

As I was writing ‘A new experience of mother, Part 1’, I was frequently struck by the parallels between my relationship with my inner parts, and my therapist’s relationship with me. I realised that these two experiences were not separate, but completely interlinked. We were both trying to be ‘new mother’ to an often distrustful and angry child with a short memory, who acted out to feel loved – and all of a sudden I could feel a great deal more sympathy (and empathy) for what I had been putting my therapist through!

***

In Part 1 of this post, I spoke about the fact that although I had forged a better relationship with and between my ‘inner parts’, there was an occasion on which the different ‘parts’ went back to being strangers to each other (and to me). This situation lasted a few days, and I mentioned that the key to my ‘inner reconciliation’ was my interaction with my therapist. What happened in that interaction was that instead of turning up to session in sarcastic and stand-offish mode (which I had been expecting to do), I somehow managed to keep sufficient control of that teenage side of me and instead went in with complete openness and a determination to be honest and vulnerable. In the past, I would have tried to keep up the appearance of co-operating while being internally resistant and closed off to my therapist. Instead, I said that I felt as though I really didn’t want to be there; my therapist simply asked if I could say something about why.

And we talked. We talked honestly, clearly, and compassionately, and it was warm and connected and completely different to how I’d been feeling a few hours before. I realised that approaching with honesty and vulnerability had only been possible because I had also approached without fear. And approaching without fear was only possible because I was able to see her as ‘new mother’, or at least allow for that possibility. In the past I would have been too scared of her response and what she might think of me, to tell her that I didn’t want to be there. More than that, I would have worried that she would think I didn’t love her anymore. Because that is how my own mother would have interpreted the situation.

I approached without fear of her response, but most importantly, without any sense of needing or wanting to control her response. I used to spend so much time worrying about what to say or do, in relation to her. What impact would it have, on her or on me? What was she likely to do or say in response? What would she think of me? Is saying ‘such and such’ too risky? Could I get hurt? Will she get angry? In the past, this never seemed like an attempt at control – in fact, I would have been horrified at the suggestion that that might be what I was doing. I have such an intense reaction against being controlled, that the thought of me doing that to someone else feels appalling. But the more I think about it, the more it seems that for years I poured my energy into attempts to try to indirectly control others’ responses, in an effort to feel loved and to stay ‘emotionally safe’. By endlessly analysing and trying to work how others might respond, I’d hoped to discover what I needed to say or do so as to minimize the negative impact both on me and on them. Looking at it now, it seems like an elaborate way of trying to feel less at sea, less helpless, and less at the mercy of others – a necessity when I have so little confidence in either them or me.

***

This incident showed me that when I come to my therapist as ‘new mother’ – with a complete openness in terms of what I tell her, and a complete openness to her response rather than fear of it – what takes place in the room is beautiful and healing. And that is not simply about the words that are used, it is about the experience of relating in a new, safe, and intimately connected way. And that connection is internal as well as external – my ‘inner parts’ and I found our way back to each other because by being open about how they were really feeling, I gave them a chance to be fully heard, and to be responded to compassionately.

The incident was also one in which my therapist and I talked about how our communication was changing, following my acceptance of her as ‘new mother’. In Part 1, I said that I made a connection with my ‘inner teenager’ as soon as she was able to see me differently (that is, to see that I was not the ‘old mother’ that she expected me to be). Thereafter, it became much easier for me to talk to her, and for her to hear me. Exactly the same was happening between me and my therapist. My therapist observed that if we have a misunderstanding and I don’t feel heard, this can trigger my fear (and expectation) of the presence of ‘old mother’. I will then see her in that role (along with all the judgment, disappointment and crossness that I expect), and this makes it almost impossible for my therapist to say or do anything right. Nothing she says or does can get through to me, because I can no longer hear it as it was intended. Everything is interpreted through the lens of my past knowledge and experience of ‘old mother’.

Over recent weeks however, now that I am able to see her differently (much of the time), it is not just easier for me to talk to her (because of lack of fear), but also easier for me to hear her. It’s not that the words that she is using have changed, or that her facial expressions are different; it is that without the veil or fog of ‘old mother’ in the way, I can hear what she is really saying and intending, and I can see her for who she is.

Just before the summer therapy break, I gave my therapist a CD with five pieces of music that were important to me; one of them was the track ‘Now I see the light’ from the Disney film ‘Tangled’. Although it is overly ‘sweet’ and idealised, as one might expect from the ‘happily ever after’ world of Disney, the track has a number of lines that remind me of the wonderful ways in which things can shift in therapy, following a large or small realisation or change in perspective. And so as I was wondering how to end Part 4, and recalling what I had written about the fog of ‘old mother’ and the fact that I can now see my ‘new therapy mother’ for who she is, these words from the song came to my mind:

“And at last I see the light
And it’s like the fog has lifted
And at last I see the light
And it’s like the sky is new
And it’s warm and real and bright
And the world has somehow shifted
All at once everything looks different
Now that I see you.”

 

[‘A new experience of mother’ has grown and grown, each time I have sat down to write about this subject. Originally it was going to be one post; then two, and then three. I thought this would be the fourth and final part, but when it turned into a two and half thousand word post, I knew there had to be a Part 5. But Part 5 is written, and so I can promise that it will be the final part!]

Advertisements


15 Comments

Accepting otherness and separateness

caring and separateness in BPD

I wrote these words, and placed them on this image, during the winter of 2014. I think it may have been shortly after writing ‘My borderline mind‘, which itself was written following some very emotionally challenging and intense therapy sessions. They were sessions in which I was testing my therapist, in which I was agonising over  seeing everything through the lens of ‘obsessional attachment’, and in which I was despairing over ever being able to ‘do therapy right’. But they were also the sessions that culminated in the wonderful and precious occasion, described in ‘Waiting revisited‘, when my therapist mentioned her caring for me – something I was so desperate for and had doubted so often.

Though I don’t remember the details of the sessions that followed, I wrote the following to a friend of mine, very shortly after that occasion: “What I am finding really interesting at the moment (and I think it is really important) is the fact that she didn’t realise she’d said something that was that huge for me. Or rather, she didn’t remember exactly what she’s said, and that really does show me that she’s not in my head (!) and I think, eventually, it’s going to teach me something about people’s ‘otherness’ and freedom to be authentically themselves while still being able to be there for me…..but that’s a long way from being internalised or even properly accepted.

Those sessions were indeed the start of a lesson about the possibility of being cared for and caring for someone else deeply, while remaining separate people, and without the need for the complete ‘merger’ that I had always longer for. This lesson continued to be cultivated and embedded over many many months of sessions, and different experiences of conflict and misunderstading, caring and ‘repair’, with my therapist. Around eight months later, I wrote the following, as part of a different post: “I used to want so much to merge indivisibly with Jane, my ex-therapist. But it occurs to me now that if I’m swallowed up by my therapist, I cannot see her – and I really, really want to see her. And to be seen. And that’s only possible if we do not occupy the same space.

The truth that began to dawn on me in December 2014 is now much more an accepted and lived out part of my life. I still have a deep and intense hunger and need to be loved, but that’s no longer associated with merger with another person, in the way that it used to be. It feels okay, even desirable, for that love to exist between two independent people who can truly see each other and have the freedom to care for each other because of their separateness, and not in spite of it. When it comes to my feelings for my therapist, I love her and I want to be loved by her; I want to walk alongside her and be with her, as we work together. And I want to be part of her in so far as I want her to keep me in mind and to remember me, and I want to be a significant part of her experience and her memories, just as she is, for me. But I don’t feel the need for the kind of ‘metaphysical’ merger that I used to crave; a merger that involved some kind of mingling of our atoms and a complete absorption of me into everything that she is. I used to want to lose myself in people; but now it strikes me that that defeats the point of wanting to be loved. I want to be found, seen, accepted and loved as a separate and special person, and I want to return the same feelings – and that requires separateness, and the freedom to be authentically ourselves.

Save

Save

Save


4 Comments

A new experience of mother, Part 2

What follows is a bridge – a bridge between the ‘new mother’ relationship between the parts of myself described in Part 1 of ‘A new experience of mother‘, and the ‘new mother’ relationship between me and my therapist, which I will talk about in Part 3. This bridge is a post that I wrote last weekend, but never published. I didn’t publish it because I realised as I wrote it, that it was coming from a ‘teenage’ place of resentment and that it was an indirect means of communicating with my therapist. As sometimes happens, my thoughts and understanding were working themselves out in the very process of writing; and what I understood was that the post was serving the function of repeating old patterns. It was self-sabotaging, and it was also passive aggressive. And as I’ve realised since, I think it was also an unconscious attempt to show my therapist how it feels (by creating similar emotions within her) to have your hands tied and to have no choice – about a therapy break (in my case), or about not being able to respond to a cry for help (in hers).

This is what I wrote:

***

“I’m meant to be practising.

In two weeks begins a 45 day therapy break – my longest since I started with my current therapist almost three years ago. A few weeks ago we were in the middle of some very difficult and valuable material, and I was also discovering what it felt like for her to connect with different parts of me, and I wanted more. So my therapist very kindly offered to give me more – more time and more of that connection – in the form of an extra session per week in the run-up to the break, to hopefully better prepare me to get through it.

The extra session means that I now see her on a Friday and a Monday, and so the break over the weekend feels shorter. Given that, my therapist suggested that I try to get through the weekend without email, as a form of ‘practice’ for when she will be out of contact for large portions of the break.

The first couple of weekends without email were okay, and last weekend I made it through even though it followed on from an incredibly difficult and triggering week which resulted in an intense and distressing session on the Friday. I fought every urge to email, as well as a strong desire to self-harm. My mind fought feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of endings. The resentful and resistant part of me was in the driving seat, and yet drove past my therapist’s house. I’ve only done that once before but I had to close the distance between us, even momentarily. Somehow, the situation righted itself by the second session of the week; somehow I shook off the obscuring cloud of ‘past mother’, and the resentful part of me was just too plain exhausted to be resentful anymore. I found the more adult me again, and the sessions that resulted were honest, helpful and connected.

But yesterday I found myself stuck in and brought down by painful thoughts and feelings of exclusion – not unusual for me, in the face of a break, but more worrying given the length of time for which I will have to try and rationalise them away. And then a brief ‘argument’ and flare-up at home took me right back into the distressing feelings of the week before and it was a case of staving off the urge to self-harm again. I really, really wanted to email her. I didn’t, though I did reach out to a friend.

This morning I drove a few hours to see some friends and was either crying or fighting back tears for much of the way. The hopelessness and suicidal ideation were back. I really, really, really wanted to email her. I didn’t, though now I’m writing this. I’m speaking to her indirectly, though I don’t know if she will see it.

I don’t think she will like what I’m doing. I think she will see this as ‘acting something out’ rather than talking about it. I want to contact and connect with her but am doing it in a way that is guaranteed to mean she can’t respond. She doesn’t have a choice. I don’t want to disappoint her by not being able to get through without email, so I guarantee feeling like I’ve disappointed her, but in a different way.

I tried to rationalise emailing her by thinking that by doing so I would be giving myself a different experience of mother – one in which I wasn’t afraid of being judged or disapproved of. But I was too wary of the possibility that that might be just a convenient excuse, and couldn’t shake off the obscuring cloud of ‘past mother’ sufficiently to just go ahead and do it. And so instead of a different experience of mother I have guaranteed myself the same old experience all over again, at least in my head, if not in reality.

I want to put off fear and take up a different experience of mother, but I’m meant to be practising. I’m meant to be practising but I love her and part of me feels like I’m losing her early. I know I’m not losing her, and that’s what I’m meant to be practising holding on to.

I hate practising.”

***

By the time I finished writing, something had changed. The ‘teenage self’ was a little less in charge, the urge to ‘act out’ a little less strong. And after a struggle with myself I made the decision (quickly, before I could change my mind) to send my therapist an email with the post, instead of publishing it. I wrote: “Attached is a draft post, that probably shouldn’t be a post, at least not now (the reasons being obvious in the post, I think)….so I’m emailing it – which is not as good as managing to not email at all, but is at least more direct and honest than posting the post….I hope…”.

It was a leap of faith – an attempt to take hold of that possibility of a new experience of mother, and also a relinquishing of attempting to determine the way mother responds (even if that is by cutting off the possibility of a response altogether). It might have been a leap, but it wasn’t a leap into the dark; it wasn’t blind faith. I know her, as much as I can; after all the time we have spent and the work we have done together, I know that she is there not just to ‘catch me’ but also to ‘hold me’, metaphorically.

And, once again, she did…..


8 Comments

A new experience of mother, Part 1

I could never have guessed, a few years ago, that my process of recovery would involve becoming aware of the different ‘parts’ or voices inside me, getting to know them better and understanding where they come from, and developing a dialogue with them. It still feels like a somewhat strange thing to be doing – but I can no longer doubt its benefits or the impact it is having. And my therapist seems to believe this is an important step for me to have taken as well and is encouraging me to foster these internal relationships and to use them for support – and I trust her judgment.

I have written about the change, over the last few months, in the way that I perceive and relate to my ‘inner child’; and about the fact that I have started to have internal conversations with her, to recognise when she is present and when she needs something, and to think about how those needs might be met. But perhaps an even bigger breakthrough happened more recently, when I connected with the ‘inner teenager’ for the first time.

In the past, this part of myself has been synonymous with resistance, defiance, resentment and anger. Underlying all of that is enormous fear and a desperate desire to be loved; but the historic need to be strong, to push others away, and to avoid being vulnerable and being hurt, tends to win out over the need for acceptance and love. Or at least, the need for acceptance and love tend to come out in rather destructive ways, both in terms of how I treat myself, and how I treat others. Getting through to that ‘inner teenager’ has felt impossible – I have no idea how to help her feel better and it has felt as though she sees me as a threat and wants nothing to do with me. Moreover, it feels as though she resents the new-found alliance between me and the ‘inner child’. She tends to be the one who has a natural inclination towards fighting; and so I seem to spend a great deal of time ‘battling her’ and her influence, in my mind. These thought-battles, that I have written about before, can be incredibly draining, particularly during the fiercest onslaughts which tend to happen either when I am making good progress in therapy, or during a therapy break.

But a few weeks ago, a strange thing happened. I had an internal conversation with my inner teenager in which I swore at her. She ‘shouted at me’ about a couple of things over which I (and others) had absolutely no control, and I responded back, ‘what the f*** would you like me to do about that’? Admittedly, this is not normally an advisable way of building good relationships, and you could argue that it was more than a little unsympathetic! But she was expressing her sadness about a particular situation through being angry with me, which did not really give me an opportunity to validate the sadness itself.  My own response was not angry, but rather somewhat tongue-in-cheek; a challenge rather than an attack.

The interaction unfolded completely spontaneously. It was utterly unplanned but in hindsight it served a very important purpose – it showed the ‘inner teenager’, quite clearly, that I am not my mother. My mother strongly disapproves of swearing, it’s not ‘how she brought me up’. And so I had the impression that I’d stopped the teenage anger in its tracks by using shock tactics and the element of surprise. The anger dissolved into ‘internal giggles’, if such a thing is possible, and the point about who I was – or wasn’t – was made.

It was this experience that helped me to realise that it was difficult to get through to this part of me, because she saw me in the way that I see my own mother. As far as this part of me was concerned, I and my mother were one. Unlike the inner child who lacked a certain amount of life experience and was still willing to be trusting, the teenager was carrying many of the distressing experiences that have at least partly led to where I am today. She was carrying the un-felt grief, the emotional invalidation, the anger, the intrusion, the need for distance but also for a different kind of love; and she was the one who learned to put up walls in the first place. The more ‘adult’ version of me that is developing in therapy is to all intents and purposes a newcomer on the scene, still weak and vulnerable in many ways. The ‘inner teenager’ can be forgiven for thinking that this grown-up is as incapable of dealing with her own emotions and protecting others from them, or is as incapable of helping the teenager to feel better, as my own mother was. However, as soon as this part of me was able to see me differently, it became much easier for me to talk to her, and for her to hear me.

And it became easier for me to hear her too. I felt connected to someone vulnerable and loving, rather than fighting someone guarded and resentful. I became aware of how fearful she was of the upcoming summer therapy break – whereas until then she had tried to just ignore it. I tried to reassure her, as best I could. As I do with the ‘inner child’, I let her know that I’m there for her – but it’s my therapist’s presence she really wants and I find that my reassurances most often take the form of reminders that my therapist is still there, still cares, and still remembers. All parts of me need that reassurance and that reminder, and we all share in the comfort that it brings.

Connecting with the ‘inner teenager’ in this way, also gave her a voice – and a listening ear – in session. My therapist and I talked about the ‘inner conversation’ in such a way that it felt as though the teenager was really being attended to and spoken to. The session was powerful in a similar way to one before the Easter therapy break, which had involved connecting with the ‘inner child’. But it occurs to me now that the two sessions were also different; whereas the child was joyfully ‘filled up’ by the experience, the teenager was left immediately craving more. The experience was so good that there was a fierce need to repeat it, to ‘make up for a deficit’, as my therapist referred to it. I said to my therapist later, that it was the first time that the ‘teenager’ had come out during session. She kindly (and accurately) pointed out that it was the first time I’d realised that she had come out in session. I understood wryly that she was probably referring to the times I brought with me resentment, anger, games, and sarcasm; or to the times when I just plain shut her out in session.

I’ve had other ‘internal conversations’ since then, and I’ve discovered how much better, how much more peaceful my inner world is when the parts of me feel connected and allied together. The internal battle I’ve described before, dies down. I feel more at peace with myself.

My therapist has talked about the important task of re-parenting that I have – that I can do things differently when it comes to my own ‘inner parts’, and not simply repeat the experience I had when I was younger. That I can give those inner parts a new experience of mother. I feel I have been trying to do that, as best I can, but re-parenting doesn’t mean perfect parenting; and as well as comforting her, I have also let the inner teenager down over the last few weeks. On one occasion after an intense therapy session, the emotions of the younger parts of me felt too overwhelming, and I pushed them away. My dreams were filled with scenarios of being under attack and of bad mothering; in one dream I fled the scene of an explosion, leaving my children to find their own way out. For a few days the various parts of me went back to being strangers, each trying to deal (or not deal) with their own version of the pain. The resentment, the walls and the lack of trust returned; but we found our way back to each other a few days later.

The key to internal reconciliation was the interaction between me and my therapist – and another, different, vital new experience of mother.

 


4 Comments

Communicating with the inner child: dreams, stories, songs

inner child thoughtfulThere are some truly iconic movie theme tunes and soundtracks that are as much a part of the experience and legacy of the film, as the plot and characters themselves. In the same way, many of us have pieces of music that constitute a ‘soundtrack’ for our lives –pieces that are inextricable bound up with certain events and which are immediately evocative of particular feelings, when we hear them. I had such a ‘soundtrack’ during one of the worst years of my life, at university. It was an incredibly turbulent period, with self-destructive and damaging behaviour, and some rather disturbed and disturbing thinking. There is a song I strongly associate with that period – I haven’t listened to it since, and I never want to listen to it again.

I didn’t want Alan Walker’s “Faded” to become such a song. On the one hand it was less likely, because its negative associations were of a much shorter duration. On the other hand, it was the soundtrack of a weekend which led to my therapist questioning whether she was the right person to be helping me, and was associated both with a destructive desire for conflict, and a resulting fear of abandonment.

After that weekend, I worried that listening to it would trigger that same need for conflict and the sense of my ‘rational self’ being ‘held under’ by the same desire to regress rather than progress. But I was also longing to hear it again and to watch the video, whose visuals were just as evocative as the music, and which I wrote about in my post ‘A tale of three houses: therapy, progress, and internal conflict’. And so it was important for me to find a way to break the association between the song and a situation that if left unchecked might have cost me an immeasurably precious relationship. I had to try and give it a different interpretation and meaning, one which was far less threatening to therapy and to progress.

During that weekend, I saw the song and its images as being about therapy, a sense of disconnection from my therapist, and foreboding of a future failure to attain longed-for security and a sense of being loved. But maybe another interpretation was possible. I remembered that during those days I had been aware of a small voice urging me to ‘stand up for us, fight for us’. The inner child, pleading with me to put up some resistance to the internal saboteurs. Perhaps the lyrics ‘where are you now?’ could be seen as her words to me, and not my words to my therapist.

Seen in that way, the song was more an entreaty by someone who loved me and was with me, than a cry to someone I wanted to love me, and to be with me. Seeing myself as the object rather than the subject of the song, helped me to feel wanted and connected, rather than disconnected and lost. The change of perspective enabled me to listen to the song not just without being haunted by negative associations, but with a real sense of warmth and closeness. You may call it just a sleight of hand; and after all, neither interpretation represents an external, ‘scientific’, objective reality. But the stories we tell ourselves are incredibly powerful, and therapy is, amongst other things, a chance to rewrite the story that we tell ourselves, about ourselves and our relationships. Songs, books, poems, pictures, dreams – all have a role to play in this too.

***

A few weeks ago, when I made a commitment to myself to be ‘all in’ as far as therapy was concerned – even more trusting, more open, more vulnerable, more accepting of change and where it was leading, than ever before – my inner child let me know what she thought about that idea, in a very  unequivocal way. She showed me what she thought it would mean for her, in two vivid and dramatic dreams.

In the first, a friend – who looked very much like me – dropped by unannounced to tell me she was pregnant but was on her way to get an abortion. She was talking in whispers so that ‘the baby’ wouldn’t hear. In the second dream, one character was trying to persuade me and a companion to participate in sex with him, in order to extract payment from a fourth party who was observing. I refused, at which point the dominant character poisoned my companion and once I was undefended, forced me to have sex. Though the experience was unwanted and unpleasant, there was also a sense that having been ‘liberated’ from the presence of my companion, part of me enjoyed it.

Though I think there is much to unpack in both dreams, and a number of interpretations are possible, my associations were fairly immediate. For me, change and recovery has always felt as though it would involve a part of me dying; and I have always had a fear of vulnerability. And so it seemed to me as though my inner child was saying that she was afraid that me going ‘all in’ would be equivalent to killing her, or raping her. Those were her fears, and that’s what she wanted to show me. Though perhaps she was also expressing ambivalence – a hope that we might receive something (praise, approval?) from my therapist, and also a chance that the experience may actually end up being a positive one for her, on some level.

***

We didn’t always have a good relationship, my ‘inner child’ and I. In fact, I said and thought some pretty terrible things about her (as described in my posts ‘Inner child and past child‘ and ‘Do you love the inner child?‘) and I could never previously have imagined being able to see her compassionately or relating to her in a positive way. I saw her as weak and feeble, and blamed her for not being more robust and thus not protecting me from sadness, depression or anxiety. The things we fear we ourselves have been and done, we project onto others, even internal others, it seems.

This all changed quite suddenly, though I didn’t initially realise why, over the course of the Easter therapy break. An important, intimate and bonding moment had taken place during therapy just before that break, and it carried me through those two weeks in a remarkable way. That moment was a special one in which the needs of both adult and inner child were met, and though my therapist did the ‘meeting’, it was the inner child who came to be met, and who was strong enough to provide the opportunity. She held fast against the desire of a part of me to self-sabotage and to sabotage the therapeutic relationship, and in doing so she gave me – gave us both – a wonderful gift.

Again, you could say that this is just a story that I told myself, to explain an aspect of my progress in therapy. But it has been a powerful and beneficial one, helping me to relate to myself and others differently. As my therapist said at one point in session, if it works, then why not use it?

***

It is working, and my dreams are also changing. For a long time, I have suspected that within my dreams, the figure of my youngest child represents my own inner child. And for months I have had dreams in which he falls into water and drowns, often when I am distracted or arguing with someone else. But over the last few weeks, I or others have managed to save him. And much more recently, the dreams haven’t involved water at all, though they have still sometimes involved abandonment. A couple of weeks ago I dreamed that I had arranged three one-hour play dates for him, but I had forgotten about him and left him at the first one for hours. I emailed the dream to my therapist, and she told me that she laughed when she read it. I looked at her in puzzlement until she pointed out that we have three one-hour sessions per week – the thought hadn’t even occurred to me…..

I am still learning how to deal with this new relationship with my inner child; I keep being surprised both by how comforting the connection feels, and how completely bizarre (and sometimes even silly) the whole thing sounds. All I know is that it seems to help; and when I felt really sad, desperate and unheard after therapy a few weeks ago, I realised that those were her feelings and I stopped to consider what would help her feel better. Suggestions came into my head and were discarded – they seemed too ‘grown-up’, too rational, too serious, or too intellectual. I settled on colouring in, and knew I’d hit upon the right thing when I started to feel better just at the thought of buying colouring pencils and stationery. A memory of the best Christmas present ever, came rushing back – a pack of pretty pens that I’d really wanted, that reduced me to tears when I opened them.

There’s a quote by Mother Teresa: “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things”. I’m really hoping that’s the way it can be for me and my inner child – great things, great healing.


13 Comments

A tale of three houses: therapy, progress, and internal conflict

Image by Keith Evans, via Wikimedia Commons

“You came to me like that house – unfinished, a work in progress….”

This half-house is an unfinished house – a beautiful place I visited and told my therapist about. It captured my imagination because it was haunting and mysterious; but it was also full of potential. My therapist picked up on this idea of potential and used it as a wonderful metaphor to describe me; and I think it works also as a metaphor for our therapy*. Her metaphor made me feel safe – adopted, and parented.

But at the same time, when out of her presence, part of me was scared. If something is ‘in progress’ it is changing. If therapy is ‘progressing’ it is ever closer to its end. Progress and loss are tightly bound together for me; change and loss are intertwined. Last weekend my first thought on waking was that things were better than they had been during the previous disastrous and self-destructive weekend. But my very next thought was that progress felt like bleeding out – slowly losing something vital.

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…….is that the unfinished house – with so much potential – is transmogrifying moment by moment into a ruin, the longer it is left unattended to.

There is a tension between becoming and decaying, and it’s easy, but also dangerous, to feel torn between the two.

***

Rummu @ night

Image taken from a photo by Janno Kusman, via Wikimedia Commons

“Where are you now? Another dream; the monster’s running wild inside of me… so lost, I’m faded….” – ‘Faded’ by Alan Walker

When I first saw this image in Alan Walker’s wonderful video for his song ‘Faded’, it reminded me immediately of the ‘half-house on a hill’. Only this building is a ruin, not a work in progress. It is also haunting, but in a very different way. The building is part of the Rummu quarry in Estonia, which was excavated as hard labour by inmates in the two nearby prisons. It has been turned into a breathtakingly unique beach and dive site**, though its waters can be lethal as the lake bed contains remnants of concrete, metal bars and barbed wire.

The song (and the video) took me over for a weekend. My watching and listening both fuelled and were fuelled by, a semi-subconscious attempt at subverting recent progress in my therapy. The lyrics spoke of feeling lost – and I put up no fight to a sense of disconnection from my therapist. No fight to the lack of object constancy represented by the lines “Where are you now? Was it all in my fantasy? Where are you now? Were you only imaginary?”. 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’.

This image of a ruined building illustrated one extreme of the tension I was feeling that weekend. The part of me that was in control was the self-destructive part that almost wanted to feel orphaned and lost; at home among the abandoned buildings. It was the part that saw in the figure in the video, a possible prefiguring of the direction and destination of my therapy – searching for a childhood dream, a safe and perfect home, and finding only a ruin at the end of the road. While that part was in control, another part felt as though I was being held under water. Blocked from surfacing, and blocked from expressing myself in any way, whether in words or in drawing. I’m not sure which came first – the feeling of drowning, or hearing the words in the song, “Where are you now? Atlantis, under the sea…..”. And occasionally, somewhere far deeper than just below the surface, a little voice pleaded with me to ‘fight for us’, but at that point, it was more than I could do.

This building reminded me of myself – the unfinished house – but it also reminded me of a dream. A dream that was a vivid metaphor of the other extreme of the tension I was feeling – a different vision of progress, of ‘becoming’ and of the end-point of therapy.

***

architectural-224243_1920My mother opened the door to her new house on a hill, and I walked in. I felt puzzled, because she had always hated living in isolated locations, far from other people. Yet she had bought the house specifically because it would be mine one day, and because she knew how much I loved the sense of space, openness, freedom, and a view. In many ways, this was her house, but my space.

The large hallway was empty. She started to lead me through the house, going room by room; pale white walls and wooden floors everywhere; light streaming through the tall windows. Like the hallway, the first room was empty; except for a splash of green colour on the walls, a narrow band around half-way up the wall, all the way around. As if it were wrapping up the room from the inside, with a green ribbon. The next room had a chair, the one after that a table and chair. And as we walked through, each subsequent room had a little more furniture than the last, a few more splashes of pale green, either on the walls or in the furnishings. The rooms became richer without being overly luxurious; more abundant in comfort, in warmth, in depth and personality. They were an ever greater delight, and each one was flooded with light from outside.

The last room was on an upper floor – it was a living room. Deep sofas and cushions to sleep or dream on; bookcases from floor to ceiling; up a step onto a higher level, a grand piano, right next to double glass doors with a view onto the garden. And although it was a living room, alive with everything I could have wanted a room to be, at the same time there was a sense that it wasn’t a room to be lived in. It pointed to something beyond itself.

I walked to stand by the piano and I looked out of the double doors. A terraced garden stretched out before me, sloping down the hill for as far as I could see. It was full – if that word can be used of a garden. It was lush and wild and exotic, rather than neat and ornamental. There were trees and bushes and flowers and a sheer abundance of bright green that went on forever. It felt as though life was out there, and it was beautiful, and overwhelming; exciting, and sad. I started to cry – happiness mixed with something else. My mother put her arms around me and we hugged silently; some part of me was aware of the fact that we hadn’t been close like this, for a very long time.

Some dreams live on in your mind like memories***. Some dreams need no explanation. For me, that dream was another sort of prefiguring – of a very different sort of therapy journey, and a very different kind of ending. One that points beyond itself to life, rather than clinging on to decay.

 

[*For a long time the image of a house has been a metaphor for me, of therapy. Sometimes, as here, it also acts as a metaphor for me.

**Stunning drone footage of Rummy quarry can be found here on Youtube (particularly for those with a taste for danger, there is footage of diving from the top of the ruined buildings)

***I could find no images to do this dream justice – either images similar to that last room, or to the garden beyond it. The image I have included is the best free image that I could find, but it would almost have been better not to include one at all and, like the garden, to leave it to your imagination. There is almost more wrong with it, than there is right. It it too ‘tidy’, too much of a blank canvas rather than an illustration of a life. But it has light, a piano, and a glimpse of a garden beyond…..]


Leave a comment

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.