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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Uncensored: jumbled thoughts, post-therapy pain

[Usually, I like my posts to have a structure – a beginning, middle and an end. This post is a departure. It has a great many beginnings, some middles and no real end. It’s mostly failed beginnings, as I tried to start over and over and over again. At some point I gave up and simply started writing down thoughts as they came to mind. Paragraphs. Single sentences. At another point I started writing aborted beginnings again. There is no logical structure – and a fair amount of repetition.

It was a few days ago – and three hours after my last therapy session. I was hurting and I was very confused. For the last few sessions as well as dealing with the ‘content of therapy’, we kept coming back to the ‘process of therapy’ itself, which for me, was rapidly becoming a major part of the content. It felt as though almost every thought, feeling or conversation I was having, was coming up against a way in which I was wanting therapy or my therapist to be something other than what they were. I was finding it difficult to accept them, and therefore to be open to what they could give me. 

I know there is no ‘route map’ for therapy. That some of the most renowned therapists have no idea how the process actually works – they just know that it does. And so I have always tried to accept the uncertainty of not really knowing how therapy was going to unfold or what my precise destination was. But recently, and particularly at my last session, I felt completely lost, with absolutely no sense of what I was meant to be doing, of how I should behave, or of what might constitute progress; while at the same time feeling that those thoughts were ‘wrong’ because there was no ‘right way’ of proceeding in these matters.

So these, for what they’re worth, are my jumbled thoughts and feelings, as they were at the time. I share them not because they are particularly helpful or insightful, or explanatory – but only in case someone else may be feeling exactly the same way, and may want to know that they have company in those feelings, and that some of them, at least, may be short-lived. I no longer wish to undo what I have been doing; I don’t regret trusting (to whatever extent I may have done that), taking risks, loving. But I’m still confused – about many things. And I’m still not sure how to ‘do therapy’ – if not ‘better’, then at least in a way that is more helpful to me. But, as my therapist said, the more I can simply experience it rather than analyse how I’m doing it, the more we can work on together. Including what that ‘togetherness’ actually means.]

I feel horribly confused. Nothing makes sense. I feel diminished. Hopelessly diminished. Or hopeless and diminished, or both.

***

Maybe I should try and see her as my doctor. As just a professional who’s there to help me. But that is what she is, isn’t she? And maybe not constantly reminding myself of that is the biggest part of the problem.

***

I feel as though I want to undo everything that I have done or that has happened since I entered therapy. All the progress I thought I’d made, all the things I thought I’d realised. The way I thought I’d trusted and opened myself up. The acceptance I thought I’d felt. It all feels like a lie or a massive self-deception.

***

I feel numb with a dense ball of pain inside my chest. Squeezed up so tight, so that the rest of me can just be unfeeling and still, while a little part sits still and hurts.

***

If this is all just material for therapy, how does therapy work? I can emotionally disengage from the emotion – that’s fine. I can treat it as ‘material’ – but that involves even greater compartmentalisation, not less.

***

The world was safer before therapy. I may have been dysfunctional but I understood my dysfunction. It worked, it kept me safe. I knew what the end goal was – protection and survival. Now I have no idea what I’m striving for.

***

I feel diminished. As if everything I thought I’d understood was a lie or a convenient piece of self-deception. As if every time I felt a sense of acceptance it was based on an error. My error. It feels as though I can never get it right.

***

I don’t want to be a bother. All I ever wanted to do was the right thing.

***

I feel as though everything I thought I’d understood or achieved over the last two years was a make-believe story – a convenient piece of self-deception. Every little piece of ‘acceptance’ feels empty, illusory, based on a misunderstanding or misapprehension about what was going on. I feel diminished. Utterly diminished.

***

So the goal of therapy is to understand where these feelings come from. But who’s going to pay attention to the experience of the feelings themselves? What do I do with them? How do they go away? Are they even real? Or am I simply my own interpreter? Who experiences me? Are the feelings only the instrument of understanding?

***

I can’t write and it’s driving me crazy. I feel gagged, bound up, trussed by an inability to express myself to myself.

***

I feel diminished. I don’t understand. I feel like there is nothing of me left, except the edifice that I knocked down and that now needs to be built up again. I wish I’d never trusted. I wish I’d never let myself feel.

***

I feel as though nothing I say, do or feel is right. I’m not even right to think and feel that there is a right way to think and feel. I am caught up in vicious circles that it seems impossible to escape. I’m trying to step outside my worldview to put it right, but just like stepping outside of language, that’s impossible. It’s a task that can only happen from within – but I have no idea where to start.

***

“Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold,
Than we who wake, and waking say Alas! “ *

***

Therapy means always thinking about what the feelings mean and what they’re telling me. If I’m missing her it has to be because of ‘this’ or ‘that’ or because she’s representing ‘so-and-so’ or ‘a.n. other’. Is there no room for me just missing her? Is there no room for the experience being meaningful and not just its interpretation? I can bring the feeling to therapy and we can talk about it. But who deals with the feeling in the moment? What deals with it? Do I just file it away for future reference? As I have always filed feelings away? Oh look, I miss her. Isn’t that interesting. Let’s talk about it in two days time. Won’t that be nice. The fact is I miss her and it’s visceral and it’s real and the only antidote feels like some comfort, a sense of her presence or some simple words.

***

Is she only ever a representation? Not real within herself? At least, not to me? Only ever a projection?

***

I need to get my head around the fact that she shouldn’t mean this much to me. That she should be like a doctor or a colleague. Someone there to help me with a problem but not to get emotionally invested in.

***

I dreamed that I had a building made of white lego, with a white terrace at the top with lots of tables and chairs on it. I dreamed that I started to dismantle the lego and take the supporting bricks out from under the terrace. In the end, it was like a letter ‘U’ laying on its side. A bottom, and a top, with nothing in between. It looked and felt fragile, with no underpinning. What would happen to that terrace?

***

I feel like that lego structure. I feel diminished. As if everything I thought I’d understood and felt in connection with therapy, has been dismantled. Over the last two years I thought I was building something – but now I realise it’s all just air.

***

I felt accepted at least partly due to a sense of freedom to express myself and make myself and my needs known, in the moment, rather than being held back always by politeness, or fear, or propriety, or wanting to protect her from myself. Spontaneity and freedom as opposed to constant questioning, over-thinking, rumination, self-doubt, anxiety. And all without judgment. But that was a mistake.

***

I don’t want to be any trouble. All I ever wanted to do was the right thing.

***

Maybe it would work better if I saw her just as a professional who is there to help me with something. But that is exactly what she is. And perhaps that is the heart of the matter.

***

She is just a professional there to help me. Repeat after me. Endless times, please. Until I can believe it. Until I can act on it.

***

But for me professional means unemotional and unattached. No connectedness. If she is just a professional there to help me I should be able to go in, talk about how I’m feeling, have a conversation, leave, feel better or perhaps not feel better. But not think about her. Not dream about her. Not want to be close to her. Not miss her. Not want to share everything with her. I wouldn’t feel that way about my doctor – so why should I feel that way about her? It feels like I’m trying to talk myself into something and I don’t even know if it makes any sense.

[* quote from ‘Asleep’ by Wilfred Owen]


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Memory Monday – “PayBACS – a tale of BPD splitting”

This is a very early post, and the only one I’ve written specifically about ‘splitting’ (or ‘black and white thinking’). This is despite the fact that it permeates so much of my thinking and appears regularly as an aspect of other posts as well. Although it describes a specific incident that happened after one of my therapy sessions, for me at least, the reactions and feelings involved are typical of my ‘splitting’, irrespective of the context in which it happens. This is the link to the post:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/04/11/paybacs-a-tale-of-bpd-splitting/

It feels particularly pertinent for me at the moment, as for the first time in many months (probably since September and the end of the long August ‘therapy break’), I am finding my perceptions of, and feelings about my therapist, changing on an almost daily basis, and alternating from idealization to devaluation and back. The cycle is broken only by days when my feelings are of apathy and lack of feeling.  I remember how I used to hate never knowing how I was going to feel about her from one day to the next – and how I thought that that ‘phase’ was behind me, during those months of almost undisturbed ‘adoration’ between September and December. I need to remember that therapy is not a straight road but a winding path, which often doubles back upon itself so that it appears that we are going over the same ground, and through the same terrain, again. ‘This too shall pass’, I can hear a friend of mine saying  – I’m sure that’s right, but I’m still no clearer about the eventual destination….


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PayBACS – a tale of BPD splitting

“Please pay by cheque or BACS”.

An ordinary little phrase at the bottom at my most recent bill from my therapist, who I have been paying by cash for the last few months. Brief, polite, perfectly innocuous. And also the spark that lit the touchpaper of an almighty episode of splitting which occurred during and after my therapy appointment a couple of weeks ago.

Let me explain.

The evening started off perfectly ordinarily. That is, I felt usually dysthymic, and was driving to my appointment wondering what I should talk about that week. Grief over losing my ex-therapist? No – overdone. Feeling uncared for in my current therapy sessions? No, potentially too confrontational (at least, in my head), and I wasn’t sure I had the energy for either a lot of crying or a lot of criticizing. Rather serious difficulties in my marriage caused my long-term irritability, withdrawal, giving my husband the silent treatment, and a whole host of other BPD related symptoms? Probably – for one thing, my therapist actually tends to talk a little more when we are on the subject of my marriage. Which for me, is a good thing. An ongoing issue between us is her tendency to leave long silences and to let me do most of the talking, and my frequent paralysis in the silences, and desire for more of a discussion.

But I digress.

I entered the room and in an instant, the mood (not that there was one, other than in my own personal headspace) changed. Sitting on the table next to ‘my’ chair were three books by Susan Hill. I had talked to my therapist about the complex emotions I had felt while reading a Susan Hill book recently, and the fact that I had then blogged about it. We discovered a mutual love of the author (or, at least, I discovered that she had read a number of Susan Hill books, and this immediately became a peg off which to hang a ‘mutual passion’ and a ‘point of connection’ between us).

But this was something else besides.

On the one hand, my therapist was simply lending me some books. As she said in a later session, she was aware that there was a break coming up over Easter, and wondered whether the books might help to ‘tide me over’. But on the other hand, the little pile of books on the table (carefully chosen, it seemed to me, to cover the topic of grief and loss, which she knew was a preoccupation of mine), was an indication that she had actually thought about me between sessions. And not just thought about me – had thought about what I might like or what might be useful to me, and had then taken action to do something about it. Maybe, it was even an indication that she cared about me – just a little bit. Purely professionally, of course. But still, that was caring of a sort.

I was elated – smiley, happy, chatty.

The tone had been set for the rest of the session. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, but it felt good. I  felt that we were getting on, that we were getting somewhere, that we were connecting. She felt friendly to me. When I looked at her, I saw laughter and kindness in her eyes. She didn’t seem stern, as she sometimes did when I felt suspicious, wary, or confrontational towards her. I know that a lot of it is projection – the way she looks to me, and how she comes across to me during a session, is very much a function of how I feel towards her at the time. I project my feelings about her, onto her, and see them reflected back at me. But somehow the intellectual appreciation of the fact, doesn’t change my ‘emotional reality’ – knowing it isn’t the same as emotionally believing it.

I was most definitely ‘splitting’.

And she was most definitely in the ‘good’ camp. In the ‘blazing white’, though short of a halo (as that status belongs only to my ex-therapist), camp. As I drove home, I had several ‘OMG I love her’ thoughts. Not in a completely obsessional, utterly taken over, ex-therapist kind of a way, but in a ‘isn’t she great, I just love her’ kind of a way. I felt warm and fuzzy inside. I was looking forward to the next session, and thinking I might even be able to broach the ‘wanting to feel cared for in therapy’ issue, without too much embarrassment and without it feeling too difficult or confrontational. I thought it might even feel safe. I arrived at home and parked in front of the house. I took out her bill that I had picked up just as I was leaving the session.

“Please pay by cheque or BACS”.

What the **** was she trying to do to me? It was an instant flare-up of anger. It was a physical sensation of being punched in the stomach when I least expected it. It hurt from head to toe. And there was an awful lot of swearing going on in my head. [That’s the only place it tends to go on – I’m sadly far too repressed to actually verbalise the swearing. I get a secret pleasure out of hearing my friends swear – of all the ways to live vicariously…..!].

I hated her. With a passion.

All my most deeply felt criticisms of her came flooding back into my mind, and any trace of positive emotion was gone. How could she do this to me? This was just another example of her behaving in an X, Y, or Z kind of a way. It may have said ‘Please pay by cheque or BACS’, but what it actually meant was…..

I sense a bit of interpretation may be required.

BPD can make you hyper-sensitive to criticism. It can make you hear or read things into words or sentences, that aren’t really there. It can assign meanings to something said or written, based on a huge amount of personal history and ‘baggage’, rather than on what was intended by the other person. When my husband asked me to fold my car wing-mirrors back when parking on our narrow road, in case they were hit by another car, all I heard was an attack on the way in which I chose to park the car, a demand that I should act differently, a desire to control me by getting me to do things his way, and a lack of willingness to help in car parking endeavours (as in the rest of life, or so went my train of thought…..).

Sometimes, it feels as though BPD is a rather defective and less amusing version of BabelFish in which some words go in, some inexplicable and rather bizarre process happens, and a whole set of different words and meanings come out, which may be a million miles away from the original. It’s a bit like one of those online binary translators. You put in a three word sentence and a whole paragraph of binary comes back. It’s like when you ask your husband to go to the supermarket and he comes back with a completely different set of items to the ones you requested – but far less funny. [Although I know that when repeated more than once, or on the day of a dinner party, it is not remotely funny].

It’s like a cruel form of Chinese whispers where the end result is not just a variation on the original, but a hurtful, painful and completely twisted version of the original.

These are the thoughts and feelings that ‘Please pay by cheque or BACS’ raised in me.

I have been doing something wrong, and you have not corrected me. You let me continue to pay by cash, when you didn’t really want me to. You let me persist in doing the wrong thing – how could you? It’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating. It’s making me hate myself. You have made me hate myself.

Once again, you have not been upfront with me. Why did you not mention it in person? You know I place huge importance on you being straightforward and honest with me. Why could you not have raised it at the start of the session, as my ex-therapist would have done? How could you not realise that I need you to be upfront and to enforce boundaries? You don’t understand me at all. Letting me pay you in a way which isn’t helpful for you, does not appropriately maintain your professional boundaries. If you don’t maintain those, I cannot trust you.

Why couldn’t you have talked to me about this? Why are you being so cowardly? If you can’t deal with talking about money during a session, how could you possibly deal with any of the horrendously embarrassing and excruciating things I might want to talk about during session? How could I feel comfortable being open with you, when you aren’t comfortable talking about this with me?

“I don’t understand you, I don’t care about you, I can’t talk to you, I don’t respect you, I can’t be honest with you.”

The physical pain continued. The intense frustration of having been dropped from a height and been massively let down, was building. I wanted to quit therapy. The pendulum had swung wildly. It had been a while since I had self-harmed in order to ‘punish’ someone else (although the ‘punishment’ was always completely ineffective, as the ‘someone else’, whoever they were, never ever knew).

But it was time for payback.

So I did self-harm. And I did feel better. I had an inappropriate mental vision of a sine curve with a very large amplitude and a very short period. And having tried to use lessons learned in therapy to rationalise my way out of the situation, I took one of my own Susan Hill books to the next session, to see if my therapist wanted to borrow it. It’s hard to squash the never-ending cycle of the desire to push away and the desire to connect. But that’s the subject of another post……

 

[Splitting is very common in BPD, and leads to ‘all or nothing’ or ‘black and white’ thinking (and, one might say, black and white ‘feeling’). In BPD 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 (a manifestation of at least five of the nine is technically required for a diagnosis), and the criterion is worded as follows within the DSM: “A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.”

I haven’t tried to give a factual overview of splitting in this post, but to describe how one particular ‘splitting’ episode felt to me. There are a number of excellent blog posts and online articles on splitting, which can be found through a quick google search, all of which do a much better job of describing it, than I would do! But reading about it is not the same as reading about how it feels, or reading an actual example of how it can come about. And for me, it is always those personal stories that resonate the most and mean the most, because of the immense relief and comfort of realising that others feel the way I feel, and are going through similar things. I didn’t even  realise that this criterion of the DSM applied to me, until I read others’ blog posts regarding their own particular examples and experiences of this phenomenon. To me, ‘black and white thinking’ had always been a question of ‘intellectual flexibility’, and as I was always fairly adept at arguing both sides of an issue, I thought this meant my thinking was rather ‘grey’. It took reading about others’ experiences of splitting to help me to realise that not only was it true of me, but it perfectly described the way I felt in a number of situations, and about a number of people. I finally realised that ‘black and white thinking’ wasn’t really about thinking at all – it was about feeling, and those feelings shaped one’s views of others and the world. I hope, therefore, that though short on facts, this account may be similarly helpful to someone who wants to know more about BPD splitting, either because they are wondering about it in themselves, or because they are seeing it or experiencing it from someone else. ]