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 under the name Clara Bridges.


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Therapy breaks – here is the Twitter chat!

Just over a week ago, Alison Crosthwait (from ‘The Good Therapists‘) and I, had a fantastic twitter chat on the subject of ‘Therapy breaks’. For more information on Alison, and on why we chose that subject, please see this post, which I wrote prior to the chat.

Using the wonders of Storify (and a few minutes spent trying to figure out how it worked), I put together a ‘transcript’ of our chat, which you can find here:

https://storify.com/lifeinabind/therapy-breaks-what-do-they-mean-to-you

Please accept my apologies if any sections are hard to follow or if questions appear to come out of the blue! Due to the natural pauses while one of us was replying to a question, we sometimes found ourselves with more than one question on the go at once, and so reconstructing a particular thread was not always easy! However, I have done my best to keep portions of the same conversation together, as far as possible, and this is why the tweet ‘time stamps’ don’t always follow strict chronological order.

We were hoping to use the subject of therapy breaks to explore a number of areas, including change and attachment. We covered how both clients and therapists can feel during a break, and the different strategies they may employ to manage the break, including transitional objects, email contact, or, occasionally, back-up therapists (a concept I had not come across before!).

I think Alison will forgive me for speaking on her behalf to say that we both enjoyed it enormously and hope that you will enjoy reading through our conversation. We are keen to try this again sometime, and it would be good to hear your thoughts on subjects you would like us to explore (and that YOU would like to explore – please join us!) next time. Speaking personally, though we spoke about ‘attachment’ during therapy breaks, I felt that we didn’t really get a chance to talk in depth about the subject of change, and that is something Alison has written about, and that I would love to discuss with her. It is also something which is particularly pertinent for me at the moment, as my therapy went through significant (positive) changes just before, during, and after the Easter therapy break.

But all suggestions are welcome, and we both love creative ideas, so do feel free to put forward anything therapy-related that you have an interest in! I’m already getting excited at the thought of creating a list 🙂

 

 


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Progress in therapy – being ‘all in’

Therapy is a mysterious process – more an art than a science. Full of twists and turns, blind alleys and mountaintops, dark pit and revelations. Sometimes change is incremental; progress happens by stealth. At other times there are massive strides, great leaps forward all in one go.

And sometimes the ground shifts right under your feet and you’re looking at a new landscape –or at the same landscape, in a different way. A therapeutic paradigm shift.

When I said last week that I was struggling to write, it wasn’t because I was feeling particularly unwell. I was struggling because I simply could not keep up with everything that was going on inside. I didn’t have a hope of giving it all expression, let alone coherence. I didn’t really understand how it had all come about, but since just before the Easter break, things have felt different. Things have been different. It seems as though it started with the wonderful session before the break when my therapist connected with the different parts of me, including the ‘child part’, in the one conversation, in a very powerful way.

In some ways, every change that I have noticed over the last four to six weeks deserves a post. Maybe one day – but right now, things are still developing, still changing, and I need to stay with it and move forward, rather than capture what’s happened. It’s as though I suddenly woke up one morning and realised that it feels okay when my therapist doesn’t understand me or forgets something I have told her, because I know that says nothing about how she feels about me; or that when she questions me or my motives it’s not because she’s being critical but because she’s trying to help me explore something and understand myself better; or that I no longer hate my inner child, despite the strength of my previous feelings against her. That last one is a big one – I’ve gone from wanting to ‘eliminate her’ to having conversations with her. And those examples are just some of the things I have realised (or realised that I’d internalised), over the last few weeks.

One of the forms the paradigm shift came in, was a new sense of commitment. I have always insisted to my therapist, including when she spoke about my ‘resistance’, that I was committed to the process. I was committed, in the way in which I understood the term. I always prioritised therapy, I tried to push myself to talk, to trust, to be open, to let change happen. I was committed – but was I all in? No.

I was committed to taking part and to trying to change, but on my terms and in my ways, and worse of all (though I didn’t realise it), on my own. Every-time there was a roadblock, a problem – I pushed away and tried to figure it out alone. And if I came up against wrong turns and dead ends, I blamed them and retreated, or tried to break through them with a sledgehammer. A couple of weeks ago when I felt as though I was repeatedly getting ‘knocked back’ because there was something I wanted in therapy that I didn’t feel I was getting, I sent my therapist this picture of a maze, to show her how I felt.

heart mazeBut being ‘all in’ means accepting that I have someone with whom to navigate the maze and share the headache of bumping up against brick walls, as well as the satisfaction of making progress, and the companionship of the journey. Being ‘all in’ feels like another level of trust, and openness and vulnerability, but without fear. Or rather, braving the vulnerability, even when there is fear, because the trust is there. On the one hand being ‘all in’ feels like being free – on the other hand it feels like wanting to draw a circle around me and my therapist to tightly circumscribe us; like wanting to build a blanket fort with her and disappear beneath it to do our work, letting no one in or out. It feels strongly as though the next phase of the work is for us, only us, together, and that is a big part of why I’m struggling to write.

Since feeling ‘all in’, I have had some wonderful moments of happiness. And also some intense moments of pain. Because here’s the paradoxical thing about being ‘all in’; you can’t actually be all in, and enjoy everything that involves, without at the same time accepting that ‘all in’ leads eventually to being ‘all out’ – to growing up and ‘moving out’ of that warm and secure blanket fort, and to making your own way in the world.

 


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Struggling to write

I’m struggling to write.

I’m even struggling to write about the fact that I’m struggling to write. I’m sure there is a name for that. Very struggling – no, not that, that doesn’t even make grammatical sense. See – I’m struggling to write.

I think it’s been getting worse over a period of months. Like a dull ache or pain you really don’t want or can’t be bothered to take to the doctor, it’s now getting to the point where it’s harder to ignore. Though what I’m finding it hard to ignore is the absence of something – of the motivation, the ease of expression, the anticipation, the satisfaction, the catharsis.

It used to be the case that I would feel anticipation during the week as I wondered what I would write about on a Friday or Saturday night. With one therapy session early in the week, it often took a few days of ‘processing’ in the background for an idea to ‘grab me’ and when it did, it was a surprise and it was exciting to sit down and see what transpired when I started typing. At first there was pleasure simply in the writing and in the spontaneity. Later, though the writing was often harder and sometimes there was less spontaneity and more ‘planning’, there was also pleasure in the editing, the ‘crafting’ and  in the creation of a narrative.

It threw me a little when I went from one to two therapy sessions a week. The pace changed, and there were no longer a few ‘clear days’ of processing in between a therapy session and writing. My first few months of blogging felt as though they were about getting to grips with BPD and how its symptoms manifested in my life, and about trying to better understand the therapeutic process. Each week the ‘topic’ was different – a different BPD symptom to explore, a different snapshot of therapy. With two sessions a week, deeper work was being done. Work that was harder to write about – more work than it was even possible to write about. Work that often needed to be pondered for much longer than a week, before it could be written about. It felt as though I was writing much more about therapy, or about how BPD manifested within the therapeutic relationship, than about BPD symptoms themselves. Rather than the topic being different every week, it felt as though there was more continuity between what was being written – evidence, perhaps, of me starting to tie things together, to see connections, to link the past to the present. Evidence, perhaps, of starting to use the power of narrative not just in telling a story, but in unfolding and moulding a life.

When I went to three sessions a week last September, things changed again. What was true of the change from one to two sessions, was even more true this time. As time went on, writing captured only a fraction of what was happening in session and in my head. The interweave of thoughts, feelings, ideas, connections to the past, analogies, metaphors, often took weeks if not months to be processed and understood sufficiently to end up on the page. One ‘idea’ for a post would turn into several installments due to the volume of material to write about. But then, as with therapy, something would happen, some event would take place and cut across that train of thought and I would have to leave it, incomplete, until it could be picked up again in future. I have a long long list of posts now, still to be written  – some of which are part of what I might have considered a ‘series’, had not other events and emotions intervened.

Over the last few months I have sensed that my writing keeps coming back again and again to many of the same themes. Sometimes it all feels a little repetitive. There are no longer ‘surprises’ in what I might write about – there is simply an overwhelmingly long list of possibilities. And it has always been the case that some of the most precious and personal moments in therapy are not written about at all – they are kept in the closest part of my heart, almost too private and intimate to share. Sometimes, many months later, they feel okay to bring into the light of day – but not always. And the more time has gone on, the more of these moments – or even prolonged episodes – there have been.

Part of me wonders whether my relationship with my writing is simply undergoing the same sad fate that some of my other relationships have suffered. After eighteen months to two years a certain boredom sets in, and a lack of excitement. Maybe I just need to fall in love with writing again. Not an infatuated, obsessional kind of love, but a quieter, more enduring and more truly connected kind (with a complete and healthy disregard for blog statistics – that would be good!). Perhaps progress means the ability to stick with something, and maybe writing and I can find a way to better satisfy each other again, to deepen our relationship, and to re-introduce some spark and spontaneity.

If one is having trouble with one’s relationship, one can go to therapy. Luckily I’m in therapy – and so perhaps I need to talk, in therapy, about this relationship that I have with writing about therapy. And then I can write about it. Maybe. Or write, full stop. Or maybe, stop. Which is right? Who knows?

I’m struggling to write.

 

 


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A day in the life – Day 3

In December and May I wrote posts giving links to my first two entries for the ‘A Day in the Life‘ project. The project involves writing a short piece about everyday life on four different days spanning a whole year. Anyone who experiences mental health difficulties can get involved, and not everyone submits an entry for each of the four days. The fourth and final day covered by this project is 26 August 2015 – if you would like to contribute, even if you haven’t done so before, please do visit the site and have a look. You will be able to register if you would like to take part.

On 7 November I wrote about being at home with the children, and how it turned out to be an ordinary day – even a good day – despite the fact that it started less than ideally, and I spent quite some time catastrophizing. It reminded me that we aren’t defined by our mental health difficulties, and neither are those difficulties invalidated by the fact that we can experience joy as well.

On 10 February I wrote about my day at work, and the ‘burden’ of apparent competence. The fact that I often feel trapped by my ability to carry on even when everything inside feels like it’s screaming and on the verge of collapse. I feel trapped by the necessity to carry on and the fear that if I don’t, those two parts of my life that I have held separate for so long – work and non-work – will come together and my world will quite literally fall apart.

The third day was Sunday 10 May. This time I wrote about going to church with my family, and about faith. The fact that I find it hard to have faith in God, in other people, and in myself. That often I sit in church and feel resentful of the fact that I am hiding who I am, even though that is entirely my own choice. It is a function of my lack of faith which means I don’t trust how people might react, who they might tell, and how they might respond to me in future. But sometimes it only takes a little faith – or, in this case, a little one’s faith – to restore some hope, and to bring some comfort and a sense of being loved.

Here is my account of Day 3.

(Please ignore the 10 February heading – this really is my account of 10 May!)


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A day in the life – Day 2

Back in December I posted a link to my first post on the ‘A Day in the Life’ site. ‘A Day in the Life’ is a project spanning a whole year, looking at the everyday experiences of individuals in England with mental health difficulties. Anyone experiencing such difficulties can sign up to the project, which involves writing a short piece describing your experiences on four different days over the course of that year. The first day was 7 November 2014. The second was 10 February 2015, and I wanted once again to share my entry with you, which can be found here.

The third day was 10 May 2015, and I have just written and submitted the entry for that day – due to the volume of entries received, it can take up to three months for each one to be reviewed and then published on the site, but I will link to it from here once it becomes live.

If you are interested in joining the project, please do visit the ‘A Day in the Life‘ site to find out more. This is a fantastic project, and it’s all down to the number and variety of individuals writing honestly about their lives, hopes, joys and struggles. If you would like to be involved but haven’t taken part so far, please don’t let that stand in your way – if you sign up via the website, you will be alerted regarding the date of the next (and final) day to write about.

Many thanks for reading!

 


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Mental health and the holidays: we’ve survived Christmas, but what about New Year’s Eve?

My heart sank when I saw the first of the ‘It’s been a wonderful year!’ type pictorial summaries pop up in my Facebook feed. It seemed to start even earlier this year, and just as the equivalent gimmicks did over the last couple of years, it’s spreading like wildfire; like some sort of contagion. In addition, I know that come 31 December, my feed will start filling up with expressions of festive cheer, thankfulness and the highlights of my friends’ lives over the last year.

fireworks new yearIf there were a Scrooge of the New Year season, I would probably be it. If there were a New Year’s alternative to ‘Bah humbug’, I would probably use it. But at the risk of losing those of you at this point who think I’m simply a mean and grumpy party-pooper – I have a serious point to make.

As soon as Christmas is over there can be a tendency to breathe a sigh of relief and to think “we did it – we survived the holidays”. However, for me, and perhaps for some others with mental health difficulties, the worst part of the holidays is still to come. Christmas is never easy – spending time with my parents and my parents-in-law is generally full of different types of triggers. As with previous years, there have been times of holding back tears during the day, and letting tears flow at night. But I have been dreading this coming New Year’s Eve ever since last year’s New Year’s Eve; and over the last month, as I have felt it coming closer, the more worried I’ve become.

I know that my anxiety over New Year’s Eve is fuelled in part by what came after it a couple of years ago – several weeks of one of the worst periods of depression I have ever had. Whether New Year’s Eve was the trigger for it, or just the beginning of it, I don’t know, but the whole experience has left me dreading this coming January and the night that heralds it in.

Christmas is widely acknowledged to be a difficult time of year for many, including those with mental health difficulties. Because it is a time of year traditionally spent with family, it highlights issues of loneliness or alone-ness; issues of family relationships and difficult dynamics. Add to that the pressures of trying to make the day ‘perfect’ for yourself and for others, and the sheer logistics involved, and it can make for a horribly stressful and potentially unbearable experience. The sheer number of articles published on the internet and through social media at this time of year on surviving the holiday season, is testament to that.

But for me, the pain of New Year’s Eve is of a different kind. It’s not about the people or things that are present, or even absent. It’s about the things that are lost. For me, the pain of New Years’ Eve is the pain of grief. Let me explain.

New Year’s Eve is all about looking back with thankfulness and looking forward with hope. Last year, as I read the constant stream of Facebook posts highlighting all the good things that had happened to my friends, all the things that they were grateful for over the last year – I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by immense feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It makes me feel as awful to write it, as I felt guilty for feeling it. I didn’t begrudge my friends their happiness, or even their expression of happiness. I was glad that they remembered people and events that they could be thankful for, and even more, that they were able to feel thankful for them. But one of the things social media does so well, and often to such detriment, is to facilitate comparison between oneself and others. When I see so much joyfulness and light around me, it’s difficult not to dwell on my own lack of joy over the last year, and on the lack of hope and the blackness that’s inside me.

I know – I know – that what I see on Facebook is selective. It is what people choose to show others –and often times, they choose the highlights, and leave out the rest. I know that some of those friends who shared ‘It’s been a wonderful year!’ type posts on their timelines, have had a far from easy and joyful year. They have had personal illness, family illness, difficult circumstances of all kinds. But they are still thankful – they are still finding things to be grateful for. It’s one of the cruelties of mental illness, I think, that it can rob you not just of joy itself, but of the desire or capacity to look for joy or hope, wherever it may be found.

Last New Year’s Eve, while other people were feeling grateful for good times, despite the bad times, I was grieving over my time. Time wasted and lost to the mire of depression; to the self-absorption of pain; to the hell of mental illness. Time lost looking inwards instead of outwards; time wasted living inside my head instead of living in the moment. What strikes me over and over again as I read blogs by those with mental health difficulties, are the expressions of grief over months, years, and decades spent living with a mental illness, striving towards recovery and release from pain. In an article in the Sunday Times in December 2014, Rachel Kelly, author of ‘Black Rainbow: How words healed me: My journey through depression’, wrote about her recovery from depression, but “at a huge cost in wasted years, especially when my children were young”.

And that, of course, was the other aspect to my grief. It wasn’t just my own time I was mourning. It was my children’s time as well. People are always saying, aren’t they –“enjoy your children while they’re young” – but what if you can’t? I grieved the times I could have spent with them and they with me – but with a ‘me’ more capable of laughter rather than raised voices; more capable of tolerance rather than impatience; more capable of paying attention rather than withdrawing. Added to the grief was a heavy weight of guilt for not giving them the ‘quality time’ they should have had – for robbing them of something. For giving them their own grief, whatever subconscious form it might be taking at their age.

So this year, I’m not going to join in the social media New Year’s Eve jamboree. I’m going to watch some DVDs, and then go to bed. I’m going to post a ‘Happy New Year’ message on the morning of 31 December, and then try not to log onto Facebook again until January 2nd. I don’t think anyone will notice my absence, but if they do, I hope they will forgive me. I hope that they will understand that I’m not a kill-joy or mean-spirited; I’m not wallowing in self-pity or unaware of the fact that everybody hurts. I’m not sad about their happiness or resentful of their joy. I’m simply grieving for my time; for my wasted year. I wish I could see it as something other than wasted – as a necessary step along the path towards recovery and fulfilment. But I’m grieving the loss of that ability too.

I wish more was written about the difficult feelings that New Year’s Eve can trigger, particularly in those with mental health difficulties. I’d like to ask you to increase awareness by sharing this as widely as possible on social media – but there’s a slight irony in that. As well as a touch of hypocrisy. Perhaps I should be asking you, instead, to increase the chances of your own well-being by joining me this December 31st in a DVD marathon of your favourite TV series and a twenty-four period of Facebook or Twitter abstinence.

Go on, give it a try –and I’ll see you on the other side.


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A day in the life

A Day In the Life‘ is a project spanning a whole year, looking at the everyday experiences of individuals in England with mental health difficulties. Anyone experiencing such difficulties can sign up to the project, which involves writing a short piece describing your experiences on four different days over the course of that year. The dates are chosen in advance – the first was on 7 November 2014 and the next will be on 10 February 2015. Entries can be anonymous and it’s not necessary to submit something on all four occasions. The project is funded by Public Health England and was highlighted through a number of media channels and websites. The BBC news clip can be found here. The www.gov.uk website says this about the project:

A Day in the Life is designed to provide an insight into the lives of people living with a mental health difficulty to help inform the development of policies and projects which better meet their needs. The project is also designed to better educate and raise awareness among the wider public of the reality of mental health issues.”

I decided to take part in the project when I saw it mentioned on Twitter – its mission is an important one, and writing is one of the few things I feel I am able to do to help raise awareness. I wanted to share with you my entry for 7 November 2014, which can be found here. In some ways, the story is a precursor to my recent posts on parenting, and writing that entry on 7 November motivated me to share more about the challenges of mental health and parenting.

If you are interested in joining the project, please do visit the ‘A Day in the Life‘ site to find out more. More and more entries are being added all the time relating to the first day, 7 November, and they provide a fascinating picture of the day to day lives of individuals struggling with a variety of mental health issues.