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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Dreams and endings – always endings

I had three dreams on the two nights prior to my last therapy session before a four week break – all of them betraying my fears not just about this temporary ending, but about the more permanent ‘ending of therapy’ to come. It’s a familiar pattern for me – one type of ‘loss’ cascades into layers of loss stretching into the future.

***

I was standing on the balcony of a block of flats and my ‘therapy jacket’* fell from where it was hanging and onto the street below. I thought to call out for help, for someone to pick it up, and then I decided I should instead run down and get it. But as I was about to rush down, a man drove up on a motorbike, picked it up, and sped away. I screamed after him, hoping someone might pursue him, but he was gone. I was devastated at the loss of something deeply meaningful and irreplaceable; even awake, I remember the quality and intensity of the distress I felt in my dream, which was so great that it actually woke me up. This is my version of a nightmare, which haunts me and jolts me awake – not fear, but overwhelming sadness and loss.

***

I got off a bus and found myself near my halls of residence at university. Waves of nostalgia hit me – good feelings, a sort of happiness, but tinged with the sadness of times now distant and never to be re-lived. Good memories shot through with the faint unbelief that this could ever have been my life – that I was ever there, younger, less burdened with things not done, lives not lived, joys not felt. I walked up to the building and the front desk staff recognised me without me saying a word, and the familiarity felt comforting. But when I looked behind them, I saw that the place had been gutted by fire. Only blackened structures remained, and the beautiful buildings had disappeared. I was shocked, saddened, horrified – overwhelmed with tears, and grief. They told me what had happened, but I don’t remember what they said. Something to do with Fresher’s Week, I think – it seems that what was meant to be a new beginning, had in fact brought about an ending.

***

I was in my car, in the bottom right hand corner of an enormous open-air courtyard within a building that completely enclosed the space on all sides. All of a sudden, the ground started falling away, starting from the bottom left hand corner and moving towards the right. I began driving up the right hand side of the square, at first managing to escape the collapse by some distance, but then having a narrower and narrower strip of land to drive on, as the break-up of the earth caught up with me, and almost overtook me. Just as the strip of land was about to disappear to nothing, I drove between a pillar and the building but the space was slightly too narrow and I crashed and came to a halt, wedged in the gap. The ground disappeared all around me, but I was pinned in place, and didn’t fall. Being stuck felt like my salvation.  

***

My therapist suggested that perhaps my husband was stealing my therapy – a reference to the fact that I deeply resented the fact I had spent much of the last week of therapy before the break, focusing on the feelings that my couples therapy was triggering in me. It was not how I had planned ‘setting up’ for the break, and it felt like an intrusion. It felt as though I was losing valuable individual therapy time and wouldn’t be able to cover everything I wanted to before the break. My therapist was not wrong in her interpretation of my first dream, but as with any dream, a number of different interpretations are possible, all of which may lead to their own insights.

For me, it was the loss of a visual representation of therapy, and the absence of a tangible reminder, that struck me most. I was reminded of the conversations I’ve had recently with my therapist about how I’ve always hoped that at the end of therapy she would give me a photo to remember her by. I don’t think it had occurred to me it was a request she might refuse – so many therapists these days have a photo online, even if their web presence is limited to their contact details and a summary of their areas of expertise. Yet she indicated that I wouldn’t need a photo – that I would carry the memories I needed, within me. It was an implied, rather than a direct, refusal, and it was far from reassuring. Sometimes I find it very hard to recall faces – and I am terrified that one day, I may not be able to recall hers. I am scared that I will lose that vital reminder of her presence, one way or another, whether the reminder is stolen by age, or illness, or another cause.

***

Over the last few months, I have spent more and more time worrying not just about the end of therapy, but about the fact that I don’t know when it will end, or when my therapist will retire. She has said she will let me know at least a year before it happens – but now it feels as though I live in dread of walking into a session only to find out that it is the session at which she makes that announcement. I have been imagining what it will be like – even though I don’t want to imagine it. I imagine it in various different ways, because the possibility of it is so difficult to conceive, there is no telling how the reality will go.

I imagine the version where I am numb and in shock, and my defenses kick in to protect me from pain, so that I just carry on as rationally and as much in denial, as I can. I imagine the version where I simply can’t bear to be in such pain in the presence of the person who has hurt me, and I ask to leave – but I’ve never left a session, and I know I would regret it, so that scenario doesn’t seem very likely. And I imagine the version in which I show her that it hurts indescribably much – as it sometimes does when the premonition of the future hits me at home at night and I hold my stomach with wordless cries and open mouth and soak my pillow with streaming nose and eyes and it is unbearable but I bear it and yet I know that even when it passes, this time, it is coming, actually coming, this and more. And in the exhausted quiet after, part of me is grateful to be able to open myself up to the grief, which feels like an honouring of everything my therapist means to me; but part of me trembles in fear underneath, at the thought of the time when the grief will really, really take hold of me, and it won’t last half an hour or an hour, or ten hours, or a hundred…..

The imagined shock of that announcement is what the shock of the burnt-out building reminds me of. The distress following the shock, a dim foretelling of what the reality will be like. The nostalgia of returning to a familiar place with good memories, at Fresher’s Week, a time of new beginnings, reminds me of returning to therapy after a break. And it is then, in particular, that I imagine coming face to face with devastation. Therapy seems to run on academic terms, just like schools and universities – August is the ‘month off’ and things resume again, come September. It seems likely she would choose to retire at the end of an academic year, particularly as she sees a number of students. And so it also seems likely that, if she ‘gives me notice’, it will happen at the start of the academic year, and following the summer break. I’m afraid of therapy breaks – but these days  I am also afraid of going back.

***

The third dream took place on the same night as the second, and I believe it is on a similar theme. It was my therapist who saw it this time – the collapse of the ground and the ever narrower strip of road, mirroring the passage of time. The longer I am in therapy, the less time I have left in therapy. If only I could stop time….There is so much that – perhaps generously – she didn’t say, about just how my behaviour and resistance in therapy is sometimes geared towards just that. Towards denying progress (or at least minimising it and trying to show how much more there is to do); staving off the end, even though the end is inevitable and ultimately will be determined by her retirement, irrespective of whether I am ‘done’ in therapy, or not. There is a sentence in ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson, which perfectly sums up that denial, and that holding back: “She couldn’t lean her whole weight on any of this when she knew she would have to live on after it”.

My therapist’s conclusion about the dream’s message disturbed me – whereas I felt that getting stuck had saved me, she suggested that perhaps I needed to carry on, despite time getting ever shorter. It makes sense – that I should carry on, make the most of the time, complete the work, if the work is ever really complete. But I can’t help wondering, did her words mean more than that? Was she encouraging me to keep going not just because it’s a good thing to do, but because she now has an actual timescale, an actual date in mind? However much I tried to think about the disappearing ground as representing time left in therapy, I could not persuade myself that driving on and falling down into the chasm was anything other than dangerous and to be avoided.

***

“Ends are for yesterday, not tomorrows.

What will you do with the time you have left?”  **

 

[* I bought my therapy jacket during a therapy break more than two years ago, and it is a constant comfort blanket and a warm reminder of my therapist, acting both as a jacket and a blanket, depending on the season and the time of day!

** – from ‘The Time Keeper’ by Mitch Albom ]

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Communicating with the inner child: dreams, stories, songs

inner child thoughtfulThere are some truly iconic movie theme tunes and soundtracks that are as much a part of the experience and legacy of the film, as the plot and characters themselves. In the same way, many of us have pieces of music that constitute a ‘soundtrack’ for our lives –pieces that are inextricable bound up with certain events and which are immediately evocative of particular feelings, when we hear them. I had such a ‘soundtrack’ during one of the worst years of my life, at university. It was an incredibly turbulent period, with self-destructive and damaging behaviour, and some rather disturbed and disturbing thinking. There is a song I strongly associate with that period – I haven’t listened to it since, and I never want to listen to it again.

I didn’t want Alan Walker’s “Faded” to become such a song. On the one hand it was less likely, because its negative associations were of a much shorter duration. On the other hand, it was the soundtrack of a weekend which led to my therapist questioning whether she was the right person to be helping me, and was associated both with a destructive desire for conflict, and a resulting fear of abandonment.

After that weekend, I worried that listening to it would trigger that same need for conflict and the sense of my ‘rational self’ being ‘held under’ by the same desire to regress rather than progress. But I was also longing to hear it again and to watch the video, whose visuals were just as evocative as the music, and which I wrote about in my post ‘A tale of three houses: therapy, progress, and internal conflict’. And so it was important for me to find a way to break the association between the song and a situation that if left unchecked might have cost me an immeasurably precious relationship. I had to try and give it a different interpretation and meaning, one which was far less threatening to therapy and to progress.

During that weekend, I saw the song and its images as being about therapy, a sense of disconnection from my therapist, and foreboding of a future failure to attain longed-for security and a sense of being loved. But maybe another interpretation was possible. I remembered that during those days I had been aware of a small voice urging me to ‘stand up for us, fight for us’. The inner child, pleading with me to put up some resistance to the internal saboteurs. Perhaps the lyrics ‘where are you now?’ could be seen as her words to me, and not my words to my therapist.

Seen in that way, the song was more an entreaty by someone who loved me and was with me, than a cry to someone I wanted to love me, and to be with me. Seeing myself as the object rather than the subject of the song, helped me to feel wanted and connected, rather than disconnected and lost. The change of perspective enabled me to listen to the song not just without being haunted by negative associations, but with a real sense of warmth and closeness. You may call it just a sleight of hand; and after all, neither interpretation represents an external, ‘scientific’, objective reality. But the stories we tell ourselves are incredibly powerful, and therapy is, amongst other things, a chance to rewrite the story that we tell ourselves, about ourselves and our relationships. Songs, books, poems, pictures, dreams – all have a role to play in this too.

***

A few weeks ago, when I made a commitment to myself to be ‘all in’ as far as therapy was concerned – even more trusting, more open, more vulnerable, more accepting of change and where it was leading, than ever before – my inner child let me know what she thought about that idea, in a very  unequivocal way. She showed me what she thought it would mean for her, in two vivid and dramatic dreams.

In the first, a friend – who looked very much like me – dropped by unannounced to tell me she was pregnant but was on her way to get an abortion. She was talking in whispers so that ‘the baby’ wouldn’t hear. In the second dream, one character was trying to persuade me and a companion to participate in sex with him, in order to extract payment from a fourth party who was observing. I refused, at which point the dominant character poisoned my companion and once I was undefended, forced me to have sex. Though the experience was unwanted and unpleasant, there was also a sense that having been ‘liberated’ from the presence of my companion, part of me enjoyed it.

Though I think there is much to unpack in both dreams, and a number of interpretations are possible, my associations were fairly immediate. For me, change and recovery has always felt as though it would involve a part of me dying; and I have always had a fear of vulnerability. And so it seemed to me as though my inner child was saying that she was afraid that me going ‘all in’ would be equivalent to killing her, or raping her. Those were her fears, and that’s what she wanted to show me. Though perhaps she was also expressing ambivalence – a hope that we might receive something (praise, approval?) from my therapist, and also a chance that the experience may actually end up being a positive one for her, on some level.

***

We didn’t always have a good relationship, my ‘inner child’ and I. In fact, I said and thought some pretty terrible things about her (as described in my posts ‘Inner child and past child‘ and ‘Do you love the inner child?‘) and I could never previously have imagined being able to see her compassionately or relating to her in a positive way. I saw her as weak and feeble, and blamed her for not being more robust and thus not protecting me from sadness, depression or anxiety. The things we fear we ourselves have been and done, we project onto others, even internal others, it seems.

This all changed quite suddenly, though I didn’t initially realise why, over the course of the Easter therapy break. An important, intimate and bonding moment had taken place during therapy just before that break, and it carried me through those two weeks in a remarkable way. That moment was a special one in which the needs of both adult and inner child were met, and though my therapist did the ‘meeting’, it was the inner child who came to be met, and who was strong enough to provide the opportunity. She held fast against the desire of a part of me to self-sabotage and to sabotage the therapeutic relationship, and in doing so she gave me – gave us both – a wonderful gift.

Again, you could say that this is just a story that I told myself, to explain an aspect of my progress in therapy. But it has been a powerful and beneficial one, helping me to relate to myself and others differently. As my therapist said at one point in session, if it works, then why not use it?

***

It is working, and my dreams are also changing. For a long time, I have suspected that within my dreams, the figure of my youngest child represents my own inner child. And for months I have had dreams in which he falls into water and drowns, often when I am distracted or arguing with someone else. But over the last few weeks, I or others have managed to save him. And much more recently, the dreams haven’t involved water at all, though they have still sometimes involved abandonment. A couple of weeks ago I dreamed that I had arranged three one-hour play dates for him, but I had forgotten about him and left him at the first one for hours. I emailed the dream to my therapist, and she told me that she laughed when she read it. I looked at her in puzzlement until she pointed out that we have three one-hour sessions per week – the thought hadn’t even occurred to me…..

I am still learning how to deal with this new relationship with my inner child; I keep being surprised both by how comforting the connection feels, and how completely bizarre (and sometimes even silly) the whole thing sounds. All I know is that it seems to help; and when I felt really sad, desperate and unheard after therapy a few weeks ago, I realised that those were her feelings and I stopped to consider what would help her feel better. Suggestions came into my head and were discarded – they seemed too ‘grown-up’, too rational, too serious, or too intellectual. I settled on colouring in, and knew I’d hit upon the right thing when I started to feel better just at the thought of buying colouring pencils and stationery. A memory of the best Christmas present ever, came rushing back – a pack of pretty pens that I’d really wanted, that reduced me to tears when I opened them.

There’s a quote by Mother Teresa: “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things”. I’m really hoping that’s the way it can be for me and my inner child – great things, great healing.


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Memory Monday – “In my Dreams”

In common with a few other bloggers at this time of year, I have decided to delve into my archives (which are not that ancient, as I only started blogging in March 2014!) and to share links to a few older entries,  via a series of ‘Memory Monday’ posts. A number of followers have joined me over the last ten months or so (many many thanks to those who have!) and I hope that re-sharing some of this material will be helpful, particularly for those who have started reading more recently. I know that when I start to follow a blog, though I may read new entries as and when they come in, it’s often difficult to find the opportunity to delve back into the archives. The posts that I share will be an assortment of entries which may have been either early; or not as widely read so far; or the opposite and most widely read; or a non-contradictory combination of the above! As far as possible, I will share past posts according to what feels most relevant and appropriate for what I am going through at the time; past posts that speak in some way, into the present. Hopefully, they may then link more naturally into new posts at around the same time.

For the first ‘Memory Monday’, I wanted to share a link to a post from July 2014, called ‘In my Dreams’.

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/07/20/in-my-dreams/

I was reminded of it only a couple of days ago, when I was thinking about how disconnected I have been feeling from my therapist, since the Christmas break. The phrase that entered my mind was that “I feel as though I am relating to her from behind a wall of glass” – she feels emotionally inaccessible.

My very next thought was to recall a dream described in the above post, in which I escaped from a room where the walls were made of glass, only to find myself at the top of a tall building, with no obvious means of being rescued. At the time, I had wondered whether the dream was about therapy, or even about myself. A couple of days ago, I wondered not only whether the dream was in some way related to my current feeling of disconnection from my therapist; but also whether the way I am feeling about my therapist is a projection of how I am feeling inside. Disconnected from my own feelings. If that’s the case, perhaps that then feeds back into the interpretation of the original dream.

Although I have not been posting on my ‘usual’ weekly basis since the New Year – due to very low mood carried through from the Christmas break and an unfeasibly large amount of work – I have a long list of new posts I would love to start work on, once I am feeling a bit better and things are back on track. The link above feels relevant to some of that new material ‘waiting in the wings’, as I hope to write more about dreams in the context of therapy and in the context of feelings for one’s therapist. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the link above!

[I hope the format of including a link in the main body of the post works well, but please do give me your feedback via comments, if not. I spent an interesting time reading about all the various methods of re-posting one’s own archival material, and it was nowhere near as straightforward as I had thought! There is no re-blog function for one’s own posts (unless you follow your own blog and then try and find the ancient post in your Reader!); changing the date-stamp and republishing can cause ‘error’ messages for any earlier links to the original posts floating around the internet; ‘sticky’ posts don’t give the option to comment on the re-post; and posting the entire text of an earlier post again, can create problems with Google search and duplicate content. Sigh. Which is why I settled on a link, plain and simple. 🙂  ]