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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Dreams and endings – always endings

I had three dreams on the two nights prior to my last therapy session before a four week break – all of them betraying my fears not just about this temporary ending, but about the more permanent ‘ending of therapy’ to come. It’s a familiar pattern for me – one type of ‘loss’ cascades into layers of loss stretching into the future.

***

I was standing on the balcony of a block of flats and my ‘therapy jacket’* fell from where it was hanging and onto the street below. I thought to call out for help, for someone to pick it up, and then I decided I should instead run down and get it. But as I was about to rush down, a man drove up on a motorbike, picked it up, and sped away. I screamed after him, hoping someone might pursue him, but he was gone. I was devastated at the loss of something deeply meaningful and irreplaceable; even awake, I remember the quality and intensity of the distress I felt in my dream, which was so great that it actually woke me up. This is my version of a nightmare, which haunts me and jolts me awake – not fear, but overwhelming sadness and loss.

***

I got off a bus and found myself near my halls of residence at university. Waves of nostalgia hit me – good feelings, a sort of happiness, but tinged with the sadness of times now distant and never to be re-lived. Good memories shot through with the faint unbelief that this could ever have been my life – that I was ever there, younger, less burdened with things not done, lives not lived, joys not felt. I walked up to the building and the front desk staff recognised me without me saying a word, and the familiarity felt comforting. But when I looked behind them, I saw that the place had been gutted by fire. Only blackened structures remained, and the beautiful buildings had disappeared. I was shocked, saddened, horrified – overwhelmed with tears, and grief. They told me what had happened, but I don’t remember what they said. Something to do with Fresher’s Week, I think – it seems that what was meant to be a new beginning, had in fact brought about an ending.

***

I was in my car, in the bottom right hand corner of an enormous open-air courtyard within a building that completely enclosed the space on all sides. All of a sudden, the ground started falling away, starting from the bottom left hand corner and moving towards the right. I began driving up the right hand side of the square, at first managing to escape the collapse by some distance, but then having a narrower and narrower strip of land to drive on, as the break-up of the earth caught up with me, and almost overtook me. Just as the strip of land was about to disappear to nothing, I drove between a pillar and the building but the space was slightly too narrow and I crashed and came to a halt, wedged in the gap. The ground disappeared all around me, but I was pinned in place, and didn’t fall. Being stuck felt like my salvation.  

***

My therapist suggested that perhaps my husband was stealing my therapy – a reference to the fact that I deeply resented the fact I had spent much of the last week of therapy before the break, focusing on the feelings that my couples therapy was triggering in me. It was not how I had planned ‘setting up’ for the break, and it felt like an intrusion. It felt as though I was losing valuable individual therapy time and wouldn’t be able to cover everything I wanted to before the break. My therapist was not wrong in her interpretation of my first dream, but as with any dream, a number of different interpretations are possible, all of which may lead to their own insights.

For me, it was the loss of a visual representation of therapy, and the absence of a tangible reminder, that struck me most. I was reminded of the conversations I’ve had recently with my therapist about how I’ve always hoped that at the end of therapy she would give me a photo to remember her by. I don’t think it had occurred to me it was a request she might refuse – so many therapists these days have a photo online, even if their web presence is limited to their contact details and a summary of their areas of expertise. Yet she indicated that I wouldn’t need a photo – that I would carry the memories I needed, within me. It was an implied, rather than a direct, refusal, and it was far from reassuring. Sometimes I find it very hard to recall faces – and I am terrified that one day, I may not be able to recall hers. I am scared that I will lose that vital reminder of her presence, one way or another, whether the reminder is stolen by age, or illness, or another cause.

***

Over the last few months, I have spent more and more time worrying not just about the end of therapy, but about the fact that I don’t know when it will end, or when my therapist will retire. She has said she will let me know at least a year before it happens – but now it feels as though I live in dread of walking into a session only to find out that it is the session at which she makes that announcement. I have been imagining what it will be like – even though I don’t want to imagine it. I imagine it in various different ways, because the possibility of it is so difficult to conceive, there is no telling how the reality will go.

I imagine the version where I am numb and in shock, and my defenses kick in to protect me from pain, so that I just carry on as rationally and as much in denial, as I can. I imagine the version where I simply can’t bear to be in such pain in the presence of the person who has hurt me, and I ask to leave – but I’ve never left a session, and I know I would regret it, so that scenario doesn’t seem very likely. And I imagine the version in which I show her that it hurts indescribably much – as it sometimes does when the premonition of the future hits me at home at night and I hold my stomach with wordless cries and open mouth and soak my pillow with streaming nose and eyes and it is unbearable but I bear it and yet I know that even when it passes, this time, it is coming, actually coming, this and more. And in the exhausted quiet after, part of me is grateful to be able to open myself up to the grief, which feels like an honouring of everything my therapist means to me; but part of me trembles in fear underneath, at the thought of the time when the grief will really, really take hold of me, and it won’t last half an hour or an hour, or ten hours, or a hundred…..

The imagined shock of that announcement is what the shock of the burnt-out building reminds me of. The distress following the shock, a dim foretelling of what the reality will be like. The nostalgia of returning to a familiar place with good memories, at Fresher’s Week, a time of new beginnings, reminds me of returning to therapy after a break. And it is then, in particular, that I imagine coming face to face with devastation. Therapy seems to run on academic terms, just like schools and universities – August is the ‘month off’ and things resume again, come September. It seems likely she would choose to retire at the end of an academic year, particularly as she sees a number of students. And so it also seems likely that, if she ‘gives me notice’, it will happen at the start of the academic year, and following the summer break. I’m afraid of therapy breaks – but these days  I am also afraid of going back.

***

The third dream took place on the same night as the second, and I believe it is on a similar theme. It was my therapist who saw it this time – the collapse of the ground and the ever narrower strip of road, mirroring the passage of time. The longer I am in therapy, the less time I have left in therapy. If only I could stop time….There is so much that – perhaps generously – she didn’t say, about just how my behaviour and resistance in therapy is sometimes geared towards just that. Towards denying progress (or at least minimising it and trying to show how much more there is to do); staving off the end, even though the end is inevitable and ultimately will be determined by her retirement, irrespective of whether I am ‘done’ in therapy, or not. There is a sentence in ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson, which perfectly sums up that denial, and that holding back: “She couldn’t lean her whole weight on any of this when she knew she would have to live on after it”.

My therapist’s conclusion about the dream’s message disturbed me – whereas I felt that getting stuck had saved me, she suggested that perhaps I needed to carry on, despite time getting ever shorter. It makes sense – that I should carry on, make the most of the time, complete the work, if the work is ever really complete. But I can’t help wondering, did her words mean more than that? Was she encouraging me to keep going not just because it’s a good thing to do, but because she now has an actual timescale, an actual date in mind? However much I tried to think about the disappearing ground as representing time left in therapy, I could not persuade myself that driving on and falling down into the chasm was anything other than dangerous and to be avoided.

***

“Ends are for yesterday, not tomorrows.

What will you do with the time you have left?”  **

 

[* I bought my therapy jacket during a therapy break more than two years ago, and it is a constant comfort blanket and a warm reminder of my therapist, acting both as a jacket and a blanket, depending on the season and the time of day!

** – from ‘The Time Keeper’ by Mitch Albom ]


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My therapist was right – again!

[The text below was written a few days ago, straight after one of my therapy sessions. I waited to publish it, because I wanted to share its content with my therapist first. Particularly since we started curtailing email outside of session, I really want to try and keep our work spontaneous and ‘within the room’, otherwise it almost feels as though the very difficult process of changing our previous email pattern, will be undermined. I will continue blogging about my therapy, and writing is still a valuable way for me to process material – but it will more often, these days, be ‘after the fact’, rather than when I am in the very middle of a situation.]

Having spent weeks finding it really difficult to write, I now feel absolutely compelled to do it. Why? Because I’ve been driving home after my therapy session feeling incredibly grateful, and for some reason, for a moment, I’m allowing myself to be one of those people I sometimes find very irritating on Facebook, who go on about their gratitude while many of the rest of us are feeling anything but. So I sincerely apologise for inflicting that on anyone. But on the other hand, part of the problem with Facebook is only seeing the positive parts of the picture that others are happy to present to the world, whereas my gratitude today is part of a bigger, messier, darker, and un-straightforward picture, which I have tried to present as honestly as I can.

I have written so often about the feeling of having a bottomless ‘pit of need’ inside me, and how painful that is to encounter within myself. As I was driving this evening I was conscious of the contrast and of the excitement and pleasure of feeling as though I was a container overflowing, rather than a pit needing filling.

I’ve just had two therapy sessions on consecutive days, after a short therapy break, and both times my feelings upon entering my therapist’s house were different to other ‘returns’. This is the shortest break we’ve had (a week) so perhaps that helped – it was long enough to trigger break-related feelings and also to function as a period of consolidation, but short enough that I still had a sense of connection to the material we had been covering before the break. There was therefore less uncertainty about what it would be like to resume; but even so, I don’t remember feeling quite so excited before, about ‘coming back’. I have always longed to resume sessions, and couldn’t wait, as well as getting frustrated and anxious about the return – but unafraid excitement was something a little new.

I felt like running up the stairs to the therapy room, and just entering it had a real sense of safety, comfort, and of coming home. I literally cried with relief (and other emotions) at a couple of points during yesterday’s first session back, and even today couldn’t quite get over how good it felt to be back. And not just back – but back in a really engaged and open and undefended way. It’s how I really wanted to be, in session, before the break happened, but I couldn’t really manage it at that point.

I’ve been wondering why – where this sense of excitement and ability to be open, came from. It’s not as though the break was easy or my feelings positive the whole way through. As I mentioned in my previous post, though the break started well, my mood changed completely part-way through, and rather than feeling confident and secure in the therapeutic connection, I felt fearful and very self-critical.

I did try and think myself out of that state  – and was helped both my own realisation that the change in mood and my perceptions of my therapist came from within myself and were not triggered by anything she had said or done; and also by a brief email exchange that we had. She was open and supportive, and posed a couple of interesting questions for me to think about. And I did…..

My therapist has sometimes expressed surprise that I have not shown more curiosity about my dreams or about my subconscious. One of the things that was different about this break and the return, was that I was more curious about what had been going on during the break, and I was more invested in trying to understand it. I returned to therapy excited to talk about what had happened and my attempts at unpicking it; but also excited about trying to understand it with my therapist, and not just on my own. The first session back was emotional and difficult in parts, but also thought-provoking; and with the luxury of some time to myself after the session, I felt as though I took a number of important steps forward in getting to grips with the material we’d covered.

I couldn’t wait to tell her, and had an even greater sense of excitement and anticipation when I arrived at session today, knowing that I would share these steps and that we could talk about them further.

If I try and think about why there has been this change in my curiosity and excitement about the material of therapy, I suspect I may not be able to identify a single factor, and that a range of elements contributed. However, it’s also possible that among the range of factors there may be a single very important one; and that I might have to acknowledge that maybe this is part of what my therapist meant when she said that the reason for reducing email contact outside of sessions was to ‘free me up’ so that we could interact in a more ‘lively way’ in person. It’s a little irritating when she’s right…..!

But it also makes me feel very very grateful for her, and for everything she’s done and is doing for and with me. I’m enjoying this feeling of overflowing, because I know that while the fact of overflowing may continue, the feeling will come and go, despite wanting to hold onto it.  When I look at the wider picture, there is a great deal that continues to be very painful. Outside of therapy, my husband and I are finally in couples counselling, but probably at least a year too late – we have essentially withdrawn and become used to ignoring each other and only talking when the need arises. In therapy, despite the connection, trust, and gratitude I feel, I’m still a little too afraid and insecure to read an article I saw on Twitter about what happens when therapists dislike a client, and I feel renewed pain at the question of touch in therapy, when I read about others’ current struggles with the very same issue. And I’m still jealous of my therapist’s daughters, and the place they occupy in her life. In no way have these things been suddenly ‘fixed’ and nor do I expect them to be – resolved, at some point, perhaps, but who’s to say in what way, and when?

But the feeling of overflowing is there together with those other things, and they can co-exist, and I think that that is different, too. It reminds me of some passages in a beautiful book that my therapist recommended to me a while ago, which had a big impact on me. “This is not to say that joy is a compensation for loss, but that each of them, joy and loss, exists in its own right and must be recognised for what it is. Sorrow is very real……life on earth is difficult and grave, and marvellous…..so joy can be joy and sorrow can be sorrow, with neither of them casting either light or shadow on the other.”*

I think that pretty much sums up how I’m feeling right now – and I wanted very much, to share that with you.

*from ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson


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Constant shifts and comforting words

I wrote this almost three weeks ago, over a weekend, and meant to take it to the first therapy session of the week with me and show it to my therapist. It was during the very early days of our ‘new approach’ of trying to restrict (or cut out) email contact outside of sessions. And so in that spirit, I wanted to show her the poem in person, rather than send it electronically.

However, my mood and attitude in session were different to how I had been feeling when I wrote the poem, even though there was no obvious reason behind the change. The change wasn’t even apparent until I was in the room – perhaps something that happened very close to the start of the session (and which I now can’t remember), triggered my defenses, or perhaps it was something else entirely.

By the end of the week, things had recovered, but there was a similar replay the following week; and by the time I hit a short therapy break (which I’m nearing the end of), I still hadn’t managed to show her the poem. I now suspect I simply won’t get the chance as there will be too much else to cover before we then hit a longer, four-week break.

The break itself has followed a similar pattern to those previous two weeks – a few ‘good days’ where I feel connected, vulnerable, open, and determined, followed by a fairly sudden change where it’s almost as if a switch is flipped. I then suddenly see everything through a lens of fear, self-hatred, and potential judgment, which closes me off and puts up my defenses. Whichever lens I’m looking through, it colours everything from my perceptions, to my thoughts, to my feelings, to my behaviour. It feels as though my worldview shifts into a different state, and that the changes in thoughts and feelings are symptoms, rather than causes of that shift. Which still leaves me searching for an explanation as to why this happens, and that in turn leaves me feeling incredibly frustrated and demoralised. It feels as though I have little control over these shifts; they are regular, and unpredictable, and I feel completely at their mercy. That is difficult at the best of times; but during a therapy break, when I need to try and maintain my equilibrium, it is even more problematic.

Thinking back, I think these shifts have always been there, but they are more noticeable in the context of no contact outside of sessions, where I cannot seek reassurance and try to reconnect ‘in absentia’. It also means that whatever is going on, the changes are much more clearly something to do with me and my own thoughts, as they are not happening in connection with anything my therapist might have said or not said, over email (or even my expectations of what she might have said, or not said). That is both a consolation (as it means I still feel secure in who she is) and a concern (as I have no easily identifiable trigger or explanation for what is going on).

As I was writing this poem, some of the language evoked images and memories of self-harm. Though initially it was unconsciously done, as I worked on the poem it became more intentional. Some of the images felt a little incongruous with the subject matter, which is essentially a positive statement about my determination, despite these mood/worldview shifts that I appear to be caught up in, to be open to everything my therapist has to give me, including the tough lessons that preparing to lose her, and then losing her (at the end of therapy), will bring. However, something about the images also felt right; if they are a little radical or a little unsettling, well, so is complete openness and vulnerability – at least for someone who is used to the very opposite of those things. They are unsettling because to someone who is not used to them, exercising them can feel like leaving one-self wide open to hurt and harm. And so it seemed fitting that the poem should somehow be a kind of re-interpretation of self-harm; that its words should give a different meaning to the images that they invoked.

Thoughts and images of self-harm have resurfaced more frequently since my therapist and I have virtually stopped email contact. However, I’m hoping that now, when that happens, the words of this poem will come to mind. And that instead of feeling desperate and afraid, I will remember that openness may hurt, but – just as oxygen binds to blood and keeps my body alive, the internal bond with my therapist and the love that I carry for her, sustains me. If she’s reading, I want her to know that I know that – even when that knowledge is a little buried or veiled from view, and even when that knowledge is difficult to feel.

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Self-care strategies for the summer therapy break – Part 2

Part 2 of my recent post for therapy website welldoing.org contains seven more strategies I find helpful for coping during therapy breaks, and it can be found here:

https://welldoing.org/article/7-acts-self-care-better-mental-health

If you have your own tips, it would be great to hear what works for you! My thoughts are with anyone who has a therapy break upcoming….


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Self-care strategies for the summer therapy break – Part 1

Over the last eighteen months or so, I have found myself developing a number of strategies for trying to cope with therapy breaks, and in particular the long summer break, which for me tends to be between four to six weeks long. I recently summarised thirteen of those strategies in a two-part post for the therapy website welldoing.org, and this is the link to the first part, containing my first six tips. I hope you find them useful!

https://welldoing.org/article/this-is-why-self-care-makes-such-a-difference-in-mental-health


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Reducing email contact with my therapist – Part 2

Once again I find myself in the position of not being able to write about what I thought I was going to write about. This is not turning out to be at all the way in which I thought my posts about email contact with my therapist, would go! Once again I find myself wanting to write about how I feel, rather than how this reduction in email contact with my therapist, has come about. Writing seems to be mirroring the therapeutic process – I may have an idea of how a session will go, or what I want to talk about, and then things turn out differently. When I am able to follow my instinct and the thread that presents itself, rather than worry about the unexpected and about things left uncovered, it is usually helpful…..

I did manage to go from Friday to Tuesday between sessions, without any email contact with my therapist. Despite the temptation to do so, I didn’t send any messages. But, as in the image that came to mind during my yoga class last weekend – in which my therapist was trying, but could not get through in order to comfort me- I have felt defended all week. I have been completely open about it, and I’ve said that I wished it weren’t the case. In that sense, it hasn’t created the barrier between me and my therapist that a more unconscious type of resistance can do. The image in my mind all week was of a little wall around me – a very low one, but still enough of a barrier to make itself felt, at least internally. I don’t even know if my therapist would have been able to tell it was there, if I hadn’t mentioned it. Would she have said, as she has done in the past, that I was keeping her at arms’ length? Is that how it felt to her? Or was the barrier mostly present in my mind? Was it mainly  closing me off from myself, rather than from her?

***

I came in to session on Tuesday and asked: “Did you think of me?”. You laughed, fondly (I like to think). You asked why I would assume that you hadn’t thought of me, and said that my challenge was to keep you in mind, and not to ‘kill you off’. I asked if you’d read my blog post, and you had – you said you had wondered how I was getting on. So you had thought of me, then. “So you know how I got on’” I said.

***

This has been a strange sort of week. Already, with only one out of three sessions over, I felt as though my sessions were like little islands in a vast space of ‘other’. All of a sudden, therapy, which is such a dominant part of my life, felt as though it had shrunk, to be a tiny proportion of my week. I knew that just because I wasn’t emailing my therapist, that didn’t mean I either should stop, or did stop, thinking about her. I was still going over sessions in my mind, and still thinking about what I wanted to talk about next; I was still keeping my therapist very much in mind. But somehow this thread that previously felt as though it ran through my entire week and permeated everything, had started to feel instead like three drops in a very large and dilute ocean. And I felt very alone in that ocean.

***

It didn’t even occur to me that Fridays might feel different now. Friday is my only morning session, and without having already spent a day at work, the version of me that turns up to session on a Friday is often more open and much more vulnerable, right from the start, than the ‘me’ who begins my other sessions. I usually allow myself to feel more, on a Friday. Or perhaps the feelings are just closer to the surface. And so Friday sessions tend to feel quite intense and emotional, particularly towards the end, as the most difficult material takes a while to work up to. I often used to email my therapist within an hour or two of my Friday session, while I was still caught up in the emotion triggered by it.

However, this time, the last fifteen minutes of Friday’s session were different. We had talked about a couple of dreams, in connection with some very difficult events two weeks ago. We had made some uncomfortable and upsetting links. I closed my eyes, and didn’t speak. I knew my therapist would eventually ask me what had come to mind – and she did. But I stayed silent for a while longer.

The difficulty is that sometimes I freeze, and nothing comes to mind. Or rather, nothing comes, apart from a single phrase or image or feeling, blocking the space so entirely that absolutely no other thought is possible. The freezing can be caused by fear, or distress, or anger – perhaps by any strong emotion. Sometimes it’s caused purely by the heightened discomfort of feeling as though I don’t have anything to say. My therapist says that we can wait to ‘see what comes up’ – but I feel paralysed, not knowing how to move forward – and so my mind becomes paralysed.

***

The only thought in my mind was ‘I must not feel’ and my every effort was consumed with ‘holding things in’. If I didn’t allow myself to cry freely, I could contain the emotion. And I was determined to contain it, because what else was there to do? I remember saying to you: “I feel like I did when I was a little girl. When I decided I wouldn’t allow myself to be affected by death anymore…..I want to let go, but I can’t let go, because in fifteen minutes I have to leave here and deal with this alone until next week. And so I cannot feel”.

We seem to have recreated the past again, between us. That is therapy, after all. You said that this time things can be different because I have internal resources – an internalised therapy-mother – which means that I do not have to deal with my emotions alone. I do not have to refuse to feel them anymore – it might have been safer then, but it is no longer necessary now.

I didn’t anticipate this recreation – but why not? The last few weeks have revealed how much I trust you, how determined I am to really connect and be open – and so it seems strange to see how easy it is to fall again into ways learned in childhood, despite how different the situation and our relationship, are, to the past. After all, I chose this – I said that I wanted to do something different with email. You said you thought I was ready, but it was important that I chose it, rather than feeling it was something that I had to do. So why the same old determination not to feel? Surely I knew my choice would have consequences…..

A few weeks ago you made the point that I was holding you at arms’ length and that I was relating more to the version of you inside my head, than I was to the person sitting in front of me in session. I hope I have managed to change that a little, and to engage more with you; but it seems now that it is my internal version of you, instead, that I am keeping away.

***

Unlike previous weekends over the last few months, not once, last weekend, did I think about the ‘internal parts of me’, or use images of those parts or of my therapist, to comfort myself. Any awareness of an internalised therapy-mother was absent – and the images that came to mind during my yoga class last week, illustrated that in a very obvious way. My therapist was trying to reach out to comfort me, but my conscious mind was not allowing her through. And yet my experience of the therapeutic relationship, and my internalisation of my therapist, were the very means by which I should be able to do things differently now, rather than simply repeating a childhood pattern with the same old outcome. It is in doing things differently, that I am meant to be healing.

But what was true of the previous weekend, has been true of this one as well. I have thought about my therapist a great deal, and about various aspects of our therapy. I have tried to make sense of things, wondered about what might help, thought about metaphor, and music, and words. But I haven’t turned my awareness properly inwards. I haven’t tried to lean on my internal therapy-mother. Or on anyone at all.

***

I think I’m waiting, but I’m not sure for what. You should be glad – you have so often encouraged me to ‘wait’ and see what comes up, when I have impatient to move on and frustrated at my inability to do so. I have the sense that I don’t want to rush through this recreation just yet. I wonder why?

Maybe I want my right to feel angry and frustrated. Maybe I want to fully experience the resentment of not being able to tell you everything I’ve thought about, dreamed about, and done this weekend. There is so much I want to share with you and I’m not able to put it into words.

“You know that I will be here on Tuesday”, you said. I do, and I know that then I can put these things that I have been dreaming, reading and discovering, into words. Then I can tell you what I’ve been thinking and doing this weekend. And I know that one of the main reasons for doing something different with email, was precisely that – that we should engage more fully in person rather than remotely, and that we should share these things in a more meaningful way, that contributes actively to the therapy. I know, intellectually, that that way lies relationship building, not simply information relaying. And yet…..perhaps it is simply a new-generation intolerance of anything other than instant gratification and communication. 

“But”, I think to myself, “with all of that to tell and talk about, we will get so behind!”. “But we cannot ‘get behind’ in therapy, this is all a part of the work!”  – that sometimes-irritating (yes, because it’s right) little voice-version of you inside, says…..ah, there you are, still breathing, after all, internal therapy-mother…….

***

But at the same time I want to wait. I want to let this frustrated girl inside me have her day – I don’t yet want to shut her down.

I think I’m also waiting until I’ve finished reading ‘When Marnie was there’ (a children’s book that I recently rediscovered) for the second time in a few weeks. Anna, the main character in the book, is so much like me (or I, like her), that perhaps I am expecting her transformation, by the end of the book, to have magically become my transformation, as well.

Or perhaps I’m waiting for a line from a poem, or a paragraph from a book, or a melody from a song, or a section of a dance – to be the meaning or the metaphor that turns the key and releases what I’m holding in. Perhaps I’m hoping that one of those things might come from my therapist. I’m aware that I’m looking for answers from the outside; and that that may not be the best place to be doing my looking.

***

Tonight at yoga class, when it came to the images in my head, I couldn’t even get onto the beach that is my safe space during meditation. There was a giant blocking the way. Or perhaps an enormous, overgrown child. “Who are you?” I said. But there was no reply. There was also no getting past, and so in my mind, I disappeared into Anna and Marnie’s world, instead. And there I met another internal character I hadn’t come across before. She was a mysterious (but light-hearted), dark-haired shape-shifter. She kept transforming both herself, and the objects around her. And when I asked her who she was, she replied in just the sort of tone with which Marnie sometimes affectionately teased Anna, and said: ‘I’m you, silly!’ .

I should have asked her why she didn’t just make the overgrown child disappear in the way that she herself kept vanishing. Instead I thought that she was a strange sort of comfort, though not around long enough, at any one time or in any one form, to put her arms around me, like you used to do when you entered my daydreams.  

***

For some reason, the end of the film ‘Predestination’, comes to mind. I think it is because earlier today I really wanted to send my therapist a brief email to tell her that I miss her. If Marnie (from ‘When Marnie was there’) plays a role a little like that of a therapist, so too does the Bartender in ‘Predestination’. In both cases, issues of identity and relationship with self, define the main characters. Memory, time, re-experiencing, parts of ourselves – all of these are important, in both stories. A present experience of the past becomes a powerful transformation for the future, in which the past is re-experienced differently.

The film ends with these words:

“Can we change our futures? I don’t know. The only thing I know for sure is that you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I miss you dreadfully”.

 

 


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Reducing email contact with my therapist – Part 1

If all goes to plan, this will be the first weekend (with the exception of longer therapy breaks) that I won’t have had email contact with my therapist (either sending or receiving emails), in almost three years.

I have so many different feelings about this. It feels positive (as it’s a mark of progress); it feels scary (as progress makes me think of the end of therapy, and this marker feels a little like ‘the beginning of the end’). It also feels rather surreal – I can imagine doing this once, or twice, or three times…..but it’s hard to imagine life on an ongoing basis, without this contact. I think my therapist would say it was practice for life after therapy – which of course it is, and that is precisely why it feels so daunting and so much associated with loss.

I tried to focus on the achievement that this weekend will represent, rather than the loss. My therapist says that therapy is a ‘take-away’, and I know that I have to learn to successfully survive on the take-away for the few days between Friday and Tuesday, in order to be able, at some point in the future, to face the end of therapy with a measure of confidence, as well as with the inevitable grief that will come.

But it’s been the grief, rather than the achievement, that has dominated my feelings this weekend. And though I’ve tried to write a coherent post about this ‘new thing’ that I’m trying to do with email – how it’s come about, and why – I haven’t been able to either find the words, or to enter the right frame of mind.

And so this will be Part 1 of a post – and it will be more like a brief collection of thoughts and happenings from the weekend. I can’t really join things together, except in the over-arching feeling of sadness. Maybe next week, I will be able to step back enough to rationalise and describe. But at the moment I’m in ‘feeling mode’, and this is how and what I feel.

***

I recognise this place of grief. This weekend is only a foreshadowing, intensity turned up to ‘2’ on the scale. Not because it doesn’t hurt – it does – but because I anticipate there is so much further to go. ‘Giving up’ email is a foreshadowing of the end of therapy – or at least, that is how it feels. But it’s one thing to dread the grief that will come at the end, knowing it has to be gone through, to be survived – and another to think that it might start now. That it might happen bit by bit. What does that mean? How will it work? Grief happens, indefinable in length; if I start to grieve before the loss occurs, it cannot mean the grief is any less at the end. Can it? Grief changes you – will it change me, this bit-by-bit loss? What will it do? And how will I bear it, if it goes on for so long?

There are at least ten different types of grief, apparently. Anticipatory grief does not necessarily make the other types any easier.

***

This is a foreshadowing of loss, but it is also a loss in itself. I have hundreds of emails exchanged between me and my therapist. Far fewer of course, and far briefer, in general, from her to me, than the other way around. But there are still many many messages that mean the world to me. Words that I recall and treasure, not just during difficult times, but when I need a reminder of our connection. If we continue down this road, there will be very few of these to come. When I look back on our therapy, it will perhaps be both fitting and bittersweet that the time of greatest closeness and deepest work, will be the time of briefest record. I will miss her written encouragement and caring. I will miss the small disclosures and parts of herself that she shares – a poem, a piece of music, a book title. I know that she can do that still in session – and that the whole point of what we are doing with email is that it is the session that is primary, and the most powerful vehicle for support, sharing, and change. But I can’t help feeling the upcoming loss of those tangible and lasting reminders, and I know that trusting in my memory and in my experience, is something that I find very hard, but that I need to learn to do. One of the many things, I hope, that this process will teach me.

***

There is a piece of piano music that I associate with my therapist. It is a piece I learned because I liked it and wanted to play it for her; eventually I recorded it, and gave it to her on CD. This weekend I returned to it after a long absence, and have both played it and listened to it, many times. I feel as though I want to play it so often that it is both literally at my finger-tips and also available for replaying it in my mind, whenever I need to hold on and sit with my sadness. The piece is linked to from here:

https://lifeinabind.com/2015/08/25/what-i-want-to-play/

***

The loss of email is the start. Though it feels morbid to say so, my train of thought leads inevitably from the loss of email, to the loss of therapy through my ‘termination’, to the loss of my therapist through death. I cannot bear the thought of my world without her, but neither can I bear the thought of the world without her.

The first 1.5 lines of a poem came into my head as I was driving today, and they kept repeating themselves to me. I tried to carry on the poem, but I’d almost rather stop after those first 1.5 lines. I’m not sure anything I could say in the rest of the poem could adequately describe or address the fear held in that initial question.

When the world no longer holds you

What am I to do? When your eyes

No longer see the sky above

Will it still seem brilliant blue?

It will just be a reminder then

Of the depths with which you saw

My soul in all its brokenness,

And my emotion-skin so raw;

***

I spent the first half of tonight’s yoga class with tears running down my face. They just started flowing during a fairly easy, twisting pose. A few minutes later, the teacher mentioned that we were working with the ‘kidney meridian’, and that an imbalance in the energy in this part of our body, is connected with the emotions of fear and anxiety. And so it made sense that I was crying, with a bodily awareness, rather than a thinking awareness, of why. During a forward fold she came and pressed gently on my back with her hands, and the warmth of her touch somehow helped me to release even more of that fear through a stream of tears. It was a much-needed release.

***

During the rest of my yoga class, there was only one image in my mind during the stillness of the poses. The image was of a younger ‘internal part’, crying alone on a beach. At a little distance, a crowd of other internal parts were standing around, and amongst them was my therapist, trying to get through to reach me. But she couldn’t break through – not so much because the other parts were not allowing it, but because my conscious mind was not allowing it. Usually, the images that float through my mind during yoga are like watching a daydream; they are not consciously controlled, and I observe rather than intervene. But today it felt very much as though part of my mind was not allowing an image to take shape in which my therapist came through to comfort me. She stood in the crowd of parts, trying to argue that she was internal therapy-mother, and it was her role to come to me now, to soothe me. This was how I was meant to be able to get through without ‘external’ therapy-mother. But every time the crowds parted to start to let her through, the image would shift and crumble and reset itself, so that she ended up behind the barrier of parts again.

***

If my ‘daydreams’ are conspiring against me, then so too, I think, are my dreams. After at least a couple of weeks of not being able to remember any dreams, I have remembered them for the last three nights in a row. It will give me plenty of material for next week’s sessions, but it is also tempting to break my email fast in order to send my therapist the dreams. It gives us both a chance to think about them in advance, before we discuss them. A multitude of dreams also feeds in to my fears that there will be ‘too much material’ for sessions, and that we will run out of time to deal with everything – both in the context of a single session, and more generally, in the context of therapy as a whole. Perhaps this is an example of creative thinking on the part of my inner Resistance to ceasing email contact.

***

I do not want to grow up, Mum. I do not want to grow up.

***

There are at least ten different types of grief. Please God, spare me from some.