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 under the name Clara Bridges.


5 Comments

The use of dreams in therapy

One of my favourite films is the 2010 classic, “Inception”. I remember the buzz around it when it came out – similar to the excitement around “The Matrix”, when it came out in 1999. The buzz was partly due to the fact that it was Christopher Nolan’s next big film after the phenomenal success of the “The Dark Night”, but “Inception” had been much longer in the making, as Nolan worked on the script for around ten years. “Inception” is about a special kind of thief – no ordinary stealer of possessions, but a stealer of ideas. He enters the dreams of his victims – and by sharing in their dream-states and projecting himself deep into their subconscious, he has unparalleled access into whatever secrets and information they may be withholding – even from themselves. The film is about his biggest challenge – not stealing an idea, but implanting one. This is “Inception” – and only he has ever done it before, just the once, with disastrous consequences.

***

I am fascinated by dreams, including their use in therapy. I think they can reveal a great deal to us – but not in any straightforward way. I don’t believe in a kind of common dream symbolism which applies to everybody and in which particular objects stands for particular ideas. Nor do I believe that dreams are speaking to us about the future. But I do believe that our dreams are speaking to us – that we are speaking to ourselves –  and that this can be a powerful form of communication.

As with free association, it’s not just what we say or dream that is important, but the meaning that we attach to it. What it does remind us of, what does it make us think of? What interpretation of it makes sense to us? And, importantly, why these words, why this dream, right now? What is happening in my life that makes sense of these particular images or scenarios? Whatever meaning we end up attaching to it, just thinking through the various components of a dream and what comes to mind, can be a fruitful therapeutic exercise in itself. If you haven’t tried it before, I can thoroughly recommend taking a dream to session, and discussing it with your therapist – if you can remember it, that is…..

***

For a very long time I struggled with remembering my dreams. I love dreaming, and I love the interesting and complex worlds that I get to inhabit, and the things I get to feel and experience. Ever since my therapist mentioned bringing dreams to session, more than two years ago, I have tried  – and most often failed – to remember them. Occasionally one would be so emotionally powerful or disturbing that it would stick in my mind and provide valuable material for discussion. But most often any trace of my dreams would disappear as soon as I woke up.

But since a week or so before my Easter therapy break, I have been remembering dreams on a regular basis – if not every night, then almost every other night. Although I remember only small portions of a much bigger whole, often I remember a number of fragments from different dreams during the same night. It happens so regularly now that I only really have time to email them to my therapist so that both of us have a record of them; we don’t get a chance to discuss them all. But as my therapist says, they are ‘in the bank’ and we can return to them; something that happens later on in therapy may trigger a memory of a past dream, and it may suddenly feel particularly relevant, or it may enable us to see something in a different light.

I realised very recently, that my sudden ability to remember my dreams coincided almost exactly with a major shift in my therapy and a big leap in terms of progress. It also coincided with the beginning of a different sort of relationship between me and my ‘inner child’ – a relationship more open to love and support and co-operation, as opposed to a relationship of enmity. The change in my ability to remember dreams does not seem like coincidence – but what I’m not sure about is whether it’s the deepening of my connection with my therapist and my greater ability and preparedness to trust her and be vulnerable with her, that was the key factor, or whether it was the change in how I viewed my inner child. I think perhaps it was both – and that in fact they are related.

It certainly feels as though many of my recent dreams have been about that inner child’s fears and vulnerabilities; some of them have felt like strikingly direct messages. And seeing and knowing her a little better now, it certainly seems possible that she could be acting as a sort of ‘gatekeeper’ –  that she has the strength to block and unblock recollection of my dreamworld depending on how connected and accepted she feels. And that she  – and other parts of me – can use my dreams to communicate how they think and feel.

***

The thief in “Inception” does not work alone, he is part of a team, a key member of which is the Architect. The Architect designs the shared dreamworld which the thief and his victim enter. The victim populates the dreams with their own human projections, and they furnish it with the details of their own ideas and thoughts. For example, the Architect designs a building and places inside it a safe; the victim’s subconscious fills the safe with the things they wish to keep most hidden.

Over time, I have started to try and understand not just my individual dreams, but my dream-scapes. The features that recur, the particular forms they take, or the items that inhabit them. Dreams use the ordinary features, people, and occurrences of day to day life, and combine them with our thoughts, ideas, dreams, beliefs and associations, to form a narrative that we can then try and interpret. There is no right or wrong answer – the journey to interpretation, or multiple interpretations, can be an end in itself.

I like to think of my subconscious and I as being joint architects of my dreamworld. We feed off each others’ creativity and interpretations. For a long time, the image or concept of a ‘house’ has been a helpful metaphor for me, of therapy. When I dream of a house, I tend to look for an interpretation involving therapy, but which came first? Did I dream of a house and interpret that as being about therapy? Or did the metaphor come first, and influence the dream? I do think that once a connection or particular interpretation is made, that makes it more likely that my subconscious will use the same image again, to represent the same concept. So although I don’t believe in a common dream symbolism, I do think that as my subconscious and I work together in my dream architecture, over time I may well end with a dream symbolism that is fairly consistent and makes sense for me.

I have also noticed, for example, that the colour white in my dreams tends to have negative connotations, and is associated with situations that are unsafe or threatening in some way, despite perhaps initially appearing the opposite. I think I can trace the original association to a childhood memory, but at the same time, now that I have made that connection, I think it is more likely that my subconscious will use it in future dreams. Just as it appears to be using the sense that I have that when I dream about my youngest child, he represents a part of me. And so often, particularly when my attention is elsewhere, he ends up drowning.

***

Dreams are powerful because there are no constraints – anything can happen. There is speculation that dreams provide “a psychological space where overwhelming, contradictory, or highly complex notions can be brought together by the dreaming ego that would be unsettling while awake. This process serves the need for psychological balance and equilibrium” (www.medicalnews.today.com).

Perhaps that need is served in more than one way – both through the processing that happens during sleep itself, and the processing that can happen when one thinks about one’s dreams, and why they are significant. They may help to bring psychological balance and equilibrium – and part of that could involve a process of connecting us to ourselves, reminding us of who we once were, or of things we have forgotten.

She had locked something away, something deep inside her. The truth that she had once known, but….she chose to forget (“Inception”). Yet we cannot be our own thief, stealing from the vaults of our own minds. The thief was almost defeated by the projection of his dead wife, who he had not yet made peace with, and who continually tried to sabotage him. We need to face our projections (or demons – however you choose to refer to them), in order to have access to the deepest parts of ourselves.

Sometimes we need to choose to forget, in order to survive. But later on, we may need to remember, in order to live. Dreams can help us to do that, if we build them with ourselves.


3 Comments

Memory Monday – “The new therapy: from house to home?”

As I engage more and more with the therapy process and try and learn from what it has to teach me, I find myself thinking back to pivotal points in my past relationship with my therapist. It’s both an encouragement to see how much our relationship has developed and my trust has increased, and also a reminder of the fact that therapy can’t be ‘scripted’. It may feel aimless at times or as if I’m groping in the dark; and I still can’t even imagine what ‘the end point’ looks like for me. But I’m quietly amazed when I look back at the twists and turns of our therapeutic journey, and realise how much all those different stages (including the dreaded ‘therapy breaks’) have had to teach me -not always straight away or at the time, but cumulatively, and in retrospect.

Here then, is the post that signalled a real change for me, in how I saw and related to my therapist. This is where our real work began.

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/06/13/the-new-therapy-from-house-to-home/

After months and months of grieving the loss of my ex-therapist and hoping that I might return into therapy with her, it finally became clear that that was no longer a possibility, and I could ‘hold out’ on my therapist no longer. I could no longer see her (albeit subconsciously) as a ‘stop-gap’ – I either had to start to emotionally commit to her, or decide that she wasn’t the right therapist for me, and try and find someone else. I’m so glad I listened to the ‘gut instinct’ that had drawn me to her, and that I chose the former.

As for the image of therapy as a ‘house’ or a ‘home’ – that still very much continues for me. The image has become a fundamental and frequent part of my dream life, and it develops and evolves. Where, as a child, my dreams were dominated by flying, these days they are dominated either by ‘houses’ or by ‘journeys’ – and I feel strongly that both images are very much connected with the therapy process. One of my most poignant dreams was of a journey ‘through’ a house -moving from room to room. The rooms started off completely bare, but as I walked through they started to fill with furniture, and became more and more warm and comfortable and homely. The last room was at the back of the house, and looking out, I saw a wonderful view over a beautiful and gently sloping garden. I was overcome with emotion at what was ‘out there’ for me to enjoy. Perhaps that ‘end-point’ of therapy, that I cannot even imagine – will feel something like gazing out at the view of that garden.


7 Comments

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. 🙂  ]

 

 


6 Comments

In my dreams

I love to dream. Day-dreams, night-dreams – they have always been an escape. Sleep without dreams, or at least, without recollection of dreaming, feels unsatisfying. When I have vivid dreams, I feel as though I have had a refreshing, deep sleep – although in reality, the most vivid dreams tend to occur in the last part of the sleep cycle, when one has already come out of the deepest sleep phases. Perhaps it is simply the fact that when it comes to vivid dreams, I feel ‘fully immersed’ – deep in the dreaming world, if not in deep sleep.

I have always found it difficult to live in the present. My waking thoughts are constantly full of situations and conversations past, or more likely, imagined future conversations and role-plays. Often, those conversations provide a way of escaping the sense of helplessness and lack of control in the face of whatever is hurting me at the time.

Much like the daydreams, night time dreams have also provided a means of escape from whatever has been going on in my life. Dreams, of course, often replay the themes of ‘real life’, but the settings are often different. But even when I feel no need of escape, I still look forward to dreaming in order to try and satisfy that great craving for the one drug that so many with BPD feel they cannot do without – the drug of intensity. Vivid dreams have always been a powerful source of intensity for me. In the strength of their emotion, they feel far more ‘real’ than real life. They have more colour, more depth, more connection, than most day to day events. Intense emotion feels like the ‘gold standard’ that all other emotions aspire to.

It’s not surprising, then, that I should court those dreams and those emotions. I feel extremely fortunate that, unlike many with mental health difficulties, I am not afraid to go to sleep, and my sleep is not besieged by nightmares. I have had some extremely distressing dreams, in which I have felt overwhelming sadness and have woken up crying and afraid. Dreams of illness, of loss, of death. Dreams that made me resolve, in the middle of the night, to try and live in the present, to stop being self-destructive, to try and live a long and healthy life. But for whatever reason, by morning, the impact of those dreams has severely diminished, as has my resolve. The only thing that stays with me, is the afterglow of intensity, and the sense of having felt alive. The emotions may have been intensely negative, but the imprint of intensity outlives the memory of the felt pain.

For me, my nightmares have not been of the sleeping kind – they have been waking nightmares in the middle of the night. The real-life fear of dying or of going mad. The terror of one’s brain forcing the mind to get to grips with its own non-existence. This terror plagued me as a teenager, and when I left home and went to university it transmuted itself into Panic Disorder. In those middle of the night episodes, the fear of death was not so much about existential angst, as about the seemingly inevitable consequence of the terrifying physical symptoms of panic, including tightness of the chest, shivering, and sweating. If that is what sleeping nightmares feel like to so many, no wonder dreaming can be dreaded, and can be the very opposite of refuge.

More recently, my desire to dream has been driven not just by a need to feel, but by a need to know. I have never been convinced by ‘formula-driven’ dream interpretation where dreaming about ‘X’ always means ‘Y’. But it’s becoming ever clearer to me that dream interpretation can be a legitimate and valuable part of therapy. That being said, I think it’s important to remember that there is never one ‘objectively correct’ interpretation of a dream – there can be several different interpretations, working at different layers and from different perspectives, none of which can make sole claim to the truth, but all of which can have something valuable to add by way of understanding oneself or a situation, better.

I have just finished reading Irvin Yalom’s ‘Love’s Executioner and other tales of psychotherapy’. I can highly recommend it, particularly if you have an interest in the process of therapy; but one of the things that struck me most, was the use that Yalom made of dreams, to better understand and get to the core of his patient’s difficulties. One client in particular, though distant and closed-off in sessions, nevertheless had another identity, ‘the dreamer’, who spoke to the psychiatrist about the patient’s deepest needs, through his dream life. The work of therapy was eventually concluded when the patient had integrated the part of himself represented by the dreamer, and the two spoke with one voice.

Over the last few months, I have occasionally been awed by the amazing ability of our brains to take the circumstances of our lives, our thoughts and our emotions (conscious and subconscious), and to weave them into a complex, rich and beautiful dream tapestry that can be so revealing of what is really going on in the deepest parts of our being. About a year ago I had a dream in which I made a cut across the top of my foot, along the base of my toes. I realised there was something inside that I had to get out, and very slowly, I managed to extract what turned out to be one of those clear plastic name-badge holders that one is given at conferences or meetings. There was a white piece of paper inside the holder, but it was blank. It was as if to say: “Who are you? What is your identity? Are you finding an identity in self-harming? Is it starting to define you?”

For years, when growing up, all of my dreams (or at least the ones I could remember) involved being chased. I was always ‘running away’ from someone, though most commonly, in my dreams, running away involved flying, in order to escape. Flying is often associated with lucid dreaming, and it’s certainly the case that I have a number of dreams (not all of which involve flying) in which I am aware that I am dreaming, and can control my environment. Although I cannot choose which of my dreams are lucid, it is perhaps one of the reasons why nightmares are less frequent for me, and why my dreaming holds fewer fears.

More recently my dreams have been not so much about being chased, but about trying to escape. A couple of nights ago, having escaped a ‘prison’ made of glass, I found myself on the roof of a very tall building, unable to climb down to safety. A group of my old school friends stood below, and one of them started to climb up the outside of the building to try and help me down. Half-way up she lost her footing and tumbled to her death, slamming down on her back on to the hard concrete. She was a friend I had not been particularly close to – but she was also a friend who looked (physically) more like me, than the others.

I wonder what my therapist would make of that dream. I wonder if she would think it was about therapy, and about her. The truth is, when it comes to her, I feel locked in an endless idealization/devaluation cycle: one minute feeling trapped and rendered helpless and vulnerable by my efforts at transparency, another minute feeling free and on top of the world, yet all dependent on how I think and feel about her at the time.  Is anyone who tries to help me, doomed to fall, metaphorically, to their death? My therapist said she had a hunch this week, that she would be ‘in the naughty corner’, due to a mistake (albeit an innocent one) that she had made. But little does she know that she is not in the ‘naughty corner’, but ‘in the dock’, and I feel as though I am putting her on trial almost every week. Will she ever be able to demonstrate sufficient proof of her caring? Will she ever be able to climb up the high walls of my defences and reach me, even rescue me? Alternatively, is that brave and foolish climber, me, or another part of me? I have felt, for the last few years, that in order to recover and be ‘rescued’, I need to become someone else, and thus put part of me to death. But in my dream, one part of me died, but the rescue was ultimately unsuccessful. What conclusion can I draw from that?

To quote and misinterpret a mis-quote of a famous quote: “we are such stuff as dreams are made of”. Literally, we are the stuff of our dreams, and the more I think on it, the more I am convinced that there is a role for our dreams, in helping the fractured parts of ourselves communicate with each other and express themselves, until one day, they can speak in unison, with a single voice. I have always loved to dream – but now I hope my inner dreamers will love me back, and help me heal.