Life in a Bind – BPD and me

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


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A childhood story – further thoughts on ‘When Marnie was there’

The house on the far left is The Marsh House (Marnie’s house) – or rather, the house that inspired the book ‘When Marnie was there’. The house is located in Burnham Overy Staithe, in Norfolk (or ‘Little Overton’, as it is referred to in the book). Photo is by Chris Wood (User:chris_j_wood). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons .

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about rediscovering a book that I read as a child, the memory and impact of which stayed with me, even though I could not remember anything apart from the name ‘Marnie’ in the title. The book was called ‘When Marnie was there’, and I have now read it twice within the space of a month. The first time I read it, I cried for almost an hour after I finished it, but for no reason particular reason that I could identify. The second time, as I read it I turned over the tops of pages which contained sentences or paragraphs that particularly struck me or rang true.

I am still trying to understand the power of this book which means so much to me. I know without a doubt that I saw (and still see) myself in Anna, the book’s main character. The way she defended herself from the world and from her emotions, following on from loss, mirrored my own response as a child (and not only as a child). When I read it for the second time, I think I was looking for something redemptive, in the way that Anna had begun to be transformed through her encounters with Marnie, the little girl who lived at The Marsh House.

There are thoughts beginning to take shape in my mind, and a post starting to form. But I am not quite there yet. What I have felt compelled to do, is write down all those passages that struck me. And that is what I did tonight – I went through every page with a turned-down corner, and typed those sections out, and am copying them below. I hope you will forgive this post, therefore: both for its insularity (for without being me and without knowing why these passages chimed with me, they may appear rather random); but also for what it gives away. I very much hope that these passages will encourage you to obtain a second hand copy of the book and to read it, rather than feeling as though I have spoiled it by revealing some of how it unfolds. There are still important plot points and many other beautiful and frightening components of the story that I have not given away.

Even without knowing the story, and without knowing my own internal context, I hope that these passages hang together. All I can say is that they must have hung together in my sub-conscious, and this is my attempt to figure out why. For greater clarity, I have used italics purely to separate out paragraphs a little more, and to show where one quoted section ends, and another begins. I hope I am not infringing copyright law by quoting to such a degree!

***

She could only stand there stiffly by the open door of the carriage, with her case in her hand, hoping she looked ordinary and wishing the train would go. Mrs Preston, seeing Anna’s ‘ordinary’ look – which in her own mind she thought of as her ‘wooden face’ – sighed and turned her attention to more practical things.

Already the turmoil of Liverpool Street Station, the hurry, the confusion, the nearness of parting – against which she had only been able to protect herself with her wooden face – seemed a hundred years ago, she thought.

There was a picture over the bed, a framed sampler in red and blue cross-stitch, with the words Hold fast that which is Good embroidered over a blue anchor. Anna looked at this with mistrust. It was the word ‘good’. Not that she herself was particularly naughty, in fact her school reports quite often gave her a ‘Good’ for Conduct, but in some odd way the word seemed to leave her outside. She didn’t feel good…..

A small bird flew over the creek, quite close to her head, uttering a short plaintive cry four or five times running, all on one note. It sounded like ‘Pity me’! Oh, pity me!’

And then she saw the house…..As soon as she saw it Anna knew that this was what she had been looking for. The house, which faced straight on to the creek, was large and old and square, its many small windows framed in faded blue woodwork. No wonder she had felt she was being watched with all those windows staring at her!

Sitting alone on the shore….she looked back at the long, low line of the village and tried to pick out The Marsh House. But it was not there!…..Alarmed, she stood up. It had to be there. If it was not, then nothing seemed safe any more….nothing made sense….She blinked, opened her eyes wider, and looked again. Still it was not there. She sat down then – with the most ordinary face in the world, to show she was quite independent and not frightened at all…….as they rounded a bend in the creek and she saw the old house gradually emerge from its dark background of trees, she felt so hot and happy with relief that she nearly said, ‘There it is!’ out loud. She realized now that it had been there all the time.

Then as they rounded the last bend, she turned as she always did, to look towards The Marsh House…..They drew nearer, and then she saw, quite distinctly, in one of the upper windows, a girl. She was standing patiently, having her hair brushed.

She ignored the hand, pretending not to see it, but in that instant she longed to flop down on the floor beside him and tell him everything. But she could not have done that without crying, and the very idea of such a thing appalled her. Anyway they would miss the point somehow. Mrs Preston always did. She was always kind, but also she was always so terribly concerned. If only there was someone who would let you cry occasionally for no reason, or hardly any reason at all! But there appeared to be a conspiracy against that.

Already she had spent many afternoons here, lying in a sandy hollow, hearing only the wind rustling the tops of the grasses, the distant crying of the gulls, and the soft soughing of the sea. It was like being at the very edge of the world. Sometimes the gulls came nearer, screaming noisily as they quarelled over small fish in the pools, and sometimes they cried mournfully far away along the beach. Then Anna felt like crying too – not actually, but quietly – inside. They made a sad, and beautiful, and long-ago sound that seemed to remind her of something lovely she had once known – and lost, and never found again. But she did not know what it was.

Nothing had been said at the cottage about Anna staying out so late, and having to be brought home by the Beales. All that day, and the next, she went about quietly, steeling herself against reproaches and scoldings that never came. And gradually she thought she understood why. Mrs Pegg knew now that Anna was not worth bothering about. And this was her way of dealing with it – by saying nothing at all. She was tired of Anna…..This was not so, but Anna was not to know. At home things had a way of lingering on. They were not necessarily referred to, but you could feel them in the air…..Mrs Pegg appeared entirely unconcerned. This, thought Anna, could only mean that she had abandoned her, because she was too bad to be worth bothering about.

She had not seen Marnie since the party three nights ago, and The Marsh House had been silent. She glanced towards it now and saw that it seemed dark and asleep. The suspicion entered her mind suddenly that perhaps the family had gone away without her knowing….

‘Marnie! I thought you’d gone away.’ ‘Silly, I live here.’ ‘But I never see you.’ ‘Goose, you’re seeing me now’……‘I’ve been so lonely’, said Anna, surprised to hear herself saying it- it was so rare for her to confide in anyone.

 They lay, side by side, sucking the ends of grasses, while the wind roared by over their heads, scarcely stirring their hair. In the sudden quiet, Anna murmured ‘You are lucky. I wish I was you.’ ‘Why?’ Anna wanted to say, because you’re pretty and rich and nice, and you’ve got everything I haven’t, but she was suddenly tongue-tied. It would have sounded silly.

Marnie moved nearer and touched her hair. ‘Dear Anna, I love you. I love you more than any girl I’ve ever known’. She wiped the tear away and said, suddenly gay again, ‘There! Does that make you feel better?’ Anna smiled. Yes, she did feel better. It was as if a weight had been lifted off her. Running back across the fields with Marnie, she felt as light as air.

They were on the far side of the marsh, where sea lavender and marsh weeds gave way to hard sand. Here, when the tide was out, they spent hours altering the course of steams, and making tiny villages out of mud and sand. Even before a house was complete Marnie would start making a garden for it, collecting springs of sea lavender to make bushes, and wild harebells to stick along the sides of each minute garden path. When, next day, they found the tide had washed it all away, she was undismayed and would start on another all over again. But Anna was always a little regretful for the lost houses.

‘What!’ Anna was surprised. ‘Don’t you like the sea? I’ve always thought you were so lucky having it come right up to the house like that.’ ‘I’d rather have a garden’, said Marnie.  ‘There’s one at the front, of course, but that’s different…..’ ‘The front?’ Anna was puzzled. ‘Isn’t that the front that looks out on to the staithe?’ Marnie stopped drawing flower beds in the sand and looked round at her in surprise. ‘The front? How could it be, you goose? How do you suppose people could come when the tide’s up? Did you imagine everyone came like you did, in my little boat?’  She laughed, and Anna who had imagined just that, felt foolish. She realized now that of course it could not be so. She was surprised she had not thought of it before……‘But tell me……where does the front come out?’ Anna thought hard, trying to visualize that part of the road, then remembered the high brick wall that ran along one side, with the tall iron gates halfway along. She had looked through them one day and seen a dark drive, bordered with yew trees, curving away to the left. ‘It looks so different,’ she said slowly, ‘I never thought……..’

 She put her cheek against Anna’s for a second, then ran on. Anna had to be satisfied with that, Marnie loved her best, and would rather be with her. That was all she had wanted to hear. She paddled across the creek and saw that the windows of the house were in darkness after all. But that did not mean they had gone away; only that they were round the other side.

She thought of the dark drive and the forbidding front entrance on the main road. Edward, and all the other guests, were welcome to that, she thought happily. She and Marnie shared the side of the house that she liked best, the quiet, secret side that had seemed to recognize her when she first stood dreaming by the water, the side that looked as if it had been there for ever…..

It was exasperating to wait for hours in the chosen place, only to have Marnie pop up on the way home. Surely she used not to do this? Anna could not remember, but it began to feel as if Marnie was playing hide and seek with her.

‘I can’t be everywhere all the time. And I’m here now. Come on, let’s be friends’. But Anna did not feel like being coaxed. ‘It isn’t fair’, she said. ‘I need you more than you need me’. ‘Nonsense. I need you, too, but you don’t understand – I’m not free like you are. Don’t let’s quarrel, darling Anna!’ Then Anna’s resentment melted away, and they were happy again.

 But she began to realise that she must not rely on Marnie too much. That if she was over sure of meeting her, that would be the time she would not come. That it was almost as if Marnie was determined Anna should never take her for granted. And yet sometimes they were as happy together as they had ever been.

Marnie murmured, so low that it might almost have been the wind blowing over the grasses, ‘You are lucky. I wish I was you.’ Anna turned to her, suddenly quiet. ‘That’s what I said to you – last time we were here’. ‘Did you?’ ‘Yes, don’t you remember? Oh, poor Marnie! I do love you. I love you more than any girl I’ve ever known.’ She put out a hand to touch Marnie’s hair, then stopped in mid-air. ‘And that’s what you said to me’, she said slowly, with a surprised look on her face. ‘How funny, it almost seems as if we’re changing places’.

But how could Marnie have gone without even a word? Anna could never forgive her for that. And she would never trust anyone again. The hurt inside her hardened. She pushed away the tray and lay down again. Then, turning her face to the wall, she closed her mind to everything.

And suddenly all the bitter grudge she had been feeling against Marnie melted away. Marnie was her friend, and she loved her. Joyfully she shouted back, ‘Yes! Oh, yes! Of course I forgive you! And I love you, Marnie. I shall never forget you, ever!’

She turned again to the window. Marnie’s face had disappeared completely, blotted out by the blinding rain. But she waved wildly, trying to smile a good-bye, and pointing along the narrow strip of shore, which would soon be covered. And suddenly, as she looked, it seemed to her that the house was empty after all. That there was no one behind any of those blank staring windows. It looked like a house that had been empty a long time…..

Since her illness a shutter seemed to have come down between her and everything that had happened to her just before she was nearly drowned. It seemed now as if it had all happened a long time ago. Sometimes she almost felt as if she were seeing Little Overton for the first time. Then she would remember Marnie.

Marnie had gone. There was no doubt about it. As soon as she saw The Marsh House again, Anna knew for sure. She stood for a long while gazing at it, wondering what was different, and could find nothing specific. The house just looked empty. She was not surprised. She had known in her heart that she would never see Marnie again. But secretly she mourned for her.

Coming across the marsh at low tide one afternoon, she found an old lady sitting on a camp stool, sketching. She stood behind her for a moment, quietly watching, and saw that she was painting the staithe and The Marsh House. The lady turned and glanced up at her, and smiled. Instead of slinking away, as she would previously have done, Anna found herself smiling back…….‘I love that old house, don’t you?’ said the woman. ‘Yes’, Anna said. The woman turned back to her painting. Anna waited, wondering if she would turn round again, but she didn’t, so she crept quietly away. But she was pleased and felt as if she had made friends with someone just by not running away.

Coming to the front entrance of The Marsh House she was surprised to find the iron gates wide open….following the bend in the drive she came in full view of the house, and stopped and stared. She had never imagined it would look like this. It was just as attractive as the old house by the water. For some reason she had always thought of the front as if it were some quite different place. Now, for the first time, she realized what she must always have known really; they were two sides of the same house. And this side was, if anything, even more attractive. It had a warm, welcoming look which she had never expected.

Two sides of the same house…..One facing out on to the main road, the other looking back over the water…..And so strongly had she been attracted to the backward-looking side that she had even, for a while, mistaken it for the front. She wondered how she could have been so silly. But then, the gates had always been closed before, so how could she have known?

She lay down on her back in a hollow, feeling suddenly lonely, and wept for Marnie. The sad, long-ago sound of the gulls crying in the distance brought real tears now, and they fell from the corners of her eyes, trickling down the sides of her neck and wetting her hair before they sank into the sand. But even as she wept, a new and delicious sadness was creeping over her. The sadness one feels for something enjoyed and now over, rather than for something lost and never found again. A sandpiper flew overhead calling ‘Pity me’ but its cry was now like a little lament for Marnie rather than an empty pity for herself. Comforted by her own tears, she lay there until the sun had dried them….

For a moment she found it impossible even to imagine Mrs Preston at The Marsh House, but the more she thought about it, the more she wanted her to come. She wanted her to see the Lindsays, and she wanted to see her with the Lindsays. If they liked her and she liked them, then – even if only for an hour – Anna’s two worlds would be joined into one. At the back of her mind, too, was a thought she had not yet allowed herself to think about seriously. Her holiday could not last for ever. It was already August, and although the subject had never actually been mentioned, she knew she would have to go home again before next term began.

It was raining harder now and she was beginning to get wet, but it did not matter. She was warm inside. She turned and began running back along the dyke, thinking how strange it was – about being ‘inside’ or ‘outside’. It was nothing to do with there being other people, or whether you were ‘an only’, or one of a large family….it was something to do with how you were feeling inside yourself.

The wind made a roaring noise in her ears as she ran, and she shouted and sang at the top of her voice. She remembered once, some summer morning – when had it been? – running along a dyke in a wind like this, and feeling the same sort of happiness. Then she remembered. It was when she had been with Marnie, that first time they had gone mushrooming – that first time they had been real friends.

For an instant she fancied she saw someone – a little girl with long, fair hair– waving to her from one of the upper windows of the Marsh House. But there was no one there…..It was the end window – the window that had once been Marnie’s…..She stood for a moment, watching the rain falling slantwise across the house and streaming in rivers down the window panes, wondering what it reminded her of. Then she remembered that, too.

 

 

 

 

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Book pre-review: When Marnie was there

I was going to say ‘no blog post from me this weekend’ – but of course, this is a blog post! I am taking the night off from writing, so that I can spend it reading. Not just for pleasure, though it will be that – but for therapy.

The book I will be reading is a children’s book called ‘When Marnie was there’, by Joan G Robinson. The reason I am reading it is because I read it once, and it has never left me.

Before I tracked down an old copy on Amazon, I remembered nothing about it except that I read it somewhere between the ages of eight and eleven, it had the name ‘Marnie’ in the title, and it was frightening. I couldn’t have told you what the story was about, save that I knew there was something about it that was scary and disturbing. Not in a way that put me off reading it, or gave me nightmares. But in a way that left a deep and lasting impression, but in a completely indescribable way. I cannot explain to you what it is that makes me absolutely sure the book was significant and settled somewhere deep in my psyche and in my whole being – leaving me only with a memory of what it felt like to read it, or rather what it felt like to have read it. I have no memories so concrete as of actually reading it.

I know that deep down I have always wanted to go back and re-read it – and I remembered only as much as was needed, in order to ensure that I could find it again. And luckily there appear to very few books with ‘Marnie’ in the title! Though I know I never forgot it, I cannot honestly say I thought about it very much (if at all) until a few years ago. I think that over the last few years, either because of having children, or more likely, because of the process of therapy, the book has come to mind on a number of occasions. My therapist and I have often talked about children’s books; and I have found them (and children’s films) invaluable sources of comfort and support during therapy breaks, particularly the long summer break. I have found that they often convey simply and powerfully, important life lessons that we need to learn and keep with us, but that as adults we have somehow forgotten how to internalize – if we ever knew.

I have always wanted to go back and re-read it – but for some reason, a week ago, I actually looked for it and bought it. My therapist asked me an important question: “why now“? Why now, when I could have sought it out at any other time over the past few years? I think the answer will come with reading the book. I think that my subconscious knows – that it has always remembered the story and knows why it was powerful and important. Perhaps it made a link with the current material of therapy, and perhaps, as I read, I will discover what that link is.

I have already realised something interesting, just by reading the back cover. It seems that the main protagonist is not Marnie, but a girl called Anna. Which made me immediately think of the start of a story I wrote when younger, that I discovered in an old box of papers recently. I wrote about it in a post called ‘Update and a story by 12 year old me‘. The girl in my story is called Anna too, and at that time, the only link I could think of to the name Anna, led me to believe I might have written it at around the age of 12, even though the style of writing and the handwriting, felt ‘younger’. But now I feel absolutely sure that the link with the name ‘Anna’ comes from ‘When Marnie was there’.

I feel a fair amount of apprehension. There is always the possibility of disappointment: that the book will not be as interesting or as powerful as when I first read it; that I won’t be able to understand why it made such an impression; that I won’t be able to make a link to my therapy. But there is also the possibility of so much more – not least a calm and pleasurable few hours immersed in a story, a luxury I rarely have time for these days.

So enough of writing – for now – I’m off to read about Anna and Marnie! I will write more about them, when I know what there is to tell…..


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A lesson in love

This weekend my therapist is at a residential conference – strangely enough at a conference centre I have stayed in myself. I have been dreading this weekend for months, remembering how I felt last time she went to a similar event. I have been dreading the feelings of exclusion, of jealousy, of knowing that she will be interacting with strangers who for these three days will have a greater insight into the minutiae of her life – what does she have for breakfast? – than I will ever have. They will be in company without the company of the clock; they will talk and laugh uninterruptedly; they will take a walk and talk – or not. They will capture the moment, in a picture. Oh to be a fly on the wall and to be able to observe her interacting in a carefree way with those around her. And yet, I know the irrationality of my fears and hopes. I have a very different – the opposite of care free –  and more valuable kind of access to her than most of them will ever have ; and being a fly on the wall would be unbearable for precisely that reason. I’ve never had to ‘share her’  – I wouldn’t want to have to try.

After this, we only have two more sessions before a two-week Easter break, and I was worried we wouldn’t have time to process the fall-out from this weekend. Yet somehow, as always seems to happen, we have arrived at the point just before the break – despite my fears over this weekend – with a lovely sense of security and connection. It’s been an incredibly difficult few weeks, and I have found myself treating her in ways I have hated myself for. I have caused her to feel coerced, manipulated, and intruded upon; she’s had to wade through the mire of counter-transference and my resistance. But she is my therapist – and she continues to amaze me and to show me, through her example, what love really looks like.

What has struck me deeply, through all of this, is that she keeps on giving. She holds the space; she holds firm against the resistance; we work through the pain, the tears and the tantrums (all mine). But she keeps on giving, and she does not withhold. Yes, she withholds therapeutically, for the benefit of the work, but she does not withhold of herself in retaliation. I am so used to the tautology that misbehaviour equals punishment; that resistance leads to consequence; and that if I try and ‘win’, something will be taken away and lost. It’s why, each time she shows me her unwavering nature and her generosity, there is always the internalised voice that says ‘this time….this time, I have really blown it, she will never be the same with me again, a part of her is lost to me’.

But every time, I’m wrong; and I’m so thankful that I’m wrong. There is no retribution; and she doesn’t see herself as wronged. She knows me, and that whatever mess I bring from one week to the next is only part of me, and not the whole. She cares for the whole, and reminds me that it is there, even when I have forgotten. She responds to what I bring – without bringing up the past and without conditionality. She gives, as if I’d never tried to take what wasn’t mine to have; and that is both humbling and overwhelming.

The night before she left I sent her a brief email saying I would miss her, and I wished her an interesting time and an enjoyable walk around the gardens (replete with poems and quotes hidden amongst the trees). I also said that I hoped a poem or two might come out of this weekend – it’s been my way, recently, of trying to cope with difficult or intense emotions. I didn’t think I would receive a reply until after the weekend, but she wrote back saying she would think of me at the house and in the gardens; and she shared something (a poem and a picture) of the material she would be thinking about over the weekend. Her giving was a wonderful and deeply touching surprise. She included me, when she knew I would be feeling excluded; and she told me she would think of me, when she knew I would worry about being kept in mind, when she had so much on her mind.

And so I have drawn together my thoughts and feelings into a poem; grateful for her giving, trying not to dwell too deeply on the missing, but reminding myself of what I have. I have tried to capture a lessons in love – a moment of being together at a distance, in a picture of words, timelessly unhampered by the clock.

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The stranger who has loved you

A wonderful poem by Nobel Laureate, poet and playwright Derek Walcott, who died today. Many, when despairing, have found this helpful. It is the opposite of where I’m at today, but I have to believe that I’ll feel like this one day….

Life in a Bind - BPD and me

I feel like such a long, long way from this. But my therapist is helping me to take down the letters from the bookshelf. She has my heart – until I can give it back to the stranger who has loved me.

Loving yourself

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Book reviews – two of my favourite reads about relationships

This is my second contribution to the Wise Words series on the welldoing.org therapy website – it covers a book on transactional analysis (which I’ve blogged about before), and a book on marriage. I read them sequentially, and I think they form a logical coupling; giving both tools and food for thought, in the struggle to better understand how we relate to ourselves and to others, and where our struggles to connect, can go wrong:

https://welldoing.org/article/wise-words-16-self-relationships-marriage