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.


5 Comments

Struggling to write

I’m struggling to write.

I’m even struggling to write about the fact that I’m struggling to write. I’m sure there is a name for that. Very struggling – no, not that, that doesn’t even make grammatical sense. See – I’m struggling to write.

I think it’s been getting worse over a period of months. Like a dull ache or pain you really don’t want or can’t be bothered to take to the doctor, it’s now getting to the point where it’s harder to ignore. Though what I’m finding it hard to ignore is the absence of something – of the motivation, the ease of expression, the anticipation, the satisfaction, the catharsis.

It used to be the case that I would feel anticipation during the week as I wondered what I would write about on a Friday or Saturday night. With one therapy session early in the week, it often took a few days of ‘processing’ in the background for an idea to ‘grab me’ and when it did, it was a surprise and it was exciting to sit down and see what transpired when I started typing. At first there was pleasure simply in the writing and in the spontaneity. Later, though the writing was often harder and sometimes there was less spontaneity and more ‘planning’, there was also pleasure in the editing, the ‘crafting’ and  in the creation of a narrative.

It threw me a little when I went from one to two therapy sessions a week. The pace changed, and there were no longer a few ‘clear days’ of processing in between a therapy session and writing. My first few months of blogging felt as though they were about getting to grips with BPD and how its symptoms manifested in my life, and about trying to better understand the therapeutic process. Each week the ‘topic’ was different – a different BPD symptom to explore, a different snapshot of therapy. With two sessions a week, deeper work was being done. Work that was harder to write about – more work than it was even possible to write about. Work that often needed to be pondered for much longer than a week, before it could be written about. It felt as though I was writing much more about therapy, or about how BPD manifested within the therapeutic relationship, than about BPD symptoms themselves. Rather than the topic being different every week, it felt as though there was more continuity between what was being written – evidence, perhaps, of me starting to tie things together, to see connections, to link the past to the present. Evidence, perhaps, of starting to use the power of narrative not just in telling a story, but in unfolding and moulding a life.

When I went to three sessions a week last September, things changed again. What was true of the change from one to two sessions, was even more true this time. As time went on, writing captured only a fraction of what was happening in session and in my head. The interweave of thoughts, feelings, ideas, connections to the past, analogies, metaphors, often took weeks if not months to be processed and understood sufficiently to end up on the page. One ‘idea’ for a post would turn into several installments due to the volume of material to write about. But then, as with therapy, something would happen, some event would take place and cut across that train of thought and I would have to leave it, incomplete, until it could be picked up again in future. I have a long long list of posts now, still to be written  – some of which are part of what I might have considered a ‘series’, had not other events and emotions intervened.

Over the last few months I have sensed that my writing keeps coming back again and again to many of the same themes. Sometimes it all feels a little repetitive. There are no longer ‘surprises’ in what I might write about – there is simply an overwhelmingly long list of possibilities. And it has always been the case that some of the most precious and personal moments in therapy are not written about at all – they are kept in the closest part of my heart, almost too private and intimate to share. Sometimes, many months later, they feel okay to bring into the light of day – but not always. And the more time has gone on, the more of these moments – or even prolonged episodes – there have been.

Part of me wonders whether my relationship with my writing is simply undergoing the same sad fate that some of my other relationships have suffered. After eighteen months to two years a certain boredom sets in, and a lack of excitement. Maybe I just need to fall in love with writing again. Not an infatuated, obsessional kind of love, but a quieter, more enduring and more truly connected kind (with a complete and healthy disregard for blog statistics – that would be good!). Perhaps progress means the ability to stick with something, and maybe writing and I can find a way to better satisfy each other again, to deepen our relationship, and to re-introduce some spark and spontaneity.

If one is having trouble with one’s relationship, one can go to therapy. Luckily I’m in therapy – and so perhaps I need to talk, in therapy, about this relationship that I have with writing about therapy. And then I can write about it. Maybe. Or write, full stop. Or maybe, stop. Which is right? Who knows?

I’m struggling to write.

 

 

Advertisements


2 Comments

A day in the life – Day 3

In December and May I wrote posts giving links to my first two entries for the ‘A Day in the Life‘ project. The project involves writing a short piece about everyday life on four different days spanning a whole year. Anyone who experiences mental health difficulties can get involved, and not everyone submits an entry for each of the four days. The fourth and final day covered by this project is 26 August 2015 – if you would like to contribute, even if you haven’t done so before, please do visit the site and have a look. You will be able to register if you would like to take part.

On 7 November I wrote about being at home with the children, and how it turned out to be an ordinary day – even a good day – despite the fact that it started less than ideally, and I spent quite some time catastrophizing. It reminded me that we aren’t defined by our mental health difficulties, and neither are those difficulties invalidated by the fact that we can experience joy as well.

On 10 February I wrote about my day at work, and the ‘burden’ of apparent competence. The fact that I often feel trapped by my ability to carry on even when everything inside feels like it’s screaming and on the verge of collapse. I feel trapped by the necessity to carry on and the fear that if I don’t, those two parts of my life that I have held separate for so long – work and non-work – will come together and my world will quite literally fall apart.

The third day was Sunday 10 May. This time I wrote about going to church with my family, and about faith. The fact that I find it hard to have faith in God, in other people, and in myself. That often I sit in church and feel resentful of the fact that I am hiding who I am, even though that is entirely my own choice. It is a function of my lack of faith which means I don’t trust how people might react, who they might tell, and how they might respond to me in future. But sometimes it only takes a little faith – or, in this case, a little one’s faith – to restore some hope, and to bring some comfort and a sense of being loved.

Here is my account of Day 3.

(Please ignore the 10 February heading – this really is my account of 10 May!)


Leave a comment

A day in the life – Day 2

Back in December I posted a link to my first post on the ‘A Day in the Life’ site. ‘A Day in the Life’ is a project spanning a whole year, looking at the everyday experiences of individuals in England with mental health difficulties. Anyone experiencing such difficulties can sign up to the project, which involves writing a short piece describing your experiences on four different days over the course of that year. The first day was 7 November 2014. The second was 10 February 2015, and I wanted once again to share my entry with you, which can be found here.

The third day was 10 May 2015, and I have just written and submitted the entry for that day – due to the volume of entries received, it can take up to three months for each one to be reviewed and then published on the site, but I will link to it from here once it becomes live.

If you are interested in joining the project, please do visit the ‘A Day in the Life‘ site to find out more. This is a fantastic project, and it’s all down to the number and variety of individuals writing honestly about their lives, hopes, joys and struggles. If you would like to be involved but haven’t taken part so far, please don’t let that stand in your way – if you sign up via the website, you will be alerted regarding the date of the next (and final) day to write about.

Many thanks for reading!

 


18 Comments

Therapists who blog – I have some questions for you….!

At the beginning of this post, I find myself feeling much the same way I did when I wrote a piece about blog awards a few months ago – that is, rather full of trepidation and somewhat scared of offending anyone. Although, given that it may not be of interest to anyone apart from the very small handful of therapists (is there a collective noun for therapists?) who read my blog, and perhaps not even to them, that may be a wasted worry.

Why I am writing a blog post about blogging therapists? Because I read something recently that made me think about the subject more seriously than I have done before; because at the very least, I would like to give pause for thought. At best I hope to hear from one or two therapists with their views, either via comment, or (and I would be honoured if this were the case) by a reply post either on their own site or on here.

It struck me recently that there are some very different issues that today’s therapists have to grapple with, than existed several decades ago. With Facebook, Twitter, and all the myriad of other social networking sites, our lives are so much more ‘public’ than they used to be and there are so many more ways to connect with people. However, if you are in a profession where maintaining boundaries and keeping your non-professional life private, are key, how do you decide how much of yourself ‘to put out there’, and in what way?

Facebook recently asked me, out of the blue, whether I wanted to become friends with Person X, who was someone I saw once when I was ‘interviewing’ potential therapists around eighteen months ago. We had each other’s mobile numbers and email addresses, and that was enough for Facebook to connect the dots. I was alarmed at the suggestion and wondered how many other current or potential clients Facebook might be trying to connect her with, and so I looked at her page, more out of concern than curiosity. Once there, I could identify her family members, where they worked, and I could glean something of her political views from her public posts.

It may be that Person X was happy for her clients to have access to this sort of information about her – or she may simply not have realised how careful one has to be about privacy settings on social media sites. Either way, it does make me wonder: as a therapist, how do you decide how much of an internet presence you are going to have? How much thought do you give to this, in the context of your profession? How do you weight up the personal advantages (for example, keeping in touch with distant friends or family) against the possible professional implications? All therapists will know that many of their clients will look them up online and some will try and find out as much as they can. What impact will it have on those clients, to find out personal details about a therapist’s life, and whose concern, ethically, is that impact? Who bears responsibility?

A ‘personal’ presence on a site like Facebook seems almost compulsory these days –there can be a real sense of ‘missing out’ if one chooses (often for one’s sanity!) not to participate. But the decision to start a blog is quite a different one, and although blogging certainly connects you, it connects you to people outside your day to day life. From a therapist’s perspective, it also connects you to people who might either be potential clients, or are another therapist’s clients. I have come across a number of therapists whose blogging is strictly professional rather than personal in nature. That is, their posts may describe different types of therapy, address typical therapeutic situations or answer common client questions, and their interaction with readers is often limited. But there are also therapists and ex-therapists whose blogging is more personal – who share with us a little of themselves, as well as a great deal about their craft, and who are happy to engage in conversation.

And so I’m intrigued: if you’re a therapist or ex-therapist who blogs – why do you do it? What drives you and how deeply have you explored your motivations? As a therapist, you know that clients are often desperate to find out more about the process of therapy and to find out what makes therapists tick. In fact, frustrated by their inability to see into the hearts and minds of their own therapists, clients may seek out therapist bloggers in the hope that finding out what is in their hearts and minds, will give them a better sense of who their own therapist is. What impact, if any, does this knowledge have upon what you choose to say or share? Is there any sense in which your blogging is part of what drove you to become a therapist in the first place, or is it much more about what it does for you, than what it does for those who read your work? Are you ‘therapising’ (if there were such a word, which there isn’t), at a distance? Or are you always extremely conscious of not falling into acting in that capacity for people who are not your clients and whose own therapeutic alliance needs to be upheld?

An ex-therapist blogger who I am extremely grateful to for his very helpful and insightful comments on my posts, once made the point that he was assuming that my therapist was correct in the way she was working with me, and that we knew our own relationship best. It was a very affirming and supportive comment, and it did make me wonder: is that the hallmark of ‘ethical’ blogging by therapists? That it should be ultimately be affirming of the process, and of people’s experiences of it? Or does it not make sense to talk about ‘ethical’ blogging (and if does, why should clients, or anyone else, be excluded)? Is it simply anyone’s prerogative to tell the truth, as they see it?

The reason for all of my wondering, you see, is this. A few weeks ago I read a blog post by a practising therapist, which really unsettled me. Fear over ‘driving my therapist away’ was very much on my mind. I was testing her in small ways, and wondering what it would take for her to eventually want to stop working with me. The post, which talked about the potential fragility of the therapeutic relationship and went into detail about the therapist’s own feelings about the matter, fed those fears and sent me into an even greater state of anxiety. Originally, I was going to reblog the post with a short introductory paragraph. That paragraph turned into its own 1,000 word post. However, having discussed the post and the effect it had had on me, with my own therapist, I decided neither to reblog it nor to publish my own thoughts. Although the post was helpful in a number of ways (for example, by reminding me that my therapist is human, despite the fact I often idolise her) – I couldn’t in good conscience share something which overall, for me, was more disturbing than helpful.

I do not wish in any way to offend the therapist who wrote that post, and I know for a fact that a number of readers found it helpful. And I am grateful to her for raising all sorts of questions in my mind – questions that I think it’s important for me to ponder as they apply just as much to ‘in session’ as they do to ‘out of session’. We make so much of ‘telling the truth’ and being straightforward and honest in our communication – at least, I do. As clients, I feel we are encouraged to tell all and to leave nothing out, and often I feel as though I want at least a little reciprocation from my therapist. But how much responsibility does a therapist bear for telling the truth, and for holding it back? How do you, as a blogging therapist, judge what should be said, and what, for the sake of the client, it would be best for them not to know (even if they wish, desperately, to know it)? And not just your own clients, or ex-clients, but any vulnerable individual who may be reading your posts?

Parents want to be honest with their children; but they are also anxious not to burden them with emotions or with facts that would cause more harm than good, at their particular stage of development. For example, a parent may talk to their child about grief, and may even share aspects of their own; but there is a fine line between sharing in order to teach, and burdening a child with something that they are not equipped to take on. In as much as clients bring themselves, at all ages, into therapy, I think similar factors apply to the therapeutic relationship. As an adult, I may find the idea of my therapist ‘protecting me’ and ‘not burdening me’, difficult to accept. But I am often not an adult during session, or indeed between sessions, and my therapist would be remiss if she didn’t bear in mind the fact that sometimes she is dealing with the child, and she is more ‘parent’ than ‘partner’. So that brings me back to my earlier question – if you are a therapist who blogs, how do you decide how much of your own thoughts and feelings to share? Is there an ethical dimension to that decision? Is there any sense in which you feel you have a responsibility towards other therapists’ clients, as well as to your own?

Finally, if the therapeutic relationship is at the core of therapy, how do you view your relationship with your readers, and those whose blogs you also read? Are you attune to the dynamic of the interaction in the way that you might be during session? And does that influence the way in which you respond, or even if you do respond?

A few weeks ago I realised that the way I felt about the interactions I was having with an ex-therapist blogger, reminded of me past relational patterns, particularly with other ‘authority’ figures. I became aware of the familiar feelings of wanting to ‘be special’ (which I have in relation to my own therapist as well), and of wanting his attention and his compliments. More than that, I became conscious that I was seeking from him, what I felt I wasn’t getting from my own therapist – validation, reassurance, praise. I talked to my therapist about this, and she said that it was rather like going to dad when mum was not forthcoming. She was right – but to me, it also felt like having an affair. I asked her whether my interactions with this blogger bothered her, and she said no. And yet I had wanted her to say yes – I wanted her to feel ‘jealous’. To be protective of our therapeutic relationship and to feel put out at the thought of me ‘looking elsewhere’ for what I thought I needed.

As often happens, bringing something ‘secret’ out into the light and talking about it, robbed it of its power. I still great enjoy and value my interactions with that blogger, but I no longer feel as though my mind is caught up in some bizarre kind of therapy attention-triangle. My relationship with my therapist is stronger than it’s ever been, and I’m learning to recognise the ways in which she gives me what I need, even if it’s not always in the ways that I want. But I ask myself – do therapist bloggers wonder if there are similar dynamics in play with those they interact with? Do they wonder if they are becoming part of those individuals’ therapy? If that blogger had been aware of what our interactions meant to me at the time, would it have made any difference to how he responded? I hope not – and I hope that knowing it now, doesn’t cause him to pull back in future. That is my greatest fear in writing this post – losing the connections I so value, and driving away therapists (including those who are not my own!).

I feel that that is more than enough questions for now – and I have gone on at far greater length than I intended. If you have made it this afar, and are still awake, let alone interested, congratulations! And if you’re a therapist, a blogger, still awake, still interested and are minded to reply – I’d be very excited and honoured to hear from you. As indeed I would be to hear from anyone who has thoughts on this subject….


5 Comments

A day in the life

A Day In the Life‘ is a project spanning a whole year, looking at the everyday experiences of individuals in England with mental health difficulties. Anyone experiencing such difficulties can sign up to the project, which involves writing a short piece describing your experiences on four different days over the course of that year. The dates are chosen in advance – the first was on 7 November 2014 and the next will be on 10 February 2015. Entries can be anonymous and it’s not necessary to submit something on all four occasions. The project is funded by Public Health England and was highlighted through a number of media channels and websites. The BBC news clip can be found here. The www.gov.uk website says this about the project:

A Day in the Life is designed to provide an insight into the lives of people living with a mental health difficulty to help inform the development of policies and projects which better meet their needs. The project is also designed to better educate and raise awareness among the wider public of the reality of mental health issues.”

I decided to take part in the project when I saw it mentioned on Twitter – its mission is an important one, and writing is one of the few things I feel I am able to do to help raise awareness. I wanted to share with you my entry for 7 November 2014, which can be found here. In some ways, the story is a precursor to my recent posts on parenting, and writing that entry on 7 November motivated me to share more about the challenges of mental health and parenting.

If you are interested in joining the project, please do visit the ‘A Day in the Life‘ site to find out more. More and more entries are being added all the time relating to the first day, 7 November, and they provide a fascinating picture of the day to day lives of individuals struggling with a variety of mental health issues.

 


Leave a comment

Blog awards (Postscript) – running for cover

I realised that in writing my recent post about blog awards, I completely neglected to mention how I was planning to respond to the two nominations for awards that I received. And I believe that as well as my thanks, which I have given, the two people who nominated me should know what I plan to do, and why.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am honoured and very glad to be nominated. I often doubt myself and my writing, and receiving the nominations gave me much-needed encouragement and motivation, and I can draw on that in times to come, when those doubts return with a vengeance.

I would love to accept the awards – but I do not think that I can, for two reasons. Firstly, when addressing my concerns over finding the time to respond to the nomination in accordance with ‘the rules’, Tempest Rose (‘Nonsense and Shenanigans’) told me not to feel under any pressure, but to ‘just keep doing what you’re doing’. ‘Doing what I’m doing’ is what led to the award, and for so many reasons, I need to ‘keep doing it’. I don’t know if I will receive any other award nominations (particularly after these last two posts!), but I would like to be consistent in how I respond, and following the rules involved with each one, would inevitably take time away from ‘doing what I’m doing’. Secondly, although everyone reacts differently, I’m conscious of the anxiety and pressure that I felt under, to respond to the nominations and to ‘follow the rules’, and I wouldn’t want to visit that on anyone else, however unlikely that might be.

I would love to accept the awards, and I wish that I could accept them without following the rules – but somehow, I feel that that would be disrespectful to the individuals who created them. Perhaps these are now the ‘blogging community’s awards’  – perhaps we now ‘own them’ collectively, and can individually decide how to respond when we are nominated. But until there is some sort of consensus on that, it wouldn’t feel right for me to simply change the terms of the award. I have always felt bound to play by the rules, and if I cannot follow them, I don’t feel I can play. I hope that doesn’t sound moralistic or judgmental – it is certainly is not intended that way. These are my own internal drivers, and this is a very personal decision. I am most definitely not saying that others should make a similar decision, and in fact I have greatly enjoyed reading the ‘award posts’ of those who have accepted awards and have ‘followed the rules’. Those posts are often very insightful and illuminating of the individuals involved, and help us to get to know them better.

Thank you again, H&J  (‘The Bipolar Bum’) and Tempest Rose, for your kind words and for the nominations themselves. Your words have already shown me that you will understand my decision, and not be offended by it. I am crossing any and all limbs that can be crossed (which for someone as inflexible as me, is not very many), in the hope that others, particularly givers and receivers of awards, will also understand my posts on this subject, even if they do not agree.

The extent to which disagreement can make me feel uncomfortable (with the exception of the purely academic and philosophical sort) continues to amaze me. Having now posted my views on the subject of blog awards, I am metaphorically ‘running for cover’. Until the next post, and with reference to the last paragraph of my previous post, you will find me hiding under a large mountain of cake.


Leave a comment

Mental health blogging: the old-fashioned way

The 1870s way, to be precise.

James Thomson (1834-1882) suffered from insomnia, alcoholism and chronic depression, and his most famous poem, ‘The City of Dreadful Night’, was a product of those struggles. I hope he would have forgiven me for likening his poem to an exceedingly long blog post. I do it only because for me, the first few verses, which describe his motivations for writing, perfectly encapsulate a number of my own (and perhaps others’) reasons for blogging about mental health. Reasons that include: a desire to expose the truth, unpleasant though it may sometimes be; to break free of the need to always remain ‘hidden’; to feel empowered by being able to express pain; and to reach out, to gain a sense of fellowship, and to realise that we are not alone in our experiences.

I discovered this poem in the forgotten recesses of my school library, many years ago. I have loved it ever since, particularly the first and last sections. I wanted to share it with you, particularly as verses 1, 2 and 5 (copied in the image below) spoke to me so strongly of the desire to give form and expression to reality ‘as it really is’ and to connect with other ‘fellow travellers’. And it’s inspiring that we can do that across the centuries, as well as across the technological ether.

 

blogging final