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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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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Marnie Uncovered

On Friday I heard Zara Larsson’s ‘Uncover’ sung by a boy soprano. Somehow, I’d never heard the song before, and the combination of the music and the amazing tone of his voice, left me with tears streaming down my face. Once I ‘get into’ a song, I tend to listen to it on repeat, and so I have been playing it almost constantly on Youtube since then.

As I was listening to it today, with the words of yesterday’s post on the book ‘When Marnie was there’, still very much in my mind, I found myself thinking of this as Anna and Marnie’s song, at least in the beginning phases of their friendship, before they started, together, to change. They were each other’s secret, and in the safety of their friendship, they started to uncover their real selves and reveal things that neither of them had spoken about before.

Anna moved nearer and the girl said, still in a half-whisper. ‘You remember I said last night that you were my secret?’ Anna nodded ‘I knew just what you meant. You’re mine.’

‘There are all sorts of things I want to know about you……. – and yet, in a way, I don’t want to know them all – …….No, that’s wrong! I do want to know. But I want to find them out slowly, by myself, as we go along….’

‘I’ve been so lonely’, said Anna, surprised to hear herself saying it- it was so rare for her to confide in anyone.

Here, when the tide was out, they spent hours altering the course of steams, and making tiny villages out of mud and sand.

Running back across the fields with Marnie, she felt as light as air.

I like this version of the video because, unlike later versions, Zara Larsson looks like the teenage girl that she is, a young girl with long blonde hair, only a few years older than Marnie would have been in the story. The song lyrics follow below…..

Nobody sees, Nobody knows
We are a secret, can’t be exposed
That’s how it is, That’s how it goes
Far from the others
Close to each other

In the daylight, in the daylight
When the sun is shining
On a late night, on a late night
When the moon is blinding
In plain sight, plain sight
Like stars in hiding
You and I burn on, on

Put 2 and 2gether – 4ever
We’ll never change
2 and 2gether
We’ll never change

Nobody sees, Nobody knows
We are a secret, can’t be exposed
That’s how it is, That’s how it goes
Far from the others
Close to each other
That’s when we uncover, cover, cover [x2]

My asylum, My asylum
Is in your arms
When the world gives heavy burdens
I can bare a thousand tons
On your shoulder, on your shoulder
I can reach an endless sky
Feels like paradise

Put 2 and 2gether – 4ever
We’ll never change
2 and 2gether
We’ll never change

Nobody sees, Nobody knows
We are a secret, can’t be exposed
That’s how it is, That’s how it goes
Far from the others
Close to each other
That’s when we uncover, cover, cover [x2]

We could build a universe right here
All the world could disappear
Wouldn’t notice, wouldn’t care

We could build a universe right here
The world could disappear
Yeah I just need you near

Nobody sees, Nobody knows
We are a secret, can’t be exposed
That’s how it is, That’s how it goes
Far from the others
Close to each other
That’s when we uncover, cover, cover [x2]
That’s when we uncover

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 


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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”.