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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When I realised how much therapy has helped me change – Part 2

[The first part of this post (without which this Part may not make as much sense!) can be found here. Though originally I thought this would be a two-part post, it has now become clear it is at least a three-part (and possibly a four-part!) post. Part 3 will follow next week….]

Tuesday

When I got home I was still reeling from the shock of my therapy session. I was intensely hurt, upset, angry, confused, afraid……I sent this email to my therapist:

“I clearly made a mistake in addressing my email as I did at the weekend. But if you think I was looking for a particular response, you’re wrong. Right now I really really don’t want to come back on Thursday. You know I will, anyway. But I’m in shock and it feels like everything is under threat and about to come tumbling down.”

It felt as though everything had been destroyed – or was on the verge of being so. It felt as though I had built a convenient fabrication around our relationship, and that she had let me do it, only now to try to jettison her ‘therapy mother’ role when it had become too uncomfortable, and when I got too close. Suddenly I didn’t really know what was real anymore. I felt as though she had lied, if not directly, then by omission. I didn’t see how we could possibly carry on working together when the picture I had built up of our relationship, and what I thought I had been experiencing – which formed the supporting structure of the therapy – had just been torn down. Or at least, that was what I was afraid had just happened. I recalled the many occasions when my therapist had herself used the terminology of ‘therapy-mother’ and ‘therapy-daughter’, and wondered how I could trust her when she was apparently trying to tell me that I was ‘seeing her all wrong’ (my words)?

And yet…….this is when I first noticed something was different – about me. Because though my feelings were very intense, and though part of me wanted never to see her again, I still went to sleep that night, as I always do, holding onto the small stone that she gave me as a transition object just before our long summer therapy break last year.

Wednesday

I woke with the same intense feelings that I had experienced the night before. I felt lost in a fog, circling the edge of a chasm that I could not see. My therapist replied to my email, to say that she could see that this was difficult for me. She also said that I did not make a mistake in addressing my email, and that “therapy is not about getting it right, but about discovering about yourself”. I was at work and could not reply – and I did not feel like replying, at that stage. I suspected that she wasn’t really aware of the enormous impact her words had had on me.

Strangely, as the day wore on, I began to feel a little better. On the one hand, this was not surprising, as I switch very quickly and effectively into ‘work mode’, compartmentalising and shutting off other parts of me, and their feelings. In addition, it’s routine for me to simply shut off very painful feelings and prevent myself from feeling them.

But I sensed that my feeling better was not simply a result of those two factors. I sensed that it wasn’t just that I had locked the intense feelings away, but that they were actually becoming less intense. The thoughts that the night before had seemed so all-consuming that they felt like a certainty, felt more like frightening possibilities (even perhaps probabilities), which were laced with doubts. The sense that my therapist had not been honest with me, that I needed to run because our relationship had been undermined, was slowly changing into the rational thought that I knew her and trusted her, and there must be some explanation for what had happened. Gradually – though with lightning speed compared to the rate at which my reactions would have changed two years ago – I was coming round to the idea that I needed to stay open and vulnerable. I needed to face whatever it was that she had meant by her words on Tuesday, and to go forward from there, with her, whatever that ‘with her’, looked like.

The night before, I had experienced two mental images, two choices that were open to me. On the one hand, my ‘internal parts’ (my inner child, teenager, and others) were ‘putting my therapist to death’ – removing her, that is, from my inner world, from my thoughts and my feelings. On the other hand, there was an image of my therapist destroying that ‘internal family’ – which is what I was afraid would happen, if I continued to ‘let her in’.

That evening, I sent my therapist the following email (only extracts are included here). I started off by replying to her statement that I was finding things ‘difficult’:

“No, it was more than difficult – it felt catastrophic. Last night it felt as though between us we may have undone almost four years’ worth of work. It felt as though everything I had built up or been allowed to think or believe was a lie, or just my own fabrication. I didn’t want to see you again, or I wanted to end therapy soon – because I didn’t trust you and therefore how could we carry on. Strangely, I didn’t cry. I think my protective side jumped in immediately to stop me feeling too much. I started to dismantle my inner world and images – it felt as though you had no place in it anymore. Something can only be internalised, if there is a corresponding external something, to internalise in the first place. Otherwise it’s just a construction and a fabrication. If what I thought I was internalising didn’t actually exist….then the internalised version had no claim on that inner space.

……I want to trust you and I don’t want confirmation that I have been deluding myself or that you have been lying by omission. But I do want you to be honest with me, at the same time.

I’m just trying to convey what it felt like last night and this morning. I wouldn’t be writing this if part of me didn’t still trust you and didn’t still, strangely, feel a bit connected, despite what felt like a threat of annihilation….”

Amazingly, I did still feel connected, and I rapidly followed up my email with this one:

“I keep thinking about all of this, I can’t switch my mind off. I think I want to work through this with you, whatever the outcome. Because you’re the same person that you were before; even if you think my perception of you or how I think of things, is not quite right. And so it feels as though I stand to lose a huge amount- stuff without which I’m not even sure how I would make sense of things/therapy anymore. But you would be there and would be the same person even if I felt as though I’d lost you. Whatever was left would still be worth a lot. I don’t know if any of that makes any sense…..”

My abiding sense, as I went to sleep that night, holding my therapist’s stone once again, was that I knew her, and she was the same person now, as she had been before. She was the person that I loved, respected, and trusted, and with whom I had shared so many difficult and joyful times in therapy, and who had been there for me and present with me, supported, upheld, and accepted me, and cared about me.  That hadn’t changed, I felt absolutely sure of it – irrespective of what had happened, or how I felt. My core inner view of her stayed constant, and I wasn’t ‘splitting* her’. In that respect, at least, it was as if I hardly recognised myself anymore.

 

[* – In splitting, an individual may see themselves, or another person, as either entirely good, or entirely bad. Fundamentally, ‘splitting’ is all about a difficulty in holding opposing feelings, thoughts or beliefs about oneself or about another person, and an inability to bring opposing attributes together, and to see them as part of a cohesive whole. Splitting is one of the nine DSM IV criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, and the criterion is worded as follows: “A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation”.]

 

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The paralysis of perfectionism

*WARNING – SUICIDAL IDEATION, SWEARING, AND LACK OF AN UP-BEAT ENDING*

I am in a bad place writing-wise. I have a stack of posts I want to write, but none of them are making an appearance. Not so much as a witty first line or a poetic ending – and certainly not a coherent middle. My head is swimming with thoughts, realisations, connections, important ideas and understandings from therapy, all of which I’d like to capture – for one thing, I’m very worried I will forget it all and the work will be ‘wasted’. Worse than that, if all that will eventually be left of my relationship with my therapist are the memories of our sessions, I’m absolutely terrified that I’m letting her slip away by not recording everything, and that eventually nothing will be left of what we had.

Gone seem to be the days when I used to look forward to the end of the week and ‘discovering’ what it was I wanted to write about. Sometimes the subject matter took me by surprise and it was only a few hours before writing that it became obvious what I wanted to say. Sometimes I could feel it brewing and gathering distinctness during the week, until it became a half-formed (hopefully not half-baked) idea that could start to take shape once my fingers starting working on the keys.

Writing was easier, I think, when I used to have one, rather than two, therapy sessions a week. In a way, writing was a bit like having a session – it was a way of processing thoughts, digging deep, bridging the gap between sessions, and keeping my connection with my therapist alive. On the face of it then, perhaps having a second session has simply obviated some of the need to write. What I would have processed on paper, I can process in person. But no – I think in fact the opposite has happened. Having two sessions a week means there’s now a great deal more to process than there was before. The result? Mental and physical exhaustion towards the end of the week that means sometimes I can barely keep my eyes open as I try and type; less time for a single idea to turn over in my head and to take shape before the next set of thoughts takes it over and we’re onto something else. The pace is faster; the feelings are more intense; the depth is – well, deeper.

I think this all means we’re onto something. So many of the ideas come from different directions but end up feeling connected, and that feels like a good sign, as if it’s all coming together. But it also means that when it comes to writing about it, I don’t know where to start. In a way, it’s a bit like art imitating life. I talk about something in therapy but I’m not sure, come the first silence or come the next session, how to develop it or how to take it further. I’m paralysed by the sense that there must be a ‘right way’ to proceed; I panic at not knowing what that ‘right way’ is; I change the subject because that topic now feels a little lame and as though it must have run its course. Otherwise why would I not be able to think of anything to say, or why would my therapist not be asking me more questions about it? I used to sit down and write and see where it took me. Now, unless the idea feels fully formed and structured to start with, it’s hard to get going at all. Perhaps doing something for longer breeds more performance anxiety, not less. There is the idea that ‘standards’ must at the very least stay the same, if not improve. As with many things in life, I find it hard to do something simply for the joy of it – sooner or later something inside me wants to sacrifice joy to some sort of self-defined and self-defeating sense of achievement.

A few weeks ago I turned up to therapy without a plan (yes, I was brave enough to do it again!) and we had a lovely meandering session in which we filled in  few more of the details of my past, and which felt intimate and personal and special. At least, it did until near the end when I said that next time I would make sure I came with a plan. Given the implication of my comment (that things had not gone so well without one), my therapist asked me what I thought the session had been lacking. In fact, it had been lacking nothing – it had been beautiful, just as it was. Except for the fact that I couldn’t enjoy what it had been, because I didn’t feel I had achieved something. Things can’t go to plan if there is no plan. They can just go. But that feels uncomfortable – because I have no standard with which to judge that, or my performance against it.

I want to be fucking free. Of the anxiety I feel every time I think I may have said something wrong; of the fear of pushing people away; of the hatred of making mistakes; of the inability to cope with being dreadfully and inevitably ‘let down’; of the belief that what I say doesn’t matter or isn’t interesting to others; of the absolute conviction that I need one person, just one, to be everything and everyone in the whole wide world to me.

I may be in a bad place writing-wise, but I’m in a bad place life-wise, and that worries me more. Therapy is helping me to understand a great deal about myself, about others, about the way I relate to them and to the world. It is revealing the origin of past patterns and of enduring present beliefs. It is helping me to try and figure out little bits of who I am (I recently discovered I was an introvert – who knew?). But I find that the more I understand, the less I want to live. The more I see about what motivated some of my choices in the past, the less I want to live with them. The more I feel what I missed out on and will continue to miss out in future, the less I want to inhabit that future. The more I understand about how things are, the more powerless I feel to change them. I thought things were supposed to be the other way around? Someone please send me some radical acceptance – but it better come with precise installation instructions so that I can’t get it wrong.

In the past, I coped with life by changing the things around me, rather than changing me. Now, I can’t cope with changing the things around me, and although I could try and change me, I don’t think the things around me could cope. I’ve got myself into a little life-conundrum, and my brain is looking for a way out. As I was driving along yesterday, I was convinced that I saw a sign by the side of the road that said ‘Kill yourself, not your speed’. Thank you brain – as if you don’t distort the way I see the world enough, you try and give me little ‘signs from the universe’ to urge me on my way.

I can‘t see a way out of this experience, and in a rather restrained and understated British way, it’s a little worrying. I’m not sure I feel quite safe – and that’s unsettling. Someone very wise once said to me that “it is essential to change how one goes about daily life, much more than it is important to understand anything”. But here’s what I’m not sure about – is ‘how one goes about daily life’ about the actual living, or about one’s attitude while one does the living? I’m not sure I have the means or the courage to change the former; and I still have no idea how to change the latter. So far I’m only at the stage of realising that change is necessary – but that’s a bit like seeing the prison walls for the first time, when you had no idea they were there, and feeling as though they are falling in on you. It feels as though there’s a timer running – will I be able to figure out how to dig myself out, before they crush the air out of me?

I want to go back and do it all again – differently. I want the tattoo and the belly-button piercing, the outrageously coloured hair and the courage to make my own decisions, despite the belief that my opinions did not matter, and the feeling that I was not accepted for who I was. I want to go back and do it right, damn it. Maybe the second time around, I won’t be such a fucking perfectionist. Maybe the second time around, I’ll be happy to just do okay. Or maybe to just do.

Sigh….I’ll feel a damn sight safer when I can read that last sentence without my murderous brain shouting ‘WHO ARE YOU KIDDING?’ in response…..

 

 


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Making all things new – BPD and idealism

Behold I make all things new“.

I am not about to launch into a sermon, though some may recognise this as a quote from Chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation. As I described in an earlier post, my Faith, though hanging on by its fingertips, has been ‘on the back burner’ for a while, and this is not a part of the Bible that I have come across either in church or elsewhere, for some time. Nevertheless, the wonders of the human mind and free association meant that for some reason it was this phrase that flew into my mind when I was trying to process my last therapy session.

It was an unexpectedly tough session. Just over three weeks ago I wrote about how disconnected I’d been feeling from my therapist since the Christmas break, and all of a sudden last week, we were right back in that same place again. The process of writing and talking about my ‘open letter to my therapist’ had helped to re-establish connection, and we had talked about how I am still connected to her, even if I cannot feel it in a particular moment. As a result, I had thought that we were back on track and that I had at least until the Easter break before I had to deal with another possible episode of disconnection!

Not only did we establish reconnection, we went further in terms of trust and intimacy than I think we ever have before. Two weeks ago we had an amazing session in which, with her help, I managed to talk about topics that had been on my mind for many months, but which I had not had the courage to broach before. It was very difficult, and very uncomfortable, but she made it possible, and more than that, she made it feel safe.

And yet last week I was back to longing for words of reassurance and acceptance, and resenting her (or, so I thought, ‘the process’), for not providing them. It turns out that I might have made intellectual peace with the idea that not receiving frequent verbal reassurance will ultimately be ‘good for me’, but that part of me is still not emotionally convinced. The moment I feel really vulnerable and alone, and my mood crashes, I start longing for that affirmation, and needing it from her. Feeling as though I’m not getting what I need, leaves me feeling closed off, and holding back.

During my last session, it was incredibly difficult to get any words out. The session was a bizarre mixture of feeling unable or unwilling to talk, and waves of mixed up emotion that I could attach no meaning to and that simply left me wondering what on earth was going on. I know that therapy is a setting in which past experiences can be re-played – and I had a definite sense that something was playing out, but I had no idea what it was. It was when I came home, completely perplexed about how and why things had turned out as they did, that the phrase “Behold, I make all things new“, came into my mind.

It seems too random, too strange to ignore. What does it mean, in this context? What resonances does it have? In the context in which the phrase appears in Revelation, it is about restoration and redemption. It’s about God creating a new and perfect heaven and earth, where separation between God and man is eliminated  (reflected in the fact that ‘there is no more sea’ between them). There’s no patching up of a broken world, or of a broken relationship – there is complete renewal, and a completely restored relationship between the earthly and the divine.

When I emailed my therapist to tell her that this phrase had suggested itself to me, she wrote back with another line from Revelation 21 – “for the former things are passed away”. I think that her interpretation would be that I’m struggling to adapt to the ‘new’ (therapy with her) and am still clinging to the ‘old’ (Jane, my ex-therapist), and am finding it difficult to let go. It reminds me of the sessions just before Christmas when I simply couldn’t choose which of two topics to talk about, and spent ages in silence, just paralysed by indecision. In that instance too, my therapist had suggested that choosing meant letting go of one option, and that I found that very difficult.

But for me, both cases feel as though they are much more about the situation I’m in, than the one that I have had to let go. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me with BPD said that I needed to let go of the notion of ‘perfect care’, because it did not exist. My difficulty, I think, is not so much with letting go, as with letting go of perfection – in all its many forms. I don’t mind putting aside a topic of conversation until another day – but I find it very difficult to deal with the idea that what we do end up talking about, might not go well. While they are still just topics up for discussion, I can imagine a situation in which they each result in emotional, productive, memorable and important sessions. What happens when I choose one is that I have to give up that perfect scenario and trade it for a reality that may fall far below ‘the ideal’.

When I was little I loved the story of Pollyanna – a little girl who always found something to be glad about, in any situation. What I didn’t realise, until I googled it just now, is that people’s interpretations of Pollyanna are divided between those who think that she saw the negative but simply chose to emphasize the positive; and those who think that she was blindly optimistic and refused to see or acknowledge the negative. I certainly ‘re-cast’ past or present difficulties in therapy, in such a way as to draw out the positive. However, I don’t think that’s by way of ‘making the best’ of a situation, because that would involve accepting that the situation does not conform to my definition of ‘ideal’ to start with. It’s about making it a ‘new’ situation, and allowing the restored present to redeem the past.

I used to worry about how I would ever reach a position of deep trust and intimacy with my therapist, when we had such a rocky and difficult start. For me, ruptured relationships have tended to stay ruptured, and very rarely have I had either the desire or the ability to restore them. But when it came to my therapist, I solved my own problem by a logical and perceptual contortion in which the ‘perfect therapy’ became defined as one that is ultimately forged in the fire of tribulation.

I think what I’ve stumbled upon is another example of an absolutely ingrained world-view related to my BPD – another example of a distorted lens through which I see the world. Back in December, I described how in my borderline mind, my fundamental desire to be perfectly understood and loved, coloured the way I saw and interpreted everything I came across. I think what I’m now realising, is that my desire for perfection in general, does the same. Perhaps my desire for perfect love and understanding is simply a sub-set of that bigger hunger. A hunger for idealism – defined as ‘an unrealistic belief in or pursuit of perfection’.

It is hard – very hard – for many people with BPD to hold two conflicting notions side by side. Hard to accept that someone or something can be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ at the same time. That is why one of the key symptoms of BPD is ‘splitting’ or ‘black and white thinking’, in which one’s views and feelings about someone alternate between thinking they are ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’. Holding these opposite notions together is difficult because in my head, the ‘bad’ taints the ‘good’, unless I can somehow make the negative into a positive, so that the whole picture can ‘look rosy’ again, without the dark patches making it look ugly.

But there are two other implications of ‘making all things new’, and re-casting reality in a different light. It means never having to patch anything up – never having to struggle to fix anything. A ruptured relationship is ‘miraculously’ transformed, or the rupture is completely ignored. Mending feels too difficult, too ‘grown up’. I don’t have a template for adult mending – every argument I ever had with my parents was simply buried, ignored and never mentioned again. Nothing was ever properly resolved.

Making all things new also means not having to live with your mistakes – something I find it incredibly hard to do, and which makes me incredibly anxious. Sometimes it feels as though I spend my life in the avoidance of self-blame, guilt and regret over ‘bad decisions’. Having them wiped out is so much easier than having them ‘in the frame’ where I may be continually reminded of them, unable to escape the anxiety they cause me because I am unable to accept myself, and the world, as we truly are. Flawed, but fine.

Both before and after my last therapy session, I had an immense desire for reconnection and for restoration of our therapeutic relationship. I had imagined apologising for ‘having been so stupid’ in doubting my therapist again; and I imagined a free and easy conversation in which we talked about how the situation had come about. I wanted to redeem myself in her eyes, and to renew our bond. I wanted there to be no more separation between us – no more sea.

I think she would say that things were never perfect – but neither were they ruptured. That no restoration or redemption was necessary. Difficult sessions, time apart, negative feelings I may have had towards her, awkward conversations – none of that had ‘tainted’ our relationship. Our connection was still intact through all of that, even if my perception of it was not. And that was something we could work on – we could work to fix the rupture, even if it was ‘just’ perceptual. But that’s to have her viewpoint on the world, which is not yet my own.

I just wanted to make all things new – and perfect again, for a little while.

 

[I sent my therapist an earlier draft of this post before my last session, and when we discussed it, I asked her if my interpretation of the reason for her quote from Revelation, was accurate. She said that it wasn’t – that the ‘former things’ that she had in mind were things or ways of thinking from my past, and were not related to my ex-therapist. I’m not sure how I felt about ‘getting it wrong’! But the mistake was interesting in itself. I often worry that my therapist will think that I am still comparing her with my ex-therapist, Jane – but it seems I may be the only one who is still hung up on the comparison, and much more so than I had thought!]


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Accepting the edges

[Quotes are from ‘All of Me’ by John Legend]

A couple of months ago I was talking to my therapist about how difficult I was finding the fact that I regularly ‘split her’ into all-good or all-bad. My view of her was constantly changing – one week things were going well and I would adore her, and the next something would happen and I would be full of disappointment and anger towards her. This was a big contrast to my relationship with my ex-therapist, who I idealised and thought of as the ‘perfect therapist’ for the few months that we were in short-term work together.

My therapist made the comment that I was finding it difficult to accept her imperfections and ‘her edges’. This made me smile, as it immediately reminded me of the song ‘All of me’ by John Legend, which I have been listening to a great deal lately.

“Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections”

My therapist is right. I find it very difficult to accept ‘the edges’ of those I care about, whether that be my husband, my friends, or my therapist. I expect them to be all ’rounded’ when I (metaphorically) bump up against them. I expect them not to hurt me. I avoid confrontation and I can’t deal with arguments.  I expect a ‘perfect’ response to my own imperfect behaviour. I don’t allow them to be human. And when their edges wound me, it can take me a long time to recover, and to start to see their softer curves again. And the tragedy is that I’m simply visiting on them, what was visited on me – I’m not allowing them to be themselves, edges and all. I’m doing to them, what I hated being done to me.

I still have a great deal of work to do in relation to how I see my husband’s ‘egdes’. But over the last few months, I have come to see my therapist’s ‘edges’ differently. I have come to love them, because they keep her real. As long as I’m conscious of her edges I’m less likely to idealise her or to become completely enmeshed with her. I have come to love them because they leave space for growth, in my relationship with her and with others.

Because of her edges, “even when I lose I’m winning.” Because of her edges, “I’m risking it all, though it’s hard.” Because of her edges, I know that she accepts mine. And because of that acceptance, I know that I really can trust her with “all of me“.

 

 

 


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PayBACS – a tale of BPD splitting

“Please pay by cheque or BACS”.

An ordinary little phrase at the bottom at my most recent bill from my therapist, who I have been paying by cash for the last few months. Brief, polite, perfectly innocuous. And also the spark that lit the touchpaper of an almighty episode of splitting which occurred during and after my therapy appointment a couple of weeks ago.

Let me explain.

The evening started off perfectly ordinarily. That is, I felt usually dysthymic, and was driving to my appointment wondering what I should talk about that week. Grief over losing my ex-therapist? No – overdone. Feeling uncared for in my current therapy sessions? No, potentially too confrontational (at least, in my head), and I wasn’t sure I had the energy for either a lot of crying or a lot of criticizing. Rather serious difficulties in my marriage caused my long-term irritability, withdrawal, giving my husband the silent treatment, and a whole host of other BPD related symptoms? Probably – for one thing, my therapist actually tends to talk a little more when we are on the subject of my marriage. Which for me, is a good thing. An ongoing issue between us is her tendency to leave long silences and to let me do most of the talking, and my frequent paralysis in the silences, and desire for more of a discussion.

But I digress.

I entered the room and in an instant, the mood (not that there was one, other than in my own personal headspace) changed. Sitting on the table next to ‘my’ chair were three books by Susan Hill. I had talked to my therapist about the complex emotions I had felt while reading a Susan Hill book recently, and the fact that I had then blogged about it. We discovered a mutual love of the author (or, at least, I discovered that she had read a number of Susan Hill books, and this immediately became a peg off which to hang a ‘mutual passion’ and a ‘point of connection’ between us).

But this was something else besides.

On the one hand, my therapist was simply lending me some books. As she said in a later session, she was aware that there was a break coming up over Easter, and wondered whether the books might help to ‘tide me over’. But on the other hand, the little pile of books on the table (carefully chosen, it seemed to me, to cover the topic of grief and loss, which she knew was a preoccupation of mine), was an indication that she had actually thought about me between sessions. And not just thought about me – had thought about what I might like or what might be useful to me, and had then taken action to do something about it. Maybe, it was even an indication that she cared about me – just a little bit. Purely professionally, of course. But still, that was caring of a sort.

I was elated – smiley, happy, chatty.

The tone had been set for the rest of the session. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, but it felt good. I  felt that we were getting on, that we were getting somewhere, that we were connecting. She felt friendly to me. When I looked at her, I saw laughter and kindness in her eyes. She didn’t seem stern, as she sometimes did when I felt suspicious, wary, or confrontational towards her. I know that a lot of it is projection – the way she looks to me, and how she comes across to me during a session, is very much a function of how I feel towards her at the time. I project my feelings about her, onto her, and see them reflected back at me. But somehow the intellectual appreciation of the fact, doesn’t change my ‘emotional reality’ – knowing it isn’t the same as emotionally believing it.

I was most definitely ‘splitting’.

And she was most definitely in the ‘good’ camp. In the ‘blazing white’, though short of a halo (as that status belongs only to my ex-therapist), camp. As I drove home, I had several ‘OMG I love her’ thoughts. Not in a completely obsessional, utterly taken over, ex-therapist kind of a way, but in a ‘isn’t she great, I just love her’ kind of a way. I felt warm and fuzzy inside. I was looking forward to the next session, and thinking I might even be able to broach the ‘wanting to feel cared for in therapy’ issue, without too much embarrassment and without it feeling too difficult or confrontational. I thought it might even feel safe. I arrived at home and parked in front of the house. I took out her bill that I had picked up just as I was leaving the session.

“Please pay by cheque or BACS”.

What the **** was she trying to do to me? It was an instant flare-up of anger. It was a physical sensation of being punched in the stomach when I least expected it. It hurt from head to toe. And there was an awful lot of swearing going on in my head. [That’s the only place it tends to go on – I’m sadly far too repressed to actually verbalise the swearing. I get a secret pleasure out of hearing my friends swear – of all the ways to live vicariously…..!].

I hated her. With a passion.

All my most deeply felt criticisms of her came flooding back into my mind, and any trace of positive emotion was gone. How could she do this to me? This was just another example of her behaving in an X, Y, or Z kind of a way. It may have said ‘Please pay by cheque or BACS’, but what it actually meant was…..

I sense a bit of interpretation may be required.

BPD can make you hyper-sensitive to criticism. It can make you hear or read things into words or sentences, that aren’t really there. It can assign meanings to something said or written, based on a huge amount of personal history and ‘baggage’, rather than on what was intended by the other person. When my husband asked me to fold my car wing-mirrors back when parking on our narrow road, in case they were hit by another car, all I heard was an attack on the way in which I chose to park the car, a demand that I should act differently, a desire to control me by getting me to do things his way, and a lack of willingness to help in car parking endeavours (as in the rest of life, or so went my train of thought…..).

Sometimes, it feels as though BPD is a rather defective and less amusing version of BabelFish in which some words go in, some inexplicable and rather bizarre process happens, and a whole set of different words and meanings come out, which may be a million miles away from the original. It’s a bit like one of those online binary translators. You put in a three word sentence and a whole paragraph of binary comes back. It’s like when you ask your husband to go to the supermarket and he comes back with a completely different set of items to the ones you requested – but far less funny. [Although I know that when repeated more than once, or on the day of a dinner party, it is not remotely funny].

It’s like a cruel form of Chinese whispers where the end result is not just a variation on the original, but a hurtful, painful and completely twisted version of the original.

These are the thoughts and feelings that ‘Please pay by cheque or BACS’ raised in me.

I have been doing something wrong, and you have not corrected me. You let me continue to pay by cash, when you didn’t really want me to. You let me persist in doing the wrong thing – how could you? It’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating. It’s making me hate myself. You have made me hate myself.

Once again, you have not been upfront with me. Why did you not mention it in person? You know I place huge importance on you being straightforward and honest with me. Why could you not have raised it at the start of the session, as my ex-therapist would have done? How could you not realise that I need you to be upfront and to enforce boundaries? You don’t understand me at all. Letting me pay you in a way which isn’t helpful for you, does not appropriately maintain your professional boundaries. If you don’t maintain those, I cannot trust you.

Why couldn’t you have talked to me about this? Why are you being so cowardly? If you can’t deal with talking about money during a session, how could you possibly deal with any of the horrendously embarrassing and excruciating things I might want to talk about during session? How could I feel comfortable being open with you, when you aren’t comfortable talking about this with me?

“I don’t understand you, I don’t care about you, I can’t talk to you, I don’t respect you, I can’t be honest with you.”

The physical pain continued. The intense frustration of having been dropped from a height and been massively let down, was building. I wanted to quit therapy. The pendulum had swung wildly. It had been a while since I had self-harmed in order to ‘punish’ someone else (although the ‘punishment’ was always completely ineffective, as the ‘someone else’, whoever they were, never ever knew).

But it was time for payback.

So I did self-harm. And I did feel better. I had an inappropriate mental vision of a sine curve with a very large amplitude and a very short period. And having tried to use lessons learned in therapy to rationalise my way out of the situation, I took one of my own Susan Hill books to the next session, to see if my therapist wanted to borrow it. It’s hard to squash the never-ending cycle of the desire to push away and the desire to connect. But that’s the subject of another post……

 

[Splitting is very common in BPD, and leads to ‘all or nothing’ or ‘black and white’ thinking (and, one might say, black and white ‘feeling’). In BPD splitting, an individual may see themselves, or another person, as either entirely good, or entirely bad. Fundamentally, ‘splitting’ is all about a difficulty in holding opposing feelings, thoughts or beliefs about oneself or about another person, and an inability to bring opposing attributes together, and to see them as part of a cohesive whole. Splitting is one of the nine DSM IV criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder (a manifestation of at least five of the nine is technically required for a diagnosis), and the criterion is worded as follows within the DSM: “A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.”

I haven’t tried to give a factual overview of splitting in this post, but to describe how one particular ‘splitting’ episode felt to me. There are a number of excellent blog posts and online articles on splitting, which can be found through a quick google search, all of which do a much better job of describing it, than I would do! But reading about it is not the same as reading about how it feels, or reading an actual example of how it can come about. And for me, it is always those personal stories that resonate the most and mean the most, because of the immense relief and comfort of realising that others feel the way I feel, and are going through similar things. I didn’t even  realise that this criterion of the DSM applied to me, until I read others’ blog posts regarding their own particular examples and experiences of this phenomenon. To me, ‘black and white thinking’ had always been a question of ‘intellectual flexibility’, and as I was always fairly adept at arguing both sides of an issue, I thought this meant my thinking was rather ‘grey’. It took reading about others’ experiences of splitting to help me to realise that not only was it true of me, but it perfectly described the way I felt in a number of situations, and about a number of people. I finally realised that ‘black and white thinking’ wasn’t really about thinking at all – it was about feeling, and those feelings shaped one’s views of others and the world. I hope, therefore, that though short on facts, this account may be similarly helpful to someone who wants to know more about BPD splitting, either because they are wondering about it in themselves, or because they are seeing it or experiencing it from someone else. ]