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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Memory Monday – “Progress in therapy – being ‘all in’ “

I’ve been pondering the fact that spring, and the period around Easter, seems to have been very significant for me during the time I have been in therapy. It could be purely coincidental; it could be connected to the change in seasons; or it could be related to the cycle of therapy, rather than the cycle of the weather. Whatever the reason, for the last few years this time of year has brought crisis, followed by transformation. Admittedly, my therapy is not unusual in being comprised of multiple cycles of rupture and repair, many of them very intense and distressing. However, there is something about the events that have taken place around this time of year, over the past few years, that marks them out not just as successful episodes of repair, but as watershed moments, or ‘therapeutic paradigm shifts’, as I called them in this week’s Memory Monday post, “Progress in therapy – being ‘all in’ “, which can be found here:

https://lifeinabind.com/2016/05/01/progress-in-therapy-being-all-in/

Last year’s ‘paradigm shift’ started over the Easter therapy break, and is described in the post above. Despite the very positive changes that happened during April and May 2016, there was an enormous and hugely significant rupture at the very end of May and start of June. In the light of the progress that had been made, the rupture was sufficient to lead my therapist to question whether she was really helping me – a rather traumatic but ultimately vital and beneficial period for me personally, and for our work together (described in my post ‘BPD as addiction‘). Since last June, my therapy has had a somewhat different character, I think; the slowly developing more adult part of me has been present in session more often, and the level of trust and vulnerability I am able to display with my therapist, has deepened. I have a greater awareness of my behaviour both in and out of session, and of what motivates it. And though that doesn’t prevent other aspects of me (such as the inner child or teenager) from ‘acting out’, my awareness prevents the whole of me from being swallowed up in these episodes (as I would have been before), and ensures that part of me at least, remains connected to my therapist, rather than being resistant towards her.

Transformative thought the events of last springtime were, therapy is much like a spiral, where topics and feelings are revisited again and again but in slightly different ways, in different contexts, and in different depths. When I wrote about ‘being all in’ last year, I didn’t really imagine that there would be an even deeper version of that. But there is – and I know now that I’ve still got some way to go. I was as ‘all in’ as I could have been at the time; but as you make progress, and as you change, what you are capable of changes too – and in that sense, the therapeutic process demands more of you (though not in a prescriptive way!). It’s a little like the seated poses that one holds for minutes at a time during Yin yoga – as you try and release the tension in your body and focus on your breathing, you find you have more to give. If your body is in a forward fold, you find that you can fold more deeply; if you are stretching, you find that you can stretch more strongly. Your body develops possibilities that seemingly were not present before.

Between January and March 2017 I felt overwhelmed and stuck; unsure and directionless. I wrote very little down about my sessions, and my memory of them was incredibly patchy. I tried to describe to my therapist how I felt, in my post ‘To my therapist – the roads half taken’. Though my therapist encouraged me to sit with these feelings, and to wait, it was frustrating and difficult to do so. She reassured me that this was simply another phase in our work, and that such periods often follow or precede times of great growth; but I simply felt lost. The Easter therapy break this year was far less positive and far more of a struggle than the one last year, and I was afraid that the next few months might be as difficult as the ones that came before.

But, once again, my therapist was right. Sometimes you’re not aware of how much things have shifted, internally,until you come to another ‘crisis’. I might have felt stuck for much of the last few months, but somehow, while I was waiting for those feelings to pass and the ‘stuck-ness’ to resolve, part of me was becoming ever more invested in the work and the relationship, and preparing for the next steps that I needed to take. The start of last week was incredibly tough – those who follow me on Twitter might have seen me tweet “Right now I feel like I never ever want to see my therapist ever again”. But that is a million miles away from how I feel now, and the process of working through that situation feels like another watershed moment in my therapy. A moment that not only showed me how much things have changed in the last couple of years, but also gave me a renewed determination to be ‘all in’  – in even deeper and more diverse ways than I have managed so far.

 


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Memory Monday – “The pain of mother’s day”

This is a day late – but I wanted to share again the post I wrote for Mother’s Day last year. Re-reading the post, where I quoted from two articles by psychologist and writer Terri Apter, her words on estranged families and difficult mothers struck me just as much now, as they did last year. I still feel as though they describe my own experience, very accurately indeed:

https://lifeinabind.com/2016/03/05/the-pain-of-mothers-day/

In the post I also talked about the fact that I was going through a particularly tough time in therapy – as is the case now as well. A few days ago I posted a poem that I wrote, trying to capture the impact that some words from my therapist (in the form of an email) had on me about ten days ago, when I felt worthless and hopeless and was struggling with suicidal ideation and with holding on to the therapy relationship. I would like to write about what led up to those feelings, but I think I need more distance from them first.

My therapist’s email provided reassurance at a time when I desperately needed it and my attempts to locate it deep within myself had been briefly successful, but then quickly faded. A couple of days before receiving that email, and a few hours after some very strong suicidal ideation, I wrote a mother’s day poem for my therapist. It poured out fairly quickly, and then I read it and re-read it multiple times. The act of writing it – of recalling how I feel about her, what she has done for me, and then putting it down on paper and reading it to myself – reconnected me to her and helped me to feel close. It gave me – at least temporarily – the reassurance I was craving, and a sense of her presence.

Since I wrote it (and gave it to her), I have repeated it to myself, internally, many times. But on Mother’s Day itself,  though I thought of my therapist many times, it was hard to bring the poem to mind. Inevitably, as happens during other occasions which are ‘family’ celebrations, the joy of having a ‘therapy-mother’ has to be held alongside the painful acceptance of not being able to enjoy the same sort of physical and emotional space in those celebrations, inhabited by her daughters.

I had a yoga class tonight, and as I sat in stillness and in silence, and in the discomfort of holding seated poses for a few minutes at a time, I tried to will my body and my mind to find a way of working together to somehow try and ‘deal’ with that painful position. To let the discomfort in my body mirror to some degree the much more intense discomfort of accepting separation, and boundaries, and difference. I wasn’t sure what ‘dealing’ with things might mean, in that context; I wanted to feel the pain, rather than dull it, but perhaps in a way that felt more tangible and therefore more manageable. Perhaps I was hoping that the way one ‘breathes into’ the aching muscles in yoga, which helps with accepting and sitting with the discomfort of the pose, would also work for heart-ache, for emotional strain.

I’m not really sure if it worked – I think that idea is still a work in progress. But as I sat there hoping that it might work, I was also aware that I needed it to work, not just for now, but for later. It’s only a matter of time for me (and usually, very little time at all), before feelings around boundaries and exclusion turn into thoughts about the eventual end of therapy. And so as I sat there hoping that by some miracle, breathing into the discomfort in my muscles might bring acceptance and peace with the way in which my ‘daughterhood’ was circumscribed; I was also desperately hoping that one day it would be part of helping me to deal with one of the biggest losses I can imagine going through. I’m hoping I still have a good – long-ish – time to practice my ‘skills’, both in yoga, and in acceptance; but it’s very hard not to have an internal awareness (and hyper-vigilance) over that ‘ticking clock’ that is counting down, and to wonder  – how many more ‘therapy-mother-days’ and ‘therapy- mother’s-days’ do I have left?


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Memory Monday – “Censored: wearing a mask in therapy”

Sometimes I worry that if I lose a train of thought in session, or if I change subject or direction, I may not be able to find my way back or I may leave a topic ‘unfinished’. My therapist replies that if something is important, it will come round again in session, in one form or another, so that we ‘can take another bite at the cherry’. Over the last few months it feels as though I have made significant progress in therapy, and there have been a number of key components to that progress. These include the way in which I now think of myself as composed of a number of ‘personas’ (or parts), my ability to see my therapist as a ‘new mother‘ figure who I can relate to independently of how I related to my biological mother, and the honesty and vulnerability with which I am now often able to approach sessions, precisely because I am much more aware both of ‘new mother’ and the different parts of me that might try and oppose her.

In thinking of that progress I am struck by how often the core elements of these ideas and concepts were already present in my therapy some time ago, but had not had the impact they have had recently. In some cases I even believed I’d had a ‘light-bulb moment’, and yet still it hadn’t had a significant change on my behaviour. It is as if I had realised I’d found an important piece of the jigsaw, but until enough of the pieces were in place, I couldn’t see or understand the bigger picture. And once enough pieces were in place, the speed with which others could be slotted in, was magnified.

I found a particular example of this when I went back to a post from July 2015:

https://lifeinabind.com/2015/07/11/censored-wearing-a-mask-in-therapy/

The post describes the moment when I fully realised the enormous extent to which I routinely censored my thoughts in therapy. It also describes how, in the absence of communicating how I felt, I often ‘acted it out’ instead. Though these seemed like important insights at the time, I continued to censor my thoughts, though perhaps not quite so heavily, and I continued to ‘act out’, though not quite so blatantly. And it’s only now, more than a year later, that I can really see that that has changed.

In Part I of the post I wrote: “Judgement, lack of interest, intrusiveness. All of those past experiences make it hard to talk in therapy. But their absence in therapy makes it equally hard to talk. My therapist is not intrusive, she doesn’t judge me, and she is genuinely interested in me. But I have no idea how to operate in that environment…”. The difference now is that I see my therapist not just as not judgmental or intrusive – but as not my biological mother. I see her as ‘new mother’, and that frees me up to operate completely differently with her, and to speak without fear, and with confidence of acceptance.

In Part II of the post I wrote: “As this wonderful quote says:  ‘In a corner of my soul there hides a tiny frightened child, who is frightened by a corner where there lingers something wild’.  The difficult thing about therapy, is realising that the frightened child and the ‘something wild’ can both be parts of ourselves. When we start talking about them rather than acting them out – perhaps then we can start to integrate them into our view of ourselves, and to accept them. And perhaps then there will be no need of a mask to hide behind; at least in therapy, and to ourselves.” The difference now is that I have started to identify and integrate the different parts of me, and to talk about them and accept them. It is an ongoing process, but it does mean that there is much less ‘acting out’ either in or between sessions, and much more openness in talking about how I really feel.

There is a one small part of my most recent therapy session that really shows how the censorship described in both parts of my earlier post, has changed, for the reasons described above. I have had a run of difficult sessions in which I have been barely able to talk, with a large part of me feeling resentful and resistant and not really wanting to turn up to therapy at all. The (small and barely audible) non-resistant part of me managed to say ‘this reminds me a little of how things were at university‘, to which my therapist replied, ‘can you say a bit more about that‘? With only the smallest of pauses, I simply said ‘What just went through my mind was – no, because I don’t want to talk to you‘.

There was momentary censorship – after all, I could have immediately spoken the words that went through my mind. But when I did speak them, it was with confidence and trust, rather than fear, and that’s what made the censorship momentary – rather than ongoing and solitary.


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Memory Monday – “Home”

my therapist is my home lifeinabind

I wrote this poem last August when I was abroad during my summer therapy break, and posted it with a very brief introduction, in September 2015. As I wrote in that introduction: I felt my therapist’s absence even more keenly due to the physical distance, and these words just came into my mind one day, as I thought of her. The concept of a house or a home as a metaphor for therapy arose quite early in my time with her, and it is a metaphor that has often appeared within my dream imagery as well”.

At this time, my therapist is the one who is abroad (rather than me), and once again I am feeling her absence more keenly due to the physical distance. And even more keenly still as she is the one who is ‘away’, and I am the one ‘left behind’. I think the feeling is exacerbated by the fact that around me adults are preparing to go back to work after being on leave; children are excited (or not!) to be going back to school; and those in therapy are, by and large, resuming sessions with their therapists. I feel fear and dread over the recommencement of the ‘old’ routine’ of work and school; the feeling of being trapped, and of living at a frenetic pace and feeling constantly on a knife edge. I am glad that my therapist is having what I hope will be a restful break with good friends; but over the last week or so the adult part of me that wants her to have this break, has been alternating with the parts of me that simply resent it. And though I wish it weren’t the case, right now my ‘better self’ has given way to a sulky sense of ‘enough already‘.

And so I wanted to re-post this poem both as a reminder to myself that I am not alone and will be ‘home’ soon (in a week’s time); and also as a reminder to all those who are about to resume therapy, that however scary and uncertain it may feel, particularly if this is your first summer break, you are about to find your ‘safe place’ again, and I’m thinking of you as you embark on another ‘therapy-year’, and all that it may bring!

[As an aside, it was only when I was looking through the photos on my phone a few days ago, and saw a picture of the front of my therapist’s house, with her blue door, that I suddenly realised that the door in the picture which I chose to use as the background to my poem, is blue as well. I can honestly say that that was not in my mind at the time, and it was not why I consciously chose the picture – though looking back on it now it’s almost impossible not to think that I was drawn to it at least partly because it reminded me of my therapist’s house….]

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Memory Monday – “Separation anxiety – BPD and emotional development”

A couple of days ago a reader posted an interesting question in response to my post “Separation anxiety – BPD and emotional development”, which can be found here:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/09/26/separation-anxiety-bpd-and-emotional-development/

The question was: “…. just read this ‘old post’… and was wondering how you would feel if you read it today. Did things change for you concerning the ‘therapy bubble’?….”

So I went back and read the post, and it seemed to fit so well with some of the things I’m thinking about at the moment in relation to therapy, that by way of answering the question I thought it would be appropriate to share it as a ‘Memory Monday’ post.

How do I feel, reading the original post now? I think I feel that I can still relate very closely to everything described in it – while at the same time recognising that some things have changed. I still find it very difficult to leave my ‘therapy bubble’ – particularly when, as has been happening recently, sessions have involved talking about painful and distressing material and have left me feeling regressed and child-like. At those times I hate leaving, and I hate the thought of coping by myself with those emotions. The need for comfort, for my therapist, is intense. As well as a desire not to leave the therapy bubble, it’s also a fear of staying in the place that therapy has taken me, but without her presence to contain me.

I think I do still feel guilt over the time and mental energy that therapy takes – or rather over the time it ‘takes away’ from my family life. My thoughts are so often absorbed by it  – either directly, or because I’m ‘processing’ something – when I should be more present with my children. However, I now often remind myself of an incredibly valuable comment that someone made to me a few months ago. I mentioned that sometimes I feel guilty because if I wasn’t spending money on therapy I could take my children to Disneyland. She said that she only wished her own parents had spent money on therapy, rather than Disneyland. And that made so much sense (and I shared the same wish – not that I went to Disneyland as a child!), that it helps me to feel a little less guilty and to more fully appreciate that in trying to change myself, I am also making things better for mine and my children’s current and future relationship. And that change will, hopefully, trickle down through the generations, into the ways that they parent their own children.

As for emotional development and the weight of being an adult – I think that my recent ability to identify ‘parts’ of myself and to relate to them almost as separate entities, and to observe their thoughts and feelings, has helped me to not get completely taken over by them, and to stay in a ‘more adult’ frame of mind more often than I used to be able to. It’s a very great struggle, and my mind and heart are still often battlefields in which wars of words and emotions take place – but it’s a question of ‘who’ is uppermost and in control, even if the ship is very difficult to steer, or even if it’s only just possible to keep my ‘adult head’ above water.

Separation is still incredibly difficult  – but I think I am better able to cope and I fight hard to try and retain a sense of my therapist’s constancy and my connectedness to her. It is often a fight – against myself, as described in a recent post – and it is far from automatic. But I am managing it more often, and as well as this being a function of the therapeutic relationship and the closeness and trust I am discovering over time; I think it is also at least partly due to the fact that I am on a more even keel because other areas in my life are slowly improving. My husband may still feel that there is little improvement in our marriage – but at least now he says that I am a much better flatmate! For me, this is a key first step – and it also means that there are fewer huge rows and triggers for my suicidal ideation.

At the end of the original post I wrote: “Perhaps when the separation becomes a bit more bearable, I’ll know that there is a bit less growing up to do“. I think there now is a bit less growing up to do – though the thought of it, and of the eventual ending of therapy, is as terrifying as ever. In that sense, I am still clinging, desperately, to my ‘bubble’ and the thought that it will burst eventually, is still heartbreaking. But for now, I am making the most of being metaphorically ‘held’ inside that bubble during session itself, and trying to remember that I am ‘held in mind’ when I am outside it.

If my reader is still reading in a year’s time, perhaps they will be kind enough to ask me the same question again? I wonder what my response will be….. 🙂


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Memory Monday – “Constant craving – BPD and the need to feel understood”

One of my earliest and still one of my most viewed posts, is this one, on the need to feel understood:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/05/17/constant-craving-bpd-and-the-need-to-feel-understood/

Although I wrote from my own experience of BPD, I think it speaks of something universal that resonates with all of us, those with a different mental health condition, and those with none. We all want to be understood. We all want to be loved. As my therapist said recently, “we all want to be special”. “Special” – am I alone in hating that word?

In many ways, things have changed a great deal since I wrote that post. Though I was thinking of leaving my therapist at that time, I have now been in therapy with her for more than two and a half years. We definitely understand each other much better – but we also still misunderstand each other with regularity. A major point of progress is that that misunderstanding causes me far less pain than it used to, and I don’t interpret it in the same way. Not being fully understood by her is far less devastating and disappointing, and I don’t take it as a lack of caring or effort on her part. I know that she cares and that she tries very hard to understand me – and that I do not make it at all easy. But now I recognise that. And I also recognise the fact that my frequent silences in session are okay, but at the same time they do not help her to understand me, particularly when I don’t tell her what’s on my mind, or what those silences mean. I think I now find it easier to have more realistic expectations and to accept that we are all human – including her – and that no one can understand another person perfectly, all of the time. The fact that she wants to understand, and tries, and is committed to continuing to do that, is what’s important, and that helps me to be far more accepting of the fact that she cannot read my mind, much as I would like her to be able to!

But I’d be lying if I said that the difficulties I spoke about in that post, have completely gone away. And though I recently experienced a significant period of growth in therapy, where a great deal seemed to change all at once, we are somehow back again in the very familiar territory of my resistance, my instinct to withdraw and defend, and my pain at not feeling understood. Though now, I think I can more accurately identify that as pain at not being seen or heard; at continuing to bear feelings not validated. I think this is subtly different to not feeling understood, but more fundamental. I think it’s possible to be ‘seen’ or ‘heard’, without necessarily being fully understood. I think you can accept, and validate, without fully understanding someone. And not being understood fully, hurts much less when you feel validated and accepted.

It turns out I have a pretty constant craving to be validated, too, and that craving causes merry hell when it’s not satisfied. Which is not surprising, as it was never really satisfied in the past. It’s a craving that makes me ashamed, because it feels so self-absorbed and self-centred. It’s a craving that means that when I’m talking about difficulties with my children, or my husband, or my mother, I need to deal with my own feelings about the situation first, before I can think about how they might be feeling. It’s not that I don’t care about how they feel, or that I don’t think it would be useful to understand their perspectives; it’s more that it was always about someone else’s perspective, and never about my own, and I can’t bear to be the subject of that repetition.

Last week I had a dream in which I rang my local doctor’s surgery but there were no appointments at all. I then rang a surgery slightly further away, and managed to get an appointment. However, when I turned up, expecting to be taken in for my appointment straight away, I was surprised to find out that I was expected to join an absolutely enormous queue of people lining up outside. I felt like giving up – it would clearly take a very long time to get to the front of the queue, and to be seen by a doctor.

Just like in the dream, I feel I’m waiting; waiting to be seen. And the longer I wait, the stronger becomes the craving for validation, and the greater the urge to defend against the possibility of being hurt. It feels confusing to be back here, but I’m better at waiting than I used to be. And after two and a half years, I’m committed to my therapeutic relationship, and I’m not giving up. In that respect, the difference between where I was when I wrote that post, and where I am now, is immeasurably greater than the length of the queue in my dream. And I hope that that is an encouragement that things change, and perspectives shift, even though journeys often go back on themselves, during the course of moving forwards.


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Memory Monday – “Sexual feelings for your therapist – and what they can tell you”

This week’s Memory Monday is one of my most-viewed posts, and it was also one of the hardest for me to write. I first started it nine months before I finally had the guts to finish and publish it, in August 2015.

Many people I’ve come across who are in therapy, experience a range of feelings for their therapists; but perhaps some of the hardest feelings to deal with are sexual ones, particularly if you are already in a committed relationship, or if the gender of your therapist is not the gender you are most frequently attracted to. The feelings are difficult for a number of reasons, including the sense of shame they can engender and the sense that they are ‘wrong’ and that you are ‘bad’ for having them. They can also be incredibly confusing, as often they can be juxtaposed with other feelings (such as feeling childlike or also viewing your therapist as a parent figure), and that juxtaposition in itself can lead to further shame.

What I finally realised after many months of agonising over these feelings and images, is that as with dreams and fantasies, they are multi-layered and can be incredibly revealing of one’s inner psychological state and preoccupations. And I also realised that rather than feeling ashamed or trying to shy away from the emotions, it can be very helpful to ask two key questions: what are these feelings or images trying to tell me; and why are they particularly prevalent at this time. Examining the feelings in this way can also, to a large degree, help to take the ‘sting’ out of how ‘wrong’ they feel, as other meanings are revealed. If this seems strange or unlikely, I hope that my post helps to explain how this can work, and how it has worked (and continues to work) for me:

https://lifeinabind.com/2015/08/08/sexual-feelings-for-your-therapist-and-what-they-can-tell-you/

The reason I am using this post for Memory Monday now, is that I am coming to the end of a two week therapy break, and sexual feelings for my therapist have resurfaced, after many many months of being absent. As noted in my post above, I used to find that such feelings and images used to come to the fore prior to a ‘reunion’ with my therapist, and it seemed to make sense that the sexual images of merger were anticipating that reunion and the desire never to be ‘abandoned’ again. When those feelings and images were absent for many months, I put that down to an increasing confidence and trust in my therapist; the ability to keep her more in mind during therapy breaks; and the ability to hold on to the fact that we were still connected, despite being apart – she had not abandoned me.

And so at first I found the reappearance of these feelings disturbing – as if they were a retrograde step. But when I gave myself permission to really think about them (and the accompanying images), and to let them run their course in my mind, they became much less disturbing because the puzzle pieces started to fall into place a little bit. The fantasy in my head involved me, my therapist, and one other person. Thinking about the positioning of the three ‘characters’ in this scenario, and how this changed as the story unfolded; and thinking about how I felt in each section of the ‘play’, really helped me to get a sense of what the fantasy may be about. In the end, I think the three characters are all different parts of me, and the story that plays out reveals not just how I currently think about the physical act of sex, and about emotional intimacy (I have never been able to successfully marry the two together); but it also reveals my desire for the ‘ideal’ linkage of the two aspects into a single whole, as well as the belief that I will never be able to achieve that ideal.

I would very much like to repeat the message I tried to give at the end of my post above; a message of encouragement to dare to face these feelings not just for yourself, but to dare to face them and reveal them, when you are ready, to your therapist. Realising what the sexual feelings mean is one thing, and it can be an incredibly illuminating and instructive experience; but having those feelings accepted by the person they are focused on, is another thing entirely, and it can be a feeling of powerful ‘absolution’ from any sense of shame or guilt about those experiences. It may take many months, as it did in my case – but if you can bring yourself to discuss these matters with your therapist, it could end up being one of the best decisions you make in therapy.