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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Sometimes progress is in the small things

Sometimes progress shows itself in really really small ways.

Living by your values can mean making significant decisions such as standing up for human rights, or acting in accordance with religious principles, or putting honesty before career or progression. But it can also mean buying a kettle just because you like it and because you value beauty over utility. It can mean valuing yourself enough to give weight to your own preferences and opinions.

Today my husband and I were looking at kettles on Amazon. I liked the aesthetically pleasing ones and he liked the practical ones. He pointed out the downsides of the ones I liked. Normally, I would have given in and gone with his ‘better judgment’, and then regretted it later. Today I just said that that was the type of kettle I’d always wanted, and I asked him to look into the different models with similar features, and order one that he thought had the best reviews and was not too expensive. So the pretty but impractical kettle will be arriving tomorrow.

This small thing is a big deal. I’m the person who, in the canteen at work in my early twenties, paid for a chocolate bar that I’d brought from home, because I was so conflict-averse I couldn’t bring myself to challenge the person who was charging me. I’m the person who gave in to having a more ‘practical’ engagement ring than the one I’d dreamed of all my life (there was little difference in cost, but my husband thought that the one I wanted would damage more easily). I agreed to a fruit cake at my wedding because it was ‘traditional’ even though I hate fruit cake and I didn’t eat any of it. Two years running I’ve got an air brush tattoo on holiday and both times I came away with a different colour to the one I wanted, just because the tattoo artist kindly made some suggestions about what might look good, and I went with her judgment over my instinct.

I know what I want – but all my life I’ve been used to being told that what I want is not right, or not sensible, or immature, or silly, or fanciful, or unwise, or impractical, or not traditional, or not well regarded. I’m so used to being told that I am easily led and follow others, by people who don’t see the contradiction in the fact that they just want me to follow what they want. And so I side-line what I want – I doubt it. Is it really what I want? Should it be what I want? Is it the right thing, the best thing, does it make sense? How do I really know what I want, anyway? Perhaps they are right, and I am wrong. In any case, I don’t feel strong enough, or self-assured enough, to stand up for my point of view. That is the route to conflict and invalidation, or at best to a lengthy debate in which I feel I have to justify everything I say, and to ‘make the case’ for my opinion. That’s how it’s always been – until very recently.

But I’m starting to see that there is a third option between ignoring my viewpoint, and getting involved in a lengthy argument. There is the option to not buy into a worldview which requires this kind of justification in the first place. A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were having a different debate, in which he wanted me to state which I though was more important, the intention behind a statement, or how it was interpreted. He couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t make a choice and he didn’t want to settle for my answer that I thought both were important. So in the end I simply told him that I refused to buy into his way of thinking that required categorising things in that way; that is not my way of thinking, and that’s okay.

So today I stood up for myself without engaging in debate. I refused to buy into the worldview that everything must be justified and that efficiency and practicality are more important than how the look of something makes me feel. I refused to buy into that worldview, and so I bought a kettle. And by God I’m going to enjoy watching it boil, and knowing that it’s a symbol of progress, and of valuing myself enough to live according to my values.

Simple pleasures; small step; big deal.

[I should add that none of this is about refusing to compromise, or wanting to ‘get my own way’ without any consideration of what someone else wants. In this particular instance, other than generally always favouring practicality, my husband had no strong feelings about, or interest in, the type of kettle we have. If this had been a matter about which he felt strongly, we would, I hope, have had a different sort of conversation about it. This is about acknowledging and valuing difference, and valuing ourselves enough to think our opinions can have validity, even in the face of disagreement. It is about not getting drawn into a debate carried out entirely on someone else’s terms and according to their own rules of engagement – if you disagree with those terms and those rules. It is about speaking up if there is something that is important to you – even if you are afraid of how it will be received, or whether it will be thought worthwhile; and even if you can’t exactly explain why it is important, but you just know that it is. ]


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Memory Monday – “Inner child and past child”

It’s almost a year since I first watched the video for Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ and first heard the song; and though I have played other music since, and continue to do so, there are still some days (or even weeks) when I play it on repeat. The video had such a powerful effect on me that I wrote this post at end of February 2015, in an attempt to try and figure out why it had such an impact:

https://lifeinabind.com/2015/02/28/inner-child-and-past-child/

I realised that part of the video’s power was that the images spoke to me of the child part of me and of childhood – inner child and past child – and it was revealing in that it demonstrated the extent of the distortion of the lens that I use to view myself. At the end of that post I wrote that the song and video were proving to be a goldmine of therapeutic material, and that I thought I would be exploring that goldmine (or indeed, that minefield) for some time to come.

Sometimes I worry that I don’t know how to ‘go deeper’ into a subject during therapy. I will spend a session or two talking about something and then come to a point where it doesn’t ‘feel finished’ but neither do I know how to go on. My therapist often says that if a subject is important, it will come around again, and we will ‘get another bite at the cherry’. This has proved to be true for a number of subjects, and is proving true again, which is why I have chosen ‘Inner child and past child’ for this ‘Memory Monday’ post.

Since Christmas, my therapy has focused primarily on my relationship with my husband, and it has been very painful. Trying to honestly examine past and present patterns of relating which may be destructive, and talking about sides of me that I would rather deny, brings up not just feelings of guilt and shame, but summons up the parts of me that are resistant to the therapeutic process and that believe it is impossible to change.

I have also been reading some challenging books that are helping me to re-evaluate some of my attitudes to relationships, including a couple of books on Transactional Analysis (which I will write more about, shortly). In that context, I have once again been thinking about the ‘child part’ of me – how I view it, and the ways in which it influences how I view the world and others, and how I behave. Thinking about ‘the child within’ has brought me back around to thinking about ‘Chandelier’, and though I haven’t watched the video since last March, I feel drawn to it again. I wonder how it will feel to watch it, but with an added year of therapy ‘under my belt’ and with hopefully a modicum of deeper understanding and self-awareness.

I am constantly amazed at the way in which therapy uses the unexpected and ordinary events of our lives to illuminate the different parts of us; and how the same threads come back at different times and in different guises, simultaneously peeling back another layer of our defenses and adding another layer of richness to our understanding. Like the lines from T.S. Eliot on ‘waiting’ that are so important to me and to my therapy and which I keep reinterpreting and using in different ways; this song has become part of the fabric of the way in which I try to understand myself and a core part of my ‘therapy vocabulary’, and I’m looking forward to exploring it further.


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Exploding kittens – this is actually a post about my marriage

Damn it. You know when your other half does something to completely ruin the mood? When you’ve got yourself into the right head-space, prepared the music, had a drink, and then they say or do something that completely ruins it all?

Well, I had my laptop, my hot chocolate, some sad music and I was all ready to write a serious blog post about the descent I’ve taken into negative thought patterns, only two days into the therapy break. And then my husband suggested we play a new card game he’d bought, called ‘Exploding Kittens’ (no actual kittens exploded or were in any way harmed during the making or playing of the game). ‘Exploding Kittens’ has two versions – ‘the original’ and the ‘Not Suitable For Work’ version, intriguingly sub-titled ‘for people who are into kittens, and explosions, and boob wizards, and sometimes butts‘. Obviously, I chose the latter version. And thus my plans for the evening went to pot.

A year ago, I probably would have said that I didn’t feel like playing a game, and that I needed to write a blog post and then go to bed. More than a year ago, he probably wouldn’t even have made the suggestion. We had reached a point where he in essence he told me he’d given up on me. He would stay with me, but felt that the only way to ‘survive’ the situation and to be ensure he could still be strong for the children if I was hospitalised (or worse), was to withdraw and pretend as though he didn’t care. Anything else was too painful, too risky and simply not worth the effort as nothing he tried seemed to work and everything he did seemed to backfire. At that point, we were both in ‘defense mode’  – too afraid of being hurt by the other, to risk any sort of effort or vulnerability.

He had warned me, repeatedly, that he would reach that point. I wish I could say it was the first time I didn’t heed a warning until it was too late. I wish I could say it was the first time I pushed at a boundary to see whether it would hold, or what it would take to break. I wish I could say it was the first time I had ‘tested’ someone’s love for me. Like God, I wanted him to be there when this was all over – irrespective of what I (consciously or unconsciously) put him through in the meantime. But somewhere along the line I forgot that he was only human. That I may have married him partly for his strength, but his strength was limited, not limitless. Although I would never ever have said that I expected him to be perfect, I think, looking back, that I expected him to be perfectly there for me.  And although I never realised it at the time, I think being ‘perfectly there for me’ included an expectation that he wouldn’t get angry, or call me names, or be unkind, or shout, or run out of patience, or any of the other myriad things that human beings do when they are under a great deal of strain, are hurting and have reached the end of their tether.

I had never really talked to anyone about my mental health difficulties or really opened up about my deepest fears or most intense emotions. And so when my mental health started to deteriorate significantly after the enormous life change of having children, I didn’t talk about it. I started therapy – but I never discussed with him, any of the things I talked about there. My past ‘coping’ strategies of intense and obsessive relationships kicked in (in the guise of a close friend, and then a therapist, both completely ‘unavailable’). And I picked up a new coping strategy – self harm – of which he is still completely unaware.

Things went from bad to worse. The ‘smallest’ or ‘most ordinary’ things would trigger me, and every conversation would consist of him trying to get me to talk and me feeling under attack and trying desperately to close myself off from pain and being completely unable to bear the thought of being vulnerable or of not feeling accepted. I know that to him, the silence felt like anger, or as if I didn’t care. Instead, the silence was simply self-protection and trying to keep myself together. As these ‘arguments’ started to happen more and more often, my silences started to become filled with thoughts of self-destruction and self-annihilation, which were more and more easily triggered.

Eventually, lack of communication and walking along a knife-edge were too much, and the reality that he had warned me of so many times, actually came to pass. And of course, as soon as it did, the familiar  sense of panic and wanting to pull back from that self-destructive brink, took hold. Now I needed to fix it – to recover the situation which seemed irrecoverable. But by this stage we were entrenched in a number of vicious circles. He thought there was nothing he could do to ‘fix’ me  – true, but this was not the same as there being nothing he could do to help me; and neither was it the same as his actions and words not having an impact on me, both of which he seemed to believe. He didn’t seem to believe in the possibility of recovery – which meant that other than having the support of my therapist, I felt I was facing my battles very much on my own. My inability to deal with conflict, to get angry, to ‘get over’ an argument quickly – all also meant that we continued to be stuck in a pattern of my distressed and prolonged silences coming across as annoyance or lack of caring.

Though not normally a good sign (!), I see it as part of the progress I have made in therapy, that I now occasionally swear at my husband during an argument! Expressing anger, even if in a not-entirely-helpful way, and trying to put my view across rather than withdrawing into silence, is, I think, an important step. I have also, over the last few months, opened up about a few very personal things, in an attempt to be at least a little vulnerable, and to make a greater effort to communicate. I told him a little about how I’d felt about Jane, my ex-therapist; I have told him that when I’m steeped in silence after an argument it’s because I’m feeling suicidal; I have mentioned how difficult and upsetting I find my current therapy breaks.

But I still have a tendency to expect a ‘perfect’ response to my attempts at vulnerability and communication. And if I don’t get it, it makes it that much harder to try and open up again. I still feel completely at the mercy of other people’s responses to me, in terms of determining how I feel about myself. My husband is not naturally gifted (who is?) at knowing how to react to someone with depression, or someone struggling with rock-bottom self-esteem or suicidal thoughts. He might bear the responsibility for that, but I also need to try and bear responsibility for helping him to understand, and for working on not letting his reactions affect me so much. My therapist is trying to help me reach a place where his responses don’t immediately send me into a incredibly negative downward spiral of feelings of worthlessness and wanting to die. It’s a combination of trying to help me to see where his own reactions might be coming from  – a place within himself and his own past – and trying to build up my own sense of self-acceptance and self-validation. It’s very very hard, and even if I can make progress on the former, the latter seems at present, a bit of a pipe dream.

And I still haven’t felt ‘safe’ enough to try and explain to him that my reactions to him also come from my past. That when he triggers me, I suddenly become not a wife reacting to her husband, but a child or teenager reacting to her parents. And so my responses are often not directly about him either. My therapist thinks he ‘sees me’ often as a sibling; I know I ‘see him’ often as a parent. But interestingly, we have both observed that when he is brutally honest with me about how all of this is affecting him and how he feels about it, things improve between us, at least for a little while. I know that he puts that down to me feeling guilty. But I haven’t been able to explain that any change is not motivated by guilt on my part, but by suddenly seeing him as him – a partner, not a parent, a vulnerable human being whom I love and who is hurting.

There has been definite (if painfully slow) movement, over the last few months, though I’m still struggling to accept our separateness and our difference, without letting that impact on my sense of myself. A couple of months ago he came home from a short business trip and said he had missed me. To me, that was a very significant statement, which gave me a little glimmer of hope for the future. And yet, having had that glimmer of hope, I had to ‘defend it’ against my husband’s view that he didn’t see why his had been a significant statement – that it hadn’t been so for him. Somehow I had to try and let our separate views be our separate views, and not allow the way he saw that moment, to destroy everything I had received from it. He places far more value on actions than on words; whereas I place great store by what is said, and I remember it.

Part of our separateness lies in the things that we enjoy. I have been trying to prioritise spending more time with him, and I’ve been counting the time spent watching films or TV programmes together on a Friday night, as ‘quality time’. However, it seems that that does not really satisfy his desire for communication and interaction, and it was difficult accepting that my ‘efforts’ didn’t necessarily have the impact I had thought they had.

But we can both, it seems, appreciate the comic-strip humour of ‘Exploding Kittens’. It’s a fast and fun game  – death by exploding kitten is inevitable, for all but the eventual winner. You never know when you’re going to draw an exploding kitten – sometimes you will have a card that enables you to see three steps into the future and ‘fend off’ the attack by a quick reshuffle of the deck; sometimes you will be able to ‘skip’ the explosion; sometimes you will be able to  defuse it using various means (including ‘incarceration’ in a cat box  – no comment). But sometimes the damn kitten will explode and you’ll be f***ed and it will have ruined a perfectly good and gloomy blog post.

Another day, another exploding kitten, as they say. There will be time – plenty of time – for that blog post on the pain of the therapy break. For now, I’ve gained a little light relief from battles – both domestic and internal. And that’s a vital step in surviving the next six weeks without my therapist – and the next six weeks, months, years (or, very optimistically, decades!) with the man I married.