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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You know you’re borderline when….

.……you take automated WordPress emails personally and feel criticized and upset by them….

Yes, at the risk of seeming to take BPD lightheartedly – sometimes you just have to laugh after you’ve cried – this was me, a few weeks ago.

I was in the middle of my six week break in therapy. I was feeling pretty terrible, as I tend to do during therapy breaks. I was messing around in WordPress, and when I next checked my email, I saw this:

wordpress2

I was gutted and furious at the same time. F**k WordPress. How DARE it call me vain? Oh WordPress, how can you do this to me, and make me weep on the inside?

I hadn’t even realised I’d clicked on a ‘Like‘ button  – why are they so bloody impossible to find on other people’s sites when you’re looking for them, and so apparently easy to mistakenly click on, on your own? SORT IT, WORDPRESS!

I was seriously upset. I was mortified at being called vain. WordPress was EVIL.

It wasn’t until the next day that I actually understood the joke.

Of course I think ‘Swallowing up the storm – BPD and anger‘ is about me. It IS about me – it’s my post.

Ha ha WordPress. You’ve actually got a sense of humour you mischievous son-of-a-b***h. You’re actually rather funny.

But I’ll be damned if I ever ‘Like’ another post of mine again.


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Reactions

This is a very interesting and helpful post on a subject that I think affects many people with BPD, and which, as the author highlights, can be very beneficial to be mindful of.

I have noticed that I am acutely sensitive to the facial expressions of my therapist, and interpret anything other than an outright smile, as a critical, disapproving or judgemental expression. This is particular true of her “I’m thinking” face, which is rather unfortunate, as she is quite a thoughtful person and takes her time to respond to things! I have similar difficulties with my husband’s facial expressions, which I also tend to interpret as harsh, unless he is actively smiling.

I think it can be very helpful to try and remain conscious of this tendency to interpret expressions more negatively and, as the author comments, to try and remind ourselves that our perception of how the other person is feeling or reacting, does not necessarily reflect reality. At the same time, it’s important to try and accept our own feelings about the situation, and not to judge ourselves for these tendencies or perceptions.

I have certainly found that ‘taking a small pause for introspection’ has been helpful in this, and in so many other situations where BPD has been playing havoc with my emotions!

farewell to daylight

I like this quote a lot. Often, throughout my day, I notice things about people. A certain way they smile at me, raise an eyebrow, roll their eyes; it could be any number of seemingly arbitrary things. Sometimes these little things can tell me a lot about that person’s internal state and helps me react accordingly and appropriately to whatever they throw at me. Other times, these things tell me absolutely nothing and I react anyways. This is true especially when speaking of negative emotions. As do most borderlines, I have a bias for picking out negative emotional states over positive ones. It even goes to the extent that if shown a neutral facial expression, I will be more likely to see something in that neutral expression that makes me believe that it is negative over positive or neutral (remember, us borderlines live in a world of black and white…

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“Feelings are real and legitimate.” -Unknown

Often I find I am incapable of articulating my feelings: sometimes because of how vulnerable I am feeling inside and because of the reaction that that articulation might bring from others; sometimes because I have no idea what I’m feeling; and at other times because I have trouble distinguishing thoughts from feelings. That’s where having a ‘feelings vocabulary’ can help – too often, it seems easier to describe a situation or my thoughts about a situation, than to look inside and identify how I feel about it. Having a set of ‘feelings words’ in front of me can help to direct my attention inward, and can help me to connect with my emotional state, rather than to intellectualise it.

I find this post incredibly helpful because it both provides a ‘feelings vocabulary’, and reminds us that our feelings, in and of themselves, are neither right nor wrong. Our feelings simply ‘are’ – they are valid and legitimate, and being able to ‘own’ them is one of the biggest challenges that we can face. We can so easily get entrenched in the pattern of judging both our feelings and ourselves for having them (often because of messages that we were given in the past, either consciously or unconsciously, by others). Accepting our emotions, and allowing ourselves to feel them, can have immense healing power. I hope that being able to identify those emotions, and having a range of words with which to describe them will help me, and hopefully others as well, to take the first steps on the road towards that acceptance.


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BPD invalidation – standing accused of fraud

 

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The poem above was recently posted on the Facebook page for the mental health charity SANE, by Michael, a supporter of the charity. It’s about the differences in how people react to mental and physical illness. I think it makes the point briefly but powerfully, and what particularly resonated with me, was the effect that others’ reactions have, on the individual with the illness. The question ‘Am I a fraud?’ is one that has plagued me for some time, and continues to play on repeat in my head, on a regular basis.

It’s as if there is a very small but very annoying and hurtful person living inside my head, who keeps up a running commentary trying to counter-act any feeling, thought or belief related to my diagnosis and my mental health difficulties. The voice likes to level accusations such as ‘you’re making it all up’, ‘you’re pretending’, ‘it’s not really that bad’, ‘you’re just being dramatic’ and ‘you just want to be ill’. All of which is accompanied by a secondary commentary along the lines of ‘what sort of person must you be if you’re doing all of this deliberately….’. A typical example of how the voice likes to operate is this. I can be driving in my car, feeling an oppressive yet somehow inaccessible sadness somewhere within me, and I will think ‘I feel really sad’. Immediately, the voice chips in with ‘you’re not really sad, don’t be silly. You’re not crying, you can’t possibly be sad. You just think that you’re sad. The reason you can’t access the feelings of sadness is that they’re not really there. Stop pretending.’

So powerful is this voice, that it even pops up in my dreams. On one occasion, I’d dreamt that I was in the process of travelling to an appointment, and one moment I was in my car, and the next I was standing in front of a house. It felt incredibly frightening, because I had no recollection of how I had arrived there, and I remember having the thought, in my dream, ‘I wonder if I don’t remember, because I dissociated’. Immediately the voice retaliated with ‘you just want to believe you’ve experienced dissociation in order to reinforce your belief that you have BPD. You’re just making it up’.

Those sorts of voices that many of us carry with us, are the ultimate invalidators, because we can’t just avoid them, or shut ourselves away from them – we have truly internalised them. They are often the offspring of real-life human invalidating influences in our pasts (or presents). It is well recognised that growing up in an invalidating atmosphere, where one’s thoughts and feelings are constantly being belittled or ignored, is a key environmental risk factor for the development of BPD. (Of course the causes of BPD are many and varied and the inter-play of contributing factors, both genetic and environmental, can be very complex, and is not well understood. However, for those who do go on to develop BPD, one can often trace a prior climate of invalidation).

Because of this history, many people with BPD are acutely sensitive to invalidation, whether perceived or actual. The sense that my feelings are being invalidated is a powerful trigger for me, and can result, depending on the situation, in acute distress, anger, feeling uncared for, or wanting to hurt myself. Feeling invalidated and worrying about potential invalidating reactions from others, is one of the key reasons why it took me so long to tell a few key people in my life, about my diagnosis. The voice inside my head, telling me I was a fraud, was so powerful and created so much doubt within me, that I couldn’t see why other people wouldn’t agree with that voice as well.

I have found it incredibly hard to accept my diagnosis – not because I found it shocking or disturbing, though I know this is the case for some – but simply because it is so hard to keep believing it to be true in the face of internal accusations and self-doubt. Even the fact that my husband thinks that ‘Stop walking on eggshells’ could have been written about me, simply reinforces, as far as ‘the voice’ inside my head is concerned, what a good job I have done of convincing myself and others of a lie.

In my own case, the ongoing sense of invalidation was exacerbated by the circumstances surrounding my diagnosis. A little while ago, I formed one of those very strong, quite obsessional attachments, that for me has been one of the hallmarks of my BPD. Having spent most of my life telling no one about my mental health difficulties, I decided to confide in one of my closest friends, who herself has severe mental health difficulties. Typically for me, it had to be an ‘all or nothing’ approach, and the process of completely ‘unburdening’ myself drew me in, and before I’d realised what was happening, I found myself on the roller-coaster ride of BPD attachment and the idealisation/devaluation cycle.

‘Identity disturbance/an unstable sense of self’ is one of the key diagnostic criteria for BPD, and one of the implications of this is that people with BPD often mould to their environment and take on the characteristics or tastes of other people, particularly when they are in a relationship with someone. They attempt to take on another’s identity, in the absence of a solid and determinate identity of their own. This has certainly been true of me in the past. When your partner is into opera, or hill-walking, or is a writer or a musician, that may not be too much of a problem. But when the object of your obsession has BPD, you’ve just handed your ‘critical inner voice’ the perfect weapon and means of invalidation. My ‘critical voice’ took advantage of the fact that I was desperate to get closer to my friend, and accused me of ‘bringing BPD on myself’, or ‘pretending I had the symptoms’ in order to achieve this aim. Never mind the fact that this was a circular argument in any case, as the obsessional desire to get closer and the taking on of another’s identity, were themselves symptoms of the condition!

Invalidation, or perceived invalidation, can take many forms. Sometimes, and with some people, I experience it as a lack of respect or acceptance of my views or feelings, or a sense that I’m not ‘allowed’ to have a different viewpoint – that I’m expected to be an extension of someone else, and conform to their expectations. This is particularly true for me, when it comes to my relationship with my parents. On other occasions, and with other individuals, I experience it as the sense that there is no point in putting an alternative viewpoint across in a debate or a discussion, as the other person will simply keep coming back with a counter-argument in an attempt to get me to agree with them, and this sets off another significant BPD trigger for me – the sense and fear of being controlled. Sometimes, almost anything that isn’t complete agreement with, or assent to, what I am doing or asserting, will be construed as invalidation.

I am far from  coming to a realisation or understanding about  how to address these issues of invalidation, and they continue to be daily struggles for me. For a time, the ‘inner critical voice’ rose up less frequently and was less intrusive, and, at least as far as my diagnosis was concerned, it seemed as though I was coming to a very gradual acceptance of its reality – I was starting to ‘let myself off the hook’. This was a time in which I was in therapy with someone who I felt truly understood me, accepted me, and cared for me. She understood how I struggled with the sense of ‘being a fraud’, and every now and then – not too often, but often enough – she would indicate that she could see how my behaviour or my feelings made sense in the context of my diagnosis. I don’t know if she would have done this anyway – I felt that she did it because she recognised what a difference it made to me – but it was incredibly validating.  Her acceptance of my diagnosis and what I was going through was the one thing, more than anything else, that had an impact on the ‘critical voice’, on my sense of invalidation, and on the degree to which I felt I could ‘accept myself’.

The progress I made during that therapy, in that one respect, was one of the yardsticks by which I measured its success and the ”fit’ that I had with my therapist. It brought me a greater degree of peace, a greater sense of acceptance – it helped me validate me, which at the end of the day, is where one’s sense of validation, ultimately, needs to come from. It was as if, held by that most intense and intimate of bonds between therapist and client, I was able to finally face my inner accuser, stand accused of fraud, hear the charge against me and say, with belief rather than self-doubt – not guilty…..NOT GUILTY.