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.


Leave a comment

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”.

 

 


7 Comments

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.


3 Comments

The importance – and danger – of resistance in therapy

[Or, ‘When I realised how much therapy has helped me change – Part 4’]

After progress comes resistance. I’ve experienced it time and time again, both in little ways – a slip of the tongue during a session – and in big ways, such as those described below.

I’ve often read that resistance is at the core of psychotherapy – even that understanding it and working through it, is the treatment itself. I think the problem with that formulation is that doesn’t mention the primacy of the therapeutic relationship in doing that working through, and the fact that change happens through that relationship. Nevertheless, I can see why resistance is given such a prominent role – although it stands in the way of progress, neither can progress exist without it.

Resistance is the sub-conscious trying to protect itself from that which may overwhelm or hurt it. Progress means change, which goes hand in hand with greater openness and vulnerability. But many of us have spent years or decades closing off or pushing down those things we want least to address, and we have built sky-high walls and fortresses to protect ourselves. No wonder part of us fights so hard against any penetration of that barrier, and any letting in of light. The sub-conscious is powerful; the bigger the therapeutic change, the bigger the backlash and the assault upon us.

Resistance won’t always look or feel like resistance.  It can seem more like a benign friend, than an enemy – it can be so persuasive that it can fool us into believing that it is our ‘better self’ speaking. At other times it really can appear as ugly as it is  – but somehow we are irresistibly drawn to it anyway. It seems to be simply a mirror of how we see ourselves – with shame and disgust – and we fall into its arms because it is such a familiar place to be.

It laughs at me tonight, as I write this post. How easy it is to catch you out, it says. How easy it is to use your good feelings and security for cover, your writing and your research as bait, and to lead you into trouble. How ironic, it laughs, that writing about resistance should make you less resistant to it. Writing, I guess, is a kind of ‘summoning’ – and you don’t always know what words or feelings are going to answer the call.

***

A little over a year ago, there was a noticeable step-change in the progress I was making in therapy. Just before the Easter therapy break I started to feel a great deal more compassion towards myself than I had ever done before, and I experienced that in the form of a feeling of connection with my ‘inner child’ (who I had previously hated), and a much deeper sense of trust and connection with my therapist. The therapy break that followed was the first in which I managed to sustain that feeling of connection without it feeling like an exhausting daily battle against myself.

But the break was followed by the very distressing events described in my post ‘BPD as addiction’. Despite the progress I had made, part of me clung onto the cycle of rupture and repair that I was so used to; and onto the connection between love and pain that had previously made sense to me. It led my therapist to question whether she was really helping me, and it was an enormous wake-up call for me. However, the problem with a full-scale assault is that it’s not exactly subtle. My resistance could no longer trip me up from the side-lines; I had changed and raised the stakes too high. At least now I was self-aware enough to be able to see what I was dealing with.

***

More recently, I described another similar step-change when my therapist helped me to realise that I still sometimes kept her at arms’ length, and that I was engaging with her more in my imagination, than I was when we were face-to-face in session. I became absolutely determined that I would strive to allow her closer, and that I would try and stay present and engaged in session. I started to make some changes, including in how I thought and acted in relation to email outside session.

My determination to be vulnerable and engaged led to an intense session where I tried to get to grips with the content of a dream I’d had, in a way that I don’t think I have done before. Instead of just ‘reporting it’ to my therapist, I tried to let my mind wander onto what it made me think of, what it might connect to, what it brought to mind. What it brought to mind was a whole load of shame and anger, and those feelings traveled with me out of session, and made me want to destroy myself. Instead, almost without thinking – more as a distraction, initially, but then more as an obsession – I started another episode of ‘googling’ my therapist. It’s something I rarely do these days, and when I do, it is at times I feel less secure or more resistant.

This particular episode ended up being extremely distressing because I felt very strongly that it was a betrayal. Though I hadn’t been looking for it, my searching inadvertently resulted in me discovering something about her that, when I had once asked her a direct question about it, she had refused to tell me. It was big shock, and I stopped googling immediately; but the damage – in terms of how I felt about myself, and how I thought she would now feel about me – was done.

We worked through it in the next two sessions – she focused on trying to help me understand what had motivated me and why it had happened. She seemed less personally disturbed by the events, than I was afraid she would be. Though I felt very strongly that I deserved ‘punishment’, nothing like that was forthcoming. I had acted in a way that made me fear my therapist might be so upset or angry with me, that it could seriously jeopardize our therapeutic relationship and the ongoing work – which was presumably, as far as my resistance was concerned, the point. However, somehow I ended the week with a renewed determination to continue being open and engaged, despite what felt like an enormous step backwards and a clear incidence of self-sabotage.

But the beast is not so easily slayed, and the first session of the following week found me sitting in silence, feeling completely stuck, and unable to speak. I wanted – really, really wanted – to carry on as I had done in the session where I spoke about my dream. I wanted to talk, to grapple with my difficulties, to free-associate. I wanted to work together with my therapist, to feel close to her. Instead, she felt far away and I felt empty of material. She encouraged me to try and tolerate not knowing what to say, and to wait and see what came up, whereas I desperately wanted her to do something or say something to help me move forward. I couldn’t tolerate the waiting; and that re-opened the door to the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

***

This time, I thought I was helping, not destroying myself. This time, I thought I had the upper hand – over myself. I should have become suspicious when that somehow turned into something like wanting to have the upper hand in therapy, or at least to try and influence the way my therapist interacted. I did what I used to do in the first couple of years of sessions, when I felt I didn’t really know how the process worked or what I was doing – I read a book about therapy. I had stopped doing this as much, when my therapist pointed out it would be helpful to focus on my own unique therapeutic journey, rather than on the tales of others. It’s too easy to start seeing yourself in the stories of others, and to get drawn down a path that isn’t truly your own.

However, I picked up another Irvin Yalom, and was particularly struck by the story of a resistant patient, mired in grief, who tried to show Yalom how he was failing to see her and engage with her grief, by giving him a long poem to read that she felt mirrored their therapeutic struggle. As soon as I finished reading the story, I emailed my therapist and asked her to read it, because I was hoping we could discuss it. About an hour later I realised with a very great deal of embarrassment that I had simply repeated what I had read – I had sent my therapist something to read that I felt mirrored what we were going through.

Nevertheless, I persisted in talking about it at my next session, in a way that I was afraid would sound rather critical – which, indeed, it did. My motivation, however, at least so far as I was conscious of it, was a positive one, and I felt well-intentioned and still connected to my therapist. I thought that I was simply trying to figure a way out of the ‘stuckness’ so that I could carry through my determination to engage more with her in session. I didn’t see the problem, at the time, of the fact that my strategy seemed to involve telling her she didn’t always engage with me. I tried to emphasize the fact that it wasn’t that I wanted her to be a different sort of therapist to the one she was; what I simply wanted was more of the times when I felt she ‘got her hands dirty’, and ‘gave more’. I think to myself now, and I say to my own self of only a couple of weeks ago: if you want to know whether resistance is at play, look at who it is you are asking to change – however good the reasons might seem.

***

I am back on track in therapy – but the beast is always biting at my heels. Resistance, thy name is bloodhound, terrier, shape-shifter, chameleon. Sometimes you use tools that are well-worn and sure-fire winners; other times you come up with something new and entirely unexpected. I would enjoy your creativity if you weren’t such a ravenous and soul-destroying bitch.

There is a saying in popular culture – “Resistance is futile”. Futile can mean pointless, but resistance always has a point – it is its own end-point. But futile can also mean ‘fruitless’, and resistance, if it cannot be worked through and becomes its own end-point, can rob therapy of the fruit of its labours. Ultimately, we are in therapy to change, whether in major ways or minor ones. For some of us, the change could be so big that the quality – if not the outward appearance – of our life after therapy, can be radically different. And so it is, that:

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” *

 

* quote by Steven Pressfield

 

 

 


10 Comments

Yoga, internal parts, and therapy

In an article for the therapy website welldoing.org back in January, I wrote about the ways in which Yin yoga supports my therapy. As well as the physical and emotional benefits of a yoga practice, I mentioned that for me personally, yoga was also an opportunity to ‘catch-up’ with the ‘parts of myself’, or my internal ‘personas’. I find that though my mind doesn’t tend to wander onto the events of the day or onto my to-do-list for the coming week, it does drift off into ‘daydreams’ (or ‘yoga imaginings’ as I call them when I discuss them with my therapist). Those ‘imaginings’ tend to centre on my various internal characters, and rather than being elaborate stories, they are often only a simple set of images or interactions, often wordless.

Like dreams, I have found them fascinating to try and interpret, and also like dreams, they seem to offer insight into how I am feeling, and in particular, how I am feeling about therapy and the therapeutic relationship. I find it fascinating how my ‘imaginings’ have changed over time – but rather than changing gradually, there have been significant key differences or step-changes at particular points in time, which reflect the deepening of my therapeutic relationship and the changes that are occurring within me.

There have been three key developments in my ‘yoga imaginings’ that I have identified since I started yoga in September, the most recent of which happened only last weekend. It used to be that the only protagonists of these scenarios or images, were my internal parts, which interacted with each other. But then, on one occasion when my inner child was crying alone in the snow, next to the unfinished house described in this post (which symbolises my ‘self’ and my therapy being a ‘work in progress’), my therapist appeared in the picture, took off her blue cardigan, and put it around my inner child’s shoulders, to comfort her. Since then, the figure of my therapist has almost always been part of these imaginings, and I have taken that as a reflection of the way in which I am internalising her and am able to hold onto a connection with her – who is both my ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ therapy-mother – when we are apart.

The second change occurred within the last month, and followed on closely from the incidents described in my post ‘When I realised how much therapy has helped me change’ (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). Rather than visualising my ‘internal parts’, I found myself gazing internally at a picture of ‘adult me’ standing on a beach and looking out to sea. The air and water were calm, but in the far distance, a storm was brewing. I called out for my therapist, and she came to join me. She took my hand and we looked out at what was to come, together. I said that I was scared, and she said that she was with me. It felt significant to me, that this was the first time that ‘adult me’ had appeared in the picture, and the first time therefore that my therapist’s interaction was with that developing part of me, rather than with a younger or a more resistant aspect. Given the deep trust I have felt recently in therapy, and the strong determination to be open and vulnerable and to engage more fully, this change in my ‘yoga imaginings’ made complete sense, and acted almost like validation or verification of what was taking place both within me, and during sessions.

And then last weekend I was taken by surprise by the third change, which occurred in the form of a spontaneous ‘internal comment’. Over the last few months, four characters in particular have been dominant in my internal world and imaginings. Three of those characters feel like ‘core elements’ of myself; one has felt like an aspect that I needed to ‘win over’ and integrate in some way. That fourth character is the ‘I-don’t-care’ part of myself – the defensive, resistant part that comes to the surface to defend me and cut me off from pain and from attachment. I’ve known for a while that she is ‘problematic’ and gets in the way of me feeling my feelings and being vulnerable or authentic, but I always used to think that somehow I just needed to ‘give her a heart’ and win her over.

It was a complete surprise, therefore, when, during one of my yoga poses at the weekend, she tried to enter the picture where the other three characters were present, and they said to her “you have no place here”. It felt like a bizarre type of free-association, because it seemed as though it came out of nowhere and completely flew in the face of what I thought I was aiming to do with the more resistant parts of myself. My therapist has long spoken about keeping them at bay, but previously I was always wary of that, as it didn’t feel right to ignore them or to stave them off. However, when other aspects of myself told that part of me that she had ‘no place here’, it felt right, somehow. A little sad, maybe, but right. Again, it felt very much as though this development was a reflection of the changes I was trying to make in terms of being more engaged and vulnerable in therapy, and not keeping my therapist at arms’ length.

I’m looking forward to discovering what else my ‘yoga imaginings’ have to tell me! I don’t think this is quite what my yoga teacher has in mind when she talks us through poses during the classes, but it’s an invaluable part of my practice, and a helpful, motivating, and validating adjunct to my therapy…..


11 Comments

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…..


5 Comments

When I realised how much therapy has helped me change – Part 3

[Please click on the hyperlinks for Part 2 and Part 1 of this post – the parts follow on from each other.]

Thursday

By the time I arrived at my therapy session, I felt absolutely determined to stay open and vulnerable to whatever it was my therapist had to say. I needed her to explain what she had meant when she said that part of me wanted a replacement mother and that I wasn’t seeing her as herself. The immense fear that her words would undermine the way that I had come to see our relationship, as ‘therapy-mother’ and ‘therapy-daughter’, and therefore undermine what I felt was the basis of the changes that had taken place over the last couple of years, as well as the foundation of ongoing work, was still present. But there was also a determination to accept her words, whatever they meant, and to continue to work with her. I felt a deep trust, and a conviction that she was still just as committed to me, and cared just as much. I was also, of course, hoping that my fear was without foundation.

She smiled, and thanked me for holding on and coming back, despite how I had been feeling. I wish I could remember more of the details of the session, so that I could describe how it all unfolded. But it became evident quite quickly that she had no intention of ‘doing away with therapy-mother’. She was still ‘therapy-mother’; and I should add that she had always been clear, and I had always understood – however painful it felt to try and accept – that this was a different sort of relationship to a biological mother-daughter relationship, and was not a replacement for what was missing either in the past or in the present. Even as she was talking, I was still waiting for the ‘bad news’ which I had been fearing, and had to ask for reassurance on that point in fairly direct terms. I had to feel sure that she had not somehow changed her mind or felt uncomfortable about the role I saw her in – that I thought she saw herself in. I had to feel sure that I could continue to think of her as ‘therapy-mother’ without wondering whether I was deceiving myself. She did reassure me, but that still left the question – what did she mean by her words on the Tuesday, and in particular, what did she mean when she said that I wasn’t seeing her as herself?

***

It turns out that though I had been terrified that what she wanted was to put a little more distance between us, what she actually wanted was for me to allow her to come closer. When she spoke about me not seeing her as she was, she was referring to the fact that I seemed to have a very active ‘relationship’ with her in my head, but often kept her at arms’ length during session. I imagined how sessions would go and had conversations with her in my mind; I sent her long emails describing my dreams or daydreams; I often talked about feeling connected over the weekends. But then in session things would go differently to how I had imagined and that would get in the way of relating to her; when I referenced my dreams I simply presented them rather than engaging with her in trying to understand them; and I often sat in silence, not knowing what to say, unable to simply say what came to mind (or freezing with fear of not having anything to say).

I was relating to a version of her that lived in my head – but what she really wanted was for me to relate to the therapy-mother who sat in front of me three times a week. She wanted me to try and overcome the resistance to therapy that was sometimes present in me, and to try not to shut her out – something I am sure that I subconsciously find a million and one creative ways of doing. She wanted to try and keep more of our work actually in the room, rather than outside it. I asked her if it was a problem that I emailed her with updates or dreams. She said it wasn’t the fact that I emailed the material that was the problem, but what I then did with it (or, by implication, didn’t do with it), when I brought it to her in person.

Her words to me on the Tuesday were a natural consequence of how she had experienced me during the previous week in therapy, and over the last weekend (described in Part 1). After I passive-aggressively resisted working with her on some dreams on the Friday, she admitted that she had then felt unconnected over the weekend; whereas I, for various reasons which she couldn’t have known about, felt extremely close to her. When I addressed her in an email over the weekend in terms that made it clear how connected I felt, it was completely discordant with how she had experienced our last interaction.

As well as being very reassuring (she wasn’t trying to push me away), her words struck me deeply and made a huge impression. Hearing that she sometimes felt kept at arms’ length, and that I sometimes didn’t really engage with her in person, was upsetting because it was the opposite of what I really wanted. It was the opposite of what the more adult, non-resistant parts of me wanted, even if other aspects of myself tried to sabotage therapeutic relationship and change. She gives me her full attention, which is part of herself, for three hours every week; she holds a safe space for me, she accepts me, she cares about me, and she wants to help me help myself to change. She wants to really work with me, to grapple, to engage, to ‘get to grips with’ – I feel ashamed now, thinking that I accused her of sometimes not doing those things, the very next week (more of that to come!). Given all of that, it seemed inconceivable that I should spend more time relating to her in my head, than deeply relating to her in person. For someone who has a dread of loss and running out of time, it was clear to me that I was nevertheless missing out on an enormous amount.

***

After my session, I sent the following email to my therapist (only extracts are given here):

“After today’s session I was amazed (and still am) at how differently this has gone, to how things would have been a couple of years ago. It’s hard to convey how strange but wonderful it feels to know that despite the initial reaction and feelings on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, I felt connected still throughout it all, I was aware of a very deep-seated sense of trust, and felt sure that you were still the same, you hadn’t changed, and you were fundamentally good and well intentioned, and I trusted in that….connection and belief in your ‘goodness’ was strong enough to over-ride those immense issues of survival and the huge fear of extinction/destruction.”

And with regard to my therapist telling me that she had felt unconnected over the preceding weekend (something that would have caused me a great deal of alarm and pain in the past, as I would have felt rejected and would have feared abandonment):

“I think it’s the first time you’ve said you hadn’t felt connected, and again I’m glad you told me – it’s helpful to know that you can sometimes feel that way too (and I think it’s good I don’t find that frightening – because I trust in what you’ve told me so many times, that the connection is there, even when I don’t feel it, so I trust you apply those words to yourself, too)”.

Post-Thursday

Since then,  I have felt determined to try and stay open and vulnerable and not keep my therapist at a distance – though the subconscious is an incredibly powerful thing, as I discovered (anew) in the following week. I have also felt determined to try and keep more of the work in the room (rather than in my head or over email), and to really engage with what I’m bringing, even if it’s only to express the fact that I really want to engage but don’t know where to start – often that’s the first step to getting into a conversation that might otherwise have not happened, or might have been preceded by a lengthy and unhelpful silence. In fact, though it’s difficult to define, I have noticed that this feeling of ‘determination’ (and that does seem to be the best descriptor) is a key factor that enables me to stay in a more vulnerable and engaged place in therapy. I don’t feel as though I am entirely in control of it, and sometimes I think of it as a key characteristic of the more ‘adult’ part of me. But I remember its presence strongly from pivotal moments in therapy last year, and I have felt it repeatedly over the last few weeks. In the context of therapy, it is a word that is linked to many other things in my mind – to commitment, acceptance, courage, vulnerability, and love – but determination seems to be what allows the other things to come to the fore. Or perhaps it destroys the resistance, which tries to hold the other things down.

Ironically, given that one of the triggers for these events centred around my handling of dreams, I had a revealing dream the night before I saw my therapist on the Thursday. I dreamed that I was hiding in the toilets of a large building, from a marauding T-Rex who was about to destroy the crowds of people in a large hall. My immediate association to the T-Rex was that it was my therapist, about to annihilate the foundation of our therapy, and my internal world. But perhaps it would be more accurate to see it as a part of me, as my resistance, preying on myself. Certainly, in the light of what happened next, the picture couldn’t have been more appropriate – my subconscious resistance is no docile, slow-moving, herbivore, but a swift, powerful, and destructive predator.


6 Comments

When I realised how much therapy has helped me change – Part 2

[The first part of this post (without which this Part may not make as much sense!) can be found here. Though originally I thought this would be a two-part post, it has now become clear it is at least a three-part (and possibly a four-part!) post. Part 3 will follow next week….]

Tuesday

When I got home I was still reeling from the shock of my therapy session. I was intensely hurt, upset, angry, confused, afraid……I sent this email to my therapist:

“I clearly made a mistake in addressing my email as I did at the weekend. But if you think I was looking for a particular response, you’re wrong. Right now I really really don’t want to come back on Thursday. You know I will, anyway. But I’m in shock and it feels like everything is under threat and about to come tumbling down.”

It felt as though everything had been destroyed – or was on the verge of being so. It felt as though I had built a convenient fabrication around our relationship, and that she had let me do it, only now to try to jettison her ‘therapy mother’ role when it had become too uncomfortable, and when I got too close. Suddenly I didn’t really know what was real anymore. I felt as though she had lied, if not directly, then by omission. I didn’t see how we could possibly carry on working together when the picture I had built up of our relationship, and what I thought I had been experiencing – which formed the supporting structure of the therapy – had just been torn down. Or at least, that was what I was afraid had just happened. I recalled the many occasions when my therapist had herself used the terminology of ‘therapy-mother’ and ‘therapy-daughter’, and wondered how I could trust her when she was apparently trying to tell me that I was ‘seeing her all wrong’ (my words)?

And yet…….this is when I first noticed something was different – about me. Because though my feelings were very intense, and though part of me wanted never to see her again, I still went to sleep that night, as I always do, holding onto the small stone that she gave me as a transition object just before our long summer therapy break last year.

Wednesday

I woke with the same intense feelings that I had experienced the night before. I felt lost in a fog, circling the edge of a chasm that I could not see. My therapist replied to my email, to say that she could see that this was difficult for me. She also said that I did not make a mistake in addressing my email, and that “therapy is not about getting it right, but about discovering about yourself”. I was at work and could not reply – and I did not feel like replying, at that stage. I suspected that she wasn’t really aware of the enormous impact her words had had on me.

Strangely, as the day wore on, I began to feel a little better. On the one hand, this was not surprising, as I switch very quickly and effectively into ‘work mode’, compartmentalising and shutting off other parts of me, and their feelings. In addition, it’s routine for me to simply shut off very painful feelings and prevent myself from feeling them.

But I sensed that my feeling better was not simply a result of those two factors. I sensed that it wasn’t just that I had locked the intense feelings away, but that they were actually becoming less intense. The thoughts that the night before had seemed so all-consuming that they felt like a certainty, felt more like frightening possibilities (even perhaps probabilities), which were laced with doubts. The sense that my therapist had not been honest with me, that I needed to run because our relationship had been undermined, was slowly changing into the rational thought that I knew her and trusted her, and there must be some explanation for what had happened. Gradually – though with lightning speed compared to the rate at which my reactions would have changed two years ago – I was coming round to the idea that I needed to stay open and vulnerable. I needed to face whatever it was that she had meant by her words on Tuesday, and to go forward from there, with her, whatever that ‘with her’, looked like.

The night before, I had experienced two mental images, two choices that were open to me. On the one hand, my ‘internal parts’ (my inner child, teenager, and others) were ‘putting my therapist to death’ – removing her, that is, from my inner world, from my thoughts and my feelings. On the other hand, there was an image of my therapist destroying that ‘internal family’ – which is what I was afraid would happen, if I continued to ‘let her in’.

That evening, I sent my therapist the following email (only extracts are included here). I started off by replying to her statement that I was finding things ‘difficult’:

“No, it was more than difficult – it felt catastrophic. Last night it felt as though between us we may have undone almost four years’ worth of work. It felt as though everything I had built up or been allowed to think or believe was a lie, or just my own fabrication. I didn’t want to see you again, or I wanted to end therapy soon – because I didn’t trust you and therefore how could we carry on. Strangely, I didn’t cry. I think my protective side jumped in immediately to stop me feeling too much. I started to dismantle my inner world and images – it felt as though you had no place in it anymore. Something can only be internalised, if there is a corresponding external something, to internalise in the first place. Otherwise it’s just a construction and a fabrication. If what I thought I was internalising didn’t actually exist….then the internalised version had no claim on that inner space.

……I want to trust you and I don’t want confirmation that I have been deluding myself or that you have been lying by omission. But I do want you to be honest with me, at the same time.

I’m just trying to convey what it felt like last night and this morning. I wouldn’t be writing this if part of me didn’t still trust you and didn’t still, strangely, feel a bit connected, despite what felt like a threat of annihilation….”

Amazingly, I did still feel connected, and I rapidly followed up my email with this one:

“I keep thinking about all of this, I can’t switch my mind off. I think I want to work through this with you, whatever the outcome. Because you’re the same person that you were before; even if you think my perception of you or how I think of things, is not quite right. And so it feels as though I stand to lose a huge amount- stuff without which I’m not even sure how I would make sense of things/therapy anymore. But you would be there and would be the same person even if I felt as though I’d lost you. Whatever was left would still be worth a lot. I don’t know if any of that makes any sense…..”

My abiding sense, as I went to sleep that night, holding my therapist’s stone once again, was that I knew her, and she was the same person now, as she had been before. She was the person that I loved, respected, and trusted, and with whom I had shared so many difficult and joyful times in therapy, and who had been there for me and present with me, supported, upheld, and accepted me, and cared about me.  That hadn’t changed, I felt absolutely sure of it – irrespective of what had happened, or how I felt. My core inner view of her stayed constant, and I wasn’t ‘splitting* her’. In that respect, at least, it was as if I hardly recognised myself anymore.

 

[* – In splitting, an individual may see themselves, or another person, as either entirely good, or entirely bad. Fundamentally, ‘splitting’ is all about a difficulty in holding opposing feelings, thoughts or beliefs about oneself or about another person, and an inability to bring opposing attributes together, and to see them as part of a cohesive whole. Splitting is one of the nine DSM IV criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, and the criterion is worded as follows: “A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation”.]